World War Z

World War Z

name = World War Z
subtitle = An Oral History of the Zombie War

image_caption = First edition cover
author = Max Brooks
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
genre = Horror, post-apocalyptic novel
publisher = Crown
release_date = September 12, 2006
media_type = Print (Hardback/Paperback), Ebook, Audiobook
pages = 352 pp
isbn = ISBN 0307346609

"World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War" (abbreviated "WWZ") is a novel by Max Brooks which chronicles a fictional zombie apocalypse, specifically the titular "Zombie World War", as a series of after-the-fact oral history interviews with prominent survivors.

Though a follow-up to his humorously deadpan previous book, "The Zombie Survival Guide", "WWZ" is more serious in tone, and strives to be both factually and psychologically convincing. The book was released on September 12, 2006. A film based upon the book is currently in development.


Brooks explains that World War Z follows the "laws" set up in "The Zombie Survival Guide", and that the guide exists in the world he set up as a precursor to the war.cite web |url= |title=EAT MY BRAINS! Exclusive Interview: Max Brooks on World War Z - Feature Article |accessdate=2008-04-26 ]

The zombies portrayed in the book are caused by a form of highly communicable pathogen, without any known cure or vaccine, transmitted through body fluids, most commonly through the bite by infected victims. Other animals, even microorganisms, will avoid the pathogen at all costs, as wild animals have been known to run in fear from zombies and bites will remain free of bacterial infection even after several days. Symptoms begin with an initial high fever and weakness, lasting between a few hours and several days, depending on the location of the bite and the constitution of the victim. Once the pathogen has sufficiently spread, the victim enters a comatose phase. Some bodily functions necessary for human survival cease and the rest operate at a modified capacity. When the coma ends, the victim dies and then reanimates as a zombie.

When a zombie discovers a victim, it will emit a distinctive moan and give pursuit, with the moan attracting other nearby zombies to its source (with one zombie's "discovery" often leading to a chain reaction of hundreds of pursuing zombies). A zombie will continue to moan and stalk the victim until devouring its prey, losing track of it, or being destroyed.

Zombies are depicted as not needing sleep, air, food, or any other resource, only wandering ceaselessly in search of flesh (even along the ocean floor). Their diet of fresh meat (preferably human) has no nutritional benefit for the zombie; it merely collects inside the zombie until it ruptures the gastrointestinal tract. In colder regions, the zombies can freeze during the winter, only to thaw during the spring and continue their incessant search for victims. However, they can last years before decomposing, even longer if the climate will naturally preserve them.

Plot summary

Rather than a grand overview or a single perspective, "World War Z" is instead a collection of individual accounts in the form of interviews between the author and the characters. Taking place in the 2010s, the book charts a war against zombies from remote oddities, to a global pandemic to mass panic, and then to an armed struggle to reclaim the planet from the undead.

The pandemic begins in China, although its true origins are unknown. The Chinese government attempts to contain the infection and concocts a crisis involving Taiwan in order to mask the true purpose of the increased military activity. The infection spreads across the world, where several outbreaks in major cities finally bring the plague to the attention of the world.

As the infection spreads, only a few countries take steps to initiate nationwide quarantine programs. The United States, sapped of political will by several "brushfire wars" and lulled into a false sense of security by an ineffective vaccine called "Phalanx", sends Special Forces units to combat local outbreaks, but otherwise does little to prepare for the pandemic. Eventually the epidemic begins to overwhelm the human race, leading to a period known as the "Great Panic." The United States Army sends a task force to Yonkers, New York in a high-profile military campaign intended to restore American morale, but due to the reliance on Cold War-era tactics and modern weapons, the force is routed. Artillery, shrapnel and incendiary-based weaponry designed to inflict mortal wounds on living bodies proved useless against the living dead. Other countries suffer similarly disastrous defeats against their own infections.

More countries begin to fall victim to the zombie plague. A brief nuclear exchange occurs between Iran and Pakistan over the destruction of several key Pakistani bridges in an attempt to halt the advance of the undead through mountain passes. The Three Gorges Dam collapses due to seismic activity and inadequate construction methods resulting in a civil war that ends with a democratic China. Japan is forced to evacuate its remaining population to South Korea, Kamchatka, and other areas. Meanwhile, millions of refugees attempt to live in the oceans in massive armadas of ships.

The turning point of the war comes in South Africa, where the government adopts a plan to establish small "safe zones" within which the infection should be eradicated, ideally to be protected by natural barriers such as mountain ranges or river valleys. Small groups of refugees are to be kept alive outside the safe zones for the purpose of distracting the hordes of undead and allowing those within the safe zone time to regroup. This "Redeker Plan" is quickly adopted by various governments worldwide, and the nations of the world begin a determined effort to wipe out the undead plague. The United States, after relocating the capital to Hawaii, establishing the area west of the Rocky Mountains as its safe zone, restructuring its economy for complete wartime production, reforms its military tactics and adopts new weapons to better cope with massive battles against the zombies, who requiring precise headshots instead of high rates of fire.

Ten years after the "official" end of the worldwide zombie war, millions of undead are still active and the geopolitical landscape of the Earth has been completely altered. In colder areas of the globe, outbreaks occur every spring as frozen zombies thaw and find their way to human populations. Large swarms still roam the ocean floor and occasionally emerge onto dry land. Several regions, most notably Iceland, are still completely overrun. Cuba has become the world's most thriving economy, and is the international banking capital of the world. Russia has undergone a religious revolution and is now an aggressively expansionist theocracy. An independent Tibet is the world's most populous country. Major effects of the war are a drastic reduction in the human population of the Earth. and the devastation of many natural environments, as much by desperate humans as by marauding zombies. The United Nations also fields a large military constantly engaged in eliminating the remaining undead.


Reviewers have noted that Brooks has used "World War Z" as a platform to criticize government ineptitude, corporate corruption and general human short-sightedness.cite web |url= |title=World War Z: An Oral History Of The Zombie War |accessdate=2008-09-19 |author=Keith Phipps |date=10/25/2006 |work=Book Review |publisher=The A.V. Club] cite web |url= |title=The End of the World as We Know it |accessdate=2008-09-21 |author=Ron Currie |date=09/05/2008 |work= |publisher=Untitled Books] In one interview in the book a Palestinian youth in Kuwait refuses to believe that the dead are rising but instead it is a trick by Israel. Meanwhile, many American characters in the novel blame the United States' inability to counter the zombie threat because American confidence in the U.S. Government was low due to the conflicts in the Middle East. Brooks also shows his particular dislike with government bureaucracy. One character in the novel tries to justify lying about the zombie outbreak to avoid widespread panic while at the same time failing to come up with any particular solution for fear of arising public ire.cite web |url= |title=Brooks redefines the zombie genre in WWZ |accessdate=2008-09-19 |author=Les Chappell |date=02/04/2007 |work=Book Review |publisher=The Daily Cardinal] cite web |url=,,1535157,00.html |title=Book Review World War Z |accessdate=2008-09-19 |author=Gilbert Cruz |date=09/15/2006 |work= |publisher=Entertainment Weekly] At the same time, early warnings are missed, crucial reports go unheeded, profiteers make millions selling placebos, the army equips itself with tools perfect for the last war they fought, and populations ignore the extent of threat.

Brooks is also interested in how communities constitute themselves through idealism as well as law. Several interviews throughout the novel, especially those set in the United States, focus on fictional policy changes to train the surviving Americans to rebuild the country and fight the zombies. One reviewer remarks that this novel is influenced by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.cite web |url= |title=Brooks puts brains in print for zombie fanatics |accessdate=2008-09-19 |author=Alden Utter |date=10/02/06 |work=Book Review |publisher=The Eagle]

Brooks also picks up on the need for disaster preparedness, a theme picked up again from "The Zombie Survival Guide". Throughout the novel, Brooks uses his characters to point out both the physical and mental requirements to survive a disaster. In an interview Brooks himself described the large amount of research he had to do to discover the best way to fight a worldwide zombie outbreak. He also pointed out that Americans like the zombie genre because they are a nation of individualists who believe that they can survive anything with the right tools and talent.cite web |url= |title=Zombie Wars |accessdate=2008-09-19 |author= |date=10/06/2006 |work=Online Interview |publisher=Washington Post]

When asked in the same interview about how he would compare Islamic terrorists with zombies, Brooks said:

The lack of rational thought has always scared me when it came to zombies, the idea that there is no middle ground, no room for negotiation. That has always terrified me. Of course that applies to terrorists, but it can also apply to a hurricane, or flu pandemic, or the potential earthquake that I grew up with living in L.A. Any kind of mindless extremism scares me, and we're living in some pretty extreme times.

This theme of uncertainty in our times, according to Brooks, resonates in the entire zombie genre. He feels that zombies allow people to deal with their own anxiety about the end of the world. [cite web |url= |title=Preview: Max Brooks' Festival Of The (Living) Dead! Barbican, London |accessdate=2008-09-19 |author=Charlotte Cripps |date=11/01/2006 |work= |publisher=The Independent]

Literary significance and reception

Reviews for the novel have been generally positive. "The Daily Cardinal", while pointing out that the novel does follow a similar plot to most zombie films, declared the book felt "real" and declared it the "definitive undead novel" that has reinvented the genre. In Steven H Silver's review he calls Brooks' decision to focus on the entire world instead of just the United States to be the greatest strength of the novel. He also remarks on Brooks' ability to create a coherent world that makes the reader appreciate the work that would need to be done to combat a worldwide zombie outbreak. His only complaint was the final chapter of the book, "Good-Byes", when many characters seen throughout the novel get a chance to say a final closing statement. Silver felt that it was not always apparent who the characters were and it could be confusing for readers. [cite web |url= |title=World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War Review |accessdate=2008-09-19 |author=Steven H Silver |date=2006 |work=Book Review |publisher=SF Site]

"Entertainment Weekly" called the novel a great zombie story for its use of metaphors that created an "addictively readable oral history." "The Eagle" described the book as being "unlike any other zombie tale" and "sufficiently terrifying for most readers, and not always in a blood-and-guts way, either." The A.V. Club's review pointed out that the format of the novel makes it difficult for it to develop momentum, but still felt that the novel's individual episodes are gripping. The "Time Out Chicago" review declared using an oral history to write a zombie book something that "might constitute brilliance." [cite web |url= |title=Review World War Z |accessdate=2008-09-19 |author=Pete Coco |date=10/11-17/2008 |work= |publisher=Time Out Chicago] Ron Currie Jr. described "World War Z" as one of his favorite apocalyptic novels and praised Brooks for being able to illustrate "the tacit agreement between writer and reader that is essential to the success of stories about the end of the world. Both Brooks and the reader agree to pretend that this is not fiction, that in fact the horrific tales of a war between humans and zombies are based in reality."

A reviewer on RPGnet gave the novel 5 out of 5 critical hits. [cite web |url= |title=REVIEW OF WORLD WAR Z: AN ORAL HISTORY OF THE ZOMBIE WAR |accessdate=2008-09-19 |author= |date= |work= |publisher=RGPnet] On the novel received 4 1/2 out of 5 stars. [cite web |url= |title=World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks |accessdate=2008-09-19 |author=Brian Houle |date= |work=Book Review |] The hardcover version of "World War Z" reached as high as number ten on New York Times Best Seller list and spent three weeks on the list. [cite web |url=|title=BEST SELLERS: October 15, 2006 |accessdate=2008-10-02 |author= |date=10/15/2006 |work= |publisher=The New York Times]

References to other works

Brooks claimed inspiration from "The Good War" by Studs Terkel. Brooks stated: "It's an oral history of World War II. I read when I was a teenager and it's sat with me ever since. When I sat down to write World War Z, I wanted it to be in the vein of an oral history."

Brooks also claimed inspiration from George Romero, the famous zombie film director. Brooks, however, made a critical remark about "The Return of the Living Dead" movies: "They cheapen zombies, make them silly and campy. They've done for the living dead what the old "Batman" TV show did for The Dark Knight."

The gun called "meg" in the novel is a reference to Megatron.


An abridged audiobook was published in 2007 by Random House, directed by John McElroy, produced by Dan Zitt, with sound editing by Charles De Montebello. The book is read by author Max Brooks, but includes many other actors taking on the roles of the many individual characters who are interviewed in the novel: [front cover of five-disk CD packaging, ISBN 978-0-7393-6640-0]

* Arthur Sinclair: Alan Alda
* Jurgen Warbrunn: Carl Reiner
* Philip Adler: Jurgen Prochnow
* Saladin Kader: Waleed Zuiater
* Joe Muhammad: Dean Edwards
* Jesika Hendricks: Michelle Kholos
* Ahmed Farahnakian: Maz Jobrani
* Todd Wainio: Mark Hamill
* T. Sean Collins: Henry Rollins
* David Allen Forbes and Paul Redeker: Eamonn Walker
* Ajay Shah: Ajay Naidu
* Serosha Garcia Alvarez: John Turturro
* "The Whacko": Rob Reiner
* Bob Archer: Jay O. Sanders (credited as "Jay O'Sanders")
* General Travis D'Ambrosia: Dennis Boutsikaris
* Christina Eliopolis: Becky Ann Baker
* Kwang Jingshu: Steve Park
* Nury Televadi and Tomonaga Jiro: Frank Kamai
* Ernesto Olguin: John McElroy

A reviewer of the audiobook version of "World War Z" called the story "gripping" and called the experience "reminiscent of Orson Welles’s famous "War of the Worlds" performance." In terms of the voice acting there was some negative reviews directed at Max Brooks for being too "cheery" and comments that Steve Park's Chinese accent sounded fake.cite web |url= |title=World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks |accessdate=2008-09-19 |author=Siobhan Carroll |date=10/31/2006 |work=Book Review |publisher=Strange Horizons] An article on "Slate" about the mistakes producers make on publishing audiobooks, used "World War Z" as an example of full-cast dramatizations that are great listens and also described the novel as a "smarter-than-it-has-any-right-to-be zombie novel." [cite web |url= |title=Read Me a Story, Brad Pitt |accessdate=2008-09-20 |author=Nate DiMeo |date=09/18/2008 |work= |publisher=Slate] The audiobook was also awarded with the 2007 Audie Award for best Multi-Voiced Performance.Cite web|url=|title= Audie Award press release|accessyear=2007|accessmonthday=November 12|publisher=Audio Publishers Association|year=2007|author=Audio Publishers Association|format=.pdf]

Film adaptation

A film adaptation is in development, following a bidding war between Brad Pitt and Leonardo Di Caprio's production companies, with the rights being obtained by Brad Pitt's Plan B Entertainment and the screenplay being written by "Babylon 5" and "Rising Stars" creator J. Michael Straczynski.Cite web|url=|title=Par, Plan B raise 'Zombie'|accessyear=2007|accessmonthday=November 12|publisher=Variety|year=2006|author=Nicole LaPorte, Michael Fleming] When asked if he would have anything to do with the movie, Brooks stated that he had "zero control", but he admitted he would love to see Brad Pitt have a role in the movie and he thought Straczynski was a great choice to write the script. [cite web |url= |title=WWC Interview: 'World War Z' Writer Max Brooks |accessdate=2008-09-19 |author=Chris Ullrich |date=06/29/08 |work=Interview |publisher=Comic Mix] [cite web |url= |title=Max Brooks Talks WORLD WAR Z Flick |accessdate=2008-09-19 |author= |date=06/01/2008 |work= |publisher=FilmBuff Newsreel] Portions of the script were leaked onto the internet on September 5, 2008. [cite web |url= |title=Post apocalyptic script review: WORLD WAR Z |accessdate=2008-09-19 |author= |date=09/05/2008 |work= |publisher=Quiet Earth]


External links

* [ "World War Z" official website]
*imdb title|0816711
* [ "World War Z" on Zombiepedia, the Zombie Wiki]

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