Book Reviews, Non-fiction

Alan Weisman’s the World Without Us (2007)

I’m judging Weisman’s work a little more harshly than most because I feel it’s too slim and simple on presenting its ideas. Everything from this book can be found in the readings for a single introductory college course on environmental ethics or resource management — all it adds, I feel, is the context suggested by the book’s gimmicky title.

That’s not to say simple can’t be excellent, but with how the World Without Us presents its info, it feels like Weisman did the bare minimum amount of research — as if his only source was a single introductory class or textbook filtered through a writer’s whimsy. E.g., he shies away from referencing original research, and instead cites news headlines inaccurately covering original research as his sources. E.g., he references a number of outdated terms or ideas, such as continental drift or, positively, “The cure for pollution is dilution.” (Ouch….)

The World Without Us is entertaining in the way of popular science books, but there are certainly better-written alternatives out there that cover all the same material and more. And, as a science journalist with as big an audience as he has, I feel like Weisman really shouldn’t be skimping out on his homework as he seems to be doing here.

Weisman’s descriptions of post-human cities later inspired the setting of the 2013 video game, the Last of Us.

That said, it’s really not too bad if you’re in need of an introduction to these environmental topics, but if you’ve already taken introductory courses in environmental science, or read other popular science books from authors like Elizabeth Kolbert or Bill McKibben, then I’d recommend looking elsewhere.


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