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

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospit...

Title:World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
Author:
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ISBN:0307346609
Edition Language:English
Number of Pages:342 pages

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War Reviews

  • Jason Pettus

    (My full review of this book is longer than Goodreads' word-count limitations; find the entire essay at the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com].)

    Anytime I hear of some funny, gimmicky book suddenly becoming popular among the hipster set, I always squint my eyes and brace myself for the worst; because usually when it comes to such books, the worst is all you can expect to find, an endless series of fluffy pop-culture pieces designed specifically for crafty point-of-pur

    (My full review of this book is longer than Goodreads' word-count limitations; find the entire essay at the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com].)

    Anytime I hear of some funny, gimmicky book suddenly becoming popular among the hipster set, I always squint my eyes and brace myself for the worst; because usually when it comes to such books, the worst is all you can expect to find, an endless series of fluffy pop-culture pieces designed specifically for crafty point-of-purchase display at your favorite corporate superstore, and then a year later to be forgotten by society altogether. And so it's been in the last six months as I've heard more and more about this book

    , which supposedly is a hilarious "actual" oral history about an apocalyptic war with the undead that supposedly almost wiped out the human race as we know it; even worse, that it had been inspired by an actual gimmicky point-of-purchase humor book, the dreadful

    from a few years ago which had been published specifically and only to make a quick buck off the "overly specific survival guide" craze of the early 2000s. And even worse than all this, the author of both is Max Brooks, as in the son of comedy legend Mel Brooks; and if the son of a comedy legend is trawling the literary gutters of gimmicky point-of-purchase humor books, the chances usually are likely that they have nothing of particular interest to say.

    So what a surprise, then, to read the book myself this month, and realize that it's not a gimmicky throwaway humor book at all, but rather a serious and astute look at the next 50 years of global politics, using a zombie outbreak as a metaphorical stand-in for any of the pervasive challenges facing us as an international culture these days (terrorism, global warming, disease, natural disasters), showing with the precision of a policy analyst just how profoundly the old way of doing things is set to fail in the near future when some of these challenges finally become crises. It is in fact an astoundingly intelligent book, as "real" as any essay by Seth Godin or Malcolm Gladwell, basically imagining the debacle of New Orleans multiplied by a million, then imagining what would happen if the Bushists were to react to such a thing in the same way; and even more astounding, Brooks posits that maybe the real key to these future challenges lies with the citizens of third-world countries, in that they are open to greater and faster adaptability than any fat, lazy, middle-class American or European ever could be. Oh yeah, and it's got face-eating zombies too. Did I mention the face-eating zombies?

    Because that's the thing to always remember, that this comes from an author who has spent nearly his entire life in the world of comedy and gimmicky projects, not only from family connections but also his own job as a staff writer at

    from 2001 to '03; that no matter how smart

    gets (and it gets awfully smart at points), it is still ultimately a fake oral history of an apocalyptic zombie war that supposedly takes place just five or ten years from now, starting as these messes often do as a series of isolated outbreaks in remote third-world villages. And in fact this is where Brooks first starts getting his political digs in, right from the first page of the manuscript itself, by using the initial spread of the zombie virus to comment on the way such past epidemics like HIV have been dealt with by the corrupt old white males who used to be in charge of things; basically, by ignoring the issue as long as it wasn't affecting fellow white males, then only paying attention after it's become an unstoppable epidemic. In Brooks' world, just like the real one of pre-9/11 intelligence-gathering, we see that a few government smarties from around the world really were able to catch the implications of this mysterious new virus while it was still theoretically controllable; just that their memos and papers went ignored for political reasons by those actually in charge, as well as getting lost in the vast bureaucratic shuffle that the Cold War has created in the Western military-industrial complex.

    That's probably the most pleasurable part of the first half, to tell you the truth, and by "pleasurable" I mean "witty and humorous in a bleak, horrifying, schauenfreude kind of way" -- of watching the virus become more and more of a threat, of watching entire cities start to go under because of the zombie epidemic, then watching Brooks paint an

    thinly-veiled portrait of how the Bush administration would deal with such a situation, and by extension any government ruled by a small cabal of backwards, power-hungry religious fundamentalists. And in this, then,

    suddenly shifts from a critique about AIDS to a critique about Iraq, showing how in both situations (the Middle East and zombies, that is) the real priority of the people currently in charge is to justify all the trillions of dollars spent at traditional weapon manufacturing companies under the old Cold-War system (companies, by the way, where all the people in charge have lucrative executive jobs when they're not being the people in charge), leading to such ridiculous situations as a full-on tank and aircraft charge mostly for the benefit of the lapdog press outlets who are there covering the "first grand assault." In Iraq, unfortunately, we found that a billion dollars in tanks still can't stop a teenage girl with a bomb strapped to her chest; and metaphorically that might be the most chilling scene in the entirety of

    as well, the press-friendly "zombie response" set up by the Bush-led government in New York's Yonkers neighborhood, done not for good strategic reasons but rather to show off the billions of dollars in weapons the government had recently acquired, leading to a virtual slaughter of all the soldiers and journalists there by the chaotic zombie hoard that eventually arrives.

    This, then, gets us into the first futuristic posit of Brooks in the novel to not have actually happened in real life yet -- the "Great Panic," that is, when the vast majority of humans suddenly lose faith in whatever government was formerly running their section of the world, and where mass anarchy and chaos leads to the accidental and human-on-human deaths of several hundreds of millions of more people. And again, by detailing a fictional tragedy like a global zombie epidemic, and the complete failure of a Bush-type administration to adequately respond to it, Brooks is eerily predicting here such real situations like last week's complete meltdown of Bear Stearns (the fifth largest investment bank in the entire United States), leading many to start wondering for the first time what exactly would happen if the US dollar itself was to experience the same kind of whirlwind collapse, a collapse that happens so fast (in a single business day in the case of Bear Stearns) that no one in the endless red tape of the government itself has time to actually respond to it?

    Brooks' answer here is roughly the same one Cormac McCarthy proposed in last year's Pulitzer-winning

    ; chaos, bloodshed, violence, inhumanity, an everyone-for-themselves mentality from the very people we trusted to lead us in such times of crisis. Make no mistake,

    of the corrupt conservatives currently in charge of things; a book that uses the detritus of popular culture to masquerade as a funny and gross book about zombies, but like the best fantastical literature in history is in fact a prescient look at our current society. It's unbelievable, in fact, how entertaining and engrossing this novel is throughout its middle, given how this is usually the part of any book that is the slowest and least interesting; here Brooks uses the naturally slow middle of his own story to make the majority of his political points, and to get into a really wonky side of global politics that is sure to satisfy all you hardcore policy junkies (as well as military fetishists).

    Because that's the final thing important to understand about

    , is that it's a novel with a truly global scope; Brooks here takes on not only what such a zombie epidemic would do to our familiar US of A, but also how such an epidemic would spread in the village-centric rural areas of southeast Asia, the infrastructure-poor wastelands of Russia and more, and especially how each society fights the epidemic in slightly different ways, some with more success than others. For example, Brooks posits that in such places as India, population density is just too high to do much of any good; in his fictional world history, such countries are basically decimated by such a catastrophe, with there basically being few humans even left in India by the time everything is over. Other countries, though, used to picking up as a nation and fleeing for other lands, survive the zombie outbreaks quite well; those who are already used to being refugees, for example, see not too much of a difference in their usual lifestyle from this latest turn in events, ironically making them the societies most suited for survival in such a world. (This is opposed to all the clueless middle-class Americans in the novel, for example, who in a panic make for the wilds of northern Canada, in the blind hope that the winter weather will freeze the zombies into non-action; although that turns out to be true, poor planning unfortunately results in the deaths of tens of millions of people anyway, from hypothermia and starvation and plain ol' mass-murder.)

    And this is ultimately what I mean by this book being such a politically astute one; because as...

  • Ellen

    This book was initially recommended to me by several people in the office and since I love zombies and apocalyptic themes, well, I was pretty excited. Unfortunately, it did not live up to my expectations and I struggled to finish it. (I'm going to write this review under the assumption that the reader has some inkling about the story and how it's constructed.)

    There are two issues that killed it for me. Firstly, most of the characters had the same--or similar--voice. Of course this is partly to d

    This book was initially recommended to me by several people in the office and since I love zombies and apocalyptic themes, well, I was pretty excited. Unfortunately, it did not live up to my expectations and I struggled to finish it. (I'm going to write this review under the assumption that the reader has some inkling about the story and how it's constructed.)

    There are two issues that killed it for me. Firstly, most of the characters had the same--or similar--voice. Of course this is partly to do with the fact that the voices all originate from the mind of one individual, the author. Also, the more journalistic/interview approach to constructing the narrative limits how much color the author can impart on any given character. Q and A is inherently dry, no matter how exciting the events described are intended to be. This is a minor gripe, though, and one that can be lived with.

    A more serious complaint, however, is that this book can be seen as completely lacking any and all dramatic tension that a person (or, me) expects from a survival horror-themed story. The primary draw--the zombie war and how humanity survived--is such a compelling hook, but it's told...by the people who survived. As in, past tense, as in we are left with their impressions of things that happened to them. Basically, then, the story devolves into an excercise in basic exposition: "And then this happened, and then that happened." And so the author is free to weave his story without any pesky things like character development, story arcs, plotting, and personal details that are shown and not told. It seems to me like an extraordinarily easy (maybe even lazy) way to tell a story.

    One other minor point: For me, accounts of survival when the victims are real have meaning that allows them to transcend the limitations described above. WW2 Holocaust survivors' accounts, for example, can take your breath away. The difference is, of course, that they were real events that happened to real people.

    Since all the classic storytelling elements are dispensed with, we're basically left with the author's views on our current world, particularly and naturally, the wars and our culture(s). However, it's my view that there are dozens of books written about these subjects already; books that haven't needed to sex the discussion up with a horde of shambling undead.

    So, in summary, if I'm going to read an apocalyptic recounting of the end of civilization as we know it, I want to read about people in real time, struggling to survive, not being told how people surivived after it was over.

    (I realize, though, that it's all a matter of taste, as I know half a dozen people whose views I respect that absolutely loved this book.) :D

  • Rebecca DeLaTorre

    I just can't get on this bandwagon. The pseudo-government reports the book is written in handicap it in many ways. First, there are no protagonists to grow with, no story arc, no climax, etc. You know what's going to happen from day one--there was a world crisis involving zombies and at least some people live to tell the tale. The sure knowledge of the outcome deflates any tension and book feels flacid. The pseudo-scientific jargon is a poor imitation (my sister, a nurse, tossed aside Brooks' o

    I just can't get on this bandwagon. The pseudo-government reports the book is written in handicap it in many ways. First, there are no protagonists to grow with, no story arc, no climax, etc. You know what's going to happen from day one--there was a world crisis involving zombies and at least some people live to tell the tale. The sure knowledge of the outcome deflates any tension and book feels flacid. The pseudo-scientific jargon is a poor imitation (my sister, a nurse, tossed aside Brooks' other Zombie manfesto in disgust within the first few pages and this one fairs no better)and there are far too many emotional pauses and descriptive introductions for what amounts to an addendum to a government study of events. The thing that put me over the edge with this book is the inconsistency--one chapter has a boy with bloody knuckles sliding his hands about in zombie goo and remaining uninfected and in the next chapter there is an expression of gratitutde that no one exposed to detrius from a headshot has open wounds to be infected through. What editor let that get by? On top of that, racial, national stereotypes abound and are crude and unappealing. Brooks is obviously a big fan of Israel, as they are the heroes of the day, even going so far as to selflessly save Palestinian refugees (yeah, right)and remnants of South Africa's apartheid system are given a reprieve due to their pragmatism. Russians are wacky comrades, Chinamen are inscrutable and Americans are cowboys weakened by education and consumerism. Ugh.

    I won't recommend this book to anyone, even a die hard zombie fan, lest World War Z ruin the genre for them forever.

  • karen

    this book is about zombies the same way the bible is about god. they are mostly background actors who are the reason other characters do what they do and occasionally they will rarrrr in and kill a bunch of people because they cant help it, but mostly they are an invisible presence, always to be feared but never given a voice.

    this whole book takes place after the zombies have already destroyed most of the world and is a collection of the testimonials of hundreds (?) of different characters deta

    this book is about zombies the same way the bible is about god. they are mostly background actors who are the reason other characters do what they do and occasionally they will rarrrr in and kill a bunch of people because they cant help it, but mostly they are an invisible presence, always to be feared but never given a voice.

    this whole book takes place after the zombies have already destroyed most of the world and is a collection of the testimonials of hundreds (?) of different characters detailing their experiences with the zombie outbreak, and how they have survived. because of this, there arent really any action scenes, or any immediate terror. this book is more about politics and global concerns and human nature and dissatisfaction with the way the government handles natural disasters and (im gonna say it, im gonna say it) the zeitgeist (woohoo) than it is about man-eating corpses. it takes into account so many different aspects of post-zombie experience that i never would have considered like what will the actors do now? and what happens if a zombie gets on board your boat? and how will this affect the rest of the food chain? very multi-faceted, if not what i was expecting.

    also interesting: the role of castles in a zombie holocaust, and the underground tunnels in paris: unsafe. so for people like alfonso, who do not enter a room without first considering their escape routes should zombies attack, this could give some interesting perspectives about what may have been overlooked, and provide some good food for thought. brains are for thought. brains are zombie food. you do the math.

    uh-oh - book avalanche... maybe more later...

  • Penny

    I know what you're thinking. "Five stars for

    book? Why???"

    If you've been following my reviews then you know I tend to stress over how many stars to give a book, and I'm not one to hand out five-star ratings willy-nilly. I'm usually quite cautious when it comes to handing out that all-important fifth star. I'm stingy. That being said, every once in a while a book, that may or may not be amazing, comes along and wows me.

    And now you're (probably) thinking: "But Penny, it's a book about zombi

    I know what you're thinking. "Five stars for

    book? Why???"

    If you've been following my reviews then you know I tend to stress over how many stars to give a book, and I'm not one to hand out five-star ratings willy-nilly. I'm usually quite cautious when it comes to handing out that all-important fifth star. I'm stingy. That being said, every once in a while a book, that may or may not be amazing, comes along and wows me.

    And now you're (probably) thinking: "But Penny, it's a book about zombies.

    Disgusting rotting corpses that stumble around, looking to sink their teeth into any living thing. How--how could that sort of thing wow you? Are you, like, smoking crack???"

    First things first: No--I'm not smoking crack. Everyone knows crack is cheap--I much prefer the real thing*. Now that I've cleared that up, lets move on, shall we?

    So. World War Z. I really enjoyed it, which was a surprise because I didn't think I would. This book is not something I would've picked up on my own. Had it not been for a couple of really nice Barnes & Noble employees who practically shoved this book in my hands while gushing about its supreme awesomeness, I definitely wouldn't have purchased it. But since they didn't have the book I was looking for (Storm Front by Jim Butcher), and since I'd already been bitten by the zombie bug over a year ago (The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan) I took a chance and purchased this book.

    Despite the fact that Max Brooks used to write for SNL, and also happens to be Mel Brooks son, this book isn't funny, nor is it meant to be. Max Brooks tells this story through a series of interviews given by survivors of The Great Panic, or World War Z (the Z stands for Zombie, in case you didn't, you know, put two and two together...).

    The interviewees come from different parts of the world and they tell their accounts of what happened to them, what they thought when they first heard of what was first referred to as "African Rabies"; what happened when the Great Panic started in their part of the world. A lot of these stories are sad and/or terrifying, but mostly I found them incredibly intriguing.

    Before I go on I need to add that I totally geek-out over documentaries, and this book--were it in movie form--would be a documentary. I'm one that appreciates the method Max Brooks uses to tell this story.

    To me the beginning of this book has more to do with the way things are done in this world--politics wise--than anything else. Of course, as the book goes on and more and more governments are collapsing due to the fact that zombies are basically taking over the world, we get a good look at human nature during times of crisis. I found the whole thing fascinating..

    Hardcore zombie lovers need to know that this isn't a book that follows one set of characters, though some interviews have been broken up, and so a few characters are featured in this book more than once. Rather it is one story told by several different people. There is continuity in the order in which the stories are told to us, and sometimes one survivor's account answers a question that was raised by another survivor.

    All that said, there is quite a bit of zombie slaying action. Lots of blood and guts and gore. We get to learn how best to stop a zombie--and let me assure you, there are many ways. We also learn about newest in improvised zombie killing weaponry and effective warfare techniques to decimate a raging-out-of-control zombie population.

    But seriously, I loved reading it, everything in this whole entire book. Me. A church-going mother of three. Although, yeah, I'm not your typical church-going mother of three. But still...

    P.S. I'd have finished this book a long time ago had it not been for my husband, who kept stealing this book away from me so he could read it too. He's really liking it, btw.

    About a year ago I bought the audiobook from Audible only to discover, after purchasing, that it was the abridged version. I soon found out that was all they had to offer which was quite disappointing because some of my favorite eyewitness accounts from the book were not included. I've since heard from the World War Z's Facebook page that they are going to make an unabridged version. I am unaware of when it will be available for purchase. That said, I did end up liking the (abridged) audiobook well enough. The performances are pretty top notch.

    *To those who have zero sense of humor, it must be said: I'm kidding, I don't do any drugs, and you need to chill.

  • Kat Kennedy

    At this current moment in time my husband and I do not actually have a working will. We are the legal definition of intestate. We have not yet made any preparations for our death and we only have life insurance/house insurance because his mother organized the whole damn thing (come to mention it she is also the reason we have electricity, water and a phone line - the internet though was all us because we'd die without it.)

    So believe me when I say that we don't organize... anything. Except our zo

    At this current moment in time my husband and I do not actually have a working will. We are the legal definition of intestate. We have not yet made any preparations for our death and we only have life insurance/house insurance because his mother organized the whole damn thing (come to mention it she is also the reason we have electricity, water and a phone line - the internet though was all us because we'd die without it.)

    So believe me when I say that we don't organize... anything. Except our zombie kit. That's right. We have a zombie kit. Should zombies suddenly strike while I type out this review we would be able to take our son and get in our car and drive away without a backward glance. Everything we need is in the boot of the car. If we're holed up inside the house we have our second zombie kit to live off of and use to defend ourselves. We have several plans in place as to where to go, what to do if we're separated at time of crisis, who we're taking with us, how we'll stay in contact etc.

    Some may call his paranoia. Some may call this stupidity. Do you know what I call these naysayers?

    Zombie food.

    It is this obsessive and weird need to ensure survival during a zombie apocalypse, despite every rational reason to believe that all our efforts are for naught, that has made me the prime candidate and target group of this book.

    It is not the norm of the zombie genre. In general a zombie movie tends to be about a small group of individuals against the undead hordes looking to floss with intestines.

    This book is not about a small group of individuals - it is about a large collection of humanity. This book is how HUMANITY would survive and deal with a zombie infestation. It is a collection of small, broken narratives from people all over the world, across many social, economic and political classes.

    Some of them were amazing, others horrifying. Some were inspirational, others so depressing or introspective that I wondered if there was any hope.

    I would argue that many of the "voices" from certain nationalities were not really very accurate and didn't really match the cultural region they came from - but I'm lazy. Either you "get" the voice of the narratives or you don't.

    This book was a fascinating, thoughtful read in a field that I'm personally obsessed with. I could easily understand how those who've never stayed up until three in the morning, drunk off their heads with a group of people yelling that if they head into the city then they're zombie meat (Zombie meat I say! You ridiculous idiots!) probably will find this book a hard read.

    It's also a difficult read in the sense that you are continually sucked into one story, only to have it end abruptly and shift to another. I kept getting frustrated and wanting to scream, "No! Go back! I want to know what else happened!" but alas. It's like little snap shots from all over the world, except when it comes to several of the snapshots, I'd really rather see the whole picture.

    Other than that, I loved it. I had a hoot reading it. It gave me plenty of fodder with which to have many drunken debates with my husband, brothers and friends.

    Much to their disgust...


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