Book Review: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

I’ve had a hard time explaining this book to my friends. About all that comes out coherently is, “It’s nothing like the movie.”

Okay, so they both have zombies. And yes, Israel builds a giant walled city and shuts itself in. And that old guy whose job it is to believe the unbelievable, in hopes of preventing another 1973 “Arab sneak attack”? He’s in the book. But that’s about it. No Brad Pitt, no miracle plane crash survivals, no deus ex machina immunity and sneaking around a zombie-infested CDC. By the end of the book all is not peachy keen. We don’t all get inoculated against the virus and are instantly saved. We have to fight for decades against an enemy that is more like us than appearances suggest.

What I try to convey is that, to my NPR-and-Daily-Show-fueled brain, this book accurately depicts what people in the future would say if a Zombie Apocalypse were to hit our planet as it currently stands. Without naming names it manages to perfectly reflect our world. Therefore, this book is less about zombies and more about geopolitics, economics, fear and survival, and deeds both selfish and selfless. It’s a whole bunch about the military, soldiers from every corner of the globe, and the myriad ways there are to kill the undead. (It’s a lot more complicated than you might think.) It’s activists and mystics and detached teenagers and feral children, refugees and pilots and drug companies capitalizing on our panic.

Told in the form of interviews (the United Nations interviewer, unnamed and almost entirely without character, formed the basis of the Brad Pitt character in the movie) that range from just a few pages to dozens, the book is able to cover a wide range of topics and locations from Colorado and Micronesia to China and Finland. Soldiers, politicians, mercenaries and filmmakers recount their experiences in the Zombie War, and some truly are affecting. One woman recounts, with the help of her doctors, her harrowing experience that left her orphaned and alone at a very young age. Another gives a touching reflection on the nature of monarchy and castles in Europe, and another, a rollicking 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea-style adventure in a Chinese nuclear submarine. Many critics have pointed out that the voices of the many interviewees aren’t diverse enough, which may be a valid point, but I hardly noticed. Everything they recount is engaging and varied enough to overlook the fact they all sound like Max Brooks.

And about Mr. Brooks. I’d like to see his research notes, because oh my god this guy talks about everything. I felt smarter by the page.

So hopefully this little review has helped explain what this nifty little book is like. Because yes, while it’s nothing like the movie, it’s also so much more. I highly recommend it, whether you’re into zombies or not.

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7 Comments

Filed under books, fiction

7 responses to “Book Review: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

  1. I’m actually writing about zombies and I have this book and haven’t read it yet. (Although with moving, I haven’t a clue where it is at the moment.) I definitely want to read it, though. As you remind me!

    Thanks for the review.

  2. Gee, and I thought my reading had gone a little off. I have been reading The Eyre Affair. Not sure what it says about the current state of mind but World War Z might just drive me a little off in the wrong direction. I’ve been trying not to dwell on the real zombie attack we’ve had lately. And now you want me to start reading about more zombies. I don’t know. But I do have an upcoming book review of The Eyre Affair.

    • Don if you want my true and honest opinion The Eyre Affair is waaaaay more dangerous than zombies. It made my head hurt for days, tangling out all those space-time continuum threads. Consider this fair warning, and I do hope you survive long enough to deliver that review.

      And what can I say. I like dark depressing crap. Braaaaiiinzzzz!

      • I have to tell you that if you love depressing crap that much, you will love Marvin in A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He’s a real joy.

        • Oh man. I read that book the summer before my freshman year of high school instead of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea like I’d been assigned (don’t worry, I got around to it). I don’t remember Marvin but I did happen to be the only student in my English class that year to get the bonus question on the midterm correct: What is the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything? I feel like the universe secretly set me up for glory. That book rocked my world.

          But yeah. My favorite book during that period was Wuthering Heights. Super depressing.

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