Book Review: World War Z

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

By Max Brooks

Published September 2006

Crown Publishing Group

352 pp.

ISBN 0-307-34661-7

Date reviewed: February 5, 2007

Originally published in: The Daily Cardinal

It’s the same story in most every zombie film. Walking dead appear and begin to sweep across the world, joined by their freshly gnawed victims to form an unstoppable army. Small pockets of determined survivors band together to battle the horde, a few die in appropriately horrific style and in the end humanity survives reduced but changed for the better.

These conventions form the outline of Max Brooks’ “World War Z,” but there’s a key difference between the book and films: the book feels real. Brooks, who became the most prolific zombie author since H.P. Lovecraft with his wildly entertaining “Zombie Survival Guide,” has written a contemporary holocaust novel which could become the definitive undead novel.

Brooks maps the entire course of the “Zombie War,” beginning with scattered outbreaks in the Far East and spreading through tourists and refugees hiding infected zombie bites. The hordes push humans to isolated locations – South Pacific Islands, Rocky Mountains and aircraft carriers – where they begin to fight back with new weapons and tactics, preparing to defeat an enemy that feels no fear and needs decapitation to finally drop.

The structure Brooks takes for “World War Z” is a masterstroke. Rather than write in conventional novel format, he tells the story in the guise of a postwar researcher collecting interviews for the reformed United Nations. The book consists of interviews with over 40 different subjects, written as though they were taken verbatim off a tape recorder.

This interview format allows Brooks to create stories worth listening to, as he can use an endless supply of voices to tell how the world dealt with the calamity. Soldiers speak in a veteran tone with “G” and “Zack” to describe the enemy, children who grew up in the combat emotionlessly describe dead parents and government officials desperately try to justify being caught off guard.

There’s also some particularly entertaining individual stories, which will no doubt come in handy when Brad Pitt’s film company develops its promised adaptation. Vivid entries include a Japanese hacker climbing down an apartment building armed only with knowledge gathered online and a supply pilot shot down in the swamps of Louisiana, working to overgrown freeways for pickup.

What the stories do particularly well, however, is depict a postwar world that feels entirely plausible. Cuba, thanks to its geography and shrewd dealing with refugees, is now the world’s economic superpower, while a decimated Russia has reformed into a Holy Russian Empire. Iran is decimated by nuclear weapon use, Canada is deforested for fuel and North Korea’s entire population disappears into underground tunnels – with no clues if anyone is still alive.

This keen interpretation of politics is central to “World War Z,” not only to create a new world but to implement zombie satire in the style of George Romero. In Brooks’ world, Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War are only precursors to government incompetence – lying to avoid widespread panic, an impotent bureaucracy and an army devoid of volunteers all pitch in to hang bait signs on the average citizen.

By the end of the novel, Brooks will have his readers convinced that if zombies were to attack tomorrow, even with his guide no hope of survival is nil. It’s that tension, imagination and realism that keeps a reader completely gripped by “World War Z” – a book which establishes Brooks as one of the cleverest young authors out there and reanimates the zombie genre.


6 Responses to Book Review: World War Z

  1. JAM says:

    This looks a really good book.
    I’m defiantly going to have to check it out.

    thanks for this!

  2. […] feasting on brains – it never becomes the overarching concern of the story. Most of the recent efforts in the genre have focused on the apocalyptic aspect, but the world of “Pride and Prejudice and […]

  3. […] with people about how much better that story could have been told. The original Max Brooks novel is one of my favorite books of the last decade, a legitimately gripping story of the zombie apocalypse that cleverly used the oral history […]

  4. At the end of World War Z, just as the credits began rolling, a gentleman, scratch that, an idiot spoke up from the back of the theatre exclaiming, “What? That sucked! The book was nothing like that! Booo!” I’m sure he scurried away back home, logged online, and began tweeting, posting, and blogging, furthering his rant. Much like my response to him at the theatre, I hope he receives silence in return.

    It’s true, World War Z is nothing like the book. The book is told from the point of view AFTER the war. It’s a “historical,” account of what happened during the war. Rather than make a mockumentary with flashbacks, which would have been the wrong decision in my opinion, the filmmakers decided to put us right in the middle of the action.

    When adapting a piece of literature it is impossible to bring every page, every paragraph, every nuance onto the screen. Some have come close depending on the material, but for the most part, they all have to take their own creative licenses. After all, it’s called an “adaptation,” for a reason, otherwise they would call it a copy or mimic.

    Where World War Z works (that’s a mouthful) and where so many others fail is that just because the world slips into total and utter chaos, doesn’t mean that governments, military, and law enforcement agencies go away. Quite the opposite. If anything, these scenarios bring out the best of all of them. We see generals, UN delegates, and scientists trying to solve complex issues that they don’t know anything about. Rather than going into hiding, they act. Society doesn’t crumble. Bands of cannibals and leather strapped gangs don’t patrol the streets with necklaces made of teeth. People do what they can to survive, and the higher ups try their best to find a fast and effective solution.

    At first, I thought the movie started too fast. How could something this violent and concentrated go undetected, but after a while I got it. The opening montage of news reports said it all. How many of us listen to everything we hear on the news? Exactly. So much goes undetected while we focus on issues that effect us immediately. It’s too late when the virus touches US soil. Not even social media can keep up with it.

    As far as zombie movies go this one is pretty great. Though I think 28 Days Later takes the cake in terms of realism, in-camera effects, and sheer terror, this one holds its own. Brad Pitt plays a former UN investigator who is traveling with his family just as the zombie attack on Philadelphia unfolds. The film goes from 0-60 before you take a sip of your Coke. This is a fast paced, edge of your seat thrill ride led by one of the finest actors of this generation (Pitt’s acting ability is far too underrated and lost in the kerfuffle of tabloid news).

    For those of you who stare at the ticket window debating whether or not to see a film in 3D or standard, you might want to spend the extra few dollars to see this one in 3D (I know it’s asking a lot, but maybe you can sneak some candy or a bottle of water to offset the concession stand price – deal with it). I tend to air on the side of “screw it, I want to see it in 3D.” Now not every movie NEEDS to be seen in 3D, hell there are really only a couple that absolutely have to be seen in all three dimensions (Avatar and maybe Life of Pi), but this one really surprised me. 3D is not about things jumping out at you, but it’s about layers. Luckily this film has both. Big chase scenes in Philly, particles floating about in South Korea, and tracking shots in Jerusalem make this one of the 3D events of the year. No exaggeration.

    Like so many other summer blockbusters before it, civilization is on the brink of extinction and only a handful of experts can save us. What World War Z does that so many have failed is give us hope. Hope that humanity won’t dissolve into nothingness. In the face of sheer danger these fighters stand tall, take a deep breath, look the enemy in the eye, and say, “No.”

    More about the movie you can also find it here

  5. fantastic points altogether, you simply gained a brand new reader.
    What could you recommend in regards to your post
    that you made a few days ago? Any certain?

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