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

December 25, 2012


I caught the trailer for the film adaptation of this book and it looked pretty killer, so I listened to this as an audio book. Zombies are all the rage right now. Personally, I’m pretty ambivalent to the genre. I prefer the fast zombies of 28 Days Later to the slow walkers of The Walking Dead, but the stories all seem more or less the same. What separates World War Z is that it’s told, oral-history style, from the points of view of survivors of a zombie near-apocalypse. Max Brooks has been called “the Studs Terkel of zombie journalism,” which is accurate, tongue firmly in cheek.

What this does narratively, however, is alleviate a lot of the suspense of the story—the reader knows that humanity has persevered, and we know that each of the interviewers has survived. Brooks tries to make up for this lack of narrative tension by giving us a more macro view than most zombie literature—he deals with the “epidemic” as a global outbreak, addressing the geo-politics, the societal implications, the military response and the logistics of dealing with millions of mindless undead. He charts the spread of the “disease,” the worldwide skepticism, and the misguided, attempted cover-ups by certain governments.

Zombies actually take a back seat, and what this book becomes is a thought experiment, a war game on global pandemics. In the end, humanity survives, but it is not a pretty picture. The realities of limited resources and the need for large-scale quarantines lead to tough moral choices for the survival of the species. Choices that are unsettling, precisely because the moral dilemmas don’t rely on zombies. So while Brooks gives up the suspense with the form he has chosen, his book is definitely more interesting for it.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 25, 2012 10:48 pm

    I own this book and haven’t read it yet! I think I shall soon try! Totally forgot about it til I stumbled across your review 🙂

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