Penny's Reviews > World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

World War Z by Max Brooks
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Nov 10, 12

bookshelves: zombies-aliens-vampires-dinos, reviewed-books
Recommended to Penny by: Two enthusiastic Barnes & Noble employees
Recommended for: Lovers of zombies/those curious about the whole zombie-loving craze
Read from April 24 to May 12, 2010

I know what you're thinking. "Five stars for this book? Why???"

If you've been following my reviews then you know I tend to stress over how many stars to give a book, and I'm not one to hand out five-star ratings willy-nilly. I'm usually quite cautious when it comes to handing out that all-important fifth star. I'm stingy. That being said, every once in a while a book, that may or may not be amazing, comes along and wows me.

And now you're (probably) thinking: "But Penny, it's a book about zombies. Zombies! Disgusting rotting corpses that stumble around, looking to sink their teeth into any living thing. How--how could that sort of thing wow you? Are you, like, smoking crack???"

First things first: No--I'm not smoking crack. Everyone knows crack is cheap--I much prefer the real thing*. Now that I've cleared that up, lets move on, shall we?

So. World War Z. I really enjoyed it, which was a surprise because I didn't think I would. This book is not something I would've picked up on my own. Had it not been for a couple of really nice Barnes & Noble employees who practically shoved this book in my hands while gushing about its supreme awesomeness, I definitely wouldn't have purchased it. But since they didn't have the book I was looking for (Storm Front by Jim Butcher), and since I'd already been bitten by the zombie bug over a year ago (The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan) I took a chance and purchased this book.

Despite the fact that Max Brooks used to write for SNL, and also happens to be Mel Brooks son, this book isn't funny, nor is it meant to be. Max Brooks tells this story through a series of interviews given by survivors of The Great Panic, or World War Z (the Z stands for Zombie, in case you didn't, you know, put two and two together...).

The interviewees come from different parts of the world and they tell their accounts of what happened to them, what they thought when they first heard of what was first referred to as "African Rabies"; what happened when the Great Panic started in their part of the world. A lot of these stories are sad and/or terrifying, but mostly I found them incredibly intriguing.

Before I go on I need to add that I totally geek-out over documentaries, and this book--were it in movie form--would be a documentary. I'm one that appreciates the method Max Brooks uses to tell this story.

To me the beginning of this book has more to do with the way things are done in this world--politics wise--than anything else. Of course, as the book goes on and more and more governments are collapsing due to the fact that zombies are basically taking over the world, we get a good look at human nature during times of crisis. I found the whole thing fascinating..

Hardcore zombie lovers need to know that this isn't a book that follows one set of characters, though some interviews have been broken up, and so a few characters are featured in this book more than once. Rather it is one story told by several different people. There is continuity in the order in which the stories are told to us, and sometimes one survivor's account answers a question that was raised by another survivor.

All that said, there is quite a bit of zombie slaying action. Lots of blood and guts and gore. We get to learn how best to stop a zombie--and let me assure you, there are many ways. We also learn about newest in improvised zombie killing weaponry and effective warfare techniques to decimate a raging-out-of-control zombie population.

But seriously, I loved reading it, everything in this whole entire book. Me. A church-going mother of three. Although, yeah, I'm not your typical church-going mother of three. But still...

P.S. I'd have finished this book a long time ago had it not been for my husband, who kept stealing this book away from me so he could read it too. He's really liking it, btw.

UPDATE 11/10/12: About a year ago I bought the audiobook from Audible only to discover, after purchasing, that it was the abridged version. I soon found out that was all they had to offer which was quite disappointing because some of my favorite eyewitness accounts from the book were not included. I've since heard from the World War Z's Facebook page that they are going to make an unabridged version. I am unaware of when it will be available for purchase. That said, I did end up liking the (abridged) audiobook well enough. The performances are pretty top notch.


*To those who have zero sense of humor, it must be said: I'm kidding, I don't do any drugs, and you need to chill.
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Quotes Penny Liked

Max Brooks
“Most people don't believe something can happen until it already has. That's not stupidity or weakness, that's just human nature.”
Max Brooks, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War


Reading Progress

04/25/2010 page 42
12.28% "I'm surprised by how much I'm liking this book. Thanks for the recommend random Barnes & Noble employees."
04/26/2010 page 114
33.33% 4 comments
04/27/2010 page 135
39.47% "Last night I had a dream (nightmare!) that I was being chased by zombies. Not fun. Okay, maybe a little fun, but very scary."
05/03/2010 page 227
66.37% "I love this book like a zombie loves 'brraaaains'!"
05/10/2010 page 305
89.18% 2 comments

Comments (showing 1-26 of 26) (26 new)

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Tatiana You always promise that:)


Kat Kennedy Yeah, I see a lot of these "Review to come" messages from you. I want to know NOW! :P I'm glad you liked it - this one is next on my list to read.


Penny I know. It's just that my reviews aren't all that great. I mean, sure I can make fun of a book, but when I love a book my reviews are all, "I really like this book. A lot. It's super-dee-duper! Yay for this awesome book!" Then at some point or other I become some mentally challenged fangirl, like so: "There iz hot boyz in dis booook! Sooooo sexy! Squeeeeeeeeee! Then some not so good stuff happens. Me get sad/mad. Then hawt boi savz the day. I luvz dis book! You should read it too. Because I said so."

But you two actually sound intelligent when you review books. You break the book down, analyze it, and, most importantly, don't go all crazy fangirl. Ever. So, yeah, I struggle with the positive reviews. But I've been working on a few, and hope to have them posted soon. I swear.

Okay. I'll post a review before Saturday.


Wicked Incognito Now lol! I have the same problem. It's so difficult for me to pinpoint WHY a book works for me when others don't.


Penny Tatiana and Kat, I posted a review. Happy? ;)


message 6: by Tatiana (last edited May 13, 2010 12:23PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tatiana I am satisfied:)

I expected to love this book, but neither I nor my hubby liked it that much. I thought he would at least enjoy it, but he dropped it halfway because there were no characters to get attached to...


Annalisa Great review, Penny. Very funny. I think I'll have to check this one out. I love zombies, not wussy love-story zombies of TFHT, but real zombies. How have I not seen Zombieland yet? Besides the fact that it's rated R, which I manage to ignore anyway, much to the chagrin of my husband. Take that SM; you don't own the word chagrin :).


message 8: by Heather (new) - added it

Heather Loved the review Penny. I may have to read it, though I am a bit disappointed it isn't the book version of 28 days....


Kat Kennedy I loved this review! Yes I am satisfied now! I'm so going to go read this book now!


message 10: by John (new) - rated it 5 stars

John I'm glad you read and liked it, we can remain friends.

FYI - if you can get a chance to listen to the audio book you won't be disappointed. it's got an all star cast!


message 11: by Penny (last edited May 16, 2010 06:54AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Penny Annalisa wrote: "Great review, Penny. Very funny. I think I'll have to check this one out. I love zombies, not wussy love-story zombies of TFHT, but real zombies. How have I not seen Zombieland yet? Besides the fac..."

The past two nights I watched 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, Resident Evil, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Resident Evil: Extinction and Zombieland.

28 Days Later was by far the best of the bunch and the first Resident Evil movie came in as a distant second (completely besides the point: Milla Jovovich is incredibly beautiful. I wish I were her).

The funny thing is, I haven't watched a R-rated film in, like, ten years. But after reading this book I couldn't not see these movies--I was much too curious.

Anyway, Zombieland was okay. But I've discovered I much prefer to be actually horrified/terrified by zombie attacks then to laugh at them.

BTW, in World War Z Max Brooks borrowed a few of the more epically awesome zombie killing methods contained in the movies I watched this past weekend.


Penny John wrote: "I'm glad you read and liked it, we can remain friends."

Thanks John. :)


Annalisa Penny,
I just realized you replied. You're tempting to see these :). My dad got a clear play so now all these movies I want my husband to see, I can make him see that way. Like The Road, I so want to see that, but dismembered body part, I'm not sure I want to see all of it.


message 14: by Penny (last edited May 27, 2010 06:35PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Penny I saw Quarantine and Shaun of the Dead recently. Shaun of the Dead is hilarious, better then Zombieland. Quarantine, despite the fact that the acting is sort of lacking and the zombies looked sort of cheesy, actually made me tremble. I wasn't terrified, just really, really anxious during the last thirty-or-so minutes of the movie.

I've been told that Dawn of the Dead is actually really good and that I should see that one too.

I used to have clearplay but our first clearplay machine broke in one month and the second one broke in about a year. We used it a lot, though, so maybe that's why. Anyway, sometimes the editing was sub-par--there were a handful of occasions in which we heard the f-bomb. But for the most part we were really pleased with our clearplay. We didn't renew our membership with them because our machine broke and we didn't want to buy another machine (they were really expensive three years ago. I don't know what they cost now).

My husband won't watch these movies either, which is a shame since he's sort of missing out. ;) I sort of hate that I've broken my No R-rated Movie rule in order to watch zombie movies. But they're just so incredibly good.


Becky So, I understand that I am way late to this conversation, but I just thought I would add my 2 cents... are any of you fans of 'The Walking Dead'? As far as TV shows go, I believe this one gets less credit than it deserves. And the graphic novel was AMAZING. If you are zombie fans, I would HIGHLY recommend it.

BTW, great review. I'm looking forward to reading this one soon (before the movie, I hope)


Penny @Becky: I love the Walking Dead, both the TV show and the graphic novel series. I love the graphic novel series for the elaborite pictures and overall storyline. I love the TV show because of Daryl Dixson and some of the other deviations from the graphic novels. I wish I could be an extra on that show. The closest thing I can get to that dream is participating in Run For Your Lives, a 5K with an obstacle course and zombies. I'm training for it now.

Also, my advice to you: read this book BEFORE the movie comes out. Honestly, I wouldn't even recommend seeing the movie as it is nothing like the book whatsoever--even from just watching the trailers I can tell. I heard the entire project, from beginning to end, was a flipping catastrophe. READ THE BOOK.


Becky I am reading it now.... let me clarify: I am listening to the audio book. All that audible has available right now is the abridged version. I hope to be able to read the whole thing later. But for now, this will have to do. (Note: guess who is part of the audible cast? Alan Alda... Just thought I would mention that). Anyway, I am very happy to hear that you are a TWD fan, and I've looked into one of the local zombie runs for myself. I think it would be a blast! Good luck with yours!


Sarah Raff thank you so much for your review. it's nice to see a postitive one for this book. I really liked this book and totally agree with you. great review for a great book.


Madouc Hi! I really like your review, I think you captured what the book meant. I'm not so good at english so my words may sound "robotic". I'm working on my reviews too, I found it a little hard to express what I think of a book, so I haven't post any yet.
Hope to read more from you.


Alejandro On your comment that this book is not funny i have to say it's primarily a matter of what you perceive to be funny. Having said that may I remind you of the part when the Indian general guy blows the bridge, the man narrating wakes up to a weird sound, which is zombies. After a bit he looks st the monkey hoping to hear it say something intelligent, hoping the monkey will somehow remind him of his ever fading humanity, only to be peed on by the monkey's tiny penis. See, funny stuff!


Remittance Girl Kudos for pointing out the abridged version of the audiobook is a disappointment. You saved me from making a mistake and I thank you for it. I bought the unabridged version and really enjoyed it.


Lilly great review! i loved the documentary-interview style! i get bored with books that dont keep things moving.


Tiffany Leblanc I loved this book too! And I'm a church-going-mother-of-3 also. But I've only read 60% of it because I have too much of an imagination and started getting scared at night when I was all alone after my kids went to bed. I'm a military wife and my husband is gone for a year right now, but as soon as he gets back for good I'm picking it up again. I seriously started hearing moaning and scraping sounds outside my window! I would chant "zombies aren't real, zombies aren't real...", but it didn't help.

I loved the movie, which is totally different from the book, and it didn't scare me at all.


Emily I was just reading through some random reviews and curious about what people said about WWZ. Your review is spot on. I was essentially dared to read this book back in 2009 by my husband. I jokingly picked it up and read a bit and was hooked. I loved the style and the vignettes within a story arch.

Man, the movie sucked and I so wanna read this again now.


Penny A pox on every person involved with that movie!

I believe there are two things from the book that are actually in the movie. One is the title, the other is the speech about the 9th (or 10th???) man.

Such an awful movie, though I don't think I'd have any major issues with the movie had they not even pretended the movie was based on WWZ. Although, yeah, sprinting zombies who don't attack sick people is so dumb...I can't even.

I still have hopes that eventually (years and years from now) someone will make this book into a documentary-type movie, complete with snippets of "official footage" and photos.

They can even use "old" twitter feeds, you know?

You really should reread his book. I found upon my rereads its as good or better than I remembered it to be. I even broke down and purchased the unabridged audiobook performance of WWZ after the movie left me wanting. So worth it.


Tiffany Leblanc I really enjoyed the movie. BUT I hadn't read the book when I saw it. Didn't even know it was a book. Yeah, I agree the 9th or 10th man was the only thing that was from the book. Well, that and the rifle that Brad Pitt uses in the beginning. It looked like it might have been a nod to the "SIR" rifle they used in the book.
There was book a few years ago: P.S. I Love You, and the movie based on that book was way different, but I still liked it. Just had to think of it as 2 differ stories with the same title.
I'd love to see the Atchafalaya swamp part in the book in a movie. I had just driven over 1-10 and the Atchafalaya basin when I read the book.
Oh, and the "South African Plan"...


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