Study Guide

World War Z by Max Brooks: Book Study Guide

By Max Brooks

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Max Brooks' World War Z: Novel Introduction

If you want to be lazy, you could say World War Z is a book about zombies and consider the book officially nutshelled. But if you want to be fair, you're going to need a bigger nutshell, one requiring a little history lesson. Don't worry: it's interesting history, the kind with zombies in it.

Back in the dark, pre-Internet ages of yore, an independent filmmaker named George Romero cobbled together a little horror film titled Night of the Living Dead. Released in 1968, it left an indelible mark on horror films and started the hugely popular sub-genre of the zombie movie.

The 70s saw Romero's undulating undead multiply in the form of a sequel, Dawn of the Dead, as well as some wanna-be rip-offs. Then the 80s drove the zombies underground as the stars of many a pulp film (Evil Dead, anyone?). With the exception of the Resident Evil revisiting-the-entire-resident-evil-series video game series, the 90s were simply an awful time to be a zombie.

Although, to be fair, the 90s were a pretty awful time to be living, dead, or undead.

Then the new millennium hit, and a lightning bolt of rekindled interest resurrected the ghoulish gourmets from their pulpy graves. The video game cup runneth over with the cannibalistic corpses. Movies such as Shaun of the Dead, 28 Days Later, and the remake of Dawn of the Dead returned the long dormant zombie movie to its former glory and then raised it to new heights. And like voodoo priests, writers began bringing the deadheads to haunt the pages of literature.

Enter Max Brooks.

Max Brooks's first foray into zombie literature was The Zombie Survival Guide, a practical how-to guide that kept doomsday preppers dog-earring pages into the wee morning hours. In 2006, Brooks gave us the current magnum opus of zombie literature, World War Z. The novel recounts the story of the zombie wars from the perspective of those who fought it and tells these tales in a series of vignettes written in an interview style, much like Studs Terkel's The Good War.

World War Z became a huge hit with critics, readers, and zombie aficionados. It sold over a million copies and spent four weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Its audiobook stars famous personalities such as Alan Alda, John Turturro, Rob Reiner, and Mark Hamill (yes, Luke Skywalker himself!). Oh, and it was also adapted into a movie starring some guy named Brad Pitt. And the cherry on this bloody, awesome sundae? The book itself is a pretty good read.

And that is how you properly nutshell World War Z.

What is World War Z About and Why Should I Care?

To understand why you should care about World War Z, we need to first consider all the zombie stereotypes Brooks reworks in this novel. For example:

• You know how zombies shuffle about all lethargic and dead-like as they utter low gurgled moans? Well, in World War Z, they… they walk exactly like that.
• Oh, but you know how old school zombies desire a tasty morsel of raw human meat? Wait, wait, Brooks keeps that one too.
• Previously dead humans reanimated to semi-life? Of course.
• Must destroy the brain to put down permanently? Naturally.
• Pale grey skin covered with literally gut-wrenching wounds? You know it.

All right, fine, maybe Brooks doesn't completely rewrite the rules of the zombie genre. But he does change the scope of your typical zombie tale.

If you've ever watched a traditional zombie movie—let's say Romero's classic Living Dead series—then you've noticed that most zombie tales follow a small group of survivors as they attempt to do what survivors do: namely live. The government may have collapsed, society may have crumbled, and technology may have failed, but we only see scant examples of this because we're so focused on our little group. We have no idea how these things fell apart. They just have.

World War Z pulls the scope back and focuses on survivors from around the world, all with different perspectives on the zombie apocalypse. This vantage point grants us a full-on view of just how technology failed us, exactly why the government collapsed, and why our global society couldn't contend with those groaning ghoulies.

This scope lets us fully explore such themes as politics, education vs. superstition, racism, and so on. While most zombie stories have played host to these themes in the past, none have been able to explore them as thoroughly as World War Z. We don't just see how the government falls but watch the ripple effect of consequences spread across the world—both large and small.

And that's why we care about this novel. It's everything we already love about zombies, but in a bigger boat.

World War Z Resources


It's Official
Max Brooks has a website, an official website, an official website about all things Max Brooks.

Even Brook's zombies have a site, and it comes with a mobile phone app that zombifies your friends and neighbors. Not that Facebook doesn't already do that for you, Ba-zing!

Because It Needed Vampires
An original short story by Max Brooks involving zombies and vampires. (Werewolves and Black Lagoon mermen are coming soon.)

Sorta Prequel-ish
The book that started it all. Not zombies, mind you, but Brooks's particular take on zombies. Anyway, The Zombie Survival Guide is here for all your zombie survival guiding needs.

Studs Terkel's The Good War: An Oral History of World War II provided the inspiration for Max Brook's zombie novel, not to mention the title.

Movie or TV Productions

Zombie Film #4759
Because you know you wanted more zombies on top of all the movies, TV series, novels, comic books, video games, puppet theater plays….

Libert(ies) Taken
This 2013 film with Mr. Brad Pitt takes some liberties with the story—but it's still epic.

Articles and Interviews

Science Fiction Zombies
Sorry to get your hopes up. It's actually a review of World War Z on a science fiction website. Still a good review though.

Zombie Zeview
That doesn't really work, does it? Anyway, this is review on World War Z, and it's here.

A.V. Clubbing
The A.V. Club gives World War Z an A-, keeping Max Brooks's authorial GPA in the 3.2 range.

The Entertainment Be Weekly
Entertainment Weekly—or EW as it's called by those in the know—interviews one Max Brooks after he goes and sells a million copies.

Of All Places
The World Socialist Web Site—no seriously—has an article comparing World War Z to natural disasters and society's ability to deal with each.

More of that Interview Love
NPR discusses with Brooks why his novel should show up on college freshman reading lists, and we feel any reason is a good enough reason.

I Scream; You Scream
Max Brooks discusses zombies, vampires, and the deadliest warriors at the most theme appropriate of websites—


Youtubing It
There are a lot of movies in the background here. And in the foreground, we have Max Brooks being interviewed.

More Like Anything Goes Con
Max Brooks. Comic Con. Answering questions with fans. Four parts. 'Nuff said. Here's the first one!

The Night It All Began
A trailer for George A. Romero's The Night of the Living Dead, the movie that started it all.

Sort of Related
Sure, it doesn't technically have anything to do with World War Z, but it has amazing zombie make-up running amok in New York City. Good stuff.

Here's the first trailer for the 2013 blockbuster smash hit.


Rocking It Old School
The World War Z audiobook does things right. It's presented like an old-timey radio drama with actors such as Mark Hamill, John Turturro, Alan Alda, and more.

Online Sampling
Want a sampling of the World War Z audiobook? You need look no further.

Why Are They Called the Cranberries?
We might not know the answer to that, but they did sing a song called "Zombie." So, there's that.

More History, Less Fiction
Here are some of the interviews that led Studs Terkel to write The Good War: An Oral History of World War II.


Pro Reader
Max Brooks knows his own book so well he can read it upside down.

Intense Yet Authorial
Max Brooks rocks an author pose if we ever saw one.

This cover covers the words that are World War Z.

War is Hell (On Earth)
Artist John Petersen gives us the Battle of Yonkers from a zombie's point of view.

Conceptual Chaos
Io9 called his bit of concept art "a veritable Where's Waldo of splattered zombie carnage." Need you know more?

Run Away!
No, it isn't a deadly rabbit. These people are on the set of World War Z.

Brad Pitt stands on the set of World War Z, looking pretty calm for someone about to enter a zombie apocalypse.

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