World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks – Book Review (***1/2)

(Originally posted on i-Pocalypse.com on 10-09-06)

Me and Zombies, we go way back. I remember, as a kid, my Dad saying out of nowhere in a really loud and scary voice, “Night of the Liiiiiving Deeeeaaadd!!!” just to scare the holy heck out of my little sister. I remember my mom packing us kids into the station wagon and taking us to the Drive-in to watch all night Horror Fests. I distinctly recall cowering, one time, in the very back of the car under a blanket and pillows during Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things while Mom sat up front eating popcorn and Chinese food and complaining the movie wasn’t scary enough.

So, I think it is safe to say that I bring a certain amount respect for the genre to the reading of Max Brooks’ new book World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War.

The premise is very simple; there has been a war, one in which the human race has had to defend its very existence against a massive infestation of Zombies. A reporter has compiled a series of interviews of survivors of this from all over the world. The interviews are broken up into separate chapters that follow a clear delineation in the timeline of the war starting at Patient Zero (the first publicly documented case of infection) in China to the world wide outbreak, through the panic and retreat of different peoples in different countries to the entrenchment and the reorganization of the various international fighting forces to, finally, the march back to reclaim their world.

Some of the most interesting bits of the book look at how different peoples in different cultures reacted to the onslaught of the Zombie Hordes (because that is exactly how they are described, vast lumbering hordes of mindless killing machines) and how each of their countries reacted on a national scale (for instance, Israel, as soon as they were apprised of the details of the situation closed their borders and quarantined themselves from the rest of the world).

No parts of a worldwide Zombie threat are overlooked. The book looks at individual acts of heroism (and the naturally attendant not so heroic acts), as well as the physical realities of fighting a war with a creature that is, in effect, a wholly contained system – how do you fight Zombies in the city, in the country, in the frozen north, in the catacombs under France, in the oceans (they don’t breath, you know, so they don’t need air to survive). How is a war fought against a truly intractable enemy – an enemy that cannot be distracted, or intimidated or even negotiated with?

Max Brooks first published book was the surprise best seller The Zombie Survival Guide, a straight faced take on the whole survival guide genre, but with a Zombie twist. World War Z has taken that rather cool idea another several steps further, and in the process has infused it with a lot of wit, intelligence, and even empathy. Without overstating the case too much, World War Z is a timely and smart book that makes us not only question our own mortality (I mean it is all about Zombies that are trying to eat every living thing in the world), but also prompts us to ask ourselves that age old “what if” question: What if something like this (not necessarily this, mind you, but you know, something similar in the sense that we are left to our own selves to defend what we hold most dear) should happen to us, how would we face it? Plus it is all wrapped up with a billion plus Zombies!

At its foundation, though, World War Z is serious look at fear and the loss of security that comes with that fear, and how we as people, both individually and collectively, respond to it.

And finally, the very best part of this book, to me, was finding out that Max Brooks is the son of the inimitable comedy legend Mel Brooks. Now, how cool is that?

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