World War Z Is Not A Typical Zombie Story

World War Z Is Not A Typical Zombie Story

World War Z (the book): A meticulous, global history of the zombie apocalypse.

What it is: Max Brooks’ 2006 novel stitching together dozens of fictional accounts of a zombie uprising that almost killed off humanity. Adapted in a 2013 into a film that threw out the book’s entire concept and kept only the name.

What I’ve read: Finished it a couple of nights ago.

Is it good? Yeah, I liked it a lot.

Quick thoughts: I actually watched the movie on a whim a couple of years ago and thought it was really boring. I remember being vaguely aware that it was based on a much better book, but it didn’t occur to me to read it at the time. The book takes a smart approach that allows it to have a noticeably different energy from your average end-of-the-world story, zombie or otherwise. Everyone the author interviews is a survivor, and it’s established in the early goings that humanity won this one. The zombies lost. The narrated flashback format removes a lot of the usual dread and tension from the story, and replaces it with these meticulously created, detail-heavy accounts of the war. The huge cast of characters lets the story hop from place to place and date to date, which kept me from caring too much about any one character but gave things an appropriately global focus. (I gather the audiobook is terrific.) My favourite apocalyptic stories tend to focus on how the world reacts to a world-killing threat (see also: Horizon Zero Dawn), rather than just focusing on the fight for survival itself. World War Z is most interested in imagining how the people of various nations — China, Israel, America, Japan, South Africa, Cuba, North Korea and so on — might respond to an unprecedented, impossible threat. It paints in broad, almost satirical strokes, but I found the whole thing fascinating. Also, there’s a really good chapter about dogs.


  • The World War Z book, is goddamn amazing. It’s Max Brooks literary masterpiece. The movie in my opinion is trash. PG13, watered down trash. I don’t think I’d care so much had they not called the movie World War Z honestly, but the two properties share *nothing* in common, not even the zombies, which in the book are Romero-esque slow shamblers, yet in the movie, are these crazy, hyper things that run and tumble like roadrunner from the cartoon.

    I particularly love the details in the book that skips around the world, from talking about the lone geek in Japan who survives for months in his highrise apartment, only to have to climb down the outside, armed only with a decorative sword, to the Submarine captain who goes rogue, through to the ejected pilot who lands in a zombie filled forest and has to survive. Then to the family striving to make it to Alaska, where zombies ‘don’t exist’ because of the winter. But the standout story was the Battle of Yonkers as narrated by Mark Hamill. World War Z is a goddamn tour de force of the annihilation, survival, recovery and rise of the human race against all odds. I read it every year, sometimes twice, I listen to the audio book, the unabridged version, as it’s amazing.

    I long for the day someone gets the rights off of Brad Pitt and his crew who keep polluting the WWZ name, to make a high budget Netflix or HBO series out of the property, to give WWZ the adaptation it deserves, not the one it got. We deserve to see the Battle of Yonkers fully realised. We deserve to see how the soldiers are defeated despite having tanks, artillery etc, how terror overwhelms them seeing naked corpses just slowly shambling towards them, then enveloping them.

    If you haven’t read it, read it. It’s amazing. Do yourself a favour.

    • Thanks I’m definitely going to give it a go based on your comment (and this well written article).

    • I agree with every single word. This is one of my favourite books ever, hands down. It’s a fascinating insight into humanity, more than anything. The really good zombie stories bring humans into the fore, with the walking dead as the backdrop. The whole range of stories, themes and issues is staggering, and the author (Mel Brooks’s son!) shows a real gift for establishing believable characters. Stories and settings range in scope from the happenings of small towns and villages to vast geo-political events and their ramifications.

      I haven’t heard the audiobook, but I will. I’ve longed for a really high quality TV series to be made from this book. Each chapter could last an hour-long episide at least.

  • If anyone is going to read this, do yourself a favour, and grab the audiobook. Its presented as a series of interviews, and is absolutely brilliant.

    • Absolutely. But grab the unabridged audiobook which came out a few years back (even though both are incredible). The range of talent is incredible isn’t it? I’ll never forget the term “cherrypopper”…or “SER”

  • Also his first zombie book ‘ The Zombie Survival Guide’ is equally as entertaining. It has a more lighter/humorous tone while being in the same world and has the same mini story feel while giving great tips on survival. I prefer this book but only because I prefer comedy

  • One of my favorite books of all time. I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I watched the trailer for the movie. I remember my excitement turning to so much anger and swearing that I would never watch that movie. I still haven’t to this day and refuse too.

  • Whole heartedly agree with all comments. World War Z is a brilliant book. On a similar vein I would also recommend “Robocalypse” by Daniel H. Wilson. A similarly structured book written by a robotics researcher on AI.

  • Had the two books sitting on my shelf for years. Maybe one day I’ll get around to them 😛

  • World War Z: The Book – Somehow made zombies actually scary in a real world practical sense.

    World War Z: The Movie – Somehow made zombies not scary in a real world practical sense.

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!