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206 of 243 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Dawn of the Dead" meets "An Inconvenient Truth", September 30, 2006
This review is from: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (Hardcover)
Other reviewers are correct that Brooks approaches the problem posed by a zombie issue as a problem to be solved within the structure of modern global politics. In my opinion, the approach of focusing on the response to the zombie plague is more sophisticated and more timely than making an allegory of the zombies themselves.

It was Romero who took the voodoo myth of the reanimated corpse and popularized an idea of the zombie as a vessel for a communicable plague. He identified a fundamental anxiety and created new monster in response to modern anxieties. However, his use of the zombies as a critique of consumer culture isn't as fresh an observation as it might have been in the 70s, which is the most pertinent criticism of the recent "Dawn of the Dead" remake.

To the modern audience, the idea of zombies carries undercurrents of AIDS, biological warfare, and terrorism, and Brooks is one of the first to recognize and tap into that in an intelligent way. He's taken a specialized, genre subject and elevated it here to something that is literary. And while there will certainly be some who will be disappointed not to find the pages filled with endless descriptions of severed limbs and smashed brains, Brooks lays on enough of the biological details to keep the subject from becoming abstract, while keeping his focus aimed on something more significant.

As Brooks envisions it, the zombie plague encompasses the threat of terrorism and global war, natural catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina or the devastating tsunami, and global disease scares like avian flu and SARS.

There are two outcomes of a story about a zombie plague; either it consumes and annihilates humanity, or it is contained by the organized action of something like a government. As a domestic political parable, Brooks doesn't throw any hard punches. He envisions America triumphing over the zombies under a national unity government of both parties, with Colin Powell and Howard Dean as president and vice president respectively.

Powell and Dean are not named but are clearly identified, with Dean providing a narrative, in which he is identified as a "whacko" retired to Burlington, Vermont. He makes allusion to his rising political star and subsequent "meltdown," and mentions the president's military training and Jamaican relatives.

I also think some readers may have misinterpreted the narratives about Israel. As I understood Brooks's narrative, in his "near future" Israel had unilaterally withdrawn from the West Bank behind a security barrier and the Palestinians had declared statehood in the territories. Brooks sees Israel as being the first nation to directly address the zombie outbreak by declaring a national quarantine, effectively made possible by the much-criticized barriers. Certainly Brooks's imagining of these events has a political undercurrent, but I'd see it as a center-right

While early in the book, a showy exertion of American military technology proves useless against the inexorable tide of the undead, but later on, it is the American military that adapts and develops the techniques to defeat the zombies.

Some may find it politically offensive that Brooks approaches the zombies as a problem simultaneously emerging globally, and paints the response to the problem from the perspective of people from various countries. However, the approach to emerging problems like communicable disease, terrorism and climate change as global has been broadly accepted by all but the most polar extremes of the politcal spectrum.

Several of the ideas are legitimately controversial. Brooks envisions Russia organizing as a sort of neo-Tsarist theocracy, and China pushing back the zombie tide only after a civil war which removes its establishment. Nuclear exchange occurs between Iran and Pakistan, emerging from a dispute over refugees from the plague, and Brooks explains this from the perspective of an Iranian diplomat who wryly suggests that traditional enemies have the diplomatic mechanisms necessary to prevent nuclear war, while traditional allies would not be able to communicate in a dispute growing from a crisis.

The policy, implemented globally, which saves humanity is also disturbing, and Brooks treats it as such. Formulated by a calculating, almost sociopathic former policy-maker from apartheid South Africa, the plan calls for the abandonment of large swaths of the uninfected population to serve as bait to distract the zombies, while the military establishment and necessary personnel retreated to and secured defensible "safe zones."

Perhaps Brooks's most radical position is the notion that the trappings of modern society must be abandoned in this kind of crisis. Professionals from the modern American service economy are re-trained by their former plumbers and housekeepers to perform the kind of tasks necessary in the wake of the zombie induced economic crash.

The military abandons its high-tech weaponry and communications mechanisms in favor of single-shot rifles, revolutionary-era firing formations, highly trained dogs, and multipurpose shovels called Lobotomizers that can be used like axes to decapitate zombies. In Europe, refugees ride out the zombie plague by holing up in old castles and fighting off the undead with medieval weapons pilfered from museums. A brilliant Indian general fights off the zombies by positioning his soldiers in a square formation reminiscent of the ancient Greek phalanx.

Ultimately, Brooks, whose previous book explored a similar theme and managed to achieve humor by taking the hypothetical problem extremely seriously, invites audiences to really treat the idea of zombies seriously by approaching them realistically, both as a military problem and a political crisis.
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Showing 1-10 of 13 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 17, 2009 2:52:01 PM PDT
Not a Greek Phalanx---a "British Waterloo Square."

In reply to an earlier post on May 28, 2009 4:52:14 PM PDT
Julia Walter says:
And the Roman legions also fought this way. (But not with a Humvee full of ammo in the middle!)

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 30, 2009 10:35:38 PM PDT
Turtlshellz says:
A wonderful review and one that was right on I thought. This book along with The Road (McCormack) are two of my favorite novels of all time. Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful and helpful review of a wonderful book.

Posted on Jun 7, 2010 8:16:38 PM PDT
R. Dodd says:
The book definitely has a leftist slant to it. America is constantly chided for making mistakes by characters from other nations. Cuba becomes the economic center of the world. The rich and powerful are brought down to the "workers" level and re-trained to be plumbers, etc... He does throw in the China coup, but the constant attacks of "American excess" gets a bit old. Still a good book, just hard not to notice his personal politics scattered throughout. But how do you write a book without your own preferences. Center-Right he is not.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 21, 2010 6:06:58 AM PST
Or more generically (and historically accurately), an infantry square:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infantry_square

Posted on Mar 8, 2011 1:22:17 PM PST
betsy says:
Excellent review; I especially enjoyed the third paragraph. Couldn't have said it better.

Posted on Sep 18, 2011 12:43:50 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 18, 2011 12:44:28 AM PDT
Tori C says:
"As a domestic political parable, Brooks doesn't throw any hard punches."

I rather disagree. The US part of the book is a clear remonstration of the government's ineptitude following hurricane Katrina, and the spread of the zombie virus itself represents AIDS (and how Reagan ignored the problem for most of his presidency). Meanwhile an ignorant populace is tricked into buying placebos from big pharma and caught unawares in their bubble of isolation from the problems of the world. Brooks himself makes these points in his talks. And if you remember, the vice president ends up shoveling manure. Anyhow, just because the US is able to adapt and overcome in the end doesn't make it a conservative book. The only thing center-right about it is the pro-Israel slant as many have mentioned.

Posted on Dec 4, 2011 3:33:26 PM PST
The book is not right of center by any means. While certainly pushing a lot of leftist issues as a LEFT of center book, it does not go too far to ruin things.

Also I found the comment about only 'fringe' people do not buy into so called climate change absurd. Only the fringe people on the left buy into that crap. I live in an area that used to but total covered by a huge chunk of moving ice but a long time before man made anything was around these large chunks of ice melted... and now it gets hot as crap here.

However I thought otherwise your write up was great and really enjoyed it and the book.

Posted on Nov 13, 2012 10:53:35 AM PST
Castrodisiac says:
Spoiler Alert!

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 27, 2013 2:56:58 PM PDT
I agree, it still is a good book. It seems like no matter where you turn you find the Leftist Overtone in most books and TV/Cable Series. If we aren't careful to battle on with Center-Right ideas in our own books and shows then theirs' will become the predominate meme of this generation (in fact I am sure it already is such the case).
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