Give ‘Em Hell: “World War Z” by Max Brooks

Copyright © 2006 by Max Brooks.

“For the first time in history, we faced an enemy that was actively waging total war.  They had no limits of endurance.  They would never negotiate, never surrender.  They would fight until the very end because, unlike us, every single one of them, every second of every day, was devoted to consuming all life on Earth.  That’s the kind of enemy that was waiting for us beyond the Rockies.  That’s the kind of war we had to fight” (Brooks 230).

Despite the plethora of zombie literature, movies, and TV shows, I haven’t reviewed a lot because I haven’t really enjoyed a lot of that material, with the exception of Zombieland  and Shaun of the Dead.

Well, now I’ve finally gotten around to reading World War Z.  It’s safe to say I’ll never look at zombies the same way again.

Everyone knows what the typical Zombie Apocalypse tale is like: some virus or curse reanimates the dead, causing a worldwide breakdown of society and culture as human beings struggle to survive and fight off the ravenous undead.  But Max Brooks decided to do his homework and ask some good questions.  Questions like “How would a zombie virus spread?” “How would ordinary people react?” “How would governments react?” “Are conventional military tactics and logistics effective against the undead?” “Is there any hope for civilization in the face of such a nightmare?”

Brooks does his best to give us as realistic a view of the human response to a global zombie uprising as he can.  Through a series of fictional interviews from survivors and veterans of “World War Z,” we see it all: the emergence of the virus in China, the spread of infection through refugees and black market organs, the first attempts at containment, the breakdown of order, the despair, and the sad, bleak reconstruction efforts.

This is not a happy book, to say the least.  The only comedy is black humor, the only lighthearted moments are bittersweet, and even the ending, while optimistic, is far from resolved for the survivors.  And yet, every single page is downright fascinating.  There’s so much to learn about human behavior, be it cynical or naive, horrifying or heroic.  And every interview subject has his or her own distinctive voice.  You feel like you’re getting a global perspective on the mayhem, which makes it more than just the usual White Heroes Vs. Multicultural Zombies fare.  I’d say my favorite parts were the two accounts of the Japanese survivors, the katana-wielding otaku and the blind staff-warrior.

I suppose that I would really appreciate some of the nuances and the anti-zombie strategies if I’d read Brooks’s previous work, The Zombie Survival Guide, first.  But even so, World War Z is a fantastic horror story, war tale, apocalyptic account, and human interest story in one well-researched, well-written package.

Bibliography: Brooks, Max.  World War ZAn Oral History of the Zombie War.  New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2006.

2 thoughts on “Give ‘Em Hell: “World War Z” by Max Brooks

  1. I really don’t get the whole zombie craze, but was pleasantly surprised by The Walking Dead – that is until the last episode of most latest season where too much happened. I think the best zombie tales are those that don’t focus on the zombies at all, but about how people survive despite them. Zombies, after all, are very dull antagonists. Check out Day of the Triffids for an historical example of this sort of concept.


    1. I agree about the focus on the survivors being more important. I think that’s why I really enjoy films like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, because the characters have a lot of laughs in spite of the undead masses. They also seem to get more creative about the zombies themselves, so they’re a little more interesting than most.

      Thanks for the comment, and thanks for reading!


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