Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Book Review: "World War Z" by Max Brooks

Normally, I don't read horror novels and according to 17 reviews on, "World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War" by Max Brooks, is not a TRUE zombie/horror novel.

So in the eyes of these reviewers I still haven't read a horror novel--which is probably why I enjoyed this book. According to Amazon's Customer Reviews, 459 readers posted their opinions. Out of this total, 289 readers gave it a 5-star rating and 100 gave it a 4-star rating; while there were 29 x 3-star ratings, 24 x 2-star ratings and finally, the 17 x 1-star ratings mentioned above.

The book, published in 2006 reached #10 on the NYT Best Seller List in October of that year and is now out in paperback. Despite such popularity, not everyone is happy with the Mr. Brook's contribution to zombie lore. There are 3 main complaints against this book.

First, from hardcore zombie-lit fans is, there's no "oh-my-God-they're-breaking-down-the-door!" adrenaline rush these readers crave. True, but this isn't the point of the novel. The author paints a picture of a worldwide cataclysm in just 342 pages, so there's only room for broad strokes. Mankind's near-extinction is seen through the eyes of some of the survivors in an after action report (AAR). The book is like a short story anthology where individual vignettes of survival chart the course of the Zombie War from "Patient Zero" to the continuous mop-up operations.

While the story may lack the graphic intensity of zombie feeding frenzies, I found the unfolding events of this near-future catastrophe to be more fascinating than exciting. However, with over 20 interviews the second complaint is that the narrative is flat and each character speaks with the voice of the author. I didn't notice this while I was engrossed in the book. This may indeed be true, but I felt Mr. Brooks captured each subject's opinionated world-view well enough to make each interviewee seem like a separate character.

Together these interviews comprise an oral history of how the human race struggled to endure and reclaim a world overrun by carnivorous zombies. And here lies the third grievance against Mr. Brooks novel: His veiled criticisms of various nations, including our own, is an attempt to push his political views. Reviewers' opinions though, of Brooks' suspected philosophy ranges over the entire political spectrum.

My opinion is this: The governing bodies of the human race will do whatever it takes to weather such a crisis. In the story, surviving governments mobilize their societies to wage a total war against the living dead. In the US, surviving white-collar workers are either retrained, drafted into the military or become manual laborers. Their fate is based on the value a new agency places on their pre-war skills. Given the desperate nature of the war, I didn't find this offensive at all. I also felt Mr. Brook's criticism of world-wide governmental ineptitude, along with penchants for cover-ups, to be rather even-handed. According to the story, the initial outbreak occurs in China and the mishandling of the growing crisis is reminiscent of the government's mismanagement of the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak of '02-03.

I guess I derived my reading pleasure of "World War Z" from a professional standpoint. I'm a retired US military member and I'm now working in Emergency Management. So I was intrigued by the premise of this book and wondered how military forces and disaster response teams would react in the face of a zombie onslaught.

Despite my interest, this book wasn't always a page-turner. About half-way through the book I started feeling some "combat fatigue." That is, reading one life & death struggle after another was starting to wear thin. There are no comedy reliefs, no romantic interludes and no truly happy endings in a zombie ravaged world--just survival.

Yet this is what makes "World War Z" an excellent book, despite its real or perceived flaws. The reader truly FEELS the psychological and emotional trauma the Zombie War inflicted on all the survivors. Despite the sympathetic post traumatic stress I felt, the book is not entirely dark and dreary. Most interviews take place in areas undergoing reconstruction or by monuments and murals dedicated the the heroes of World War Z. So, in spite of the horror, loss and emotional scarring there is hope the human race will do more than just survive, but triumph.

I rate this book at a solid 4-stars, not 5, due to the book's apocalyptic nature.

1 comment:

Karla said...

I agree with the reviewer on this one--great book! In fact, the more historical-narrative approach was what made it different from your average horror novel (of which I've read a few).

I disagree with some of the criticism noted re: the book being dull--the recounting of the overly tech-reliant Army's bad experiences early in fighting were as interesting/exciting as anything else out there.