Book Review: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

What is is about flesh gobbling zombies, anyway?

They seem to cause an endless fascination in most people, these mythical monsters from Hollywood. I can attest from personal experience that they have even influenced those of us concerned with armed self defense, and a more hard headed and practical group cannot be found anywhere. It is common for a skilled amateur gunsmith, after rebuilding a firearm into an accurate and rugged weapon that is perfect for emergency use, to proudly announce to all and sundry that it is now “Zombie ready!”

Zombies might resonate in our culture and our psyche, but it is rare to find a serious literary work that concerns the hungry dead. That is why I was surprised to see that my local library had picked World War Z by Max Brooks as the featured book of the week. I decided to pick up a copy and give it a whirl, hoping that I wouldn’t find it to be as dull as I do most horror fiction.

I needn’t have worried. World War Z is a fast paced and interesting read, one that I would recommend to a wide audience. It was so gripping that I found myself burning through the work, polishing it off the very day that the postman delivered my copy. The few people to whom I have lent the book have reported similar reactions.

The setting is an alternate world that is identical to ours in every detail but two. Those details are that no one seems to have ever made a flesh eating zombie film a la George A. Romero, and a virus that allows the dead to walk in eternal mindless hunger is very real.

The book is arranged as a series of very short interviews, all of which are conducted ten years after the end of the titanic struggle against the zombie plague that almost destroys humanity. The style is notable for it’s spare use of the language, conveying a great deal of information in a very short time. As in any successful horror tale, the stories are told in very broad strokes so the reader can fill in the details with their own imagination. The effect is, at times, actually chilling.

So you know that I enjoyed the book, and you know that I recommend it to those who might find horror fiction interesting. But why would I write about such a work here, at The Chicago Boyz, a political blog? Come with me below the jump and I will tell you.

I had a slight taste of things to come while reading the introduction to the book. The author states that life expectancy in the United States hadn’t risen to pre-zombie levels even with the introduction of “universal health care”, but the reference was tossed off in a single sentence and not mentioned again. I was extremely wary when I saw that the first chapter was an interview with a Chinese doctor, but I was relieved to see that it didn’t deteriorate into a Liberal rant against our system of health care. It is much more subtle than that.

Mr. Brooks obviously has a serious Liberal bias, which isn’t surprising considering that he works in show business as well as being the son of two very successful performers. It certainly isn’t the central part of the book, to his credit, but it does creep in every now and then like a limbless zombie inchworming it’s way across the floor. It can distract if you aren’t expecting it.

Like the time that the author conducted an interview with a former White House mover and shaker, a real Machiavelli who pulled the strings of the President himself, who is now reduced to shoveling cow poop in the new world order. Or the way that the administration the poop wrangler worked for deliberately and cynically colluded with an evil pharmaceutical company to sell the American people a false zombie vaccine so they wouldn’t lose an election, neither one caring that American lives were lost as long as the voters were reassured and the pharma executives reaped obscene profits. And there is the way that Americans were so fat and divorced from reality that we had lost all of our practical skills, and the illegal immigrants trapped on this side of the border during the zombie plague had to school us in what we needed to do to survive!

But what was really annoying, at least to me, was the view that Mr. Brooks has of the men and women who serve in our armed forces. Hard-bitten generals almost break down and start to cry when they talk of how “our last brushfire war”, an obvious reference to Iraq, so demoralized the public and drained both our stocks of weapons and the morale of our soldiers that the United States military was spent and helpless before what are little more than slow moving organic robots. A female Air Force officer who worked her way up to piloting a super advanced F-22, one of the most driven and professional individuals that would grace the service, is so distraught and emotionally jangled after having to bail out over zombie country that she has a nervous breakdown before her boots hit the ground. Professional psychologists are assigned to every unit, carefully watching the troops so they can lead the crazies to the rear after they inevitably break from the brief stress of combat.

The good news is that every chapter is very short, usually five or six pages. Even if Mr. Brooks decides to give vent to his Hollywood fantasies about soldiers or Republicans, you don’t have to suffer through it for very long. And, as I said above, it isn’t the main focus of the book so even dyed-in-the-wool Conservatives can enjoy it in spite of themselves.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: <i>World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War</i>”

  1. I have this book. I’m such a rabid conservative that I believe the democratic party is led by a swarm of traitors and I despise them all. But I found the political bias in this book relatively thin and not particularly bothersome. For example, the virus that caused the zombie plague originated in China. If the bias rose to the typical level it would have come from the US, no question. When I picked it up at Barnes&Noble to flip through, I expected it would. But I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve never seen a zombie movie and don’t care to but this is a great read and I don’t regret buying the hardcover. There is also another book by the same author entitled “The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead”. I haven’t read it but I plan to. Also, I greatly appreciate the book reviews posted here at Chicagoboyz. I’ve bought a couple books based on them and I don’t regret it. Thanks a bunch.

  2. I read World War Z and liked it as well. It is essentially well-written plague fiction, a genre that I like a lot. The zombies that could live on indefinitely without any sustenance is silly, but the way that people and society reacted to them and dealt with the crisis was quite realistic.

    If you can find then in a used book store, I recommend “The War Against the Chtorr” by David Gerrold (yes, he is the guy who wrote “Trouble with Tribbles” for the original Star Trek). Four books out of a planned seven have been written and they are very, very good. The plot starts with a series of pandemics that wipe out 60-70% of the world population. The survivors are focused mainly on rebuilding the economic infrastructure and society. It turns out the the plagues are the first part of an ecological infestation where Terran plants and animals are slowly being wiped out and replaced by Chtorran plants and animals in a darwinistic ecological competition. The Chtorran species are rather nasty and much more voracious than the Terran species. They are quite dangerous to humans. The remaining three books concern how humans fight back against this infestation.

    The characters are quite good, unlike most SF.

  3. It should be pointed out that he totally rips Hollywood liberals as well. They are the ones who can’t take learning from their Mexican maids. Also Chinese communists are the last to accept the Rieker plan and suffer for it.

    The most chilling part was the government that ended up being created. While all citizens could be armed, it was the government that controls all resources for the war effort. They can and do order people housed in your home with out your consent. They also punish as traitors those they leave behind as part of the Reiker plan who manage to survive and create their own states. When they don’t want to rejoin the Union, they are ruthlessly take over.

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