Monday, April 22, 2013

WORLD WAR Z by Max Brooks - Book Review

[Note: This review was originally published on on Sept 20, 2011.]

Rating: 4/5 -  A satisfying read that’s worth every word.

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

Author: Max Brooks

Format: trade paperback


  Science Fiction, Horror

Publisher: Three Rivers Press

Landed in my hands: purchased myself

(from cover blurb):

We survived the zombie apocalypse, but how many of us are still haunted by that terrible time? We have (temporarily?) defeated the living dead, but at what cost? Told in the haunting and riveting voices of them men and women who witnessed the horror firsthand, World War Z is the only record of the plague years.


When I heard about World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War I was instantly dying to pick it up. (Zombies... dying... heh.) Despite the subtitle, I had no idea what I was getting into.

Both fascinating and terrifying, World War Z interviews those who were in the trenches and otherwise affected by a not-so-future zombie outbreak and its residual conflict. Brooks achieves realism through a methodical approach to events, be they on the battlefield (as it were), part of the civilian response, or the political ramifications of a zombie apocalypse.

And I can’t forget the healthy dose of survivor cynicism. It wouldn’t be complete without the cynicism.

I was delighted to see the recycling of interviewees, but I wish I’d noticed earlier so I could better appreciate their continued tales. And since these are transcribed interviews — all first person viewpoint — the speakers themselves can occasionally blur together.

This is not to say that Brooks doesn’t do a good job of creating distinct voices for his interviewees, it’s more that certain voices are similar and can become muddled further on in the book. Battle strategies, emergency plans, the heart and heartlessness of humanity... each interview clearly progresses the narrative or fleshes out a previously undiscussed area of life.

The fact that it’s about war put you off?

No worry, the diversity of the interviews creates a well-rounded look at the changing world. It’s not entirely military. It’s not entirely North American. In fact, it spans the globe, to space and the bottom of the ocean. These interviews impressively touch areas affected by the conflict, be it environmental, psychological, technological, ecological, economical, political, and more.

It examines aspects of a zombie apocalypse I never fathomed, and with a thoroughness that makes me glad I paid for my copy — Mr Brooks, you deserve my money, sir. You have given me plenty of entertainment, thank you.

It’s highly readable, and scarily identifiable. What makes it a good read also makes it a horrifying one. These characters are telling the height of their experience, the horrible parts, the terrifying parts. The graphic parts that get your pulse racing and your chest tightening.

It’s why they’re being interviewed — to share their experiences.

And of course, the slow, paralyzing truth of a situation can be the most frightening thing of all:

All human armies need supplies, this army didn’t. No food, no ammo, no fuel, not even water to drink or air to breathe! There were no logistics lines to sever, no depots to destroy. You couldn’t just surround and starve them out, or let them “wither on the vine.” Lock a hundred of them in a room and three years later they’ll come out just as deadly. 
It’s ironic that the only way to kill a zombie is to destroy its brain, because, as a group, they have no collective brain to speak of. [...] There was no president to assassinate, no HQ bunker to surgically strike. Each zombie was its own, self-contained, automated unit, and this last advantage is what truly encapsulates the entire conflict. [...] 
They had no limits to endurance. They would never negotiate, never surrender. They would fight until the end because, unlike us, every single one of them, every second of every day, was devoted to consuming all life on Earth.

If you’re interested in zombies and thrillers, or like war stories and need something new — try this one. It’s earned its place on NPR’s annual fan-compiled list of the 100 top Science Fiction and Fantasy titles.

This is one of those books where I realize someone else has clearly put more thought into their apocalypse emergency plan, and I probably won’t make it to the second day...

I guess Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From the Living Dead should be my next read then, yes?


  1. I loved this book. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it grows on you. Like you, I didn't realize some of the people would make reappearances later in the book, so I missed the first one or two that returned. I loved the individual voices though. Each person had their own story to tell, and it was like getting many short stories all tied together in one overarching plot.

    Seeing the movie trailer, I fear what they've done to make it work on the big screen. I think I'm going to have to treat it as something entirely new, otherwise I'll spend the entire movie shouting about what they did wrong, and my husband doesn't appreciate when I do that.

  2. Aw, thanks, Dawn! And yeah, "leery" doesn't quite encompass what I'm feeling about the movie...

  3. EricisnotagiantsquidApril 23, 2013 at 11:35 PM

    Hey, I read that book too! I didn't pay for mine... It was given to me. By somebody that didn't read it. He was all like, "I just found out Max Brooks is Mel Brooks son. I'm not reading a zombie book by a guy related to the guy who made Robin Hood Men In Tights."

    I found the book surprisingly intense. Kinda like listening to people tell their stories about the worst times of their lives. I remember watching a documentary in high school where they interviewed people that had survived Sobibor. Every single one of them had this surreal, distant, haunted look in their eyes. That is what I imagined when reading this book.

    But then, I do like me some zombie stories.

  4. Yeah, I like the hollow PTSD tone of the book, for sure... I'm a little worried about what mangled mess they make of the movie... :/