The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

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Most books about the environment build on dire threats warning of the possible extinction of humanity. Alan Weisman avoids frightening off readers by disarmingly wiping out our species in the first few pages of this remarkable book. He then continues with an astounding depiction of how Earth will fare once we’re no longer around.

The World Without Us is a one-of-a-kind book that sweeps through time from the moment of humanity’s future extinction to millions of years into the future. Drawing on interviews with experts and on real examples of places in the world that have already been abandoned by humans–Chernobyl, the Korean DMZ and an ancient Polish forest–Weisman shows both the shocking impact we’ve had on our planet and how impermanent our footprint actually is.

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The World Without Us is a far-reaching overview of the world before us, the world after us and how humankind have shaped the world we inhabit.

Author Alan Weisman takes the reader on a tour of how the planet would change if humans were to suddenly disappear from the earth tomorrow. How long would it take your house, your city to disappear. He draws upon a wide variety of sources and experts in this examination.

I have always wondered how the world would adapt and evolve without people to mess up its natural systems, and Weisman does a great job of explaining this. He blends the disciplines of ecology, paleontology, archaeology and modern engineering to create a comprehensive view of our effects on the planet, and in many ways, how fleeting they are in terms of geologic time.

I listened to this book and it was very interesting! However, the book is written with the use of many sources and it sounds like Weisman used MLA style citations. He often explains, “so and so said” and includes that individual’s credentials as proof to his claims. While this makes his claims credible, as a listener, it was annoying. That is the one thing about reading versus listening – when reading you can skip those parts! It would have been better to omit those bits in the recording, IMHO.

I also found that the narrative became repetitious as time went on. I had to really push to get through the second half of this book. I would have preferred a few less examples and random facts, such as the linguistic origin of a specific place name.

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The Zookeeper’s Wife (Diane Ackerman)

The Zookeeper's Wife MIT.indd

When Germany invaded Poland, Stuka bombers devastated Warsaw—and the city’s zoo along with it. With most of their animals dead, zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski began smuggling Jews into empty cages. Another dozen “guests” hid inside the Zabinskis’ villa, emerging after dark for dinner, socializing, and, during rare moments of calm, piano concerts. Jan, active in the Polish resistance, kept ammunition buried in the elephant enclosure and stashed explosives in the animal hospital.

Meanwhile, Antonina kept her unusual household afloat, caring for both its human and its animal inhabitants—otters, a badger, hyena pups, lynxes.With her exuberant prose and exquisite sensitivity to the natural world, Diane Ackerman engages us viscerally in the lives of the zoo animals, their keepers, and their hidden visitors. She shows us how Antonina refused to give in to the penetrating fear of discovery, keeping alive an atmosphere of play and innocence even as Europe crumbled around her.

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The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman is one of those books I’ve been hearing about for a few years, without knowing much about, other than it was set in World War II. It is actually a non-fiction book, that tells the story of a husband and wife in Nazi-occupied Poland and their efforts in the Polish underground. Together, they saved scores of Poles from Nazi SS squads, and participated in organized groups to undermine and sabotage Nazi operations in Poland.

I found the information in this book to flow well between factual and narrative, although at times the author did seem to briefly fall down a rabbit hole of information linked to – but not directly regarding – the Zabinski family or their efforts.

Growing up in Canada, I mostly learned about WWII in relation to the Western Front, the causes, the homefront, and conflicts between Japan and the USA. We spent very little time on lessons about the Eastern Front except as a lead-in to the Cold War and relations with Russia post WWII. So learning about the underground Polish Resistance was fascinating, particularly because one of my close friends is from Poland. There were multiple times throughout the books where I listened to Antonina Zabinski’s story and thought of my friend’s grandparents, who likely shared those experiences.

I listened to the audiobook version of this story. It took me longer to get into than most of my other recent books, but eventually I did fall into the rhythm of the story and listened with avid fascination, and at equal turns horror.

The narrator moves between the narrator’s normal European accent and heavy Polish, Russian, and German accents depending on who is speaking in the narrative. While this did help me to distinguish between individuals during conversations, it was at times jarring as well.

The Zookeeper’s Wife was turned into a blockbuster film in 2016. I’m not sure if it is one I will be able to watch. Although the focus of the story is not set on animals being hurt or killed during the war, it does happen, and that is something I usually cannot tolerate in media. For now, I will stick with what I have learned from the book.

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