World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks offers a bird’s eye view of a zombie infestation that nearly wiped out humanity. We start in the aftermath and see the events through a series of interviews that highlight various aspects of the zombie presence. The writing is solid and each chapter has its own zombie-climax, but as I started to read, I never felt any deep emotional connection to a specific character.
Part of the reason for this was, I believe, the structure. When you set the pattern of introduction, complication, and then zombie payoff the reader is encouraged to disinvest from the characters because they know that things are about to get bad, really bad, for anyone they might care about. Then, after they get bad, we leave.
After I read a few chapters, I glanced at the cover. The words “oral history” stood out. I don’t see them on books too often. This led me to seek out the audiobook because it seemed to fit better with the interview setup outlined in the beginning of the book.
As soon as I pressed play, that’s when the magic started!
I highly recommend listening to this all-star cast (everyone from F. Murray Abraham to Simon Pegg) because through the voice acting the story comes to life in a way that felt lacking on the page. This is one of the few books that deserves to be listened to, not read, because on a visceral level it really is what the title claims: an oral history.
One of the major selling points of this book is how the post-zombie world, and even the reactions of the pre-zombie world, feel so authentic, even probable. Governments do the wrong thing with the best of intentions, and we really get a feel for the global impact the war had through the setups at the beginning of each chapter (read by Max Brooks). In fact, this is one of the best examples of world building (or world deconstruction) that I can think of in recent best-selling memory.
The monstrous lengths that people go to for survival are both horrifying and unsettled me in a deep way because I felt that I would probably take the same actions in their place. And therein lies the true strength of this book. It isn’t all the zombie mayhem (which is a lot of fun), but it’s the mirror that the character’s choices hold to our own survival instinct.
This book is an entertaining read if you’re into lots of zombies and the reconstruction global politics. It may lack a certain degree of emotional depth (when read), but it is one of those books where you can ask someone, “What was your favorite part?!” and hear a different answer every single time.
My favorite was The Battle of Yonkers as read by Mark Hamill.
What was yours?