World War Z: A Monster Book?


Z cover

I’ve had to sit on this one a few days and chew on it before attempting to write this post. First of all, this book is awesome. The sometimes-correct Natty Ultra has been begging me to read this for ever, since it’s his favorite book, and I just never quite got around to it. I was sure it was pretty good; he usually has excellent taste, but I’m just not really into zombies. He tells me, “It’s not really about zombies; it’s about the human factor.” And after reading it, I found he was absolutely right. Which brings me to my conundrum when writing about this book for a class on Monsters: are the monsters the stars of this book, enough for it to qualify being part of a class on Monsters?

Yes. And no.


I think the format of the book what was threw me at first, about whether this book was indeed, for lack of a better term, monster-y enough. It’s set up as a series of interviews of some key and not so key people that made it through World War Z. In his intro Max Brooks clearly states that his interviews were more about “the human factor” than anything else. It’s about the kinds of stories people want to hear about wars. And this is most definitely about a war. It’s a war not against other countries, but against people that we knew at one moment, changed forever into a danger that you cannot reason with, just destroy. But it’s still a war. And to me at least, it reads like a war novel.

Maybe part of the other problem I had is that with a lot of monster tales, often you get into the head of the monster. Of course with the trend of human-type monsters like vampires, the monster has enough of a brain for us to get into . Not so with zombies. Unless you have a unique case like Warm Bodies, you’re just not getting into the head of a zombie. And a lot of the survivors’ tales have to deal with the human “monsters” that inevitably crop up in this kind of scenario, just as much as the actual zombies. So you instantly ask yourself, “is this book about zombie monsters, or humans as monsters, or both?” And which monster features more prevalently?

The zombies in World War Z have enough classic elements to make them instantly familiar, but the setting in which they’re placed, and they way that they are used make them terrifying. These zombies are the slower kind, with some interviews talking about exploiting their slowness in order to get away. Essentially, you can outrun or even out walk a zombie (though I swear I read about them running somewhere in the beginning of the book, but I can’t seem to find it, so maybe I was hallucinating it. I did read much of it during the wee hours of the morning.). I think sheer numbers, and surprise, is what allowed the zombies to take over so drastically in the beginning. They were everywhere before people knew it. And if you live in a bustling metropolitan or even suburban area, how likely are you to be able to avoid all those dead people? It makes me actually be thankful for currently living where I do in East TN. I think about DE, and the stretch of 95 from Baltimore to NYC that is pretty much entirely civilization, shopping malls, towns and smaller cities all interconnected into the bigger pulsing cities, and I think why it would be apt for those places to be the first to be lost. You just couldn’t sneak through that many. And when one gets a whiff of you, it moans loud enough for the dead to hear, pun intended. There’s no running from the swarm.

"Let me in to  WalMart!"

Maybe I’m being a little controversial in saying that I don’t think this book is a monster book, or just only a monster book. It doesn’t need to be solely about the monsters in order to still be scary. I am not completely convinced that World War Z is enough of a monster book to be included next to stories that are completely, obviously about the monsters. World War Z, to me, is several kinds of books in one: a war novel, alternate history, survival horror, and yes, a monster book too. Whatever it is to you, you should still read it. In the end, whatever kind of book you think it is, it’s just a great read.

P.S. I purposely chose not to mention the movie in here, which is so drastically different from the book it really is its own creature. I think there are several good points to be made when comparing the two, and I would even go so far to say that the movie was more about the monsters than the book. But we’re talking about the book, so I’ll leave the movie for another post.


z pitt 2

I’m not afraid o’ no zombie!

P.P.S. Brad Pitt is good at fighting zombies. He can be on my survival team.



  1. Maybe instead of trying to look for an alternative monster here (which I did, when discussing this book), you can also look at it as exploring the reaction to monsters, and that’s essentially what the entire books is about: exploring different people’s/countries/groups *reactions* to monsters. It’s in the nature of our reactions, I would argue, that you find out what parts of humanity are more monstrous themselves.

  2. I agree with you about not thinking this book was a monster book… at least in the traditional sense of the monster itself being the focal point. I think the monster was more the fear the zombie outbreak caused and the chaos that resulted rather than the zombies themselves.

  3. I liked your “not only a monster book” comment. WWZ isn’t solely about the monsters, but they *are* the catalyst for everything that happens, so I think that makes it a monster book.

    I think the running zombies were the ones that turned out not to be zombies–the people storming the celebrity enclave. (One of my favorite sections. I loved it when the celebs were SHOCKED people weren’t satisfied by watching them on television, safe in there fortress.)

    • I also enjoyed the section with the celebrities – partially because it was nice to see that sort of character get some comeuppance. Sad that it took a zombie apocalypse to get people fed up enough with it to storm the compound.

    • I also liked that section–it reminded me of Masque of the Red Death, with Death being the “ordinary folk”.

      • That segment was a favorite of mine. I’d never thought about it like that. You’re right, it does feel like a twist on Masque. Pretty cool.

  4. I actually thought it was a pretty good monster book. For me what really makes something a monster is how people react to it. If characters feel bad for it, befriend it, or engage it on some kind of human level, it makes it less monsterous. One of the pints WWZ really drove home was that you couldn’t humanize the enemy. It didn’t play by the rules, it didn’t think, it didn’t feel, and it didn’t fear. Since the dawn of time, war has existed only in the context of humans. Nothing else goes to war. But then there was Zack, the truly monsterous enemy the world was powerless to humanize.

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