The World Without Us by Alan Weisman is a non-fiction book about what would happen to Earth if humans suddenly disappeared. Weisman is a journalist who also wrote Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth? I should also disclose that Weisman endorsed my eco-thriller Patriarch Run. You can read that endorsement here.
The World Without Us is written as a thought experiment. It considers, among other things, what would happen to our houses and cities if humans were to suddenly disappear. The book details how the structures we've built would deteriorate and on what timeline. The book also considers how the ecosystem, given a human-free habitat, would evolve. For example, Weisman speculates that it would take about 500 years for residential neighborhoods to become forests.
To predict how the ecosystem would evolve without humans, Weisman draws on evidence from parts of the world without a large human presence, like the Białowieża Forest, the Kingman Reef, and the Palmyra Atoll. He also visits the Korean Demilitarized Zone, which has been largely untouched since 1953.
Weisman discusses the fate of the Mayan civilization to illustrate how nature can quickly conceal evidence of a large urban center. He takes the reader to Chernobyl, Ukraine, which was abandoned in 1986, after a nuclear disaster. And he uses New York City as a model for how an urban area would deconstruct. The book predicts that without us, megafauna (large animals like elk, moose, lions and bears) would thrive on Earth, including in the human-made canyons of New York City.
The World Without Us is a fascinating book. In addition to stimulating the imagination and the intellect, the thought experiment offers hope. Hope in the realization that we're not powerful enough as a species to ruin everything. Even if we ruin the planet for ourselves, life will go on quite well in the world without us.