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

Posted by Peter Hall - November 21st 2006 @ 12:01 am

Written by Max Brooks, 2006

World War Z: An Oral History Of The Zombie War Book Cover

Determining the launching point for a review of Max Brooks’ newest zombie masterwork, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, is hard.  It’s an odd, but welcome challenge to chose where exactly the praise should be heaped first on this fictional journalistic recount of a global undead uprising.  The timeless realism?  The cold logic of it all?  The sweeping brutality?  The fact that Brooks’ never misses the mark, never passes up a chance to introduce a bit of history so cohesive that it could just as easily be fact as it is fiction?

Regardless of the starting point, the end result is a brilliant labor of love.  The same man who wrote the Zombie Survival Guide has hence crafted a thesis of boundless credibility that reads more like prophecy than make believe.

What allows for World War Z’s resonance is Brooks narrative set up.  To compare the two seems somewhat inappropriate, but the comparison is undeniable – Brooks’ style directly emulates Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda.  As with Gourevitch’s must read piece of journalism, WWZ is an earnest, albeit fictitious, zombie filled, flesh eating, penetration into the the psyche of humans forced into the desperate clutches of survival.  Told from beginning to end in the voice of those who were there, Brooks uses cultures across the globe to illuminate the epidemic in its entire, blood soaked, shameful glory. 

No stone is left unturned and in the process Brooks introduces more than a few undead concepts that are, quite possibly, unprecedented in their originality.  A personal favorite is the invention that outbreaks spread globally with an unseen quickness due to black market organs harvested from infected Chinese and transplanted into rich businessmen in shady operating rooms in third world countries.

Not to back burner the horror side of things, but another of the novel’s winning elements is Brooks’ political guile.  While the author takes no partisan side, the novel constantly references governments of the world whose fumbled responses to the situation are directly related to our own current events.  The zombie factor may as well be any number of variables from contemporary times.  Hurricanes, tsunamis, mid-eastern turmoil.  They’re all seen in the cause and effect of this new world war.  And quite frankly, Brooks’ management of all these different factors is more thoughtful, more analytical and more reflective of real world politics than the reporting of most news outlets these days.

But one wouldn’t be at this site if they weren’t interested in some zombiefied throat bitting.  And WWZ has its lions shares of epic battles.  Interviews with conflict survivors are all nightmarishly imaginative and wholly thrilling.  There isn’t a single instance of struggle in this book that isn’t horrific to its core.  Many are ambitious to the point of being damn near impossible to pull off on film.  This is a tremendous compliment toward Max Brook’s ability to construct scenarios of absolute chaos, but a tough burden for whatever filmmaker is handed directorial duty over the pending film adaptation.  While all of this could work on the big screen, the scale is so massive that its proper representation would require a herculean effort Hollywood so rarely exerts these days.

While a good end cinematic adaptation isn’t guaranteed, a good time spent reading World War Z is. 

Grab a copy, this is one of the year’s smartest genre treats.

comments are closed
  1. November 21st, 2006 | 6:28 pm | #1

    Very cool. I remember hearing about this, and then it totally fell off of my radar. Thanks for the review.

  2. November 21st, 2006 | 7:44 pm | #2

    Not a problem. Same thing happened to me, actually. I was excited to read the book, then I forgot about it and missed its release entirely. Didn’t even realize it was out until I saw a friend’s copy laying out and he practically shoved it in my hands when I told him I hadn’t read it yet.

  3. andy sell
    November 22nd, 2006 | 2:46 am | #3

    i bought it on its release day. finished it about two weeks later.


    my favorite interviews are the filmmaker and the blind gardener.

    DYING to hear the audio CD version (Mark Hammill, Carl Reiner, etc.) … seriously.

  4. November 22nd, 2006 | 6:07 am | #4

    I actually half read it, half listened to it while at work (audio books are the greatest thing ever). Great stuff. My favorites were Alan Alda and John Turturro. Unless Hammill did the voice of the soldier at Yonkers (which I think he may have done), I must have missed the audio portion his part.

  5. November 22nd, 2006 | 9:05 am | #5

    There’s already an audio version? Oh, hell yeah, I’m grabbing that.

    (Two hours in the car a day means I can “read” like nobody’s business.)

  6. November 22nd, 2006 | 4:03 pm | #6

    I’ve got a similar commute. Even leaving at 4:45am, I’m in the car for a good two hours a day. Finally catching back up in the Dark Tower series, thanks to it.

  7. matt jordan
    November 23rd, 2006 | 12:17 pm | #7

    My fiance grabbed the book for me knowing my love for the zombie genre.The book sat on my shelf for about two weeks before i picked it up and flew thourgh it. I found myself-for short periods throughout the book-actually beliveing what i was reading..for me the book had a definite “WAR OF THE WORLDS” effect.

  8. andy sell
    November 25th, 2006 | 4:51 am | #8

    have you read the Survival Guide?

    also, from what i understand, Brooks was heavily influenced by The Good War by Studs Turkel.

  9. November 25th, 2006 | 1:53 pm | #9

    Ya know, sadly, I actually haven’t read it, but am buying it later today with The Last Christmas and Watchmen.

    Had never heard of Studs Turkel before, which is surprising considering he has possibly the greatest name ever. Now it’s more obvious that The Good War was the main inspiration, as opposed to We Wish To Inform You.

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