Alan Weisman considers a conundrum in his book The World Without Us. Can we look at the past in order to see the future? And what if that future didn’t include humans? What would the earth and its revised balance of organisms look and act like?

To do this, Weisman explains in great detail how certain cities, continents, or natural regions are built. He discusses the ebb and flow of their history, including past extinctions. Then he gives the lowdown on how each area will disintegrate without human interaction to keep nature from encroaching. For good measure, he often throws in how climate change could make this all happen even while we still exist.

Weisman takes his readers from New York City to the Serengeti, Chernobyl, Houston, and Kingman Reef in the Pacific. My personal favorite location, which was completely new to me, was the underground cities of Cappadocia, Turkey. (They’re definitely worth Googling, just for the images.)

To call this a cautionary tale is to diminish its importance. It’s so much more than that. It’s a global scientific horror story, all precipitated by our own species.

My conclusions

Weisman uses many types of science and various scientific experts to illustrate the possibilities. Because he looks back in time before looking forward, this is a more expansive book than I was expecting. But it makes sense to do so. We can learn from previous extinctions, be they megafauna (like massive sloths) or the Mayans.

There are moments when the book moves very slowly, but by and large, I found it fascinating. Its scope is sweeping, which balances the level of detail he dives into. In addition, Weisman has a way with words. He’s a punster, and turns a beautiful phrase even as he describes hellish possibilities.

But ultimately, Weisman’s conclusions are very personal. I worry even more now about what my personal impact is on our planet. Even if I can only take small steps, this book has motivated me to do better.

I picked up this book because of my postal book club, not through my own impulses. That’s why I love book clubs. They stretch my reading and therefore my mind. I’d recommend this for readers who love science, and want a new perspective on how human’s current-day choices are affecting the future of Earth.