Review: World War Z by Max Brooks

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Title: World War Z
Author: Max Brooks
Publisher: Broadway Books
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Paperback, 342 Pages
Published October 2007

Summary: The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. "World War Z" is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years. Ranging from the now infamous village of New Dachang in the United Federation of China, where the epidemiological trail began with the twelve-year-old Patient Zero, to the unnamed northern forests where untold numbers sought a terrible and temporary refuge in the cold, to the United States of Southern Africa, where the Redeker Plan provided hope for humanity at an unspeakable price, to the west-of-the-Rockies redoubt where the North American tide finally started to turn, this invaluable chronicle reflects the full scope and duration of the Zombie War. Most of all, the book captures with haunting immediacy the human dimension of this epochal event. Facing the often raw and vivid nature of these personal accounts requires a degree of courage on the part of the reader, but the effort is invaluable because, as Mr. Brooks says in his introduction, "By excluding the human factor, aren't we risking the kind of personal detachment from history that may, heaven forbid, lead us one day to repeat it? And in the end, isn't the human factor the only true difference between us and the enemy we now refer to as 'the living dead'?" 

When I was assigned this book for one of my class readings (I'm in a class called Disgust in Literature & Psychology, and it's actually pretty interesting!), at first I wasn't sure what to expect. I'm super squeamish, and I've also never really been a huge fan of the whole zombie apolcalypse movie craze, and I saw the WWZ movie and wasn't a huge fan of it (again, because I'm a chicken), so basically I went into this book really, really hesitant. However, before long, I realized that I was really getting into the story and couldn't put it down -- and I managed to read the entire thing all the way to the end and recommend the book to several friends in the process! So without further ado, let's get into my review.

As the summary explains, this book is an oral history rather than a "typical" novel of prose. The story is comprised entirely of interviews with various people around the world, separated into different segments -- before the war began, when people started getting infected, when it really became a problem, when the world was in the thick of it, when the war started tapering off, and surviving after the war had ended. What was so special about this book is the range of people interviewed, literally people from all ages and all over the world, with different ranks such as really high-up military officials all the way down to regular ol' civilians who had to combat the problem from a much more difficult standpoint. And even though these were interviews, they were told in a way where the interviewer actually did very little, if any, talking -- he would prompt the person he was speaking to, and then they'd tell their entire story for the chapter from their own perspective. So while it was an interview, you didn't have a "classic" interview feel where the questions felt leading or the answers were short. It pretty much felt like reading an average novel to me, with very little stopped moments to break up my reading, which I was comfortable with and enjoyed.

You guys, I actually really liked this book. I found myself getting into the stories from all these people, all over the world. There were so many different things that went on during the zombie war that I didn't even think of -- Max Brooks definitely covers his bases and thought about all the problems we'd encounter if this were to ever happen (hopefully not!), not just the surface-level stuff like the fact that we'd have to hide and have weapons and supplies and be prepared for combat. And something else that I really liked about the story (ad this is not a spoiler!) is the fact that the story doesn't just end by saying that all of the zombies were eradicated and everyone was safe again. Because it was a disease, and those are oftentimes very difficult to completely eradicate. So the zombies still exist when the book ends, although on much smaller scales and are easily manageable. But I appreciated how this book didn't just wipe them all off the face of the earth and declare everyone safe and happy again. They all have to remain on their guard. I thought it felt much more realistic, and as a reader I enjoyed that. Maybe all happy endings don't need to be complete sunshine and rainbows -- just hopeful.

The only thing that I found myself getting a little confused with from time to time is exactly what the zombies were called in each interview. Since they're talking to people from all over the world, they all have different nicknames that they use to describe them, so sometimes it took me a little bit of time. Then again, I guess that this is just something you have to deal with when you're reading a book from so many different perspectives -- which never really repeat! You are literally introduced to almost hundreds of people in this book, which makes for an incredibly unique experience but can also be a bit confusing at times if you feel your mind start wandering or you stop paying attention. There were definitely a few moments where I had to flip back a few pages and refresh myself on the person I was hearing from. So my advice is to pay attention!

In terms of a book vs. movie analysis, you're probably not going to be shocked when I tell you that the book was a million times better than the movie. Literally the only similarity that the book and the movie has is that there are zombies in it. I'm not kidding. That's literally it. If the book had been more like the movie, I probably wouldn't have enjoyed it that much, but the fact that the book was something so different, and so much richer, made for a much better reading experience than I could have ever expected. 

Overall, I really enjoyed reading World War Z and I'd definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a gripping, interesting read that shakes up their usual reading habits. The format itself is something refreshing, and the various stories that this book contains from people all over the world truly gives you a story like no other. Even for someone super squeamish like me, there wasn't really any gore or super graphic things described that gross you out. There are definitely some moments where a description of the zombies made my stomach turn a little bit or there was an allusion to some kind of graphic violence, but since this is told through all interviews, there is a detached feel to it that helps you distance yourself from the fear in that way. I really enjoyed reading this book and I'll definitely be recommending it to lots of people now -- if this has been sitting on your TBR for awhile, here is your official nudge to pick it up!

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