March/April Pick 2008

The World Without Us

Image representing book cover of The World Without Us The World Without Us
by Alan Weisman

It’s an incredibly provocative question: what would the world be like if humans disappeared from the planet today? In honor of Earth Day (April 22, 2008) and the growing worldwide concern for the health of our environment, San Francisco Public Library’s On the Same Page selection for March/April is a compelling and truly original approach to understanding humanity’s impact on the planet.

In The World Without Us, named Entertainment Weekly’s Best Nonfiction Book of 2007 and Time Magazine’s #1 Nonfiction Book of the Year, and nominated for 2007 National Book Critics Circle Awards Best Nonfiction Title, Weisman explains how our massive infrastructure would collapse and finally vanish without human presence; what of our everyday stuff might be immortalized as fossils; how copper pipes and wiring would be crushed into mere seams of reddish rock; why some of our earliest buildings might be the last architecture left; and how plastic, bronze sculpture, radio waves, and some man-made molecules might be our most lasting gifts to the universe.

According to Weisman, just days after humans disappear, floods in New York's subways would start eroding the city's foundations, and as the world’s cities crumbled, asphalt jungles would give way to real ones. Organic and chemically-treated farms would revert to wild, billions more birds would flourish, and cockroaches in unheated cities would perish without us. Drawing on the expertise of engineers, atmospheric scientists, art conservators, zoologists, oil refiners, marine biologists, astrophysicists, religious leaders from rabbis to the Dalai Lama, and paleontologists—who describe a pre-human world inhabited by mega-fauna, such as giant sloths that are taller than mammoths —Weisman illustrates what the planet might be like today, it not for us.

From places already devoid of humans (a last fragment of primeval European forest; the Korean DMZ; Chernobyl), Weisman reveals Earth's tremendous capacity for self-healing. As he shows which human devastations are indelible, and which examples of our highest art and culture would endure longest, Weisman's fascinating narrative ultimately drives toward a radical but persuasive solution that doesn't depend on our demise but does require our immediate attention.

For On the Same Page, the Library has purchased the St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books hardcover edition. It is also available in Chinese and Spanish language translations

About the Author

Alan Weisman is an award-winning journalist whose reports have appeared in Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Discover, and on NPR, among others. A former contributing editor to the Los Angeles Times Magazine, he is a senior radio producer for Homelands Productions and teaches international journalism at the University of Arizona. His essay “Earth Without People” (Discover magazine, February 2005), on which The World Without Us expands, was selected for Best American Science Writing 2000 - 2007.

Weisman is Laureate Associate Professor in Journalism and Latin American Studies at the University of Arizona, where he leads an annual field program in international journalism. He is also the author of An Echo in My Blood; Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World; La Frontera: The United States Border With Mexico; and We, Immortals. He is Laureate Associate Professor in Journalism and Latin American Studies at the University of Arizona, where he leads an annual field program in international journalism. He and his wife live in western Massachusetts.

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