World War Z Summary

Max Brooks

World War Z

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World War Z Summary

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World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War is a 2006 apocalyptic horror novel by American author Max Brooks. The novel takes the form of a collection of eyewitness accounts and government reports of a zombie plague that nearly destroyed the world, it is narrated by an agent working for a United Nations government commission designed to oversee the recovery efforts. Taking place across the world, it covers the decade-long battle for survival as experienced by people of various nationalities and detailing the social, political, religious, and environmental changes that resulted from the plague. A follow-up to Brooks’ earlier book The Zombie Survival Guide, and inspired by oral histories of World War Two and the zombie films of George Romero, World War Z uses supernatural elements to explore themes of nationalism, isolationism, and government failure. Critically acclaimed as a bold new twist on the zombie genre, World War Z spent four weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list and has sold over a million copies. It was adapted into a hit 2013 film starring Brad Pitt and directed by Marc Forster.

World War Z is narrated by a character named Max Brooks, an agent of the United Nations Postwar Commission, which was established to deal with the aftermath of the zombie plague that devastated the world. Although the origin of the plague is unknown, it began in a small village in China and spread via human trafficking, refugees, and the organ trade. Although China attempted to cover up the plague by initiating a fake war with Taiwan, and smaller outbreaks were contained, eventually a big outbreak in South Africa revealed the plague to the world. Different countries handle the outbreak in different ways. Israel abandons the Palestinian territories and institutes a national quarantine, letting no one in or out except uninfected Israeli citizens. Despite the outbreak of a civil war between the ultra-Orthodox and the rest of the population, Israel stays uninfected. An overconfident United States doesn’t take strong precautions. Special Forces contain small outbreaks, and a placebo vaccine creates   a false sense of security. More and more areas around the globe fall to infection, in what is known as the Great Panic. Wars break out, with Pakistan and Iran destroying each other in a nuclear war over a refugee crisis. An outbreak in New York City leaves the city overrun, and the US Military sets up a base in Yonkers. They’re soon overrun by the hard-to-kill zombie hordes. When the world sees the mighty US military defeated so easily, morale slips and more and more cities fall to the zombies. Humanity is on the brink of destruction.

Countries around the world adopt contingency plans, establishing small sanctuaries and relocating surviving populations to isolated areas. South Africa uses old apartheid policies to create plague-free enclaves. Cold climates become refuges once it’s determined that zombies freeze solid in the cold. However, millions die in the Canadian winter. Aboard the International Space Station, astronauts can see mega-swarms of zombies covering large segments of the globe, and cities in flames around the world. The US is eventually able to establish some safe zones in the Rocky Mountains, and people are able to carve out an existence under total war strategies, with strict rationing and basic survival skills. Seven years after the outbreak, a conference is held aboard a US military ship in Hawaii, where world leaders discuss how to fight back. The US makes the case for going on the offensive, and develops new weaponry that can deliver powerful head shots to take out zombies. A three-year battle to retake the US homeland begins, and is eventually successful, despite challenges from human survivalist groups who don’t want a return to the old status quo. Eventually, the war is won and humanity defeats the zombie hordes.

However, ten years later pockets of zombies still exist in isolated locations. The world status quo is much changed. China has become a democracy, and Tibet is independent again. Russia is a massive, expansionist theocratic dictatorship known as the Holy Russian Empire. North Korea is empty, presumably having evacuated to underground bunkers. Europe, which was among the most heavily hit areas, is still recovering, with many cities in ruins and the Vatican having relocated to Ireland. Iceland has been taken over entirely by zombies. Israel and the Palestinians have made peace, with the Palestinians securing their own country. The United Nations continues to run a program to root out and destroy the remaining zombies. The world is damaged, with global life expectancy way down, but humanity endures.

Max Brooks is an American horror author and screenwriter, as well as a television and voice-over actor. He is the son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft. Formerly a writer for Saturday Night Live, his solo writing projects specialize in the zombie genre. In addition to his work on The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z, in 2010 he released a zombie anthology titled The New Dead. He is also a prolific writer for comic book companies, and in 2014 released the graphic novel The Harlem Hellfighters, based on the African-American World War I regiment. It has been optioned for a film by Sony Pictures.