Book Review: The World Without Us by A. Weisman

Thanks to Dar, at An Exacting Life and her monthly round ups, I added The World Without Us to my reading list, and seeing it wasn’t already on loan from the library I picked it up almost straight away.



Before I lose any readers, this end of the world book isn’t about zombies, aliens or the like. It’s quite simply about the way the world would ‘survive’ without humans. It looks at what animals might take over, and which might become extinct without our nurturing – and also assesses what mega fauna existed in the past. Why did this megafuana die almost universally, but in some cases, survive in some small pockets?  How would soil, farms and forests regenerate?

The book explores how built environments would crumble – how the constant cooling and heating of the seasons, particularly in places where there’s snow and a thaw – cause havoc on concrete. I loved how it talked about the constant battle to keep the New York Subway from being flooded. This seems positively harmless in comparison to the thought of the 441 nuclear plants slowly shutting down, and with them, a radioactive, boiling hot sludge spilling outwards combined with releasing radioactivity into the air. That’s nothing to say about the storage of all the nuclear waste we have to date, which wouldn’t survive without constant maintenance on the structures that hold it, and the power to keep it cool.

I’m tempted to use superlatives with every sentence, such as ‘the scariest part’ or ‘the most worrying thing’ but in reality, so much of this book was alarming and enlightening. How about all the plastics? This book talked about the micro plastics inserted into shower gels, which, after exfoliating the user, are destined for waterways, and the mouths of small animals – something Beth Terry recently campaigned about. The statistics are harrowing. I’d started to think that my ‘recyclables’ and ‘compost’ were ok, and then this book comes out and says the newspapers don’t biodegrade away from air and water, proving the point by saying there’s a reason we have some 3,000 year old papyrus scrolls from Egypt, or perfectly readable newspapers from landfills dated in the 1930s.

It ends with details of how we could make the world sustainable, with the question on population (something Lois touched on yesterday after Jed Bush’s comments).  It suggested a world wide cap of one children per female (obviously we’re talking about humans here!) By 2100, the population would be at 1.6 billion.  It’s something that’s unlikely to be popular, but it’s interesting to think that with this simple step, we could return the world to the 19th century times, but with all the technological advancements.  We’d cherish every birth, even more so than today.  And we’d know that whilst sacrificing a bigger family unit, we’d be healing the earth gradually.  (That being said, I’m not sure I’d be ok with having an only child…)

I loved this book (it won out to the negotiation book, but I did also finish the very Australia centric Cheapskate book I mentioned last week).  It was eye opening to understand how great an impact we’ve already made on the world, and how long it would take for different things to return to a natural equilibrium.  I’d recommend you read this book if you’re at all environmentally minded, or like to think ‘what if’ in terms of the future of the world.  It’s incredibly well written, with a light touch whilst incorporating so much data and research.  This book, to me, is an example of how I’d enjoy all non fiction to be written 😉

12 thoughts on “Book Review: The World Without Us by A. Weisman

  1. I found the book strangely optimistic. It made me think that the earth would be fine (and maybe better) without people on it. The author doesn’t want to do away with humans, and doesn’t think that will happen. But nature is crazily persistent and will always win out.

    • You’re right, it wasn’t doom and gloom – but it did make me despair what we are doing to the world, and if we can keep doing it to the same extent. It is true though, nature really does persevere, slowly but surely, it can conquer anything, which is inspirational at times.

  2. Bingo! This one is On Shelf at the local library. Must pop in and pick it up – it sounds fascinating!

    On the topic of Only Children – my only regret about having “one” is that if everyone did so, there would be no cousins by the next generation. I think our “only” would be lonely without his much-loved cousins!

    • It’s great when something is on shelf. Only children are a much debated topic, but my perceptions are largely due to growing up as of three (then 180 at school). I don’t know anything different, especially as the eldest with a closely aged sibling. Though my cousin is only, but one of thirteen cousins. Sadly there’s mostly a large age differential for her to almost all of th

  3. There was a documentary on the history channel a few years ago (I haven’t had cable in over 2 years but you can stream many shows on the history channel) called Life after People. It talked about a lot of the same things with the visual effects. It was really intriguing. Definitely makes me want to check out the book. .

    Thanks for the review. Going to put it on my reading list. I love the library. Nothing like reading for free and not having to worry about where to put the books when I’m done.

    • Ah I keep hearing about this doco, I must look into it (someone just mentioned it on another blog, with reference to cemeteries). I’m glad to add to your reading list – I find a lot of books on blogs and just check if the library has them – it always annoys me when my area doesn’t have a book I’d like to read 😦

  4. I thought a lot about this topic when I read Day of the Triffids and On the Beach as a teenager. It is the most mindblowing concept. Those thoughts about the nuclear reactors – aaargh! I can’t understand why anyone would build a new one. The dangers are just so much greater than the benefits. And it all just makes me so much more determined to reduce the plastic waste..

    • Nuclear is a tough one, it’s immediate pollution seems better than coal but it’s a long legacy. But definitely on board with lessening plastic

      I’ve not heard of those books, are they specifically for young adults?

  5. Sarah, I’ve been trying to find time all week to read your review of this book. I definitely have to put this at the top of my reading list. I have watched several episodes of the program Life After People, my son was big into it and asked me to watch a few with him. You should try to see it if you can. The programs look at the stages the planet would go through at different time periods after people disappeared. The program and the book sound like they are very much alike and would complement each other well.

  6. Pingback: Goals Update – June | livetolist

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