World War Z

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
By Max Brooks
Crown, 352 pages

Reviewed by Anton Preston Arce
January 2009

Edited by Andy Ross

Max Brooks gives us the lay-down of the war between the zombies and mankind. He offers a detailed scenario for a nightmarish threat. This book is a compilation of fictional interviews with people who lived through World War Z (WWZ). Brooks is the interviewer and the time is ten years after WWZ.

The initial interviews are about how the zombie virus began infecting people and spread throughout the world, apparently from China. This began a "Great Panic" as society unraveled. What unfolds looks like the extinction of humanity.

The U.S. government reacts by consolidating the army in a safe zone and using civilians as bait for the hordes of zombies. The army then begins a systematic extermination of the zombies. Brooks presents many different personal perspectives to relate this epic story. Realism is enhanced by the variety of dictions and figures of speech employed by the interviewees.

Each person Brook interviews has a unique vocabulary, and some make free use of expletives. A young woman recalls how the war made her an orphan: "We were in church, Mommy and me. ... They had cereal and water, and juice, and sleeping bags, and flashlights and ..." A soldier reflects: "Maybe if we'd had more men, more ammo, maybe if we'd just been allowed to focus on our job ..."

In one scene, some celebrities hiding out in New York from the plague of "undead" are attacked by common citizens who are driven to desperation by the ghouls. The soldier recalls: "This was only the head of one really long undead snake stretching all the way back to Times F***in' Square! We didn't need to see that." The troops were demoralized by the struggle against this torrent of walking corpses.

The author makes his characters seem reasonable to give credibility to his zombie scenario. Here Brooks interviews a dirigible pilot: "And that's what haunts me the most about it, they weren't headed anywhere. ... What did they think they were doing? Who organized this exodus?" The reply first shows how misguided and panicked it was, then tells us what occurred. This is how people often relate stories when questioned. The pilot seems confused about what actually happened.

Brooks sometimes asks his subjects pointed questions: "But what about organizing priests into 'death squads,' and assassinating people under the premise of 'purifying infected victims'?" Here, the interviewee is a Russian priest whose war work pushed Russia back to the Holy Russian Empire.

In World War Z, Brooks uses fine writing skills to bestow an everyday realism upon his lurid war scenario. Throughout the book, the speech of the interviewees conveys images that reveal the huge scale and the horror of the WWZ. The result is a fantasy that reads like a factual history of the war against the zombies.