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Science Books

July 12, 2007

The World Without Us
Alan Weisman (2007)
ISBN: 0312347294

Currently, there's a lot of panic and dread surrounding overpopulation, viral outbreaks, Earth-bound asteroids, climate change, dwindling resources, and a host of other the-end-is-nigh cataclysms. Just look in any newspaper and take your pick! So, if we were to be really pessimistic, just what would the Earth be like after any of these apocalyptic scenarios had completely wiped humankind off the face of the Earth? This is the gloomy question that award-winning journalist Alan Weisman, Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, poses in The World Without Us. Since nobody will be around to remember you in Weisman's post-human scenario, initially you might be tempted to answer; "who gives a damn?" But The World Without Us is not merely an exercise in existential nihilism, and as you venture deeper into Weisman's world your interest is piqued by the sheer magnitude of incessant human intervention to which this Earth has been subjected to date. As though he were describing some grandiose 50's B-grade epic, Weisman explains how the foundations of major populaces such as Manhattan would crumble, as pumps keeping its dry would eventually come to a grinding halt. And while the flora and fauna native to environments devastated by humankind will once again have a chance to flourish, there will still be the human legacy of tons upon tons of almost indestructible plastic items remaining. Weisman's well-written The World Without Us provides a novel and poignant twist on the old environmental responsibility message.

The Survival Imperative: Using Space to Protect Earth
William E. Burrows (2007)
ISBN: 0765311151

While we've heard it all before, the doomsayers' mantra that the world is about to end is increasing in volume and conviction. But even if it were all about to end, what are we supposed to do about it? Simple: leave Earth! Science journalist William E. Burrows, Deep Black and By Any Means Necessary: America's Secret Air War in the Cold War, suggests that it's high time we got serious about leaving our sick and crowded planet behind to start afresh elsewhere in the universe. Burrows reasons that it is critical that NASA embark on a mission where the primary goal is the human colonization of space. Burrows does make some good points in support of his proposal, and many may agree with him that NASA has not really had a clear or coherent vision since they landed a man on the moon. The Survival Imperative is in the most part an extensive history of humanity's quest to escape the shackles of Earth's gravity, and the vision of the men and women whose desire it is to explore the outer reaches of space. In this respect, Burrows covers a lot of ground, and he moves effortlessly between discussions on the arms race, asteroid collisions, politics, and the necessity for moon bases. The Survival Imperative is filled to overflowing with many interesting ideas and proposals, and will keep lay readers and seasoned science types equally entertained.

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