Book Review: World War Z by Max Brooks

Last night I worked a night shift, and usually they’re a real struggle to stay awake through. However, this time I had no problem, why? Because I was reading Max Brooks’ World War Z.

This was for two reasons- one is because its a fabulously written page-turner, the kind of book you just don’t want to put down, and the other, because I was scared. Actually that’s not true.

I was absolutely terrified.

You ever notice how during the night houses seem to make more noise? Little creaks and taps, they probably do it all the time but during the day there’s outside noise to drown it out, but middle of the night, its all amplified.

Every little creak made me look around, and I spent the night in a state of nervous twitchiness. The tapping of the rain on the gutters, a banging gate somewhere and the howling wind were transformed into the moans and thumping of the undead.

World War Z is about zombies, now I’m a bit obsessed with zombies- movies, comics, TV shows, seriously, if its got the living dead in I’ll check it out. I spend far too much daydreaming about what I’d do in the event of a zombie apocalypse, and it seems Brooks is the same. He’s also written The Zombie Survival Guide.

But the thing that sets this book apart from the rest of the zombie genre and movies it into the field of great fiction is how Brooks writes it.

The book is set 10 years after the end of the zombie war, and is a collection of stories from survivors. Politicians, soldiers, government officials and regular Joes all tell their stories of infection that swept the world, the devastating result and mankind’s fight back and survival. The various narrators come from around the world, and document every aspect of the war.

There are soldiers who took part in disastrous early battles with the undead and helped to finally push back the threat. Civillians forced to adapt and survive as the world went to hell around them. Government officials who had to make difficult choices and take drastic measures to ensure that some people survived.

The amount of preparation and thought that has gone into the book is staggering. Brooks has clearly thought about the dead rising even more than me, and his fictional world is truly global. He’s gone to great lengths to create a complete, perfect history of the war- major players, big events, terminology, initiatives and the survivors’ infrastructure is so well constructed that it actually feels like a legitimate history book and I found myself wondering if there really had been a zombie apocalypse and I’d just surpressed the memory as a method of coping.

The key is that Brooks ensures that every narrator has an individual voice, it never feels like its all been written by one man. The narrators have different ways of phrasing things, and their local and cultural experiences colour their stories. There’s a Muslim who recounts the teenage paranoia and fear he had when Israel began to draw people behind a massive wall before the crisis fully takes hold, the South African who’s narration still hints of the scars left by Apartheid, the religious differences in Indian society, the Russians relying on the remnants of weapons built during Cold War paranoia and the heavy crack downs that mirror that country’s dark past.

And there are neat little touches, realistic little additions like the fact that an American refers to the enemy as “Zack” reflecting the way the military always give a generic name to their enemy (Charlie, Ivan, Jerry etc.), its casually dropped into the guy’s narrative, never explained, because in the set up of the book it never has to be. The writer who puts together the stories will know what he means and everyone reading the book will know about the zombies.

The scope of the book is unbelievable- Brooks truly does create a realistic, global view of the crisis. The stories share similarities but there are enough differences and unique perspectives to tell the story. There’s the astronaut trapped on the International Space Station who can only watch from above as the world tears itself apart, using surveillance satellites to see horrific events and witness the atmoshphere change due to all the pollution and fires during the outbreak. Its an astonishing section of the book, an innovation that few would have thought of.

There’s the grim stories from the fights beneath the streets of Paris where survivors attempted to hide, with disastrous results. There’s even a section set told by a Brit, which spoke to me in a way the others couldn’t the story of Brits using ancient castles as forts struck a chord, as he described places I knew (Caerphilly, Conwy, Beaumaris) and in one touching moment details the response of the Royal Family, a section so touching it even stirred something in my republican heart.

Throughout the book there are these gut wrenching tales of heroism, bad luck and panic that all feel painfully true about humanity. Its painfully easy to imagine that the panic that engulfs the world and some of the nastier responses could happen if there was to be a plague of the walking dead.

Its an emotional rollercoaster, and really put me through the ringer- I was elated by stories of survival, left numb by those of despair and utterly terrified for large sections. It is without a doupt one of the best books I’ve ever read, and I’m going to have to stumble across something damn special to avoid this being the best book I read this year. And its only January.

Seriously, go online, hit the shops, whatever. Just get yourself a copy, I guarantee whether you’re a horror fan or not this will draw you in. Its not just about the zombies its about humanity and how the human spirit responds under pressure, its not always pretty

Just if you do read it, keep the lights on. And remember- go for the head.

Verdict: Brooks has created one of the most completely captivating, engrossing books I’ve ever read. Its a true work of genius, a completely realised, believable fictional world is created. Emotionally draining but phenomenally powerful. 10/10

Any thoughts? You know what to do. TTFN


3 Comments on “Book Review: World War Z by Max Brooks”

  1. Stephanie says:

    I first read this book in my college science fiction class, and I loved it! Totally agree with you here. A lot of people don’t like this book, and I’m not sure why. It’s one of the most original and smart zombie works out there. It really gets that people in crisis can be worse than the zombies, the actual monsters, themselves.

  2. […] Brooks wrote one of my all time favourite books, the phenomenal World War Z (review here) and so when I found out that he’d done a collection of short stories about zombies I eagerly […]

  3. […] doesn’t quite hit the heights of World War Z, but it’s still a solid and gripping sci-fi yarn and marks Dougherty out as one to […]

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