Back in 2003 when it kind of seemed that that the culture’s infatuation with zombies was on the wane (let’s face it, we’re probably never going to quite get over our zombie-love affliction) Max Brooks (son of Mel Brooks) penned a Zombie Survival Guide which immediately regenerated interest in the unique stylings of the undead. He followed that up with The Zombie Survival Guide Deck: Complete Protection from the Living Dead and Zombie Survival Notes Mini Journal (both in ’08); The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks (’09). Still, it was with the release of his best-seller, World War Z (’06) that Max really entered into the mass-market cultural psyche. It was this book which was presented as an oral history of the aftermath of a world-wide zombie pandemic. In 2010 an abridged audiobook was released that put he book on CD. Well, in 2013 we have finally been treated to a full-blown, complete version of Brooks’ magnum opus onto CD. This 12-hour, 10-CD set offers up an all-star cast reading of the book (if you already have the abridged audio book, you can get just the additional five hours contained in the complete set with the “Lost Files” set).
To be sure, the audio track that is presented on the CD boxed set is more than simply a dramatic reading of the book, it is more akin to an audio play that is driven by the very powerful performances of a cadre of A-List actors and actresses who fill the various roles (including Paul Sorvino, Alan Alda, Martin Scorsese, Simon Pegg, F. Murray Abraham, John Turturro, and many others). Like the book on which it was based, the story unfolds as a series of interviews that are being conducted by a UN analyst (Brooks himself), who has been tasked with getting down for the record the causes and events leading up to the cataclysmic pandemic.
At the onset of the tape, the Interviewer explains the motivations for the book, indicating that the event he is discussing goes by a number of names, including World War Z, The Zombie War, and Zombie War I (an application that the interviewer doesn’t like as it implies that there will be a second zombie plague). The Interviewer then proceeds to (one at a time) introduce several dozen subjects from all over the world who played key roles in the events that led up to and took place during the war. Each person presents their own perspective of what they witnessed, and how the events they saw affected not only their own lives, but played a role in the greater scheme of things.
These people include politicians, soldiers, private individuals, as well as both key players and random individuals who were witnesses to specific events in the timeline of the war. Each person interviewed offers a particularly compelling viewpoint of the events from those at the beginning of the panic, when no one was quite sure what was going on and the pandemic was referred to a “African Rabies” to combat soldiers who were ordered to fight a conventional stand-up war with an enemy that was so clearly not a conventional combatant that it is astounding that the generals who staged the holding action against the advancing hoard of ravenous undead were even allowed to make decisions.
All throughout the audio book, we are presented with unique, informed, and amazingly well-written prose that weaves an incredibly rich narrative that puts the listener right in the middle of whatever action is being discussed. This approach not only allows the listener to imagine the interviewer and subject in each setting as the interview is being conducted, but also helps them vividly picture the action that is being related by each of the various interview subjects (each of whom speak in amazingly accurate accents that clearly identifies them as inhabitants of different parts of the globe).
What struck us the most is how various principals in the narrative who played key roles (politicians, an entrepreneurial businessman who developed a vaccine for the virus (then called African Rabies) that was more of a placebo than an actual cure – something that everyone save for the populace taking the “cure” seemed to understand, but felt no remorse for foisting a non-cure on the public.). Another particular compelling viewpoint was the one offered by a grunt soldier who was on the front lines of much of the fighting, and how his first-hand (and now hindsight) views on that first major encounter with a massive hoard of undead made more sense than whatever analytics went into staging the holding action in the first place.
Further, we feel it important to point out that while we have long been aware of audiobooks, this was the very first audiobook that we have ever experienced firsthand. We chose to listen to the book while we were making an eight-hour drive to visit relatives. As we were driving it was a rainy, overcast, grim day on a popular holiday weekend which put us in a seemingly endless line of cars heading for (or fleeing) in the same direction. Needless to say, this personal, physical setting greatly enhanced our listing pleasure of the book (both on the way there, and then then again on our way back as we re-listened to the tale).
Brooks presents us with a well thought out, well researched, and well written story that is not only frightening, but compelling, frustrating, uplifting and amazingly detailed that considers numerous possibilities, takes into consideration multiple viewpoints, an a major film that – while it follows a similar tract (a UN investigator who is given the task to learn what is happening) is presented from a very different angle (the book takes place several years after the conclusion of the war, while worldwide forces are still essentially mopping up the remnants of the afflicted, while the film‘s perspective occurs at the beginning of the plague).
Hence even if you saw the Brad Pit film (and liked or didn’t like it) you might want to try your hand at checking out this book (print or audio) to see how the story started out, and (if we can make our own recommendation) get the audiobook, and listen to it while on a long drive. It is amazing.
Robert J. Sodaro has been writing articles and reviews for some 30 years. During that time, his reviews and articles have appeared in numerous print publications, as well as on the web.Subscribe to receive regular literature and book reviews.