Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us

BY THERESA SMITH

World-Without-UsI’ve been reading Alan Weisman’s new book, The World Without Us, which is fascinating. The premise of the book is, what would happen if people just disappeared from the earth tomorrow? Drawing from civil engineering, anthropology, paleontology, ecology, and other natural sciences, he explains step by step what would happen to the world over time, beginning with crumbling houses to jungled cities. Within days, subway tunnels in major cities would flood and begin weakening structures from the bottom up. Meanwhile, expanding ice would crack up sidewalks, leaving room for trees and other plants to grow through the concrete, and fires would begin raging across rooftops as lightning rods corroded. Given enough time, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere would settle, and an ice age in 15000 years would pulverize anything left–copper wires, bronze sculptures–to veins of dust under layers of soil.

Weisman’s voice is captivating and not very technical. My one qualm with the book is that it becomes a little to eco-friendly for my taste, going into too much detail about how polymers will never break down, and how every sea organism will soon have ingested tiny fragments of plastic. I guess that kind of argument comes with the territory of this book, but it’s not as captivating as his descriptions of our world vanishing.