Book review: World War Z by Max Brooks and a small rant about technology

angst, book review, writing and technology, writing life August 17, 2011

I have this program on my computer called MacJournal. I like it very much. I use it for basic journaling and for things like book reviews or idea management. It’s a handy little program. I also used it exclusively to keep a record of all my board posts in graduate school. We were required to post responses to various prompts or other assigned material several times per week, and I just copied and pasted all my posts– three years of work– into the MacJournal program.

I also used to use two user profiles on my computer, one for my everyday stuff and one for all my writing stuff, under the assumption that separating the two lives would lead to greater productivity in each. Imagine my shock when that didn’t work.

So my husband, who just so happens to be a software engineer *cough* geek, merged my user profiles into one. I was reunited with my evil twin! I’m just not saying which is which. Anyway, this morning I went into my MacJournal program to find a book review to post here and lo! It’s all gone.

Note there that I’m actually not panicking. The husband, whom I shall call my Geek God, will be home from work sometime today and he will find it for me. No biggie. I have every faith in his ability to restore what was lost, to find my missing words, to be the techie yin to my creative yang. Or something.

Many of you will have already seen this review, since I’m reduced to using one I posted on another blog for a class, but it merits revisiting. After all, Brad Pitt is currently filming this one somewhere in Europe, I think, judging from the photos we’re being subjected to of Angelina and the brood.

Here’s my review of World War Z by Max Brooks. Keep in mind that because this review was written for a class, an audience that I knew already read it, this contains some basic spoilers. However, in this book, spoilers don’t matter quite so much, since we know the author survived the zombie apocalypse to write the manuscript.

I have to give this book a solid 3 out of 5. Possibly a grudging 4, but that would be pushing it.

World War Z is a tough book to review. From the writers’ point of view, I have incredible respect for Brooks’ ability to make an old subject fresh. The format is new and unusual and I give him props for that, but it’s also what pushed my review of the book down from a 4 or 5. More on that in a bit.

From the readers’ point of view, I like the way he handles the zombies in this book– the mindless creatures can be compared to viruses destroying their hosts simply because it’s what they do to survive. There’s no malice in the zombies, we can’t be angry at what they’re doing anymore than we can be angry at grizzly bears for eating salmon. It just so happens we’re what’s on the menu for the zombies. That makes the zombies a bit scarier– there’s no reasoning with them, no intimidating them (the reason for the defeat at Yonkers), they just don’t care. Hunger is the only drive. This mindlessness, the sense of futility in the behavior of the zombies, makes them more horrific.

The only bit about the zombies that I took issue with was the arms raised, shambling, moaning stereotype. Many things about this book broke with stereotype and felt so new. When I encountered the behavior that also makes zombies so comical I was seriously disappointed. I get that they’re unthinking, unfeeling shells, but make them silent. Silent at least until they find the kill, then maybe some guttural noises. And lose the shambling. I don’t expect a brisk walk, but to describe it in just the way I associate with B-rated movies? Nah.

Isolation plays a huge part in the terror of this story. There are pockets of safety, shown particularly effectively in the interview with Colonel Christina Eliopolis (p. 168-186). The map hanging on the wall of her office shows a smattering of safe zones, “[i]slands in the Sea of Zack” (p. 170). These islands had to be resupplied. Colonel Eliopolis was an airlift pilot and does a good job of explaining the situation with the islands. Her own predicament, after having her aircraft crash in the southern US, is also a fantastic example of what happens to the human mind when isolated in a hopeless situation. Much of our isolation is involuntarily self-imposed, because of our dependency on technology and so forth. I could go on and on about Brooks’ depiction of our society being turned on its head. I loved this about the book.

We never find out what caused the zombie plague. That bothered me more than I thought it would. Brooks is the narrator of this book, which is a compilation of interviews with people who played varying roles in WWZ. The account was written on behalf of the “United Nation’s Postwar Commission Report” (p. 1) but was ultimately heavily edited because of emotional content. In my mind, if there’s a committee about the war and a record is being made, the cause of the war should be examined, not just the reactions. I wanted to see the reactions of the scientists either responsible for or who discovered the reason for the zombie plague. I understand that this is cursorily explained in Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide, but this is a stand-alone story. Some sort of word from the CDC would have been appreciated.

The reason for my lower rating of the book is the format. I know this is something that has been lauded in critical circles, and, like I said, I give the man props, but it just didn’t work for me. When I started reading it my first words to my husband were “this reads like District 9.” I really liked District 9, so this was a good sign. But we never get an intimate relationship with any of the characters like we do with Wikus Van de Merwe. District 9 really got moving for me when I started to relate to Wikus and see the story through his eyes. Unfortunately, because of the once-removed format of World War Z, the story just never gained momentum. I felt like I was watching a Discovery channel documentary and actually got kind of bored by the end of the book. There was no tension for me, nothing keeping me invested in the story. Bummer.

Bottom line, I will recommend with reservations.

Work cited:

Brooks, Max. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Three Rivers Press: New York. 2006

And now I am off to bang my head against a wall and pray my MacJournal entries are not lost to the ether.


Tattooed writer with an attitude seeks like minded people who appreciate snark and ink. Or snarky ink.

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