Weisman: The World Without Us

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Alan Weisman, The World Without Us. London : Picador, 2008. 432 pages; illustrated; includes bibliographic references and index.

What would happen is humans instantly disappeared from Earth? Would the organisms that were driven to the brink of extinction by humans make a resounding comeback? What would be the longest-lasting human contribution to the environment? Would extraterrestrial life forms ever know what the Earth was like under human rule? Theoretically, Weisman's book could have been an incredibly interesting discussion of Earth's resiliency or inability to overcome the significant damage it has experienced; in reality, this book fell short of my expectations.

World Without Us started extremely slow for me, perhaps because I am not overly interested in the description of my home being returned to nature -- the rusting of nails, the slowing infiltration of rainwater, the infestation of rodents. These dull and redundant stories did not grab my attention but the interesting side stories that occasionally seemed like pointless wandering kept me reading -- how often the New York City subway system fills with water and must be pumped back out, the history of now-extinct large mammals in the Americas.

As the book progressed, it got more and more interesting. Weisman began discussing the human contributions that would tattoo Earth for long after we're gone -- the changes in soils due to large-scale monoculture farming, nuclear wastes, the meltdown of power plants, and the indestructible plastic. Weisman included novel information that was extremely mind-blowing -- I had no idea where nuclear wastes were stored! I found these stories scarily amazing while continuing to enjoy the side-bars that were prominent in the first part of the book as well.

Ultimately, my dissatisfaction with this books arose from the lack of a cohesive story -- I was expecting one story that told about the future of the Earth as a whole but instead it was a collection of very specific scenarios about very limited geographic areas. This wasn't necessarily bad, just not what I was expecting at all. Also, even after finishing this book, I can't figure out how it was organized; there were four parts to the book and I couldn't identify a single unifying theme among the chapters included in each (apparently he couldn't either because the parts are title-less)! His writing was also unnecessarily convoluted and complex. An overabundance of punctuation and multi-compound sentences caused me to lose the meaning of his words.

Overall, you might enjoy this book if your expectations are fairly low and you are prepared for structure that borders on schizophrenic.

-- Notes by NR

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