World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

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world_war_z_book_cover

Kindle Edition, 352 pages

Published: September 12, 2006 by Crown (1st published January 1, 2006)

Literary Awards:  Audie Award (2007), Abraham Lincoln Award Nominee (2012), Multi-Voiced Performance (2014)

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Regular readers of this blog know that one of my son’s primary educational goals is preparing for the zombie apocalypse. He’s talking about college and career goals too, just in case society remains intact for another five years or so. Because, you know, it’s always wise to have a “Plan B.”

Several things comprise his zombie survival training. It mostly seems to involve playing a lot of video games. For the good of the survival of humanity, of course.

I’m kind of fascinated with the current zombie mania. My theory is that, throughout history, people have always been terrified of — or fascinated by — apocalyptic events. In every part of history, people have been convinced, deep down, that the end was forthcoming and theirs was one of the last generations God would bring onto this earth. In some eras, it made sense. In the middle ages, the population was being decimated by bubonic plague. It wasn’t too much of a stretch to believe humanity’s days were numbered.

When I was growing up, in the 70s and early 80s, I’d become accustomed to hearing that nuclear Armageddon was on our doorstep. Two superpowers, with enough combined nuclear weaponry to annihilate our planet 7 times. (After the first time, I’m guessing the rest of those weapons would have been superfluous.) Both poised to flip the switch. We sort of had to rely on the wisdom — or at least the sanity — of our elected leaders. Always a dodgy proposition at best.

Now the Cold War is over. There is still plenty of fear in this post-9/11 world, of course. But while I grew up with buzzwords like “Nuclear Winter,” my kids are coming of age in a world obsessed with … Zombocalypse.

On the upside, my son and I can swap book recommendations. And we have awesome movies like Shaun of the Dead. It’s all good.

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World War Z isn’t a conventional novel — it’s neither character driven nor plot driven. When I started perusing this book, I had my doubts. But Max Brooks (son of filmmaker Mel Brooks, I’m told) has an eloquent writing style, a sharp wit, and a wicked sense of humor. While the overall tone of the book isn’t humorous, the narratives are witty, clever, and often hilarious. Brooks also has insight into human nature and a keen sense of how human beings — and all the institutions we’ve created — respond to crisis. I found this book difficult to put down.

In a post-world war world, the undead have decimated the population but have, at long last, been defeated. The narrator of World War Z is a historian, collecting stories from each stage of the crisis, from the first known infections to the aftermath. He travels the world interviewing soldiers, civilians, and other survivors.

His sources are an eclectic bunch. They include a pharmaceutical guru who marketed a bogus drug that promised protection against the zombie virus. A K-9 handler who trained dogs to help fight the undead. A filmmaker who used his gift to give hope to survivors. A young Japanese geek who spent so much time sequestered with this computer that he didn’t notice the zombie apocalypse was right at his door until it was almost too late. A dude who used the zombie apocalypse as an opportunity for a bad reality T.V. show. A priest who served God by shooting infected people before they became walking corpses.

This story includes scenes of many different forms of battle. It looks at human nature and how people respond to desperate situations for which they’re woefully unprepared. It offers glimpses of the social and political repercussions of the plague. For example “blue collar workers,” who have practical skills, gain power and importance in this brave new world. The formerly wealthy, “lacking even the skills to repair a cracked window,” because they’d always hired someone to do “menial” work, sink to the bottom of the barrel.

You’re a high-powered corporate attorney. You’ve spent most of your life reviewing contracts, brokering deals, talking on the phone. That’s what you’re good at, that’s what made you rich and what allowed you to hire a plumber to fix your toilet, which allowed you to keep talking on the phone. The more work you do, the more money you make, the more peons you hire to free you up to make more money. That’s the way the world works. But one day it doesn’t. No one needs a contract reviewed or a deal brokered. What it does need is toilets fixed. And suddenly that peon is your teacher, maybe even your boss. For some, this was scarier than the living dead

I highly recommend this novel. Don’t bother with the movie, which has nothing to do with the book. World War Z is clever, funny, and rich in fodder for discussion.

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