Book Review: "The World Without Us" by Alan Weisman


Posted on May 29, 2009 by Blake Leath

Once upon a time, in an organization far, far away, I coached a young man who sniffed, "I don't read management books, because they're what everyone is reading.  I read other stuff, so I have something unique to say." 

"I understand your rationale," I replied, "but that's equivalent to saying, 'I don't speak English, because everyone's speaking English.  Instead, I speak Gomatan1.'  What I suggest you do is read both.  Read the drop-kicks... Drucker, Peters, Covey, Senge, Collins, Katzenbach and all the rest, and also read as much -- or more if you wish -- that is outside the norm.  This way, you'll have the foundation everyone else has, but the added probability of being able to contribute a unique perspective every once in a while that dislodges groupthink."

I know that management books can sometimes feel quite pedestrian; that's a bit of what this young man was saying, but he was also exhibiting a scintilla of elitism, inferring that 'all the rest of the cattle can read -- sniff, sniff -- management books, but I'm going to read Literature.'  (Thankfully, every once in a while, really stellar 'management' books arrive, like Outliers and Made to Stick.

Alan Weisman's The World Without Us is no management book, but it is a book about sustainability, impact, legacy, systems theory and, as much as all these, it's flat-out fun. 

It's a thought experiment, nothing more.  And how.

Your mind will whir, some cogs will click, and all manner of ideas and implications will flutter through your mind.

It's deftly written, hums along quickly, and packs a periodic punch.  It will perhaps require a few sittings because it's quite dense, but it's a great guilty pleasure.

Try it, if you like.  It's not a management book in any pure sense, but that's precisely the point, isn't it?


1Save yourself the googling, it's an invented-here language.