There's something inherently fascinating about abandoned places, be they entire cities, like the one surrounding the skeleton of Chernobyl, pockets of urban blight returning to grassland, as in Detroit, old mines or creepy Japanese amusement parks. Author Alan Weisman has taken this extinctive state of mind to a new level in his book The World Without Us, in which he explores what would happen to the world as we know it if we all simply died, or left. What will remain long after we're gone, and what will fade?
"¢ Bronze sculpture, plastic, radio waves and some of the earliest examples of human architecture will be our most lasting gifts to the universe. Roman statues may be recognizable for another ten million years.
"¢ In a very short time -- perhaps weeks -- the water in nuclear cooling towers would burn off, and the plants would melt into vast radioactive piles of goo.
"¢ The electricity keeping the pumps on in New York's subways would stop, and they would eventually be flooded. The streets above them would collapse, creating rivers where, say, Lexington Avenue used to be. Jungle would reclaim much of the city within a few decades.
"¢ Copper pipes and wiring would be crushed into mere seams of reddish rock, barely detectable by (hypothetical) archaeologists of the future.
"¢ Steel bridges will last a few hundred years, but eventually rust and crumble as windblown seeds and soil flourish in their cracks.
"¢ As far as animals go, cockroaches would -- despite popular legend -- die en masse without our heated cities to take refuge in; feral cats would flourish; elephants would once again rule Africa; and the oceans and trees would add billions more fish and birds to their now-diminished populations.