Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

Have you ever wondered what the earth would look like if all the people suddenly vanished? What would happen to our houses, our pets, our bridges and buildings? How long would it be before the last traces of our existence finally disappeared?

According to award-winning journalist Alan Weisman’s 2007 book, The World WIthout Us, it wouldn’t take very long. In fact, it’s rather disturbing how quickly our cherished possessions and grand monuments would turn to dust, as if we’d never been here at all. Makes ya think, don’t it?

Weisman’s book takes the reader along a fascinating timeline that counts off days, weeks, months, years, and centuries after the last human has gone. After a few days, our pets, those that have not already died from hunger or thirst, will wander the streets in feral packs. After a few months, power grids and water supplies will fail from lack of fuel and upkeep. Let a few years go by and our homes, apartment and office buildings will begin to rot from the inside out as insect-chewed 2x4 framing fails and glass windows shatter and fall onto the street. And centuries after our demise, our roads, tunnels, bridges and other monuments of steel and stone will turn to vegetation-covered heaps.

After a few thousand years, probably the last visible sign of our time here on planet earth will be four weather-worn faces carved out of the granite escarpment on Mount Rushmore. 

The World Without Us is a sobering but also highly entertaining look at just how transitory our lives are. And you can reserve it here.


  1. Just think of all the civilizations that have already vanished! Thank you for a review of a non-fiction book - may there be many more such reviews. Here's a question - is there more reality or more unreality in the world?

  2. Kinda' hard to answer that question. "More" as in quantity? How do you measure "unreality"? Or "reality?"
    And some, Buddhists for example, would say that pretty much everything is "unreal."

  3. Yes, it's a decidedly rhetorical question... Would Buddhism say "unreal" or maybe just "ephemeral"... anyway - probably just hair-splitting, but good work for a rainy day.

  4. According to Hui Neng, sixth patriarch of Zen:

    The Bodhi is not the tree.
    Nowhere is the mirror shining bright.
    As all is nothing from the start,
    Where can the dust alight?

  5. Well said! I think that sums things up nicely... I would only add that, in my world, at least, dust finds plenty of places to alight.