World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

030734660901_aa240_sclzzzzzzz_v58782187_I know you’re not surprised to see that I’m reviewing a book in the zombie genre, you already know my love of the shambling undead.  What you probably don’t know is just how good this book is, and how I really think you should read it even if you only have a passing fancy for zombies.

Max Brooks, who wrote the "Zombie Survival Guide", pens this oral history of a world wide zombie outbreak that never happened.  It’s written to take place shortly in the future right after the zombie outbreak has been mostly quelled.  However what’s great about this story is that Brooks is a master at two key things:

  • the traumatic war anecdote, and
  • understanding the impact a zombie war would have in today’s context.

The first is easy enough to imagine.  War is horrible, zombie war, well, more horrible.  Stories from kids who saw their families animate and attack, pastors and parishners, soccer moms, and of course the soliders.  All of these are in there and will give you the appropriate shivers.  This is an oral history, so all stories are told in interview format as a conversation between the interviewer/author and the subject.  Among my favorite stories:

Fernando Oliveira, a surgeon in Brazil who unwittingly assisted in the black market transplant of a human heart from a recently zombie-bitten man into a healthy patient.  After violating his Hippocratic oath, he becomes a shell of a man and never picks up a scalpel again.

Saladin Kader, a Palestinian whose family decides to take part in Israel’s repatriation and voluntary quarantine of any person (Israeli, Palestinian, or otherwise) who had ever lived within it’s borders or the occupied territories.  His anti-Israeli rhetoric becomes immediately outmoded when he’s caught in a war between zombified Orthodox settlers and an Israeli Defense soldier who puts himself between the zombies and Saladin’s family.

Breckinridge Scott, an entrepreneur who made billions with his phony anti-zombie drug before the tide of undead showed demonstrably that it wasn’t working.  Breckinridge ends up waiting out the zombie war in a leased facility far north near the Artic Circle, far from both the living and undead that want to kill him so badly.

Mary Jo Miller, a pre-war soccer mom that finds the incredible inner strength to physically rend zombies when they threaten her children.  After the war she becomes a successful real estate developer, building planned communities of Masada-style homes that are design to be autonomous and impenetrable in the case of a zombie invasion.


What Brooks is really good at though is the intersection of a zombie war and today’s current political cauldron.  Zombie outbreaks don’t happen in vaccums, they happen in the context of fifty years of fighting between Palestinians and Israelis.  The soldiers that you send to fight the zombies are from a military decimated from a recent, unnecessary and unpopular war in the middle east.  In South Africa the government’s attempts to control the outbreak begin to sound like the oppressive actions of the former whites-only regime.

South Africa, China, the US and the middle East all have their own unique problems with fighting a zombie war in their current political context, and Brooks makes it all entertaining.  So take a moment and pick up World War Z, and remember, if you can walk, you can outrun a zombie.  (Unless they’re the kind from the movie "28 Days Later", and then you’re screwed.)