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1 Local Warehouse Science Reference- General

The World without Us

by

The World without Us Cover

ISBN13: 9780312347291
ISBN10: 0312347294
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Less Than Standard
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Excerpt

Chapter 1
 
A Lingering Scent of Eden
 
You may never have heard of the Bial/owiez?a Puszcza. But if you were raised somewhere in the temperate swathe that crosses much of North America, Japan, Korea, Russia, several former Soviet republics, parts of China, Turkey, and Eastern and Western Europe--including the British Isles--something within you remembers it. If instead you were born to tundra or desert, subtropics or tropics, pampas or savannas, there are still places on Earth kindred to this puszcza to stir your memory, too.
 
Puszcza, an old Polish word, means "forest primeval." Straddling the border between Poland and Belarus, the half-million acres of the Bial/owiez?a Puszcza contain Europe's last remaining fragment of old-growth, lowland wilderness. Think of the misty, brooding forest that loomed behind your eyelids when, as a child, someone read you the Grimm Brothers' fairy tales. Here, ash and linden trees tower nearly 150 feet, their huge canopies shading a moist, tangled understory of hornbeams, ferns, swamp alders and crockery-sized fungi. Oaks, shrouded with half a millennium of moss, grow so immense here that great spotted woodpeckers store spruce cones in their three-inch-deep bark furrows. The air, thick and cool, is draped with silence that parts briefly for a nutcracker's croak, a pygmy owl's low whistle, or a wolf's wail, then returns to stillness.
 
The fragrance that wafts from eons of accumulated mulch in the forest's core hearkens to fertility's very origins. In the Bial/owiez?a, the profusion of life owes much to all that is dead. Almost a quarter of the organic mass aboveground is in assorted stages of decay--more than 50 cubic yards of decomposing trunks and fallen branches on every acre, nourishing thousands of species of mushrooms, lichens, bark beetles, grubs, and microbes that are missing from the orderly, managed woodlands that pass as forests elsewhere.
 
Together those species stock a sylvan larder that provides for weasels, pine martens, raccoons, badgers, otters, fox, lynx, wolves, roe deer, elk, and eagles. More kinds of life are found here than anywhere else on the continent--yet there are no surrounding mountains or sheltering valleys to form unique niches for endemic species. The Bial/owiez?a Puszcza is simply a relic of what once stretched east to Siberia and west to Ireland.
 
The existence in Europe of such a legacy of unbroken biological antiquity owes, unsurprisingly, to high privilege. During the 14th century, a Lithuanian duke named Wl/adysl/aw Jagiel/l/o, having successfully allied his grand duchy with the Kingdom of Poland, declared the forest a royal hunting preserve. For centuries, it stayed that way. When the Polish-Lithuanian union was finally subsumed by Russia, the Bial/owiez?a became the private domain of the tsars. Although occupying Germans took lumber and slaughtered game during World War I, a pristine core was left intact, which in 1921 became a Polish national park. The timber pillaging resumed briefly under the Soviets, but when the Nazis invaded, a nature fanatic named Hermann Göring decreed the entire preserve off-limits, except by his pleasure.
 
Following World War II, a reportedly drunken Josef Stalin agreed one evening in Warsaw to let Poland retain two-fifths of the forest. Little else changed under communist rule, except for construction of some elite hunting dachas--in one of which, Viskuli, an agreement was signed in 1991 dissolving the Soviet Union into free states. Yet, as it turns out, this ancient sanctuary is more threatened under Polish democracy and Belarusian independence than it was during seven centuries of monarchs and dictators. Forestry ministries in both countries tout increased management to preserve the Puszcza's health. Management, however, often turns out to be a euphemism for culling--and selling--mature hardwoods that otherwise would one day return a windfall of nutrients to the forest.
 
A
 
It is startling to think that all Europe once looked like this Puszcza. To enter it is to realize that most of us were bred to a pale copy of what nature intended. Seeing elders with trunks seven feet wide, or walking through stands of the tallest trees here--gigantic Norway spruce, shaggy as Methuselah--should seem as exotic as the Amazon or Antarctica to someone raised among the comparatively puny, second-growth woodlands found throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Instead, what's astonishing is how primally familiar it feels. And, on some cellular level, how complete.
 
Andrzej Bobiec recognized it instantly. As a forestry student in Krakow, he'd been trained to manage forests for maximum productivity, which included removing "excess" organic litter lest it harbor pests like bark beetles. Then, on a visit here he was stunned to discover 10 times more biodiversity than in any forest he'd ever seen.
 
It was the only place left with all nine European woodpecker species, because, he realized, some of them only nest in hollow, dying trees. "They can't survive in managed forests," he argued to his forestry professors. "The Bial/owiez?a Puszcza has managed itself perfectly well for millennia."
 
The husky, bearded young Polish forester became instead a forest ecologist. He was hired by the Polish national park service. Eventually, he was fired for protesting management plans that chipped ever closer to the pristine core of the Puszcza. In various international journals, he blistered official policies that asserted that "forests will die without our thoughtful help," or that justified cutting timber in the Bial/owiez?a's surrounding buffer to "reestablish the primeval character of stands." Such convoluted thinking, he accused, was rampant among Europeans who have hardly any memory of forested wilderness.
 
To keep his own memory connected, for years he daily laced his leather boots and hiked through his beloved Puszcza. Yet although he ferociously defends those parts of this forest still undisturbed by man, Andrzej Bobiec can't help being seduced by his own human nature.
 
Alone in the woods, Bobiec enters into communion with fellow Homo sapiens through the ages. A wilderness this pure is a blank slate to record human passage: a record he has learned to read. Charcoal layers in the soil show him where gamesmen once used fire to clear parts of the forest for browse. Stands of birch and trembling aspen attest to a time when Jagiel/l/o's descendants were distracted from hunting, perhaps by war, long enough for these sun-seeking species to recolonize game clearings. In their shade grow telltale seedlings of the hardwoods that were here before them. Gradually, these will crowd out the birch and aspen, until it will be as if they were never gone.
 
Whenever Bobiec happens on an anomalous shrub like hawthorn or on an old apple tree, he knows he's in the presence of the ghost of a log house long ago devoured by the same microbes that can turn the giant trees here back into soil. Any lone, massive oak he finds growing from a low, clover-covered mound marks a crematorium. Its roots have drawn nourishment from the ashes of Slavic ancestors of today's Belorusians, who came from the east 900 years ago. On the northwest edge of the forest, Jews from five surrounding shtetls buried their dead. Their sandstone and granite headstones from the 1850s, mossy and tumbled by roots, have already worn so smooth that they've begun to resemble the pebbles left by their mourning relatives, who themselves long ago departed.
 
Andrzej Bobiec passes through a blue-green glade of Scots pine, barely a mile from the Belarusian border. The waning October afternoon is so hushed, he can hear snowflakes alight. Suddenly, there's a crashing in the underbrush, and a dozen wisent--Bison bonasus, European bison--burst from where they've been browsing on young shoots. Steaming and pawing, their huge black eyes glance just long enough for them to do what their own ancestors discovered they must upon encountering one of these deceptively frail bipeds: they flee.
 
Just 600 wisent remain in the wild, nearly all of them here--or just half, depending on what's meant by here. An iron curtain bisects this paradise, erected by the Soviets in 1980 along the border to thwart escapees to Poland's renegade Solidarity movement. Although wolves dig under it, and roe deer and elk are believed to leap it, the herd of these largest of Europe's mammals remains divided, and with it, its gene pool--divided and mortally diminished, some zoologists fear. Once, following World War I, bison from zoos were brought here to replenish a species nearly extirpated by hungry soldiers. Now, a remnant of a Cold War threatens them again.
 
Belarus, which well after communism's collapse has yet to remove statues of Lenin, also shows no inclination to dismantle the fence, especially as Poland's border is now the European Union's. Although just 14 kilometers separate the two countries' park headquarters, to see the Belovezhskaya Pushcha, as it is called in Belorusian, a foreign visitor must drive 100 miles south, take a train across the border to the city of Brest, submit to pointless interrogation, and hire a car to drive back north. Andrzej Bobiec's Belorusian counterpart and fellow activist, Heorhi Kazulka, is a pale, sallow invertebrate biologist and former deputy director of Belarus's side of the primeval forest. He was also fired by his own country's park service, for challenging one of the latest park additions--a sawmill. He cannot risk being seen with Westerners. Inside the Brezhnev-era tenement where he lives at the forest's edge, he apologetically offers visitors tea and discusses his dream of an international peace park where bison and moose would roam and breed freely.
 
The Pushcha's colossal trees are the same as those in Poland; the same buttercups, lichens, and enormous red oak leaves; the same circling white-tailed eagles, heedless of the razor-wire barrier below. In fact, on both sides, the forest is actually growing, as peasant populations leave shrinking villages for cities. In this moist climate, birch and aspen quickly invade their fallow potato fields; within just two decades, farmland gives way to woodland. Under the canopy of the pioneering trees, oak, maple, linden, elm, and spruce regenerate. Given 500 years without people, a true forest could return.
 
The thought of rural Europe reverting one day to original forest is heartening. But unless the last humans remember to first remove Belarus's iron curtain, its bison may wither away with them.
 
Copyright © 2007 by Alan Weisman. All rights reserved.
 
 

 

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Average customer rating based on 12 comments:

jksquires, May 15, 2013 (view all comments by jksquires)
This one kept me up half the night and is one of the most thought-provoking books I've ever encountered. If you are in need of a sense of humility, and are ready to confront the reality that our presence on this planet is on the one hand, pretty darned irrelevant; but, on the other hand created some damning long-term consequences, this book will make you take notice. It will also make you contemplate the wonder of existence in a wholly new and unexpected way.
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Stephen Lindsay, January 1, 2010 (view all comments by Stephen Lindsay)
Made me stop and think, and wonder what would be best for the planet - a future without human life?
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(3 of 7 readers found this comment helpful)
Mary Picard, January 1, 2010 (view all comments by Mary Picard)
This past year, I overcame my fear to be astounded and comforted by "The World without Us." As an ardent environmentalist and secular humanist, I expected to experience revulsion, and I did, while reading this book. I also experienced fascination, astonishment, and even comfort, as I was transported from the "Polish Statue" in Central Park to aboriginal forest in eastern Europe, and beyond. The comfort came from considering that the beauty and diversity of life on earth is greater than the myopic stupidity of the human race.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780312347291
Author:
Weisman, Alan
Publisher:
Thomas Dunne Books
Author:
Grupper, Adam
Subject:
Nature
Subject:
Human-animal relationships
Subject:
Environmental Science
Subject:
Earth Sciences
Subject:
Earth Sciences - General
Subject:
Life Sciences - Ecology
Subject:
Human Geography
Subject:
Nature -- Effect of human beings on.
Subject:
Environmental Studies-General
Subject:
Environmental Conservation & Protection
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20070731
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
12 hours, 10 CDs
Pages:
336
Dimensions:
8.26 x 5.72 x 0.78 in

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Sociology » General
Reference » Science Reference » General
Science and Mathematics » Environmental Studies » General
Science and Mathematics » Geology » Earth Sciences
Science and Mathematics » Nature Studies » General
Science and Mathematics » Physics

The World without Us Used Hardcover
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$14.00 In Stock
Product details 336 pages Thomas Dunne Books - English 9780312347291 Reviews:
"Review A Day" by , "The concept of a world devoid of humans is a vivid imagination stirrer. It has been a theme of post-apocalyptic science-fiction books and films for decades. Much of the success of films like Road Warrior and Omega Man/I Am Legend is the titillation of seeing our familiar world laid waste, devoid of humans. Wiseman has taken it out of science fiction by talking to architects, sewer workers, museum archivists, etc., and getting their considered take on what would happen to our creations if humans suddenly disappeared." (read the entire Powells.com review)
"Review" by , "Weisman is a thoroughly engaging and clarion writer fueled by curiosity and determined to cast light rather than spread despair. His superbly well researched and skillfully crafted stop-you-in-your-tracks report stresses the underappreciated fact that humankind's actions create a ripple effect across the web of life."
"Review" by , "I don't think I've read a better non-fiction book this year.... [Weisman] writes like Malcolm Gladwell and John McPhee mashed together and set on fast-forward."
"Review" by , "A sober, analytical elucidation of the effects of human dominance on this planet, intriguing if not especially comforting. This book should be broadly read and discussed."
"Review" by , "Weisman's description of buildings crumbling slowly and the subsequent incursion of vegetation are at once beautiful and disturbing."
"Review" by , "[S]o intellectually fascinating, so oddly playful, that it escapes categorizing and clichés.... Written as if by a compassionate and curious observer on another planet, [Weisman's] book restores a sense of wonder not just to one little piece of the cosmos, but to the human race whose amazing deeds have transformed it, and whose equally monumental folly now threatens it."
"Review" by , "Extraordinarily farsighted. A beautiful and passionate jeremiad against deforestation, climate change, and pollution."
"Review" by , "A refreshing, and oddly hopeful, look at the fate of the environment."
"Review" by , "Alan Weisman has produced, if not a bible, at least a Book of Revelation."
"Review" by , "An astonishing mass of reportage that envisions a world suddenly bereft of humans."
"Review" by , "Weisman turns the destruction of our civilization and the subsequent rewilding of the planet into a Hollywood-worthy, slow-motion disaster spectacular and feel-good movie rolled into one....[His] gripping fantasy will make most readers hope that at least some of us can stick around long enough to see how it all turns out."
"Synopsis" by ,
A penetrating take on how our planet would respond without the relentless pressure of the human presence
"Synopsis" by ,
A penetrating, page-turning tour of a post-human Earth

 

In The World Without Us, Alan Weisman offers an utterly original approach to questions of humanity's impact on the planet: he asks us to envision our Earth, without us.

In this far-reaching narrative, Weisman explains how our massive infrastructure would collapse and finally vanish without human presence; which everyday items may become immortalized as fossils; how copper pipes and wiring would be crushed into mere seams of reddish rock; why some of our earliest buildings might be the last architecture left; and how plastic, bronze sculpture, radio waves, and some man-made molecules may be our most lasting gifts to the universe.
The World Without Us reveals how, just days after humans disappear, floods in New York's subways would start eroding the city's foundations, and how, as the world's cities crumble, asphalt jungles would give way to real ones. It describes the distinct ways that organic and chemically treated farms would revert to wild, how billions more birds would flourish, and how cockroaches in unheated cities would perish without us. Drawing on the expertise of engineers, atmospheric scientists, art conservators, zoologists, oil refiners, marine biologists, astrophysicists, religious leaders from rabbis to the Dali Lama, and paleontologists---who describe a prehuman world inhabited by megafauna like giant sloths that stood taller than mammoths---Weisman illustrates what the planet might be like today, if not for us.
From places already devoid of humans (a last fragment of primeval European forest; the Korean DMZ; Chernobyl), Weisman reveals Earth's tremendous capacity for self-healing. As he shows which human devastations are indelible, and which examples of our highest art and culture would endure longest, Weisman's narrative ultimately drives toward a radical but persuasive solution that needn't depend on our demise. It is narrative nonfiction at its finest, and in posing an irresistible concept with both gravity and a highly readable touch, it looks deeply at our effects on the planet in a way that no other book has.

"Synopsis" by ,
Discover the impact of the human footprint in The World Without Us. Take us off the Earth and what traces of us would linger? And which would disappear? Alan Weisman writes about which objects from today would vanish without us; how our pipes, wires, and cables would be pulverized into an unusual (but mere) line of red rock; why some museums and churches might be the last human creations standing; how rats and roaches would struggle without us; and how plastic, cast-iron, and radio waves may be our most lasting gifts to the planet.

            But The World Without Us is also about how parts of our world currently fare without a human presence (Chernobyl; a Polish old-growth forest, the Korean DMZ) and it looks at the human legacy on Earth, both fleeting and indelible. It's narrative nonfiction at its finest, taking an irresistible concept with gravity and a highly-readable touch.

            Some examples of what would happen:

·   One year: Several more billions birds will live when airplane warning lights cease blinking.

·   Twenty years: The water-soaked steel columns that support the street above New York's East Side would corrode and buckle. As Lexington Avenue caves in, it becomes a river.

·   100,000 years: CO2 will be back to pre-human levels (or it might take longer).

·   Forever: Our radio waves, fragmented as they may be, will still be going out.

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