There’s a reason I don’t call it Dave’s Nonfiction Warehouse: Of the 50 or so books I’ve read so far this year, only a few have been nonfiction, most given to me by friends or family. But the best of those, The World Without Us, is just as compelling as any mystery or thriller I’ve picked up.
You’ve probably heard of it: What would happen to the Earth if all humans vanished? Maybe there’s something in all of us that likes to imagine a world all to ourselves — even as we ignore the basic premise that none of us can be around to see it. Who wouldn’t like a stroll through Times Square without the crowds, and no sound but the wind?
But if you ever do wake up as the only person left on the planet and have a hankering to see the Big Apple, you should get there pretty soon. According to author Alan Weisman, things will start going to hell in about two days, starting with the flooding of the subway system. In just five years, the city could be ablaze, thanks to lightning and ruptured gas lines.
The book isn’t just about the collapse of all man has wrought in modern times, although those sections are the most entertaining. It also examines the things that are likely to survive for millennia, none of them good: greatly elevated levels of CO2, and a whole lot of PCBs, plutonium and plastic.
Oh, and maybe four very worn faces at Mount Rushmore. I like to think of some alien archaeologist happening on those and thinking, “Hmmm. These must be the Beatles.”