Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us is a nonfiction book that explores the question of what Earth would look like if we were to suddenly disappear and leave behind everything as it stood in the early 2000s. Clues from the past, such as the disappearance of the Mayan civilization, and present, such as nature reclaiming the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea, may give us insight into how such a future may come to be. Each chapter focuses on different areas of how man-made creations will come undone and the rewilding of such niches to a pre-Homo sapiens ecosystem, with some likely changes that are to last far beyond our existence.
Weisman uses beautiful imagery to paint a picture of how structures would fall apart and what would appear to replace them. One specific chapter that comes to mind is ‘The City Without Us’, which focuses on New York City and how nature would reclaim such a vast city over time. Something that seems unimaginable to many of us would become a certainty without humans present to keep the city afloat (quite literally).
Weisman illustrates the terrifying and breathtaking undoing of civilization with frighteningly realistic research, backed up by 30 pages worth of references. As a journalist, Weisman did a fantastic job of interviewing experts across diverse disciplines, along with visiting most places he wrote about, highlighting the thoroughness with which he wrote this book. The content is both condensed and accessible for the lay public, but would not be out of place in an academic textbook.
Although the book was hopeful with regards to how nature will find a way to thrive after our disappearance, it conveys a sense of helplessness about our current situation. Weisman concludes his haunting tour of a world without us by suggesting population control, a dystopian and draconian choice for many. Although I am a believer in being honest with uncomfortable news, I am also a hopeful optimist. I believe that for this book appeal to a larger audience, an empowering message of change could have been made throughout the book. Educating others on our impacts, emphasizing the urgency with which we must change our lifestyles and providing potential solutions to minimize our impact may be more meaningful than fixating on the overwhelming magnitude of the problem.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. It was well researched and thoroughly informative, but may be hard to reach to certain audiences without some understanding in various scientific disciplines. Nonetheless, I recommend this book to all those who want to imagine what a world without us may look like, and understand how the magnitude of our impact on the environment has led us down the eerie path we are heading in. To finish with a quote from the book that I believe summarizes this beautifully:
“Without us, Earth will abide and endure; without her, however, we could not even be”.