Book Review: The World Without Us

If all humans were to disappear from the face of the earth tomorrow, would the earth be better or worse off without us? Alan Weisman answers this question in his fascinating book The World Without Us.

The book is one of the grandest thought experiments of our time. It  examines the impact human beings have on our world and what would happen if we stopped exerting the pressures on it that we currently do. I learnt more about the world we live in from this one book than I did in all my previous decades of living.

Book review nuggets

Rubber tyres

A rubber tyre is a single giant molecule created by vulcanization. Therefore it cannot be melted down and turned into something else and will always remain round. Many dumps don’t accept tires because they create doughnut-shaped air bubbles that rise to the surface. In the US alone, one tire per citizen is discarded annually.

Nuclear waste

Nuclear waste storage sites remain dangerously radioactive for tens of thousands, even millions of years. When designing signs to warn humans away from such sites, the main problem is language. Human languages evolve and are unrecognizable every 500 years or so. Any warning we post will be incomprehensible to our descendants who may have no idea of the danger they are in when they eventually build houses in the vicinity.

Coral reefs

Coral reefs in their most natural forms are made up mainly of large predators like sharks and parrot fish. Sharks kill about 15 humans a year, while humans kill about 100 million sharks a year.

Sea urchins, those scary spiky things that I fear most when scuba diving or snorkelling, are actually good for coral reefs. They consume algae which would otherwise gobble up all the oxygen in the water and cause reefs to die. I’ll look at sea urchins with a lot more respect and gratitude now, though still from a safe distance!

For more interesting facts like those highlighted in this book review, visit The World Without Us website.

Will the world really be without us?

Weisman admits that it is highly unlikely that humans will suddenly disappear from the face of the earth. However all the experts interviewed in the book agree that it’s a matter of time before we do disappear. All species die out eventually, and even earth itself will overheat as the sun continues to expand. So all of life is temporary.

This provides a good perspective as it helps us to stop sweating the small stuff when you realise that ultimately, it’s all small stuff. As you read the book, you start thinking in immense time frames – in the thousands or millions of years – and this too puts our little troubles into amazing perspective. Whatever is bugging you now exists for just a teeny speck in time. Our very lives are just a flash.

I highly recommend this book if you are interested in learning about the natural world, understanding the impact humans have had, and generally broadening your perspective by a thousand percent or more. Click here to purchase The World Without Us.

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32 replies on “Book Review: The World Without Us”

I didn’t realize there were 100,000,000 sharks per YEAR to kill. That’s amazing and sad.

Thank you for sharing this book review with us.

@Robin – “I don’t think we are small, though. I think we are very important – that we are God, no less. I think it is our egos that have tried to make us feel small and unimportant. When we realise who we really are, we will no longer go around wrecking everything.”

Great point and beautifully written.

Carla, I didn’t realise there were that many sharks in the world either, let alone that number being killed every year. It is sad. But the book also gives hope – that nature, if given a chance by our stepping back a little, has an amazing capacity to regenerate and start over with very little.

Robin’s point was indeed beautifully written, profound, and wise. I loved it too.

Hey Daphne, what a powerful post! 😀 I watched the video and found it very interesting – the degeneration of our urban landscape and reintegration into mother nature when humans stop existing. I really like how you ended off the blog post, zooming from a macro scale of the disappearance of humans to individuals at a smaller level. It makes me remind myself on what I need to do to ensure I live my purpose in an impactful way. Thanks Daphne! 😀

Celes, the video was a pretty good summary of the book, though the book had lots of details that I think made it far more interesting for me.

Glad you liked the macro-micro zoom! I spend a lot of time reading for pure pleasure, but also try to get a personal lesson out of every book, hence the ‘micro’ level, since that is where we can start making a difference right now.

Thanks for your comment Celes!

Evelyn, you are all blessed to have each other. Kids bring so much joy and meaning to life. I am also sure you’re a great mum.

Hey I just added you to my blogroll. For some reason I thought you were already there until I checked and realised oops!

Daphne, I am also quite interested in the topic about environment. Especially the global warming issue which is getting worse each day. Your article quite frightened me :), but it reminds us the importance of keeping a healthy environment.
Thanks for sharing, Daphne.

Arswino, sorry if my review frightened you. Reading the book frightened me too, though in a good way by making me more aware of how my daily ‘conveniences’ are exactly a price on the earth decades or centuries, and even millenia into the future. I’m glad you care for the environment – you do seem like the type who cares!

I remembered a stage during which I was wondering about what legacy I would like to leave behind. I ended up writing my own eulogy.

While it will be nice if my blog has impacted the lives of others, what matters to me most is really my two girls. That I will be a light to them, inspiring them to be beacons for others in their own way, as they grow up.

Evelyn, your blog does impact others, and I know this from personal experience. As Tess said, we do matter to hundreds of people in our lives, and certainly you are the largest influence in your girls’ lives. I feel they are blessed to have you as a mother, Evelyn.

Hi there Daphne – it can be really interesting to imagine what things would be like in some completely different scenario! That was interesting about the tyres.

I don’t think we are small, though. I think we are very important – that we are God, no less. I think it is our egos that have tried to make us feel small and unimportant. When we realise who we really are, we will no longer go around wrecking everything.

Robin, first of all I’m glad you spell ‘tyre’ and not ‘tire’. I spell ‘tyre’ too but the book is American and so I decided for this post to use the book’s language. I did wonder if anyone would notice!

I love your point that we are God, though some of my orthodox friends would gasp in horror at this. You made a wonderful point – that when we know who we really are, we would love the world a lot more and take much better care of it. Thanks for this thought-provoking and excellent comment, Robin.

In answer to your questions:
Maybe the world wouldn’t notice if I dissapeared but the 500 or so people I know would.

If I ceased to exist anyone I smile at, help, serve or love would feel a loss weather they identified it as that or not.

I believe little me has and will continue to make a huge difference in the world. And when I’m gone someone else will carry on. Hey isn’t that a line out of a song?

Tess, I don’t know about the song, but I do agree with what you say. You will certainly be missed, and so will I, by many people. For that we are blessed. Isn’t it wonderful that even one little life can make so much difference during one short lifetime? I am just as grateful as you for this.


I saw the documentary on the same subject and found it very thought provoking and rather comforting. No matter how much I mess up (it happens from time to time!) it’s really quite insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

We do not have the power to destroy the planet (despite what some say) only the power to make it impossible for us to live on it comfortably.

Ian, I like your take-away from the documentary. Yes it’s true that we make too much of our own follies, in the grand scheme of things! I think you’re also right that we can’t destroy the planet, only render parts of it inhabitable. It will take a much larger force to destroy it.

Hi Daphne
How can humans kill about 100 million sharks a year? Who is doing all of that killing? That number is alaming.
This book sounds very interesting, I am going to have to check it out.
Giovanna Garcia
Imperfect Action is better than No Action

This sounds like a really great book. I think your blog would be missed. In a world of media that focuses on doom and gloom, I like to focus on the joyful days. (pretty cheesy?)

Dustin, it IS a great book that I would encourage anyone to read. Thanks for your vote of confidence – I’m as cheesy as they come so I love your pun!

“it’s a matter of time before we do disappear, as all species evolve or die out eventually, and even earth itself will probably overheat as the sun continues to expand. So all of life is temporary.

This provides a good perspective”

Indeed it does! It would be foolish of us to assume we would end up differently than other forms of life that existed before us.

This was fascinating. Thank you.

Vered, this is the kind of book I think you would enjoy. It’s highly intelligent, based on research and expert analysis rather than subjective personal outlook, and just forces the reader to think millions of years into the future. In all an excellent mental challenge.

Hi Daphne.

I had never considered that about cars and tires. And for every car, of course, there are 4 tires.I’ve never owned a car so I’m happy that at least I’m not contributing in that way. Really IS something to think about. This book you’ve reviewed sounds quite interesting. Thanks for sharing it.

I wonder about the Earth without us. I keep getting the feeling that we might not necessary die out as a species, but just evolve into a new one. I wonder if the Earth WOULD exist without us? Maybe it is here for a reason too? Well… I just made humanity sound REALLY important didn’t I?

Davina, good on you for not owning a car. I’ve owned three in my lifetime and doubt I want another one.

Humanity IS important, to humans! 🙂 Also, I’m pretty sure that the earth can exist without us – it did for millions of years!

There was a documentry on History channel called Life after People that spoke to this as well. The thing is the Earth does not really need us- in fact it does better without us, but while we are here, we all matter. Daphne, without your blog, I would learn less, smile less, and feel the heart of your words less, and that affects my life greatly. The earth may not need you, but us humans do!

@ Now he says it is unlikly humans will cease to exist, this is direct opposition from two sources; scientist who believe 2012 it is all over due to the Galactic Alignment , and the bible. What do you believe?

Jay, you are so sweet. Thanks for the kind words.

As for apocalytic scientists and the bible… there have been many prophecies through the ages about the exact date of our demise and as far as I know none have happened! 😉 So I’m skeptical about those who think they can tell exactly when we’ll disappear.

And I don’t think this contradicts the bible either, which speaks of the last judgment, the second coming when heaven and earth shall pass away etc. To me it’s just a different way of saying the same thing.

How about your own beliefs Jay? Now I’m curious. This is getting to be an interesting conversation!


Well as far as the galatic alignment, it certaintly has some interesting aspects to it, but I do not buy it myself. As you said there has been plenty of end day “dates” that have come and past. As the bible goes- it is hard to ignore that some of the things going on now (economic, enviromentental, etc) are similar to what the end days suggest, however if you watch old documentries on this subject, every generation thinks they may be the last. For me, I need more than 3 years, I am just getting started. 🙂

Jay, I love your attitude! Yep, there’s a lot more life left in all of us. In your case, definitely more than 3 years! You have much to share with the world for the next 3 decades at least.

100 million sharks per year is crazy. Thanks a lot for your review Daphne, I find the book topic fascinating and quite brilliant at the same time.


Hi Glen, I know. 100 million is too huge for my brain to comprehend, and that’s the number of sharks killed in just one year. And we fear sharks! The book is indeed brilliant – I learnt so much.

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