Book Review: World War Z by Max Brooks

This is an amazing book.

The conceit of the book is that a World War against the Zombies has just ended. The author of the book is a journalist who is interviewing folks who survived the war as a sort of living history of the events.

What makes the book work is that it as much a statement about our current society as it is about this fictional war.

What makes the book really work is that it manages to capture the horror, the unbelievable horror of the war and the massive dislocation the war creates.

But what makes the book grab your attention is that it asks and answers some truly appalling questions. Suppose you have this disease which transforms people into, for lack of a better word, Zombies? How do you fight that war? How do you deal with soldiers that get infected on the battlefield? What kind of battle tactics do you enforce? What is your grand strategy?

Everyone of those questions is answered, and the ramifications of those answers is dealt with. For example, what’s your grand strategy?

Consider the problem this diseases presents. In a normal infectious and fatal disease, the carrier gets sick and dies. Once the carrier is dead further spread is impossible. For every normal disease, the carrier will succumb to the illness and at that point be ineffective as a carrier.   Even better once someone exhibits symptoms, folks now to run away from the victim minimizing disease spread and typically ill people can not chase after the well.  A fatal disease normally carries the seeds of it’s own destruction.

Now consider this disease.  Every infected person is a carrier and once infected there is a 100% likelihood of transformation to Zombie status. Unlike normal fatal diseases where death and infirmity make it impossible for the victim to continue to spread the disease, with this disease once the victim dies, the victim becomes a walking, moving, disease carrying monster. 

Now consider the situation where the disease has spread to the general population. Once there the speed of spread increases as more monsters attack more uninfected people.

If you’re the government you have a problem. You’re fighting a war against an army that will never surrender and that has to be killed one soldier at a time.  So first you need to create  a defensible perimeter. But the perimeter has to be smaller than the nation because you don’t have enough troops. So that’s what you do, you define a natural boundary within your country and everyone within the boundary gets saved, and everyone outside of the boundary is left to fend for themselves.

But wait, you ask, why not bring the folks outside of the perimeter into the perimeter? Reason (1) not enough space. Reason (2) they represent an easy target for the Zombies while you perform your retreat into the perimeter.

That’s the kind of book this is. A book that looks at horror and does not flinch.

Highly, highly, highly recommended.

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