Book Review: World War Z by Max Brooks

I was determined to read this before seeing the film and I have, looking forward to seeing the film now. So, is this worth a read or is it one of the most over-hyped zombie books ever released? Well, read on and find out.

Inevitably I am going to compare this to the Stephen Jones edited Zombie Apocalypse! series. That would be because the formats are similar. However, World War Z is purely a transcription of interviews talking to survivors, fighters, politicians, people whose lives changed and how they handled the situation around them.

It is worth reading both books because the Jones’ volume includes a far wider range of media and therefore makes it more interesting. The stories are no less personal in World War Z and it has its fair share of tragic stories, tales of triumph and survival against the odds. It is also far more global in scope.

Surprisingly, zombies are only part of the story. The plot emphasises our preoccupation with fear and perhaps the xenophobe in all of us. This books strongest point is how it looks at how the various countries of the world adapt and change to the zombie outbreak. A lot of thought and research has gone into current political systems and how they might change. For example, Cuba becomes an economic powerhouse and the Russian Federation becomes a Theocracy.

It is also fascinating to see how the method of war against the zombies is handled differently. European powers retreat into castles, using a form of medieval warfare of living under siege – creating fortified towns and the genius British design of “fortified motorways” is quickly adopted all over the globe. The American innovation of warfare drives the fightback – conventional warfare is dead and the American government ploughs a lot of money into driving new technologies and using some old ones.

It also discusses the social impact – the survivors come together as a human race, no longer are we divided by petty political boundaries. The whole “me, me, me” narcissism of the 21st century is replaced with a new social awareness. When the writer is talking about the UK in particular, there seems to be a renewed “blitz spirit”, comparison with London under Nazi bombing was inevitable and will strike a chord; in this way the book doesn’t feel too Americanised for a non-American readership. On a side note – there is an interesting view of the monarchy. The Queen stayed behind to lead British forces (many Americans probably do not realise that she – and not the PM – is the Commander in Chief). The idea is presented that it would have been senseless for her to leave. What would she rule when she returned? It speaks of a covenant between monarch and country that people who do not live here, especially socially conservative Americans, do not understand.

On the negative side, the outbreak is seen as an opportunity. Many individuals and groups grab at the chance to profit from the tragedy – pharma (financial), politics (popularity boost in an election year in the USA), popular support for the military at a time seemingly America is growing war-weary. These are the down sides that a lot of post-apocalyptic books tend not to cover and in this way it feels more realistic.

This is a great book and is being lauded as a modern horror classic for very good reason.

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