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

World War Z by Max Brooks
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's review
Apr 15, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: dystopian-future, zombies

I picked this book up expecting it to be kitschy. Silly. When I checked it out at the library, the guard who checked my bags cracked up at the title. A small part of me hoped it would be something else. the words "oral history" sent little toe-curling fantasies of a Studs Terkel style book through my mind. I couldn't imagine a better combination - I would get my zombies in delectable little intimate bites (okay, that turn of phrase could have been slightly less zombie-rific)

That is, in fact, what I got. This book was an unexpectedly good read. It's more than just some little "zombies attack" book - it takes the history of each country, the cultures, modern politics, and weaves it all together to create a viable, believable whole. I walked away from this book feeling like I'd learned something, something solid and real about the world in which we currently live. I felt like I'd learned something about humankind, too. I can't imagine the amount of research this book must have taken. What an enriching read.

If I had anything negative to say about the book, it would be this: First, the characters often didn't seem to have a unique voice. I am NOT saying there are too many characters, or that you don't get to know any of them particularly well (which I'd actually argue against). While there are a lot of names, that comes with the territory of an oral history. The goal here isn't to become close with any one person, it's to paint a broad landscape. Max Brooks does this astonishingly well, and really does provide a mental and emotional link to several of the characters you read about. But unfortunately, the tone, the carriage of each of those individuals... lacks in individuality. They aren't unique. I couldn't quite see the difference between some of those voices. One could argue that it takes a certain personality to survive something on such a massive, dehumanizing scale as this, that it changes people - and that's to a degree, a valid argument. It does take a certain personality, and it would change you. Still. There are very few women in the book, and those Max does portray are just as hard as the men, just as biting. By the end of the book I found myself thinking that this was more a reflection of Max Brooks' writing style than anything else. I was left feeling as though he only knew how to write in that hard, battle-scarred voice. I wanted something new, a different emotional take on things to match the power of Brooks' myriad cultural and situational takes.

Maybe it's not even that - people do have different emotional takes, at least to some degree. But their vocabulary, the way they phrase their troubles... something about the limited range of emotions combined with this makes everyone feel so similar, no matter how different their experiences were - and they were different.

So overall, a fantastic, enjoyable read with a true sense of history. It was just the right length (okay, it could have been longer and I'd still have read the whole thing), and both the narrator's voice and the general format were spot-on throughout. I enjoyed every bit of it in spite of my minor gripes, and would highly recommend it to most people. So - 5 stars in spite of my complaint. Go read it. Seriously.

Then again, maybe anything looks good right now - it's the end of November, the end of Nano, and I'm too used to my own writing to know any better. ;)

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