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World War Z

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World War Z
World War Z book cover.jpg
First edition cover
Author Max Brooks
Country United States
Language English
Genre Horror, post-apocalyptic fiction
Published September 12, 2006
Publisher Crown
Media type Print (hardback and paperback), e-book, audiobook
Pages 342 pp
ISBN 0-307-34660-9
OCLC 65340967
813/.6 22
LC Class PS3602.R6445 W67 2006
Preceded by The Zombie Survival Guide

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War is a 2006 apocalyptic horror novel written by American author Max Brooks. The novel is a collection of individual accounts narrated by an agent of the United Nations Postwar Commission, following the devastating global conflict against the zombie plague. Other passages record a decade-long desperate struggle, as experienced by people of various nationalities. The personal accounts also describe the resulting social, political, religious, and environmental changes.

World War Z is a follow-up to Brooks' "survival manual", The Zombie Survival Guide (2003), but its tone is much more serious. It was inspired by The Good War: An Oral History of World War Two (1984) by Studs Terkel, and by the zombie films of George A. Romero. Brooks used World War Z to comment on government ineptitude and U.S. isolationism, while also examining survivalism and uncertainty. The novel was a commercial hit and was praised by most critics.

Its audiobook version, performed by a full cast including Alan Alda, Mark Hamill, and John Turturro, won an Audie Award in 2007. A film with the same name as the novel, directed by Marc Forster and starring Brad Pitt, was released in 2013.


The story is told in the form of a series of interviews conducted by the narrator, Max Brooks, an agent of the United Nations Postwar Commission. Although the exact origin of the plague is unknown, a young boy from a village in China is identified as the plague's official patient zero. The Chinese government takes measures to cover up the disease, including generating a crisis with Taiwan to mask their activities. Nevertheless, the plague spreads to various nations by human trafficking, refugees and the black market organ trade. Initially these nations are able to cover up their smaller outbreaks, until a much larger outbreak in South Africa brings the plague to public attention.

As the infection spreads, Israel abandons the Palestinian territories and initiates a nationwide cordon sanitaire, closing its borders to everyone except uninfected Jews and Palestinians. The United States does little to prepare because it is overconfident in its ability to suppress any threat. Although special forces teams contain initial outbreaks, a widespread effort never starts: the nation is deprived of political will by "brushfire wars", and a widely distributed and marketed placebo vaccine, Phalanx, creates a false sense of security. Many countries start to ignore the ongoing zombie infection, thinking it will wear out just like other minor epidemics.

As many more areas around the globe fall to infection, a news reporter reveals that Phalanx does nothing to prevent zombification, and a period known as the "Great Panic" begins. Pakistan and Iran destroy each other in a nuclear war, after the Iranian government attempts to stem the flow of refugees fleeing through Pakistan into Iran. As the zombie infection spreads throughout the US, wealthy celebrities attempt to hide out in a bunker on Long Island, which is quickly overrun by desperate refugees as New York falls into anarchy. After zombies overrun New York City, the U.S. military sets up a high-profile defense in the nearby city of Yonkers. The "Battle of Yonkers" is a disaster; modern weapons and tactics prove ineffective against zombies, as the enemy has no self-preservation instincts, feels no pain, and can only be stopped if shot through the head. The unprepared and demoralized soldiers are routed on live television. Other countries suffer similarly disastrous defeats, and human civilization teeters on the brink of collapse.

In South Africa, the government adopts a contingency plan drafted by apartheid-era intelligence consultant Paul Redeker. It calls for the establishment of small sanctuaries, leaving large groups of survivors abandoned in special zones as human baits in order to distract the undead and allowing those within the main safe zone time to regroup and recuperate. Governments worldwide assume similar plans or relocate the populace to safer foreign territory, such as the complete evacuation of the Japanese archipelago to Kamchatka. Because zombies freeze solid in severe cold, many civilians in North America flee to the wildernesses of northern Canada and the Arctic, where eleven million people die of starvation and hypothermia.

After the U.S. government flees to Hawaii, the military abandons the eastern United States and establishes safe zones west of the Rocky Mountains. All aspects of civilian life are devoted to supporting the war effort: fuel and food are rationed, private gardens are cultivated, and civilian neighborhood patrols are formed. The U.S. government also initiates a "Re-education Act" to train the civilian population for the war effort and restore order; the people with skills such as carpentry and construction find themselves more valuable than people with managerial skills.

Seven years after the outbreak began, a conference is held off the coast of Honolulu, aboard the USS Saratoga, where the new United Nations Headquarters are located. Most of the world's leaders argue that they can outlast the zombie plague if they stay in their safe zones and wait for the zombies to rot away. The U.S. President, however, argues for going on the offensive. Determined to lead by example, the U.S. military reinvents itself to meet the specific strategic requirements of fighting the undead: using semi-automatic, high-power rifles and volley firing, focusing on head shots and slow, steady rates of fire in “reinforced squares”(a tactic "re-invented" by the Indian Army during the Great Panic). The military, backed by a resurgent U.S. wartime economy, begins the three-year-long process of retaking the contiguous United States from both the undead swarms as well as groups of hostile human survivors. Encouraged by the USA's success in defeating the zombies, many countries around the globe start to retake infested areas.

Ten years after the official end of the zombie war, millions of zombies are still active, mainly on the ocean floor or on snow line islands. The United Nations fields a large military force to eliminate them. Cuba has become a democracy and hosts the world's most thriving economy. China has become a democracy and is now known as the "Chinese Federation". Tibet is freed from Chinese rule and hosts Lhasa, the world's most populated city. Following a religious revolution, Russia is now an expansionist theocracy known as the Holy Russian Empire. North Korea is completely empty, with the entire population presumed to have disappeared into underground bunkers or wiped out in the outbreak. Iceland has been completely depopulated and remains the world's most heavily infested country.


Brooks designed World War Z to follow the "laws" set up in his earlier work, The Zombie Survival Guide (2003), and explained that the guide may exist in the novel's fictional universe.[1] The zombies of The Zombie Survival Guide are human bodies reanimated by an incurable virus (Solanum), devoid of intelligence, desirous solely of consuming living flesh, and cannot be killed unless the brain is destroyed. It is said that the undead contain a black, foul pus-like liquid instead of blood. Decomposition will eventually set in, but this process takes longer than for an uninfected body and can be slowed even further by effects such as freezing. Although zombies do not tire and are as strong as the humans they infect, though they appear to be, slightly, due to lack of normal restraint, they are not slow-moving and are incapable of planning or cooperation in their attacks. Zombies usually reveal their presence by moaning.[2]

Max Brooks (right) with George Romero at the SDCC 2007

Brooks discussed the cultural influences on the novel. He claimed inspiration from "The Good War": An Oral History of World War Two (1984) by Studs Terkel, stating: "[Terkel's book is] an oral history of World War II. I read it when I was a teenager and it's sat with me ever since. When I sat down to write World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, I wanted it to be in the vein of an oral history."[1] Brooks also cited renowned zombie film director George A. Romero as an influence and criticized the Return of the Living Dead films: "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."[1] Brooks acknowledged making several references to popular culture in the novel, including one to alien robot franchise Transformers, but declined to identify the others so that readers could discover them independently.[1]

Brooks conducted copious research while writing World War Z. The technology, politics, economics, culture, and military tactics were based on a variety of reference books and consultations with expert sources.[3] Brooks also cites the U.S. Army as a reference on firearm statistics.[4]


Social commentary[edit]

Reviewers have noted that Brooks uses World War Z as a platform to criticize government ineptitude, corporate corruption, and human short-sightedness.[5][6] At one point in the book, a Palestinian refugee living in Kuwait refuses to believe the dead are rising, fearing it is a trick by Israel. Many U.S. characters blame the United States' inability to counter the zombie threat on low confidence in their government due to conflicts in the Middle East.[7]

Brooks shows his particular dislike of government bureaucracy. For example, one character in the novel tries to justify lying about the zombie outbreak to avoid widespread panic, while at the same time failing to develop a solution for fear of arousing public ire.[8][9] He has also criticized U.S. isolationism:

I love my country enough to admit that one of our national flaws is isolationism. I wanted to combat that in World War Z and maybe give my fellow Americans a window into the political and cultural workings of other nations. Yes, in World War Z some nations come out as winners and some as losers, but isn't that the case in real life as well? I wanted to base my stories on the historical actions of the countries in question, and if it offends some individuals, then maybe they should reexamine their own nation's history.[1]



Survivalism and disaster preparation are prevalent themes in the novel. Several interviews, especially those from the United States, focus on policy changes designed to train the surviving U.S. population to fight the zombies and rebuild the country.[7] For example, when cities were made to be as efficient as possible in order to fight the zombies, the plumber could hold a higher status than the former CEO. The ultra-rich hid in their homes, which had been turned into fortified compounds, when they were overwhelmed by others trying to get in, it became a mass slaughter. Throughout the novel, characters demonstrate the physical and mental requirements needed to survive a disaster.[10] Brooks described the large amount of research needed to find optimal methods for fighting a worldwide zombie outbreak. He also pointed out that the U.S. likes the zombie genre because it believes that it can survive anything with the right tools and talent.[3]

Fear and uncertainty[edit]

Brooks considers the theme of uncertainty central to the zombie genre. He believes that zombies allow people to deal with their own anxiety about the end of the world.[11] Brooks has expressed a deep fear of zombies:

They scare me more than any other fictional creature out there because they break all the rules. Werewolves and vampires and mummies and giant sharks, you have to go look for them. My attitude is if you go looking for them, no sympathy. But zombies come to you. Zombies don't act like a predator; they act like a virus, and that is the core of my terror. A predator is intelligent by nature, and knows not to overhunt its feeding ground. A virus will just continue to spread, infect and consume, no matter what happens. It's the mindlessness behind it.[12]

This mindlessness is connected to the context in which Brooks was writing. He declared: "at this point we're pretty much living in an irrational time", full of human suffering and lacking reason or logic.[13] When asked in a subsequent interview about how he would compare 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.[3]


Reviews for the novel have been generally positive. Gilbert Cruz of Entertainment Weekly gave the novel an "A" rating, commenting that the novel shared with great zombie stories the use of a central metaphor, describing it as "an addictively readable oral history."[10] Steven H. Silver identified Brooks' international focus as the novel's greatest strength and commented favorably on Brooks' ability to create an appreciation for the work needed to combat a global zombie outbreak. Silver's only complaint was with "Good-Byes"—the final chapter—in which characters get a chance to give a final closing statement. Silver felt that it was not always apparent who the sundry, undifferentiated characters were.[14] The Eagle described the book as being "unlike any other zombie tale" as it is "sufficiently terrifying for most readers, and not always in a blood-and-guts way, either."[9] Keith Phipps of The A.V. Club stated that the format of the novel makes it difficult for it to develop momentum, but found the novel's individual episodes gripping.[5] Patrick Daily of the Chicago Reader said the novel transcends the "silliness" of The Zombie Survival Guide by "touching on deeper, more somber aspects of the human condition."[15] In his review for Time Out Chicago, Pete Coco declared that "[b]ending horror to the form of alternative history would have been novel in and of itself. Doing so in the mode of Studs Terkel might constitute brilliance."[16]

Ron Currie Jr. named World War Z one of his favorite apocalyptic novels and praised Brooks for illustrating "the tacit agreement between writer and reader that is essential to the success of stories about the end of the world ... [both] 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."[6] Drew Taylor of the Fairfield County Weekly credited World War Z with making zombies more popular in mainstream society.[17]

The hardcover version of World War Z spent four weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list, peaking at number nine.[18][19] By November 2011, according to Publishers Weekly, World War Z had sold one million copies in all formats.[20]


Random House published an abridged audiobook in 2007, directed by John Mc Elroy and produced by Dan Zitt, with sound editing by Charles De Montebello. The book is read by Brooks but includes other actors taking on the roles of the many individual characters who are interviewed in the novel. Brooks' previous career in voice acting and voice-over work meant he could recommend a large number of the cast members.[12]

On May 14, 2013, Random House Audio released a lengthier audiobook titled World War Z: The Complete Edition (Movie Tie-in Edition): An Oral History of the Zombie War. It contains the entirety of the original, abridged audiobook, as well as new recordings of each missing segment. A separate, additional audiobook containing only the new recordings not found in the original audiobook was released simultaneously as World War Z: The Lost Files: A Companion to the Abridged Edition.[21]


* The Complete Edition


In her review of the audiobook for Strange Horizons, Siobhan Carroll called the story "gripping" and found the listening experience evocative of Orson Welles's famous radio narration of The War of the Worlds (broadcast October 30, 1938). Carroll had mixed opinions on the voice acting, commending it as "solid and understated, mercifully free of 'special effects' and 'scenery chewing' overall", but lamenting what she perceived as undue cheeriness on the part of Max Brooks and inauthenticity in Steve Park's Chinese accent.[7] Publishers Weekly also criticized Brooks' narration, but found that the rest of the "all-star cast deliver their parts with such fervor and intensity that listeners cannot help but empathize with these characters".[22] In an article in Slate concerning the mistakes producers make on publishing audiobooks, Nate DiMeo used World War Z as an example of dramatizations whose full casts contributed to making them "great listens" and described the book as a "smarter-than-it-has-any-right-to-be zombie novel".[23] The World War Z audiobook won the 2007 Audie Award for Multi-Voiced Performance and was nominated for Audiobook of the Year.[24][25]

Film adaptation[edit]

In June 2006, Paramount Studios secured the film rights for World War Z for Brad Pitt's production company, Plan B Entertainment, to produce.[26] The screenplay was written by J. Michael Straczynski, with Marc Forster directing and Pitt starring as the main character, UN employee Gerry Lane.[27][28]

Despite being the draft that got the film green-lit, Straczynski's script was tossed aside. Production was to begin at the start of 2009, but was delayed while the script was completely re-written by Matthew Michael Carnahan to set the film in the present, leaving behind much of the book's premise to make it more of an action film. In a 2012 interview, Brooks stated the film now had nothing in common with the novel other than the title.[29] Filming commenced mid-2011, and the film was released in June 2013.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Exclusive Interview: Max Brooks on World War Z". Eat My Brains!. October 20, 2006. Retrieved April 26, 2008. 
  2. ^ "'The Zombie Survival Guide' With Max Brooks". Washington Post. October 30, 2003. Retrieved April 14, 2009. 
  3. ^ a b c Brooks, Max (October 6, 2006). "Zombie Wars". Washington Post. Retrieved September 19, 2008. 
  4. ^ "Max Brooks Talks pt. 1, Comic-Con 2008". 
  5. ^ a b Phipps, Keith (October 25, 2006). "World War Z: An Oral History Of The Zombie War". The A.V. Club. The Onion. Retrieved March 3, 2017. 
  6. ^ a b Currie, Ron (September 5, 2008). "The End of the World as We Know it". Untitled Books. Archived from the original on December 20, 2008. Retrieved September 21, 2008. 
  7. ^ a b c Carroll, Siobhan (October 31, 2006). "World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks". Strange Horizons. Retrieved September 19, 2008. 
  8. ^ "Brooks redefines the zombie genre in WWZ". 
  9. ^ a b Utter, Alden (October 2, 2006). "Brooks puts brains in print for zombie fanatics". The Eagle. Retrieved September 9, 2008. 
  10. ^ a b Cruz, Gilber (September 15, 2006). "Book Review World War Z". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved September 19, 2008. 
  11. ^ Cripps, Charlotte (November 1, 2006). "Preview: Max Brooks' Festival Of The (Living) Dead! Barbican, London". The Independent. UK. Retrieved September 19, 2008. 
  12. ^ a b Lance Eaton (October 2, 2006). "Zombies Spreading like a Virus: PW Talks with Max Brooks". Interview. Publishers Weekly. Archived from the original on November 6, 2013. Retrieved January 15, 2009. 
  13. ^ Donahue, Dick (August 7, 2006). "Three Answers: Max Brooks". Interview. Publishers Weekly. Archived from the original on November 6, 2013. Retrieved January 15, 2009. 
  14. ^ Silver, Steven H. (2006). "World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War Review". SF Site. Retrieved September 19, 2008. 
  15. ^ Daily, Patrick. "Max Brooks". Chicago Reader. Retrieved October 28, 2008. 
  16. ^ Coco, Pete (October 11, 2008). "Review: World War Z". Time Out Chicago. Retrieved September 19, 2008. 
  17. ^ Taylor, Drew (October 28, 2008). "The Hunt for Real October". Fairfield Count Weekly. Retrieved October 30, 2008. 
  18. ^ "Best Sellers: October 15, 2006". The New York Times. October 15, 2006. Retrieved October 2, 2008. 
  19. ^ "Title Profile: World War Z". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved January 15, 2009. [dead link]
  20. ^ "Brooks's 'World War Z' Hits Sales Milestone". Publishers Weekly. November 10, 2011. Retrieved June 22, 2013. 
  21. ^ "World War Z: The Lost Files by Max Brooks - Audiobook". Random House. 2013-05-14. Retrieved 2014-05-19. 
  22. ^ "Audio Reviews: Week of 10/2/2006". Book review. Publishers Weekly. October 2, 2006. Archived from the original on November 6, 2013. Retrieved January 15, 2009. 
  23. ^ DiMeo, Nate (September 18, 2008). "Read Me a Story, Brad Pitt". Slate. Retrieved September 20, 2008. 
  24. ^ "Audie Award press release" (PDF). Audio Publishers Association. 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 19, 2007. Retrieved November 12, 2007. 
  25. ^ "Audies Gala 2007 Winners and nominees". Audio Publishers Association. Archived from the original on June 20, 2009. Retrieved April 14, 2009. 
  26. ^ LaPorte, Nicole; Fleming, Michael (June 14, 2006). "Par, Plan B raise 'Zombie'". Variety. Retrieved November 12, 2007. 
  27. ^ Marshall, Rick (December 3, 2008). "J. Michael Straczynski On 'World War Z': 'The Scale Of What We're Doing Here Is Phenomenal'". MTV Movie Blog. Retrieved December 3, 2008. 
  28. ^ Marshall, Rick (July 22, 2010). "EXCLUSIVE: Brad Pitt To Star In 'World War Z,' Paramount Options 'Zombie Survival Guide' And 'Recorded Attacks'". MTV. Retrieved August 5, 2010. 
  29. ^ Miller, Dennis. "Max Brooks discusses World War Z, the movie". Mansfield University - MU on YouTube. YouTube. Retrieved 2 July 2013. 
  30. ^ McClintock, Pamela (13 March 2012). "Paramount Release Shakeup: Tom Cruise's 'One Shot' to Christmas; Brad Pitt's 'World War Z' to Summer". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 14 March 2012. 
  31. ^ "The World War Z Game That Could Have Been | Kotaku Australia". Retrieved 2013-10-29. 

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