Imagine a book that lists and proposes a solution for most current and recent geopolitical conflicts; that covers a decade or so of global history; that provides insight for most regions of the world; that proves that the author is familiar with dozens of cultures and subcultures, that thinks outside the urban/rural terrain and marine divide; that paints an optimistic worldview for the future where all nations work together; that introduces dozens of interesting characters–world leaders and ordinary citizens–through their own words; that mixes current and future technologies with natural ease.
Sounds to good to be true? It almost is. All of the above are true for Max Brooks‘ “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War”, but there is a caveat. This amazing literary accomplishments comes at the cost of zombies killing most of the human population. I read this book the same week I watched the first two seasons of the BBC show title “Survivors.” It was slightly confusing as both takes the premise of a virus coming from the remote regions of China exterminating majority of mankind. The similarities end there though. As the subtitle suggests the book is in the format of an oral history, meaning that each chapter is a mostly self-guided and barely edited interview. That’s how it feels, but of course it is all fiction.
Brooks achieved the fun, but not easy goal of creating individual, authentic sounding voices in short vignettes. This variety is what I enjoyed most in his book. I also liked how consecutive chapters had references back and forth to each other. The weaving of the story was much more interesting this way than it would have been with a series of disjointed monologues. I had to use my mind to recognize these connections and piece together the gaps. I have to admit, although I am not a big fan of zombie stories in general, but this one blew my mind.
Finally I want to mention that I am in awe of the scope of the book. Everything I mentioned I the first paragraph is there and so much more. Even if you don’t like gore you should check out this book for insights about the Middle East conflict, or the North Korean issue, or on Japanese hegemony or on Chinese military practice, or on European castles or on urban warfare. There are lots of other areas where Brooks showed unexpected expertise. Just for its scope it’s worth reading it.