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Countdown: Our Last Best Hope for a Future on Earth?

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  1,215 ratings  ·  226 reviews
A powerful investigation into the chances for humanity’s future from the author of the bestseller The World Without Us.

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 t
Hardcover, 528 pages
Published September 24th 2013 by Little, Brown and Company (first published 2013)
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The most serious question in history. How can we humans go on?

4 1/2

Alan Weisman is a practicing and teaching journalist. He’s received several awards, and written five books, the most popular being the 2007 The World Without Us. Countdown is Weisman’s attempt to bring humans back into the picture, by reporting on how the stresses being exerted on our planet could all be lessened by a single remedy – a lowering of the human birth rate, and eventually a lowering of the human population (without co
Jul 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-star-books, ecology

A marvellous investigation of the world's populations, and the resources available to us. Before reading this I had a rather woolly idea that the world was over-populated, and that we were over-consuming our resources - but the reality is much more complex than that, and the situations vary strongly from country to country. I haven't changed my opinion, but it has been bolstered by a wealth of fascinating information. Also Weisman doesn't only tackle countries with growing populations, but also
Oct 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: five-stars-books
5 "profound, frightening and life-changing" stars !

7th Favorite Read of 2015

This may not be the best book I read this year but it will likely be the most important. Mr. Weisman travels to twenty countries over five continents and interviews scientists, economists, religious leaders, politicians, activists, and everyday people around where our world is headed.

Initially this book frightened me, and made me feel disgust and anger towards humanity and myself for the state that our beautiful earth
Sep 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Alan Weisman has written a masterful, detailed, and well-researched account of the problem that increased population of human beings is bringing to our planet. He begins with a shocking report of how Israelis and Palestinians are destroying the land which they claim to love through their unceasing birthrate. It is painful to read. Next comes Mexico, Uganda, Great Britain, and country after country, including the Vatican, showing how each is culpable in helping to destroy our planet making it unl ...more
Jun 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
Alan Weisman who wrote the popular The World Without Us looks at world population growth and its impact. He goes beyond the statistics and dire forecasts, taking us to communities around the globe. We see the complexity of dealing with rapidly increasing populations and environmental degradation. Each situation is different; some are success stories and some are communities trapped in downward spirals. Entrenched power, greed and tradition are difficult to overcome, but NGO’s, committed governme ...more
Rob Waiser
Aug 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: giveaway-win
I received this book through a goodreads giveaway.

I do not consider myself a particularly avid environmentalist and this is not the type of book I would typically pick up for myself, but I'm really glad I read it. One of the highest compliments I can give a book (especially non-fiction) is that I find myself talking about it with other people, and that has been the case with this book many times already.

I was afraid that it might be a bit dry, but the author does a great job of delivering his me
Jul 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I won this book from the firstreads giveaway. Thank you, goodreads, for the opportunity to read this book.


First, let us take a look at Alan Weisman's style in Countdown:

When I begin to read a non-fiction book that introduces a new idea that is meant for an audience who is ignorant about said idea, I expect a certain amount of ease of reading. That is not to say it should be simplistic, but the ideas must be presented in such a way that a wide range of people can understand it.

On this topic
Jose Moa
Apr 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ecologism
Ths is one more book mainly focused over population explosion,all the books on this subject make clear the logical incompatibility between a exponential growth of population an the limited resources of a rather small planet.

Is a book long with a extense list of references.The author has traveled arroun the world and interwiwed many people.He had chosen several countries as examples,some succesful in birth control as for example Iran and others not as for example Philipines due mostly to the intr
Jul 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
we humans, despite our natural aptitude for mathematics, seem to have an arduous time making sense of concepts that involve very large numbers. unfortunately however, abstract notions have absolute consequences, whether anticipated or otherwise. although it took until the early 1800s for global population to reach its first billion, it has doubled twice since the year 1900, giving us now some seven billion people worldwide. around the year 2050, the united nations estimates that there may well b ...more
April Franklin
Sep 25, 2013 rated it it was ok
This started with a lot of promise. It included a lot of examples of how extremely high fertility rates in developing nations have been harmful to mothers and children and the environment, and how some countries have changed their high fertility rates. But I felt that the book overall left something to be desired. It spent a lot of time talking about the problem, and not as much talking about solutions. It did talk about how some countries lowered their fertility rate, but it didn't spend much t ...more
Elizabeth Stolar
Jul 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I won an ARC of this book from Goodreads and was very excited to receive it. I was not disappointed. Having really loved Weisman's previous book, The World Without Us, I was very interested to read his follow-up book, about overpopulation, and how the world could survive with us. I highly recommend this book to everyone, to get a firm grasp on the issues that we face, not just specifically about overpopulation, but about how utterly interconnected so many of our issues are -- women's equality, c ...more
Jul 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Aaron by: Goodreads
Per FTC rules: I received a free copy of this book as a giveaway from Goodreads First Reads.

A sobering look at the population woes that beset the human race and how various cultures are approaching the issue. Truly this is a work that is not to dismissed when you consider the population trajectory that we're on and the problems inherent that we're already trying to deal with. Multiple times throughout this book, Weisman reminds us that we're on course to have 10 billion (possibly MORE!) people o
Jul 07, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
Reading this book is like reading a long, long, long National Geographic article on overpopulation (without the pretty pictures). Weisman takes us all over the world, from Israel to Thailand to India, to show us how people are dealing with exploding populations.

His solution? Have fewer babies. While it's hard to disagree with the numbers, and it is definitely true that our Earth can't handle us all having nine kids, I did wish there was more emphasis on overconsumption—because that's what I tru
Nicole Wolverton
Jun 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Weisman's latest book, Countdown, takes a look at the point at which human population (or overpopulation) and the environment (or overconsumption) converge. That point is incredibly frightening, because from there on we're looking at famine and a lot of suffering that we, as humans, might avoid simply by controlling population.

There's quite a bit of discussion about which countries are being responsible or irresponsible re: population growth and environmental sustainability. It's been particula
Jan 02, 2014 rated it did not like it
I wanted to love this book. I think The World Without Us is a masterpiece of imagination and science, and strong writing. So I was impatient for Countdown. And it does start promisingly as Weisman assesses what is undeniably a crisis. In fact, it is a crisis of unimaginable proportions: the planet cannot furnish 7 billion people with the resources to live sustainably, never mind the 10 billion it will soon be home to. ("Sustainably" is a word that has been watered down with misuse; in this conte ...more
Oct 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The world's population is increasing at the rate of one million people every 4 1/2 days. A terrifying fact and one that's hard to get your head around. Weisman's unflinching look at how unfettered population growth is impacting the earth's ecosystems around the globe, and the efforts of committed individuals and organizations to confront the inevitable is a conscious raising masterwork of journalism.

Countdown is a superbly written and engrossing examination of humanity's expansion in diverse nat
Jul 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
This book is one of the best that I have read that deals with the overpopulation issues that we are facing. Not only does it talk about the general subject , but Weisman examines what is happening in different countries around the world. This multicultural approach is one of the biggest strengths of the book, as it reduces the amount of ethnocentrism and shows what approaches have worked before and what is preventing some cultures from reducing their birth rates to more manageable levels.

Kristin Eberhard
Well-told and fascinating anecdotes from the author's travels. However, I was disappointed that there was no real attempt to quantify the earths carrying capacity. Although the whole book is dedicated to showing how bad our population is, it makes no serious efforts to offer solutions, other than a half-hearted reference to not-yet-available male contraception innovations. And although Paul Ehrlich points out that consumption is increasing faster than population and is therefor even more problem ...more
Sep 06, 2013 rated it liked it
An important book, and the amount of "human interest" detail --too much for my taste-- will undoubtedly result in it being read more widely than a shorter, more focused on the science, book would have been. But I had hoped for much more on how a steady population world/economy could work, and, except for a too-brief chapter on Japan's situation, there was very little. He does do a good job of making clear the grave danger the world faces and notes that his friend Paul Ehrlich believes that there ...more
3.5 stars

This primarily looks at human overpopulation of our planet. How can we survive? What do we need to do and how do we do it? Weisman looks at different countries, communities, cultures... Some are ones that have promoted large families. In some cases, some countries are reaching or have already reached their limit of what their country or area can realistically support – what have they done/are doing to help with this?

This was interesting, certainly a topic that many consider taboo, but
Carol Smith
Jun 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, 2013-favs
Disclosure: Won an advance copy on FirstReads. Also an unabashed, hopelessly biased fan of Weisman's The World Without Us.

Powerful. And among the best and most effective epilogues I've ever read. I don't think it would do the reader a disservice to read it first (and then again at the end). It sets the stage for the book's argument, which an unnamed woman in the epilogue sums up pithily: "There is not a single problem on Earth that wouldn't be easier if there were fewer people."

Weisman takes us
William Crosby
Oct 13, 2013 rated it liked it
Goes around the world examining various country's environmental and population strategies (links population with environmental degradation). Lots of information showing different strategies to ameliorate environmental damage and to control/not control population/birth rates. Sometimes gets tedious with too much information. Makes the argument repeatedly and over and over again and on and on that having too many people is linked with environmental damage. ...more
May 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult, nonfiction, 2015
"You have to finish reading Countdown before we get pregnant," Mike sez.

I do not.

"Now we're having a baby and you haven't even finished Countdown!"


Guess what? Population crises suck. Will the same world be around for Tugboat in 2050? Probably not, but I don't see a Cormac McCarthy scenario either. (In Mike's version of the events, I am Charlize Theron.) That's why I continue to give money to fund abortions.
Florent Diverchy
Jan 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
A definitive compilation of things to know about our world, its populationand the dynamics between them. And a thorough study on how we should make the world liveable for every one. Being Fewer, better, healthier. Education, and family planning must lead the way. Let's hope the message will be heard.
Stephen Chastain
Sep 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
If Earth’s enormous human population is a threat multiplier, and raising death rates is not an acceptable answer, how do you reduce human population to avoid catastrophe? While answering this question, author Alan Weisman summarizes the 20th century’s human population explosion in ecological terms, and points out the plethora of literature indicating a grim future for humanity. Weisman’s argument acknowledges the traditional reaction to population control as inequitable. However, he points out t ...more
Jul 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: all_mine, first-reads
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I won a free copy from as a part of a Goodreads giveaway.

This is one of the more powerful books I’ve read in a while. Weisman got right to the root of the problem of overpopulation that leads to overconsumption of Earth’s resources. There was some repetition when describing some of the many countries and our ability to rein in the number of children with the use of birth control. He describes a lot of countries that I would have ever crossed my mind had he not mentioned them. It seems that educa
Scott Haraburda
Jul 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
Goodreads First Reads Giveaway Book.


In world that has too many people, we often encounter numerous warnings predicting a terrible future for humankind. Many of these are described in the recent 2013 book, Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?. It’s a book that grabs our fear of future problems and appeals to our love of our planet, as it attempts to discover realistic solutions.

The author visited a couple of dozen countries as he explored four
Leda Frost
Sep 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
An excellently written book with a clear, terrifying message: if we don't do something about our growing population, Nature will be sure to do something to us. The first half of the book is a globe-hopping endeavor to showcase what I would call the "hotspots" of population growth, and what efforts have been implemented there to slow down growth, often to great success. The key, Weisman illustrates, is to put the power in the people's hands-- particularly women--as time and again statistics show ...more
Jun 06, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: gr-giveaway
I received this book for free through Goodreads First Read.

Loads of information on the effects of over-population, but I found the book over long and repetitive. As much as I enjoyed "The World Without Us" for the informative and imaginative way it showed how the world would change without a human presence, I found "Countdown" a bit of a difficult slog to get through. Why? Maybe the book just wasn't my cup of tea, and I'm sure many readers here will disagree with my assessment of the book, but I
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

Alan Weisman's reports from around the world have appeared in Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Orion, Wilson Quarterly, Vanity Fair, Mother Jones, Discover, Audubon, Condé Nast Traveler, and in many anthologies, in

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“In the days when money was backed by its face value in silver or gold, there were limits to how much wealth could flow around the world. Today, it's virtual money that the bank lends into existence on a computer screen. "And unless the economy continually expands, there is no new flow of money to pay back that money, plus interest." . . . "As it stands now, if banks start loaning money more slowly than they collect debts, the quantity of money in the economy goes down, and it's impossible to pay back debts. So we get defaults on houses . . . our economy plunges into misery and unemployment. Under our current monetary system, the only alternative to that is endless growth. So one absolute thing we have to change is the whole nature of the monetary system. . . . we deny banks the right to create money." . . . There's a challenge with that solution, he admits. "You're trying to take the right to create wealth away from some of the wealthiest people on the planet.” 8 likes
“Whether we accept it or not, this will likely be the century that determines what the optimal human population is for our planet. It will come about in one of two ways:
Either we decide to manage our own numbers, to avoid a collision of every line on civilization's graph - or nature will do it for us, in the form of famines, thirst, climate chaos, crashing ecosystems, opportunistic disease, and wars over dwindling resources that finally cut us down to size.”
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