Thursday, April 12, 2012

24. World War Z by Max Brooks

My wife just finished reading this and she stayed up late to finish it, so I thought it would be good for a cross-continent plane flight.  She confirmed and it turned out to be correct as I read the entire book going from Montreal to San Francisco.

The book was a huge hit when it came out and rightly so.  It tells the zombie apocalypse from a global perspective, with a collection of first person accounts of many various players who were involved in the initial stages of infection, through the outbreak, the worldwide collapse, the recovery and then the efforts to clean up the planet in the aftermath.  Because of this structure, with each narrative being a little self-contained story (though also slowly weaving together the bigger story), it is quickly digestible.  This is especially true for fans of the apocalypse, like myself.  There is just a ton of freaky, cool zombie stuff in here.  If that's your bag, you should read this (you probably already have).
But I'll go even further, because I think beyond the visceral thrills and scares and horrors of a zombie invasion, World War Z also speaks to a very specific mindset.  There are some strong socio-political themes in this book and clear criticisms.  Blame is laid squarely at the pharmaceutical industry, the media and our comfortable society.  More broadly, this book attacks conservatism of ideas.  The bad guys here are the people who either refused or were not capable of recognizing what was going on or who even when they did failed to adjust their mode of thinking and acting to deal with it.  The result was much more death and destruction than was necessary.

This book is for people who fear the softness of our society, who worry about a service-based economy where nobody has any real skills any more, for people who recognize (and scoff at) the contradiction of fear-based advertising.  Our response to the anxiety that is shoved down our throats by the media and marketing turns out to be the one that leaves us the most vulnerable when the dead start walking the earth.  We're fat, complacent and selfish.  Every other generation but ours has faced real challenge and instead of taking our freedom and wealth and making a better society, we just stuff our faces and brain with sugar.

Some kind of apocalypse is the simplistic response (or perhaps the only one, given our wiring) and World War Z unleashes it in a most satisfying way.

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