October 28, 2008 | Comments ()

By Brian Prisco | Books | October 28, 2008 |


I don’t often read non-fiction, which is a shame, because when I do, I really enjoy it. I adore Erik Larsen’s books, especially anything that manages to take facts and couch them in an intriguing historical or cultural aspect. However, I find most non-fiction, even biographies, have an agenda. It’s like documentary filmmaking, in that no matter how objective you think you are about your subject, you’re going to end up editing your opinion into the layout.

Alam Weisman makes no bones about it in his fascinating study of the effects of humanity on the world around us. He hates mankind. He considers humanity to be a scourge that is ravaging the planet, and destroying everything around us like the most virulent plague. He cites studies back thousands of years, blaming humanity for extinction, pollution, and the fact that the world is decaying because we got our sticky paws on it. And he’s right. But it’s still not pleasant to hear it.

Essentially, Weisman’s book is a big old green thumb in the bum of Homo Sapiens. We are ruining the world faster and faster each day. And there’s little we can do to stop it. So he focuses the book on what would happen if some sort of mythical plague/rapture occurred and mankind was gone from the earth. A practice he admits is a bit of an improbability, but nonetheless really interesting.

When Weisman is focusing on what would happen to the world without us, the book is at its most riveting. How everything from nuclear power plants to basic building would decay or fall apart. He describes to the minutest particle how a typical suburban sprawl would disintegrate into a forest again. Or how the decomposition of a human works out in relation to burial practices and the like. How integration of species would effect the return of certain species and how it would mete out. Domesticated animals and livestock versus wilderness. It the kind of thing you wish they’d make an IMAX movie about.

The rest of the book is peppered with biological and anthropologic slaps to the face with the white glove of environmental conservation. While it’s still neat to read about how garbage is collecting in giant cesspools the size of New Jersey in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and the breakdown of plastics in water, I don’t need all the extra information about the red cranes in the DMZ of Korea, or the detailed and frequent descriptions of nuclear fallout. I know what bad things we did, I would rather hear the effects of it.

Plus, he blames the extinction of most species on hunters migrating and then being gluttonous. Frankly, while I would be willing to skeptically accept this as true, I still find it to be a little annoyingly finger-pointy. So what if we were successful hunters? Species deteriorate, and die out. We won out. Suck it, woolly mammoth.

It’s not so much preaching to the choir as yelling at the kids who aren’t the problem. We’re reading your book, and you’re wandering all over the fucking place, describing the way scientists look. Just talk about how New York will fall into the sea because of the subway system. That’s what we wants!

I would recommend this book, with the caveat that it does get a little preachy and militant — it’s advocating population control and vaguely admiring the societies like the Church of Euthanasia, which preaches the four pillars of abortion, sodomy, suicide, and cannibalism. Anyone who’s seen Idiocracy knows how this argument’ll end up.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. Details are here and the growing number of participants and their blogs are here.

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100 Books in One Year #19: The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

Cannonball Read / Brian Prisco

Books | October 28, 2008 | Comments ()



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