Book Review: World War Z by Max Brooks
The world has survived the first zombie war, and the government sends out a young man to interview people in order to find statistics on the war. When he returns, he finds out they only want the cold, hard facts. This disappoints him, as he wants to show the world the human, emotional side of the war, so he prints the interviews, so we all can read and connect with them. What follows is the harrowing tale of how a virus starting in the countryside of China spreads via refugees and a general human refusal to believe that bodies are reanimating. All of this leads to the Great Panic, which brings humanity to the very brink of extinction.
Since I was a US History major in undergrad, I came at this book with a lot of experience wading through pages and pages of boring and irrelevant text in primary documents to find the hidden gems. The gems made it all worth it. I’ll never forget going through Samuel Sewall’s diary, which was largely a collection of his farming statistics, only to suddenly start seeing glimpses into the Salem Witch Trials. It was awesome. It is not, however, an experience that I think a fiction writer should attempt to replicate. Reading World War Z felt far too much like reading through actual primary historical documents. There was too much wading and not enough awesomeness.
The thing is, even though I’m suspending my disbelief enough to be in the future after a zombie war, I still know that I’m reading a fiction book, and I tend to get a bit irritated when the characters relating their experiences spend pages on useless dribble. I don’t want to hear about how you miss your father; I want to hear about the zombies climbing all over your submarine on the bottom of the ocean! Even in the fictional world of the book, there’s still an editor who collected these stories. Why didn’t he edit the ramblings out? Is that the human factor I was supposed to connect with? Because I didn’t.
However, when you get past the dull bits, there are some truly awesome scenes. Scenes such as a woman standing on the roof of a car and taking out over 100 zombies by herself. Or American soldiers reverting back to the Revolutionary-era tactic of two lines of soldiers facing the enemy with just rifles. Or a nun protecting her Sunday school class from a horde of zombies with just a 6 foot silver candlestick. These scenes, and many more, are fun to read because they are done so well. Brooks displays an innate understanding of not only how zombies should work, but how humans would respond to their presence on an individual basis.
Although I personally wouldn’t like a zombie war to be met with so much government and political power, the way Brooks lays it out, it actually is believable. What is quite possibly the most scary about the zombie war future he proposes isn’t the zombies, but is the fact that most of the governments of the world survive and come out with more power over the people than before. If freaking zombies can’t wrest the power from the government’s hands and give it back to the people, then I don’t know what could.
Overall, I’m glad I read World War Z for the epic scenes and condensed picture of the war I now have in my head. I’d recommend it to fans of zombies primarily, but also to people who enjoy analyzing global politics and military strategy. Be warned that it’s not your typical fast-paced horror read. You have to earn the scenes with zombies.
4 out of 5 stars
Source: Harvard Book Store (used books basement)