World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
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457 of 553 people found the following review helpful
I understand why so many people loved this book, but it didn't entirely work for me. The central conceit - that the book is a series of interviews with key survivors of the Zombie Wars - is good, but it makes for a very episodic read.

In it's effect, the book is more like a collection of short stories than a single coherent narrative. Yes, all the interviews are telling the same "story," but the characters and settings never overlap - you get scores of unrelated narrators sharing their own tales of horror.

Thus, there's no build up of suspense or tension over the three-hundred plus pages of this book. Each "short story" has its own dramatic arc. Some work better than others. But, with rare exception, you could delete any one of the chapters in this book without affecting the others, or, conversely, you could add twenty more chapters without changing the outcome. A lot if it is interesting, but it all feels kind of arbitrary.

Lastly, without continuing characters, there's really no one to root for or against. You never get emotionally connected to anyone - the stories can involve you, but they almost never move or inspire or touch you. Compare this with a book like Stephen King's The Stand - which also told dozens of apocalyptic stories, but linked them together in one coherent narrative with consistent characters, and you'll see how much less emotionally involving Brook's book is.

Still, this is a good, gory read. If you like horror, a lot of these stories are morbidly fun with nightmarishly memorable moments. Just keep your expectations low-to-moderate. Max Brooks definitely has talent, and I look forward to reading what he does next.
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50 of 63 people found the following review helpful
on May 5, 2007
The world is quickly getting overrun with zombies. They bite living humans; those humans eventually die and are reanimated at zombies themselves. The only way to kill them is to separate their brains from their bodies. Cutting off all their limbs or disemboweling them won't do it; they'll keep dragging their bodies along, in their continual quest for warm bodies to snack on.

This is the basic problem in World War Z. Which brings up the first point of anatomical puzzlement (one of very few): if the brain is vital to keeping the zombies going, then wouldn't severing their spine also do the trick? The book makes it a point to note that a human body is just a bunch of meat with a command-and-control unit attached, and once that c-and-c unit is gone the body is, too. But command-and-control isn't much good without a way to get messages from the general to his troops, so to speak.

Getting hung up on that kind of detail, though, would doom this book. And in any case, Brooks is very good at tying up the loose ends. The zombifying virus changes the bodies' chemistry somehow, so that they also don't need food or water. For that matter they don't need oxygen, leading to what I found one of the most effectively terrifying images throughout the book: swarms of zombies lying on the ocean floor, their undead hands glancing off nearby swimmers, or pulling unlucky ones down. By the time of the book's writing (it's a look back at the Zombie War, after humanity has started to win against the zombies), there are millions of zombies lurking beneath the waves, and the next generation's children have long since learned to stay away from the water.

What are the consequences of a zombie takeover? Brooks takes us around the world to answer that question. Borders are hastily closed off to outsiders, leading to a few missile exchanges and eventually all-out nuclear war between a couple of the combatants. People get in their cars and head out into the hinterlands, quickly running out of gas and abandoning their vehicles on the side of the road. (This leads, coincidentally, to one of my moments of disbelief: as it turns out, the zombies do not have the complicated motor skills to open car doors. Hence if they die in their cars, they cannot get out. As far as I can tell, Brooks invents this constraint to motivate one particular, highly effective, scene midway through the book. But again, we set aside our disbelief and move on.) They head for the sea and take any boats they can...but the zombie virus has already infected some of them, and of course there are those murderous zombies waiting below the sea in shallow water to drag the boaters down.

Others head for the north, where the zombies freeze motionless during the winter. They're trained to expect that someone will come and save them, so they act like the German army invading Russia and don't plan for the winter; they expect the zombie problem will be licked by then. Consequently many of them freeze, and [follow your Jack London imagination].

Brooks is mostly great at visualizing where the story should go. As my friend Chris (who encouraged me in the strongest terms to read World War Z) says, Brooks could probably write a 600-page book in place of this smaller one. The longer story would expand on places where Brooks had to rush: he was forced to pack an entire world's worth of zombie stories, spread over 10-odd years of fighting, into 340 pages. So I don't fault him a certain economy of style, with any clunkiness that that caused.

WWZ starts as Lord of the Flies on a global scale, with governments and individuals all huddled around the same campfire. "Fighting the last war" fails: all the high-tech weapons the U.S. military has stockpiled with zest count for naught, and we have to return to shooting bad guys between the eyes with pistols or lopping off their heads at close range. Our sedentary American lifestyle fails, and those who build things with their hands for the rest of us are suddenly our superiors. Had Brooks kept this arc going throughout World War Z, it would have been perfect.

As it is, I'm afraid it degenerates into what Chris calls a "war procedural" -- though Chris's claim is that WWZ never reaches this point, whereas I claim that it does. The last half of the book is "grunts" talking about the details of which particular bit of ordnance they threw at the bad guys, and how their tactics changed, and oh my god the military acronyms. So many acronyms. Brooks has read too much Tom Clancy; I have as well, which is where the nausea of recognition came from. Had he made the single decision to not interview a single soldier in the final half of the book, the book would have been saved from disappointment. As it is, I left it feeling let down: not upset at having read it, but also not inspired to reread it.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2007
I find that the "interviews" in this work are an interesting angle to portray a ficticious event set in current times, in a modern form of media/press. Idea was good. But I found myself wanting to "just finish the book off" about 1/3 to 1/2 way through. As mentioned before in a previous review by another person, the dialect of the characters interviewed is all the same. Sort of like if a bad actor played many different roles without engulfing oneself in their culture or socialogical background. One other minute critique I have is that, just when the interviews are getting interesting, they end and another starts. It could just be me though.

Overall, its an interesting book, and if you enjoy short stories you might be more into this than I, since there is a lot of start/stop with the interviews, although they all focus around a central theme. If you are looking for horror, Id look somewhere else.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 2010
Too much breadth, too little depth. I don't believe any story in the book exceeds 5 pages. At least 10% of the pages must be devoted to the endless stream of new characters that must be introduced for each short episode. Only a handful of characters (maybe 5?) have a followup story at the end of the book.

If he had created 2-4 primary characters, and followed their trip thru the war, it would probably have been a much more riveting novel. Instead, it's an endless stream of "soundbite" stories. All sizzle, no steak.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 25, 2009
Humanity has survived the zombie apocalypse, and in its aftermath one reporter compiles interviews that span the globe and the war's timeline, tracking progress of the war around the globe, from the first infected through the aftermath of all-out war. Exploring classic, slow zombies from an unusual, extensive, world-wide view, World War Z is an impressive effort. Initially it's fascinating, but as it continues it becomes increasingly unbelievable and, as a result, less intriguing and frightening. It remains an absorbing, unusual novel and I recommend it on that basis--but it doesn't fulfill its promise or potential.

World War Z explores unoriginal zombies in an original way. The zombies here are in classic form: slow, unintelligent, and hungry for human flesh. It's been done before, but perhaps not so extensively: from the first victims to full-on war, from rural China to Windsor Castle to urban America, from isolated civilian survivors to techno-provisioned military forces, World War Z investigates the worldwide events and impact of a zombie apocalypse from beginning nearly to the end. It's an impressive effort which elevates otherwise-unremarkable zombies to a worldwide terror which is well worth the reader's attention. The interview format introduces personal stories and a human element which makes the effects of the zombies all the more terrifying. It must have taken an impressive amount of research: topics range from apocalyptic survival to submarine warfare, and there's a hefty dose of international politics.

And yet--no matter the scope, research, or detail--World War Z is unconvincing. The zombies are the worst of it: Brooks skates around scientific explanations by stating that no one has them, yet; this works the first few times, but as the zombies continue to evade science and common sense they become both less believable and frightening. Meanwhile, some plot points (in particular the American government's early response to the outbreaks) strike me as comically improbable, and the "human element" is compromised by attempts to make each interview too remarkable, resulting in bombastic and maudlin storytelling, or cover too much emotional or factual territory, making interviews artificially concise and turning interviewees into caricatures. One after another, these little gaffes chip away at an otherwise unusual, fascinating novel. Zombies can be good Halloween fun, but World War Z sets out to make them a believable and immediate terror--and fails, just because the zombies and their war don't feel real. It's a good attempt, and an engrossing quick read, but I hoped for better. Moderately recommended.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2013
I just finished reading World War Z. I didn't actually read the whole thing, but I am definitely finished with the book. I should say this was a real "out of my zone" book for me. I almost never read horror; I haven't even picked up a Stephen King novel since college! But I do love a good action/adventure story, and the upcoming movie is getting lots of hype. Plus the book jacket used the word "pandemic." While I don't like horror, I do love stories about global medical mayhem.

I loved this book at first. It starts in China, then goes on to chronicle the outbreak of the "Zombie War," focusing on reactions from people throughout the world. But then all that excitement stalls rather quickly about halfway through the pages. There is another type of writing that I just don't like, and that's anything that uses a lot of military jargon. I'm just not an acronym kind of girl. While the book was supposed to give the reader a more "human" reaction to the war, there was just too much talk about battle techniques, and weapon schematics and reconnaissance missions. I started skipping some pages, which is never a good sign.

I did learn something from this reading, though. As a rule, I never read other reviews before I read a book. So when I dubbed this project completed, I started looking at what other people thought. Almost everyone liked it, and most agreed that the book got boring toward the middle. But more intriguing, I also discovered that a lot of people actually believe in zombies! Who knew? Apparently it has something to do with the toxoplasmosis parasite and cat urine. (Interesting, since pregnant women are warned to never, ever, change the cat litter box for the rest of their lives-okay, I added the rest of your life part.) Zombologists (real word) agree that there is a form of this bacteria/parasite that makes it's host want to eat flesh. It's only a skip and a jump from that to being filled with black-goo for blood, living forever and walking around, well, all zombie-like. Just another reason to raise outdoor cats.

If you like war tales, and/or zombies, I'd go for World War Z. Otherwise-I'd wait to watch Brad Pitt try to save the world in the movie.
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14 of 20 people found the following review helpful
There are many impressive things about this book. Max Brooks has an intricate imagination that borders on psychosis, but is solidly based in rational cause and effect to avoid being too neurotic. I greatly appreciate his author's bio in his first book, _The Zombie Survival Guide_, that painted him as a survivalist freak living in an undisclosed location, while the plain bookleaf bio that presents itself in the introduction of this book as well seems to show a bit of a weakness in the work itself, and that is an overinflated sense of the narrator as a world-defining reporter (Studs Terkel comes to mind, only in part because of the acknowledgement at the end), which in the end keeps an unsurpassable level of removal from the 'human factor' that is attested to, the element that truly thwarted the zombie takeover and kept civilization alive, according to the book.

This omission is curious, because Brooks sets up what should be the classical metaphor for zombies, a metaphor that is present in all monster tales but most prevalent, I believe, in zombie stories: that is, that the monsters ultimately represent humanity. Take the classic George A. Romero _Dawn of the Dead_: zombies walking around a mall because the place represented some fond memory for them in their lives? What better comment could you have about commercial America? In fact, every stage of Romero's Living Dead series reflects more upon the nature of humanity than on the zombies themselves.

And Brooks seems to understand that in this book by focusng more on the effect of the war on the people involved rather than focus on the zombies themselves. In other zombie stories, the zombies themselves are used to mirror human nature, but in this book, Brooks decided to keep the zombies (or Gs or Zach, according to who is talking at the time) out of the main picture and relegate them to background animosity. This would normally leave a lot of room to delve into the depth of the characters involved, but Brooks' ability to draw characters is rather thin. In the end, Brooks left himself but one device to sketch his characters in this book, and that was through the use of monologue, which ultimately is a poor method of characterization, for there is little action to base the character's words against. Also, Brooks is more focused a times on the events themselves than the characters involved (for example, the Yonkers massacre), and so there is a lot of encyclopedic references to foreign culture disguised as first-hand knowledge and a lot of invented military terms for this fictitious war. The depth of Brooks' imagination is, as I said before, impressive, but this book fails to truly delve into that human factor promised from the start, since the mirrors of humanity (the zombies themselves) are but a background veneer in this, and the narration is delegated to monologues of characters whose reliability is hard to weigh most of the time.

I found this a good book and a fun read, but my impression of it won't be a lasting one, when there seemed to be such a good opportunity to write a classic.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2014
I had been waiting to read this book for years, unsure of what was quite stopping me, until the movie came out. I'm not the type of person who doesn't allow myself to see a book-based-movie before reading the book, but I still took it as an excuse to finally buy a copy and make my way through it.

At first I enjoyed the style of multiple narratives and narrators. I think it's a successful concept and pretty entertaining as a way to tell the stories from different geographical and political perspectives. I slowly realized, however, that I developed one complaint about this: where were all the women? Out of the thirty or forty or more narrators, were there four women? Five? I don't know, maybe I should actually be appreciative of this ratio... because if an event like this took place, realistically we'd still only be hearing from prominent male figures, I guess. So in that sense it's an accurate depiction of our priorities and prejudices. But it still bothered me.

A couple of times I had trouble following the different characters. They each had a different story but I'm pretty sure some of them were connected, and some names were repeated, but I had trouble remembering who was who. And occasionally I felt as though I had been reading the same story over and over again, even though they were clearly supposed to be from different folks and different places, but the writing style had been so similar and the themes so consistent that I was brought back to reality, remembering this was a book by Max Brooks, not all of these different people.

I think Brooks did a really good job of discussing such a wide variety of topics, finding something that could appeal to almost everyone. The whole book was a collection of very personal narratives, but the oral histories also gave us insight into global politics, medicine, military, and general social interactions, on top of the very intimate stories that were told about close friends and families. Brooks tried to never break character and in the first section of the book introduced the stories as though they were actually making up a collection of tales told after a very real event.

I definitely agree with some other reviewers in that this is still an entertaining book and younger readers would love it. But there was so much hype surrounding it that I suppose I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 28, 2011
This is an odd rating even in my own opinion. Now let me tell you a story with only one perspective instead of about fifty different ones. I like zombies, guilty as charged. 28 Days Later is my second favorite movie ever, the Resident Evil franchise is my favorite game franchise ever, and George A. Romero's Dead has had a huge impact on my filmmaking aspirations. I even read . . . a lot!

So why doesn't a zombie-loving reader give World War Z only a 3/5? Well, it's complicated to feel but so easy to explain. I'm going to be real honest here; it's beyond me how this book has such a high rating. I'm not saying the book is bad, so don't think that. A 3/5 if an average score and average is not terrible. World War Z has a heart in the core of all the jumbled narratives; it has some type of political agenda somewhere in the muck of symbolisms; it has some sort of story it wants to tell . . . but it never tells it.

And I'm saying that truthfully. The narrative jumps around so much that you cannot feel for the characters and you can't feel for the zombies like in Romero's films (not counting his later ones); it's not scary - and if you've read this and are reading this review, you can't deny that - but this review is for those who haven't read this. The only other novel I can compare this to is Michael Crichton's Next, except in Next the stories connect in the end. These stories, if they really connect, are hard to tell when and where and how . . . I mean, yes, there are zombies . . . and yes, this is WWZ. But you really never feel like the book means anything because it is too passive; and I'm not saying that's a terrible thing, sometimes being too aggressive can be terrible - like Scott Sigler.

This book has such a high rating because a lot of people feel: "yes, finally a zombie novel to add in the ranks of Romero in film and Resident Evil in games". But, if those zombie fans who gave this novel a perfect 5/5 would have dug critically, they would have realized that this book is very flawed and really not very fun at all - and definitely not scary. Not all horror books need to be scary, but those books usually make up for it in other categories (look at Resident Evil 4 - not very scary, but considered one of the greatest games of all time, because it makes up for the lack of horror in other areas); World War Z doesn't, however. There's really no other way of putting it.

You're going to read this because you like zombies; you're going to read this because you're hoping that I'm wrong and the people who've given this a 5/5 are right; but while you read this novel, this review will be a seed of thought that will open your eyes to the complete averageness of the novel. It was a good attempt, but it's not the zombie-genre novel that zombie-fans have been waiting for; it's just the zombie-genre novel that popular media predicted the zombie-fans would love.

If this novel was in third person, it probably would have been a 4/5; if this novel was uber gory and ridiculous, it would have been a 2/5; but since the novel did have a conscience, however unfocused the point Max Brooks was trying to make, I give it a 3/5. I think Brooks has potential to really blow our socks off, but he needs to write something that has a story and plot and memorable character - because it is the lack of good characters that hurts this novel, because they're gone before you can like them.

The best way of describing World War Z is that it's a series of short stories strung together in a chronological timeline. When I read this book, I didn't think: I hope this gets adapted into a film, and as an artistic person in general, this really did nothing to me creatively.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 2011
This is an intriguing way to write another book about zombies. The book consists entirely of interviews of three to seven pages with the survivors of the Zombie War.Max Brooks is both the author of this book and the interviewer.After giving the United Nations Postwar Commission the basic facts of the ten year war, Brooks decides to write a book about individual survivors of many countries. Since Brooks tells you upfront that humanity won the war, there are no "spoilers" required.

The first case of zombie infection was in China, involving a boy bitten by someone unknown. China basically stonewalls the problem, resulting in the virus spreading worldwide via black market "organ donor" traffic and bitten people leaving China. Soon the whole world is fighting zombies that can only be killed by destroying their brains! Cape Town, South Africa, is the first country that uses the "Paul Redeker" plan, which puts a certain amount of their population in safe zones and leaves the rest as bait. Israel, under a quarantine program, closes their borders. Pakistan and Iran have a nuclear war over fleeing refugees from Pakistan. The U.S.A., under the assumption they have a vaccine, have little concern of the black cloud approaching. Too late, they find out the vaccine is for rabies - not very effective for zombie bites.

The Great Panic starts when, in the battle of Yonkers, the zombies overwhelm the military. It seems conventional "shock and awe" strategy against people already dead doesn't work. Using air strikes, tank attacks, hi-tech rockets only works if you manage to destroy each individual zombie brain. If not, they will drag their damaged body forward in a continued effort to eat you! The U.S.A. retreats to the Rocky Mountains, Japan evacuates to South Korea, the North Korean people disappear completely and are presumed underground.

In the Honolulu Conference, the President of the United States, decides the only way to defeat the zombies is by deploying the old Revolutionary War two-line attack. Using a military rifle line running north to south, moving west to east they slowly eliminate the zombies, with single head shots, one by one. But this war is far from over- what about the rest of the world? Zombies walking under the ocean? And, zombies thawing out in the spring? After reading all the interviews, you will have all the answers.

This is another entry into the recent literary explosion of zombie and vampire books. Although this novel is unique, I find myself tiring of this genre. I only recommend this book to the hardiest of ghoul readers. The only book in this field that I give a five star rating to is The Passage, a 766 page beauty written by Justin Cronin in 2010.
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