Review | World War Z by Max Brooks

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

I am not a zombie lit fan. Not at all. But  it’s getting hard not to turn around without running into it.  With The Walking Dead an evening drama on AMC, blockbuster movie star Brad Pitt taking the lead role in a movie based on World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, and several other movies either in theaters or in the works (for example, Warm Bodies, both a book and a movie), it’s getting harder not to bump into zombies.

What does it say about us that we’re fascinated with the undead, ambling after us with unrelenting moaning?  Film historian Kyle Bishop thinks it has something to do with a barometer of our anxieties, with a proliferation of zombie lit and movies since 9/11 a reflection of “the inescapable realities of unnatural death while presenting a grim view of the modern apocalypse through scenes of deserted streets, piles of corpses and gangs of vigilantes.”  Another student of film, John Edgar Browning (which has a bit of a ring of Edgar Allen Poe to it), surmises that the monsters we watch and read about are “cultural constructions of the terrible that define what it is we subconsciously fear and what it is we’re told to hate or love.”

Whether it’s fears of a subconscious fears of a modern apocalypse or something else, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War captures the zeitgeist with epic scope, but delivers it in a dose comparable to a PBS documentary.

But after repeated recommendations, I picked up an audio copy of World War Z.  It was narrated and dramatized, featuring a full cast of characters, with a documentary format that fits my penchant for facts and detail. Told by a  researcher sharing his interviews of  individuals scattered across the globe, the tale documents a worldwide zombie outbreak, as well as the subsequent war to eradicate the zombies.  We see both the scope of the apocalypse, as well as the human cost, but are not bogged down in the weight of geopolitics or world leaders. It’s a human story, not a political one.

The result is provocative and interesting. While there are moments of the gruesome and macabre  more interesting is the thorough treatment Brooks’ gives society, evaluating and showing a vision of humanity, how it changes with the outbreak, and how we respond.

The tale is often insightful, and there were moments when I couldn’t wait to someone about about part I had just listened to. It felt so real, that in my retelling, my wife had to occasionally stop and remind me that it was just a book, that it hadn’t really happened. And then I would realize that, sitting in my car listening to it, like dispatches from war front, I felt like I was listening to NPR or This American Life.

There is some strong language, and there is, as I mentioned, the occasional gory scene, but the focus is not on the macabre or the blood, but on the human aspect. I recommend reading, or listening, to it, even if zombies are not, like they are not for me, your thing.


Overall Rating: 5 of 5 stars false (rare, I know, and it surprised me, especially given the topic)

Parent’s guide: It’s a zombie book. Don’t read it to your kids.

  • Sex: None.
  • Violence: Did I mention zombies? Occasionally macabre, there are full blown urban battles, as well as creeping one on one fights.
  • Language: Some strong language.

Click through to buy World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War from Amazon and Attack of the Books will get a (small) portion of the purchase (which we’ll use to buy more books, of course).

About Daniel

Daniel Burton lives in Salt Lake County, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. He reads about history, politics, and current events, as well as more serious genres such as science fiction and fantasy. You can also follow him on his blog where he muses on politics, the law, books and ideas.