Even Stevens’s CBR-III review #11: World War Z by Max Brooks

I had heard rave reviews about this book prior to reading it (to this day I don’t think I’ve heard one negative response) and so when I saw it on super sale at a local bookstore, I snatched it up. I admit, my initial response was “what’s the big deal”? It starts off with people’s recollections of their first zombie encounters or knowledge of the outbreak of the “zombie virus”, and it’s slow going for a little while. It quickly picks up steam, though, and this book swept me up and left me riveted, to the point where I was turning each page with eager anticipation until the very end.

The book is presented as a book-within-a-book, told as a series of post-war interviews. The “author” wanted to chronicle the world’s war with zombies, but not with the boring statistics and chronological time line of information that history books always present, but with the accounts of the emotional and psychological responses that seem to fade out with time and distance from the event. The accounts of the war span almost every imaginable country and range broadly in who is interviewed – from doctors to soldiers and CIA agents, to a human refugee smuggler, to a suburban Mom, and so on and so forth. This book has zombies but it really could be any enemy, any war. To me, what it really was about is how we react a global crisis. Do we capitalize on it? Do we save ourselves and forget everyone else? Do we reach out to our neighbors? A lot of the horror of this war (at least in the beginning with “The Great Panic”) lay not with the actual zombies, but what people will do to each other in the face of fear. Zombies kill by instinct, people inflict pain and suffering by choice.

Brooks’s writing is understated but really very clever. Each story is pretty straightforward: a survivor’s account, but there are dozens and dozens of unique stories, with such a wide range of different characters, socioeconomic statuses, cultures, careers, viewpoints and so many outlooks on the world that it’s easy to forget what a feat it really is to not only include all of those things but to make them completely relatable and engrossing as well. Another thing I enjoyed was how deftly he wove this fictional war into our world. There were several real life situations mentioned (The Israel/Palestine conflict, African apartheid) that were interwoven with the fictional zombie events, and he pulls it off flawlessly.

I was skeptical about my chances of enjoying this book because I’m the type of person who enjoys a linear, and complete, storyline. I know, boring. I like to get invested in my characters and really dig into their world. With this book, Brooks changes up the characters but that really works to his advantage, allowing him to still tell a complete story and to also fully illustrate the impact of the zombie invasion on the world. Of course, I found some stories more affecting than others; among my favorites were the story of a mercenary/bodyguard to the rich and famous, some Indian monkeys, a Russian soldier recounting how they were forced to kill their own soldiers, the story of the International Space Station Commander who could see much of the war from space, and a pilot whose cargo plane went down in a zombie infested area.

I ended up being very impressed with this book. Once it gets going, the stories are captivating and presented in a way that you really believe this could happen to us. I love how he used zombies as a platform to examine human nature and how we react to a crisis, and the subsequent changes it brings. Sometimes unspeakable atrocities are committed, there will always be those who exploit weakness, but sometimes we are able to come together and salvage the remains of spirit and hope. I think Brooks ends up with a fairly positive view of our humanity. Everyone has fought this war, have come out with some battle scars and are will be probably never be the same. But the human spirit is hard to break and, to take a quote from the very first interview, everything’s going to be all right.

And here’s a bonus image I found during internet perusing and thought was very, very cool:

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Even Stevens’s CBR-III review #11: World War Z by Max Brooks

  1. Great review! I was surprised by how much I liked this book, and also by how often the separate stories manage to refer back to each other, sometimes in only a throwaway sort of way.

  2. akhirnya

    I have to get around to reading this.. I’ve listened to the abridged audio book which was fantastic (great voice cast!) but never read the book. Great review!

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