The World Without Us by Alan WeismanWhen I first read about the concept of The World Without Us, I was intrigued immediately. For some reason or another, I’ve had a strange sort of obsession with everything from the apocalypse to zombie films the past couple of years. Throw in a bit of true treehugger-style guilt about my (and the rest of humankind’s) footprint on the world itself, and this book by Alan Weisman shot to the top of my wish list when I read about it being released.

Essentially, the title tells the tale, as the book basically takes on all the different angles of what would happen to the world if humans were to completely disappear. Weisman doesn’t specify how this would happen (to keep everyone happy he mentions everything from the Christian description of Rapture to a virus that wipes out humankind), but that’s not really the point. Instead, he focuses on the decay of human-built infrastructures, chemical compounds that we’ve created and how long it takes for them to break down, animals we’ve displaced (and pushed to near extinction), and ecosystems we’ve changed and/or destroyed.

While there are a few hypotheticals, the great thing about the book is that Weisman has really done his research. In many cases, he’s had the ability to study different things firsthand, as in the Exclusion Zone of Chernobyl, which includes several cities that were basically left completely abandoned by humans and the humans took over. He also takes a look at the demilitarized zone in Korea, and in these places one can see the steady advance of nature as it reclaims space slowly at first but then with wide flourishes that are sometimes hard to imagine. One of the most fascinating sections of the book deals with what would happen to a city like New York, New York, which is built largely upon marshlands that require non-stop water pumps to function lest basements fill with water and support beams buckle and surrender to corrosion.

Of course, there is a lot to be depressed about in the book as well. In a chapter titled “Polymers Are Forever,” Weisman describes a state-sized (Texas, to be nearly exact) swirling mass of constantly breaking-down discarded plastic in the Pacific ocean that is not only threatening aquatic life in that particular area, but slowly filtering into the microscopic level as the plastic breaks down to such a small level that algae can ingest it (which then in turn moves up the food chain and eventually could cause what is essentially a bottom-up choking-off of the food chain).

Like many books I’ve read lately, The World Without Us made me think about how I live my life personally, and the changes I can make to affect at least the small part of the world around me. It’s not a book that speaks specifically to the individual footprint of a single person in this world, but it makes you feel like a vital cog in the larger scheme of things, and for that I would definitely recommend it.