Monday, January 4, 2010

Review: The World Without Us

The World Without Us


This had the potential to be dry, boring, and repetitive. It was none of those things.

What an amazing book, stemming from a really simple, smack-your-forehead-why-didn't-I-think-of-that premise. He could have slacked off and just wrote conjecture, and interviewed a few "experts" and then did some armchair philosophizing about why we need to curtail our evil ways (or conversely, why we shouldn't bother), but he shines.

For starters, he actually goes to these places. An atoll in the middle of the Pacific that hasn't seen humans (to see what coral reefs without human damage look like), pristine old world forest in Eastern Europe, the DMZ between North and South Korea (because, due to the land mines, no one goes there), the NYC subway system, Texas oil refineries, Arizona nuclear plants, Mount Rushmore, amazon rainforest.... his travels are fascinating.

And if it was just that, it'd be a slightly interesting enviro-travelogue. But he tackles the science behind all the causes and effects he talks about with Bill Bryson-like aplomb. When was the last time you read about how a nuclear power plant works and actually really understood it? Or the breakdown of plastics and heavy metals, atmospheric processes, cloud effects, sewer systems, water cycles, animal behavior, bird navigation, evolution....

I really can't describe well enough how perfectly he puts together all of this. He jumps around enough that he keeps it interesting, and still holds together a direction.

I can't recommend this enough.

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