The World Without Us

The World Without Us

Infobox Book
name = The World Without Us

author = Alan Weisman
country = United States
language = English
genre = Non-fiction
publisher = St. Martin's Thomas Dunne Books
release_date = July 10, 2007
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback) and Audiobook
pages = 336 pp.
isbn = ISBN 0312347294 (10) and ISBN 978-0312347291 (13)

"The World Without Us" is a non-fiction book about what would happen to the natural and built environment if humans suddenly disappeared, written by American journalist Alan Weisman and published by St. Martin's Thomas Dunne Books. [cite book |last=Weisman |first=Alan |authorlink=Alan Weisman |title=The World Without Us |date=July 10, 2007 |publisher=Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press |location=New York |isbn=0312347294 |oclc=122261590] It is a book-length expansion of Weisman's own February 2005 "Discover" article "Earth Without People".Citation |last=Weisman |first=Alan |author-link=Alan Weisman |publication-date=February 2005 |title=Earth Without People |periodical=Discover Magazine |volume=26 |issue=2 |pages=60–65 |url= |accessdate=2007-11-10.] Written largely as a thought experiment, it outlines, for example, how cities and houses would deteriorate, how long man-made artifacts would last, and how remaining lifeforms would evolve. Weisman concludes that residential neighborhoods would become forests within 500 years, and that radioactive waste, bronze statues, plastics, and Mount Rushmore would be among the longest lasting evidence of human presence on Earth.

The author of four previous books and numerous articles for magazines, Weisman traveled around the world to interview academics, scientists and other authorities. He used quotations from these interviews to explain the effects of the natural environment and to substantiate predictions. The book has been translated and published in France, Germany, Japan, Portugal, Spain and Italy. It was successful in the U.S., reaching #6 on the "New York Times" Best Seller listCitation |url= |title=Best Sellers: Hardcover Nonfiction |accessdate=2007-11-02 |date=September 9, 2007 |newspaper=The New York Times.] and #1 on the "San Francisco Chronicle" Best-Sellers list in September 2007.Citation |url= |title=San Francisco Chronicle Best-Sellers: Nonfiction Bay Area |accessdate=2007-11-02 |date=September 23, 2007 |newspaper=San Francisco Chronicle.] It ranked #1 on "Time" [,30583,1686204_1686244_1691412,00.html Poniewozik, James; Top 10 New TV Series;] ] and "Entertainment Weekly's" nowrap|top 10 non-fiction books of 2007.


Before "The World Without Us", the author, Alan Weisman, had written four books, including "Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World" in 1998 on an eco-village in Colombia, and "An Echo In My Blood" in 1999 on his family’s history immigrating from Ukraine to the United States. He has worked as an international journalist for American magazines and newspapers and at the time of writing was an Associate Professor of Journalism and Latin American Studies at the University of Arizona. The position required him to teach only one class in the spring semester, and he was free to travel and conduct research the rest of the year. [Citation |last=Williams |first=Wilda |date=May 15, 2007 |title=The Lonely Planet |periodical=Library Journal |publisher=Reed Business Information |volume=132 |issue=9 |pages=112 |issn=0363-0277.]

The idea for "The World Without Us" was suggested to Weisman in 2004 by Josie Glausiusz, an editor at "Discover".Weisman (2007), 277.] She had pondered the idea for several years and asked Weisman to write a feature on the subject after she re-read "Journey through a Doomed Land", an article he published in 1994 in "Harper's Magazine" about the state of Chernobyl eight years after abandonment. His "Discover" article, "Earth Without People", published in the February 2005 issue and re-printed in "The Best American Science Writing 2006" anthology, [Citation |last=Weisman |first=Alan |author-link=Alan Weisman |date=February 2005 |publication-date=September 5, 2006 |contribution=Earth Without People |editor-last=Gawande |editor-first=Atul |editor-link=Atul Gawande |editor2-last=Cohen |editor2-first=Jesse |title=The Best American Science Writing |edition=2006 |publication-place=New York |publisher=Harper Perennial |pages=28–36 |isbn=9780060726447.] describes how nature has thrived in the abandoned Korean Demilitarized Zone and how nature would overwhelm the built environment of New York City. Using interviews with paleoecologists, the article speculates that megafauna would return and that forest cover, like the Białowieża Forest, would spread over Europe and the eastern United States. The article raises the prospect of failing power plants, chemical plants, dams, and petroleum tanks.

To expand this into a book, Weisman’s agent found an editor and publisher at St. Martin's Press. Among the 23 page bibliography are two articles he wrote for the Los Angeles Times Magazine ("Naked Planet" on persistent organic pollutants, and "The Real Indiana Jones" on the Mayan civilization) and one published in the "Condé Nast Traveler" ("Diamond in the Wild" on diamond mining), as well as "Discover"'s "Earth Without People". [Weisman (2007), 289–311.] Additional research saw Weisman travel to England, Cyprus, Turkey, Panama, and Kenya. Interviews with academics quoted in the book include biologist E. O. Wilson on the Korean Demilitarized Zone, [Weisman (2007), 129, 189–190.] archaeologist William Rathje on plastics in garbage, [Weisman (2007), 119–120.] forest botanist Oliver Rackham on vegetative cover across Britain, [Weisman (2007), 150–151.] anthropologist Arthur Demarest on the crash of Mayan civilization, [Weisman (2007), 224–229.] paleobiologist Douglas Erwin on evolution, [Weisman (2007), 229–232.] and philosopher Nick Bostrom on transhumanism. [Weisman (2007), 240–244.]


The book is divided into 19 chapters, with a prelude, coda, bibliography and index. Each chapter deals with a new topic, such as the potential fates of plastics, petroleum infrastructure, nuclear facilities, and artworks. It is written from the point of view of a science journalist with explanations and testimonies backing his predictions. There is no unifying narrative, cohesive single-chapter overview, or thesis.Citation |last=Weiler |first=Derek |publication-date=August 12, 2007 |title=And the wild things shall inherit the Earth |newspaper=Toronto Star |url= |accessdate=2007-10-31 ] Citation |last=Appleton |first=Josie |date=July 2007 |title=Unleashing nature’s terror |publisher=Spiked (magazine)|issue=3 |url= |accessdate=2007-12-04.]

Weisman's thought experiment pursues two themes: how nature would react to the disappearance of humans and what legacy humans would leave behind. To foresee how other life could continue without humans, Weisman reports from areas where the natural environment exists with little human intervention, like the Białowieża Forest, the Kingman Reef, and the Palmyra Atoll. He interviews biologist E. O. Wilson and visits with members of the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement at the Korean Demilitarized Zone where few humans have penetrated since 1953. [Weisman (2007), 183–188.] He tries to conceive how life may evolve by describing the past evolution of pre-historic plants and animals, but notes Douglas Erwin's warning that "we can't predict what the world will be 5 million years later by looking at the survivors". [Weisman (2007), 232.] Several chapters are dedicated to megafauna, which Weisman predicts would proliferate. He profiles soil samples from the past 200 years and extrapolates concentrations of heavy metals and foreign substances into a future without industrial inputs. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and implications for climatic change are likewise examined.

, and are likely to survive for centuries to come. [Weisman (2007), 106–111.]

Weisman uses New York City as a model to outline how an unmaintained urban area would deconstruct. He explains that sewers would clog, underground streams would flood subway corridors, and soils under roads would erode and cave in. From interviews with members of the Wildlife Conservation Society [Weisman (2007), 22–24.] and the New York Botanical Gardens [Weisman (2007), 28–32.] Weisman predicts that native vegetation would return, spreading from parks and out-surviving invasive species. Without humans to provide food and warmth, rats and cockroaches would die off.Weisman explains that a common house would begin to fall apart as water eventually leaks into the roof around the flashings, erodes the wood and rusts the nails, leading to sagging walls and eventual collapse. After 500 years all that would be left would be aluminum dishwasher parts, stainless steel cookware, and plastic handles. [Weisman (2007), 18.] The longest-lasting evidence on Earth of a human presence would be radioactive materials, ceramics, bronze statues, and Mount Rushmore. In space, the Pioneer plaques, the Voyager Golden Record, and radio waves would outlast the Earth itself. [Weisman (2007), 249–254.]

Breaking from the theme of the natural environment after humans, Weisman considers what could lead to the sudden, complete demise of humans without serious damage to the built and natural environment. That scenario, he concludes, is extremely unlikely. He also considers transhumanism, the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, and John A. Leslie's "The End of the World: the Science and Ethics of Human Extinction". [Weisman (2007), 239–244.] Weisman concludes the book considering a new version of the one-child policy. While he admits it is a "draconian measure", [Weisman (2007), 272.] he states, "The bottom line is that any species that overstretches its resource base suffers a population crash. Limiting our reproduction would be damn hard, but limiting our consumptive instincts may be even harder."cite web |url= |title=Book World |accessdate=2007-11-11
author=Alan Weisman |coauthors=Callum Roberts |date=July 31, 2007 |format=Interview |publisher=The Washington Post Company
] He responded to criticism of this saying "I knew in advance that I would touch some people's sensitive spots by bringing up the population issue, but I did so because it's been missing too long from the discussion of how we must deal with the situation our economic and demographic growth have driven us too (sic)".


The book was first published on July 10, 2007, as a hardback in the United States by St. Martin's Thomas Dunne Books, in United Kingdom by Virgin Books and in Canada by HarperCollins. The paperback was released in July 2008. It has been translated and published in France by Groupe Flammarion as "Homo disparitus", [cite book |last=Weisman |first=Alan |title=Homo disparitus |language=French |date=May 4, 2007 |publisher=Groupe Flammarion |location=Paris |isbn=9782081204935] in Germany by Piper as "Die Welt ohne uns", [cite book |last=Weisman |first=Alan |title=Die Welt ohne uns |language=German |month=August |year=2007 |publisher=Piper Verlag GmbH |location=Munich |isbn=9783492051323] in Portugal by Estrela Polar as "O Mundo Sem Nós", [cite book |last=Weisman |first=Alan |title=O Mundo Sem Nós |language=Portuguese |year=2007 |publisher=Estrela Polar |location=Cruz Quebrada |isbn=8576653028] in Italy by Einaudi as "Il mondo senza di noi" [cite book |last=Weisman |first=Alan |title=Il mondo senza di noi |language=Italian |year=2008 |publisher=Einaudi |location=Turin |isbn=9788806191375] , in Poland by CKA as "Świat bez nas" [cite book |last=Weisman |first=Alan |title=Świat bez nas |language= Polish |year=2007 |publisher=CKA |location=Gliwice |isbn=8360206902] , and in Japan by Hayakawa Publishing as "Jinrui ga kieta sekai". [cite book |last=Weisman |first=Alan |title=Jinrui ga kieta sekai |language=Japanese |year=2008 |publisher=Hayakawa |location=Tokyo |isbn=9784152089182]

Pete Garceau designed the cover art for the American release, which one critic said was "a thick layer of sugar-coated sweetness in an effort to not alarm potential readers. 'Yes, I am a book about the environment. But I'm harmless! No, really!' " [cite web |url= |title=Jackets Required: The World Without Us |author=Fwis |accessdate=2007-11-11 |date=August 21, 2007 |publisher=Publishers Weekly] The Canadian version, designed by Ellen Cipriano, is similar to the American version but with a photo illustration rather than the disarming cartoon illustration. Cover art for the international releases contrast the natural environment with a decaying built environment. Adam Grupper voiced the ten hour long, unabridged English language audiobook which was published by Macmillan Audio and BBC Audiobooks, and released simultaneously with the hardcover book. [cite web|url =|title = The World Without Us|accessdate = 2007-11-11|year = 2007|publisher = Macmillan Audio] [cite web|url =|title = The World Without Us|accessdate = 2007-11-11|year = 2007|publisher = BBC Audiobooks America] AudioFile gave the audio presentation its Earphones Award, called Grupper's reading sincere and balanced, and wrote, "Never veering into sensationalism, always objective and phlegmatic, Grupper takes what could be a depressing topic and makes it a book you just can't stop listening to". [Citation |date= October/November 2007| title=Current Reviews: Contemporary Culture – The World Without Us| publisher=AudioFile Publications| magazine= AudioFile (magazine) |url= |accessdate=2007-12-06]


As the book was released Weisman launched his book tour with stops throughout the United States, Canada and overseas to Lisbon and Brussels. [cite web|url= |title = World Without Us: Tour Dates|accessdate = 2007-11-02|date = October 26, 2007|publisher = St. Martin’s Press / Thomas Dunne Books] Weisman did television interviews on "The Daily Show" and "The Today Show" and radio interviews on "Weekend Edition", "Talk of the Nation", "The Diane Rehm Show", "Living on Earth", "Marketplace", and "As It Happens". [cite web|url= |title = World Without Us: Podcasts & Videos|accessdate = 2007-11-02|year= 2007|publisher = St. Martin’s Press / Thomas Dunne Books] Meanwhile, the book debuted on the New York Times Best Seller list for non-fiction hardcovers at #10 on July 29 [Citation |url= |title=Best Sellers: Hardcover Nonfiction |accessdate=2007-11-02 |date= July 29, 2007| newspaper=The New York Times.] and spent nine weeks in the top ten, [Citation |url= |title=Best Sellers: Hardcover Nonfiction |accessdate=2007-11-02 |date= September 30, 2007| newspaper=The New York Times.] peaking at #6 on August 12 and September 9. [Citation |url= |title=Best Sellers: Hardcover Nonfiction |accessdate=2007-11-02 |date= August 12, 2007| newspaper=The New York Times.] In the Canadian market, it spent 10 weeks on "The Globe and Mail"'s non-fiction best seller list, peaking at #3 on August 11. [Citation |date= 2007-08-11 |title= Hardcover bestsellers |newspaper=The Globe and Mail |publisher=CTVglobemedia.] [Citation |date= 2007-09-29 |title= Hardcover bestsellers |newspaper=The Globe and Mail |publisher=CTVglobemedia.] The book reached #1 on the "San Francisco Chronicle" Best-Sellers list for non-fiction on September 23 and spent 11 weeks on the "USA Today"'s Top 150 Best-Selling Books, peaking at #48. [Citation |url= |title=This week's top 150 best sellers |accessdate=2007-11-02 |date= October 28, 2007|newspaper=USA Today |work=Best-Selling Books Database. Requires navigation to October 28, 2007 or "The World Without Us" entry.] Reviewers at the Library Journal recommended the book for all environmental collections and the audiobook for most public and academic library audiobook collections. [Citation |last=Sapp |first=Gregg |date= May 15, 2007 |title=The World Without Us |periodical=Library Journal |publisher=Reed Business Information |volume=132 |issue=9 |pages=113 |issn=0363-0277.] [Citation |last=El |first=I. Pour |date= September 15, 2007 |title=The World Without Us |periodical=Library Journal |publisher=Reed Business Information |volume=132 |issue=15 |pages=99 |issn=0363-0277.] The book ranked #1 on "Time" and "Entertainment Weekly's" top nowrap|10 non-fiction books of 2007 and was listed in the Hudson Booksellers' "Best Books published in 2007". [cite web |url= |title= UA Journalism Prof Collecting Year-end Kudos for Book |accessdate=2007-12-20 |author=Kate Harrison |date=December 14, 2007 |publisher=University of Arizona] [cite web |url=,,20167009,00.html |title=The Best Books of 2007 |accessdate=2008-01-03 |author=Jennifer Reese |date=2007-12-18 |publisher=Entertainment Weekly] [Cite press release |url= |title=Hudson Booksellers Announces the Best Books of 2007 |accessdate=2007-11-02|date= October 23, 2007| publisher=Hudson Group] In the "Best Books of 2007", it placed #4 overall in the United States and #1 in the non-fiction category in Canada. [cite web |url= |title=Best Books of 2007: Editors' Top 100| |accessdate=2007-12-02] [cite web |url= |title=Editors' Picks: 2007's Top 25 in Nonfiction| |accessdate=2007-12-20]

The writing style was positively received as being vivid and well-written, sometimes grim, but with appropriate language.cite web |url= |title="The World Without Us" |accessdate=2007-11-01 |author=Gary Kamiya |date=July 23, 2007 |] Even an overall negative review by Michael Grunwald in "The Washington Post" remarked the writing was "always lucid, sometimes elegant".Citation | last=Grunwald | first=Michael | publication-date= July 29, 2007 | title=What would Earth be like if all the humans died out? | newspaper=The Washington Post |url= |accessdate=2007-10-31 .] In "The New York Times Book Review" Jennifer Schuessler said Weisman has a "flirtation with religious language, his occasionally portentous impassivity giving way to the familiar rhetoric of eco-hellfire". [Citation | last=Schuessler | first=Jennifer | publication-date= September 2, 2007 | title=Starting Over | newspaper=The New York Times |url= |accessdate=2007-10-31 |page=G12.] Janet Maslin of "The New York Times" found the writing had "an arid, plain, what-if style" while being "strangely uniform in tone". [Citation | last=Maslin| first=Janet |author-link =Janet Maslin |date= August 13, 2007 | title=A World Without Humans? It All Falls Apart | newspaper=The New York Times|url= |accessdate=2007-11-01 .] On the reporting techniques, Kamiya wrote that " [Weisman's] science reporting, at once lucid and full of wonder ... is the heart and soul of this book" and that it is "written as if by a compassionate and curious observer on another planet". "The Plain Dealer" book editor Karen Long said Weisman "uses the precise, unhurried language of a good science writer and shows a knack for unearthing unexpected sources and provocative facts".Citation |last=Long |first=Karen |publication-date= August 19, 2007 |title='World Without Us' offers fascinating science read – book review |newspaper= The Plain Dealer |publication-place =Cleveland, Ohio |url= |accessdate=2007-10-31 .]

Several critics found the lack of an anthropomorphic point of view hurt the book's relevance. Robert Braile in "The Boston Globe" wrote that it has "no real context ... no rationale for probing this fantasy other than [Weisman's] unsubstantiated premise that people find it fascinating".Citation | last=Braile | first=Robert | publication-date= August 18, 2007 | title=He imagines a world without people. But why? |newspaper=The Boston Globe |url= |accessdate=2007-10-31 .] Michael Grunwald in "The Washington Post" also questioned the premise: "Imagining the human footprint on a post-human planet might be fun for dormitory potheads who have already settled the questions of God's existence and Fergie's hotness, but it's not clear why the rest of us need this level of documentary evidence". On the other hand, Alanna Mitchell in the "Globe & Mail" review found relevance in the context of society's passiveness to resource depletion combined with an anthropomorphic vanity. She writes the "book [is] designed to help us find the how of survival by shaking us out of our passive dance with death".Citation | last=Michell| first=Alanna| publication-date= July 21, 2007 | title=Good riddance to us and our bad rubbish | newspaper=The Globe & Mail |publisher=CTVglobemedia |pages=D6.]

The book's environmental focus was also criticized by some. Christopher Orlet of "The American Spectator" wrote that it is "a prime example of the wrongheaded, extremist views of the Greens". [cite web | last=Orlet | first=Christopher| date= August 1, 2007 | title=Better Off Dead |publisher= "The American Spectator" |url=| accessdate=2007-10-31] Braile agrees that the book could be "an environmentalist's nightmare, possibly fueling the cheap shots taken at the green movement ... by critics who say environmentalists care more about nature than people". Environmentalist Alex Steffen found the book presents nothing new, but that using the sudden and clean disappearance of humans provides a unique framework, although extremely unlikely and insensitive. [cite web |url= |title=The World With Us |accessdate=2007-12-20 |author=Alex Steffen |date=July 23, 2007 |work=Worldchanging] Two critics who call the book a "Jeremiad" ultimately gave it a positive review. [Citation |last=Heinegg |first=Peter |date= September 15, 2007 |title=The World Without Us |periodical=America |publisher=America Press |volume=197 |issue=16 |pages=23 |issn=0002-7049.] The Guardian says "we learn during the course of this book, to feel good about the disappearance of humanity from the Earth". [ [,,2277614,00.html Review: The World Without Us by Alan Weisman | Books | The Guardian ] ]

Other critics hailed the environmental perspective. Chauncey Mabe of the "South Florida Sun-Sentinel" calls the book "one of the most satisfying environmental books of recent memory, one devoid of self-righteousness, alarmism or tiresome doomsaying". [Citation | last=Mabe | first=Chauncey |date= August 12, 2007 | title='The World Without Us' by Alan Weisman: Don't think about us when we're gone | newspaper=South Florida Sun-Sentinel |url= |accessdate=2007-11-01 .] Tom Spears of the CanWest News Service concludes "it's more a portrait of ourselves, taken through an odd lens" and " [s] ometimes an obituary is the best biography". [Citation | last=Spears| first=Tom | date= September 2, 2007 | title=World would go on without us: New book looks at what would happen without people | publisher=CanWest News Service| newspaper=The Province |url= |accessdate=2007-11-01 .]


The book is categorized as non-fiction science but some commentators emphasize it may be better described as speculative fiction.Citation | last=Stott| first=Philip |author-link=Philip Stott |year= 2008 |volume=1 |issue=2| title=Book review: The World Without Us By Alan Weisman |publisher =Electronic Journal of Sustainable Development |url= |accessdate=2008-06-17 |pages=17–18.] "The World Without Us" is grounded in environmental and science journalism. Like other environmental books, it discusses the impact that the human race has had on the planet.Citation | last=Lynas| first=Mark| author-link=Mark Lynas |date= September 27, 2007 | title=Back to the future |publisher =New Statesman|url= |accessdate=2007-12-04 |pages=53–54.] Weisman's thought experiment removes the judgments and sufferings of humans by focusing on a hypothetical post-human world. This approach to the genre, which "throw [s] the spotlight on the earth itself", was found to be creative and objective. There have been other books that address similar topics, such as Gregory Benford's 1999 book "Deep Time: How Humanity Communicates Across Millennia". Science fiction writers such as H.G. Wells ("The War of the Worlds", 1898) and John Wyndham ("The Day of the Triffids", 1951) had earlier touched upon the possible fate of cities and other man-made structures after the sudden removal of their creators.

Weisman's approach to the environmental genre was said to leave no relevant message, only trivia, because the findings deal only with a future after humans. Addressing his approach, Weisman said that eliminating the human element eliminated the "fear factor" that people are doing something wrong or that they will die; it is meant to be read as a fantasy, according to the author. Josie Appleton of "Spiked" related the book to "today’s romanticisation of nature" in that it linked "the decadence and detachment of a modern consumerist society" with an ignorance of the efforts required to produce products so easily disposed. Appleton also felt the book countered the "Nature knows best" notion by highlighting the randomness of natural forces.

Weisman's science journalism style uses interviews with academic and professional authorities to substantiate conclusions, while maintaining the "cool and dispassionate [tone] …of a scientific observer rather than an activist". Weisman said he purposely avoided the activist label: "Some of our finest science and nature writers only get read by people who already agree with them. It's nice to get some affirmation for whatever it is you believe is true, even if it's quite sobering, but I wanted to write something that people would read ... without minimizing the significance of what's going on, nor trivializing it, nor oversimplifying it."cite interview | subject=Alan Weisman | subjectlink =Alan Weisman |interviewer= Dave Weich| title = With People out of the Picture, Alan Weisman Gets Creative |url= | program = |city= Portland |date= July 19, 2007 | accessdate = 2007-11-10] Richard Fortey compares the book to the works of Jared Diamond, Tim Flannery and E.O. Wilson, and writes that "The World Without Us" "narrowly avoids engendering the gloom-and-doom ennui that tends to engulf the poor reader after reading a catalogue of human rapacity". [Citation | last=Fortey | first=Richard |author-link=Richard Fortey| publication-date= August 16, 2007 |title= How would Nature clean up our mess? | newspaper= The Daily Telegraph| publication-place =London |url= |accessdate=2007-12-04.] Mark Lynas in the "New Statesman" noted that "whereas most environmental books sag under the weight of their accumulated bad news, "The World Without Us" seems refreshingly positive". Demonstrating the optimism on the grim subject matter Appleton quotes an ecologist from the book saying "if the planet can recover from the Permian, it can recover from the human".

Television specials

Though not directly related to the book, there have been several TV specials relating to the same topic: [Citation | last=Tucker | first=Neely | publication-date= March 8, 2008 | title=Depopulation Boom | newspaper=The Washington Post |url= |accessdate=2008-06-14 |pages=C01 .]
*"Life After People" shows what would happen if humans disappeared instantly.
*"" is the same as the above, but gives more detail into certain things.
*"The Future Is Wild" does not explain the disappearance of man, but rather it shows how life would evolve 5, 100 and 200 million years after all humans have left Earth and our descendants sent a probe to examine what became of the homeworld.


External links

* [ "The World Without Us"] – Official website
* [ Declinism Declined] A long review of "The World Without Us."

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