Thursday, 14 August 2014

Review: 'World War Z' by Max Brooks

It began with rumors from China about another pandemic. Then the cases started to multiply and what had looked like the stirrings of a criminal underclass, even the beginnings of a revolution, soon revealed itself to be much, much worse. Faced with a future of mindless, man-eating horror, humanity was forced to accept the logic of world government and face events that tested our sanity and our sense of reality.

Based on extensive interviews with survivors and key players in the 10-year fight-back against the horde,
World War Z brings the very finest traditions of American journalism to bear on what is surely the most incredible story in the history of civilisation.

Not everyone realises at first that the full title of this book is World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. And so many people are surprised, and even disappointed, that the format of the book is set out exactly so: like an oral history. World War Z is written as a series of interviews with survivors from all over the world: soldiers, housewives, children, mercenaries, from India, America, China, Korea . . . The format really lends itself to the faux-factual tone of the book, and once you’ve accustomed yourself to reading a ‘history’ rather than a novel, you start to realise its brilliance.

Although the book is built from lots of seemingly disparate accounts, it is organised chronologically into rough chapters such as ‘Warnings’, ‘The Great Panic’ and ‘Turning the Tide’, all of which outline major stages of the war. Despite the fragmentary format World War Z ultimately still tells a story, and the various survivors' accounts are arranged into a narrative with a distinctive beginning, middle and end. The chapters and accounts depict the course of the zombie war, from the initial outbreak and speculation over its cause, to the inevitable spread of the undead infection through the mediums of immigration and organ transplants, to the ‘Great Panic’ and mass evacuations, to the eventual reclaiming of the planet from the zombie infestation.

The oral accounts are told from many different perspectives and ‘voices’, and this paints a picture of how differently certain people and parts of the world were not only affected, but how they chose to deal with the situation, most of which are probably frighteningly accurate predictions. Many of the accounts focus on relaying the political and economic impact of the apocalypse on various nations, and some of these do occasionally become a little dry. However, they serve to add to the overall atmosphere of realism; and they’re often sandwiched between much more exciting accounts, the tone and content of which vary between horrific, hilarious and heart-wrenching. Some of the highlights are the retired handler from the army’s canine unit; the introverted teenager forced out of his cyberspace haven and into the harsh reality of a Japan overrun by undead; the plucky fighter pilot stranded in the heavily-infested Louisiana swamps and guided to safety by a mysteriously anonymous ‘Skywatcher’; and the Chinese crew of a nuclear submarine fighting to stay alive after spending years of the war on the bottom of the ocean. Each of the stories are unique, and Brooks has really excelled himself in imagining just how the apocalypse would affect different classes of people from literally all over the world.

While a lot of the fictional accounts are focused on the ‘facts’ of the war, they nonetheless create vivid images that stick in the mind. Like the few hundred army troops facing a million-strong zombie horde across a deserted plain to the soundtrack of Iron Maiden’s ‘The Trooper’; like the refugees sheltering in safety on beaches and tropical islands only to have shambling corpses emerge without warning from the sea; and like the French forces trapped in the catacombs beneath the city of Paris, with hardly any working torches or weapons, trying to stay ahead of an enemy they can barely even see in the dark, flooded tunnels. World War Z is terrifying, entertaining, and most of all, it will have you believing that the zombie apocalypse actually happened . . . or could happen . . .


Click here to view World War Z on Amazon UK


  1. I have read this one three times and loved it each one. I found myself starting to nitpicks certain parts, but that fact that it took me three reads to get there is a good sign.

    1. Yeah, this is the second time I've read it, and if anything I enjoyed it more the second time round. :)

  2. This was the first epistolary type novel I've read, so it'll always have a place in my heart. All books I've read since that are written in this sort of interview/document/etc. format have been compared to this :)

    ~Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    1. Awesome. Apart from Dracula it's the only epistolary-type book I've ever read too - recommendations of other decent ones would be welcome. :)