Science fiction thrives on stories of the last man on earth, but in his new nonfiction book, The World Without Us (out now), Alan Weisman tries to envision exactly what the world would be like if all humans . . . um, left. Although it’s a clever, provocative conceit, it really gets fascinating as a pretext for Weisman to ask experts with cool science-adventure jobs (preservationists in Africa, ecologists in Poland’s primeval forest, an archaeologist in Guatemala) to imagine what would happen if Earth was no longer a planet inhabited by people.
Weaving biological facts with plausible conjecture, the book sums up the history of evolution, then takes us out of the picture. It may amount to a bit of species self-loathing, but the vision of the lush Earth that would soon emerge (depending on the wild card of radioactive waste) sounds profoundly beautiful. And humankind wouldn’t be completely forgotten — aluminum kitchenware might be our most enduring legacy for whoever or whatever comes next.
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