513 pages, b/w photos
In his bestselling book The World Without Us, Alan Weisman considered how the Earth could heal and even refill empty niches if relieved of humanity's constant pressures. Behind that groundbreaking thought experiment was his hope that we would be inspired to find a way to add humans back to this vision of a restored, healthy planet-only in harmony, not mortal combat, with the rest of nature.
But with a million more of us every 4 days on a planet that's not getting any bigger, and with our exhaust overheating the atmosphere and altering the chemistry of the oceans, prospects for a sustainable human future seem ever more in doubt. For this long awaited follow-up book, Weisman traveled to more than 20 countries to ask what experts agreed were the probably the most important questions on Earth-and also the hardest: How many humans can the planet hold without capsizing? How robust must the Earth's ecosystem be to assure our continued existence? Can we know which other species are essential to our survival? And, how might we actually arrive at a stable, optimum population, and design an economy to allow genuine prosperity without endless growth?
Weisman visits an extraordinary range of the world's cultures, religions, nationalities, tribes, and political systems to learn what in their beliefs, histories, liturgies, or current circumstances might suggest that sometimes it's in their own best interest to limit their growth. The result is a landmark work of reporting: devastating, urgent, and, ultimately, deeply hopeful.
By vividly detailing the burgeoning effects of our cumulative presence, Countdown reveals what may be the fastest, most acceptable, practical, and affordable way of returning our planet and our presence on it to balance. Weisman again shows that he is one of the most provocative journalists at work today, with a book whose message is so compelling that it will change how we see our lives and our destiny.
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"[Weisman] asks a really tough question: what will happen on the warming earth if our population continues to grow? [...] Weisman boldly traveled to more than 20 diverse countries, from India to Italy to Japan, instigating remarkably candid conversations with religious leaders, scientists, and public-health experts. Spirited descriptions, a firm grasp of complex material and a bomb diffuser's steady precision make for a riveting read [...] Rigorous and provoking, Countdown will spur many a debate."
- Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
"Weisman offers heart-rending portrayals of nations already suffering demographic collapse [...] A realistic, vividly detailed exploration of the greatest problem facing our species. [...] This is not a jeremiad but a realistic, vividly detailed exploration of the greatest problem facing our species."
- Kirkus (starred review))
"Provocative and sobering, this vividly reported book raises profound concerns about our future."
- Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Unflinching and ready for anything, Weisman's Countdown tackles the biggest question facing not only us, but every other living thing on earth. How many people can there be on the earth? Written with extraordinary clarity, without all the arm-waving and doomsaying that seems to kill the conversation, his first-hand tour of the globe offers both the worst case scenarios and the most hopeful futures we can imagine."
- Craig Childs, author of Apocalyptic Planet
"Countdown converts globetrotting research into flowing journalism, highlighting a simple truth: there are, quite plainly, too many of us. A world that understands Weisman's words will understand the pressing need for change."
- Bill Streever, author of Cold and Heat
"[Weisman] makes a strong case for slowing global population growth – and even for reducing overall population numbers – as a prerequisite for achieving a sustainable future [...] Weisman's emphasis on expanding access to contraception as the next-best strategy is both pragmatic and workable, as past efforts have shown. It is to be hoped that his message may be heeded sooner rather than later."
- Hania Zlotnik, Nature
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Alan Weisman is the author of several books, including The World Without Us, an international bestseller translated into thirty-four languages, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and winner of the Wenjin Book Prize of the National Library of China. In 2013, Countdown won the General Non-fiction prize at the Paris Book Festival. His work has been selected for many anthologies, including The Best American Science Writing. An award-winning journalist, his reports have appeared in Harper's, the New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, Discover, Vanity Fair, Wilson Quarterly, Mother Jones and Orion, and on NPR. A former contributing editor to the Los Angeles Times Magazine, he is a senior producer for Homelands Productions. He lives in western Massachusetts.