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Get Lit: The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman

In

The World Without Us

, author Alan Weisman asks a simple question: What would happen to the Earth if human beings were suddenly wiped out tomorrow? Not in some nuclear blast that would ravage the planet, but in some way (the how is unimportant) that removed us from the scene.

The answers, and the speculation, are fascinating. Within three days, for instance, the New York City subways flood, once the electricity to run the pumps ends. That would threaten the foundations of the city’s skyscrapers, and one by one over the years they’d fall like dominoes.

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Weisman travels all over the globe, visiting such places as the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea (one of the least-populated places on the planet, now booming with rare wildlife), Chernobyl and Africa. He even visits such exotic locales as the refineries of Pasadena and Texas City, to describe the inferno and flooding that would afflict Houston.

Writing in a breezy, entertaining style, Weisman uses the book’s thesis to address a seemingly random series of subjects: The giant animals that mysteriously disappeared when Man hit North America (seven-foot sloths, for example), the countless tonnage of nearly indestructible plastic that’s been added to the environment in the last 50 years; the fact that while the Panama Canal would likely crumble within years, the likeness of the man who willed it into being, Teddy Roosevelt, will remain visible on Mt. Rushmore for more than 7 million years.

Much of this is rank speculation, of course, but it’s engrossing speculation. The World Without Us is not some Greenpeace environmental screed, by the way. It’s related more to Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything – in other words, an easy-to-take way to learn some science for readers who sprint away from dense scientific tomes. -- Richard Connelly

The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman. Thomas Dunne Books, 324 pages, $24.95

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