World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

by Max Brooks


Cover, linked to Wikipedia

Those who know me know I am not a fan of zombie stories. I don’t like the idea of the undead going around and eating people’s brains. It’s disgusting. So why did I decide to read World War Z? It turns out that I ended up seeing the movie World War Z a few years ago with some friends when it came out in theaters. I found the story much more compelling than I had anticipated. I liked the element of a virus infecting people to be similar to rabid dogs rather than some supernatural necromancer calling upon his servants to feed. Since then I had been intending on reading the book. I finally got around to listening to the audiobook. I am so glad I experienced it in this format!

The novel is written in the form of an oral history. The narrator is an employee of the United Nations Postwar Commission to the “Zombie” war. The narrator interviews specific people from all around the world about their involvement or some life event that happened during the war, especially during the “Great Panic,” which was when countries and people actually began to recognize the epidemic for what it was. I appreciated that there was a healthy denial phase, despite that being detrimental to the world’s well-being. It felt more real to life. People do not want to accept something as insane as a zombie outbreak until they see it with their own eyes, but then it may be too late.

The first interview starts with the doctor of “patient zero.” The boy had been on a treasure hunt with his father when he was attacked and bitten by something in the water where they were diving for treasure. The father never returned home with the boy. Although he is classified as “patient zero,” that history is left ambiguous by the fact the health organizations immediately worked to quench the danger before it spread. The way they acted efficiently with military personnel made me believe that there had been other situations similar to this, but rest of the narrative did not address it and moved under the assumption the boy was “patient zero.”

I appreciated that the audiobook was published with a full cast of characters, one for each person the narrator interviewed. As he was interviewing people from all over the world the accents matched their country and it seemed as if the narrator was genuinely flying around the world to get these interviews. While there were times I did not always clearly understand the speaker, as I was listening to this book on a long car ride recently, it did not matter. The authenticity and the over-arching story allowed me to understand everything I needed to know. My only disappointment is after researching to write this blog post, I realize that I listened to the abridged version published in 2007. It seems the author, Max Brooks, was instrumental in getting this audiobook published and the reason it had such a large cast of voice over actors. I would still be interested in listening or reading the whole book one day.

I highly recommend this story as it addresses the idea of humanity and the need for survival in a very real way. I love how the people discuss their lives. There was even one interviewee who could be considered an unreliable narrator, as she was diagnosed with psychiatric problems shortly after her rescue from a plane crash. I would like to believe her, as her story is much more romantic and exciting, but you just never know. The humans did what they could to survive and the world had to learn to work together in ways they had never considered before. It is amazing how tragedy can bring people together.

As a side note: This is my “Book that was turned into a film” novel for the 26 book 2017 Reading Challenge. I probably will not complete all the categories on the list as defined in January. However, if you count my comics and other fun novels I read, I should surpass 26 books this year. That makes me happy at least!