The great thing about this book is the scale – this is a book about what happens to the whole world during a zombie epidemic, instead of the small stories that tend to focus on a group of people in a small area. China, Israel, India, Russia, South Africa, Europe, South Korea, Japan, Cuba, the oceans, even the space station – there is a real attempt to imagine the disaster on a worldwide scale, the implications to different societies based on politics, religion or historical attitudes, and eventual return to something resembling normality (that’s not a spoiler warning – there can only be an oral history if people survive).
The story is presented as the unexpurgated interviews by a UN reporter called Max Brooks, which he recorded when producing his Postwar Commission Report – the final document had the non-essential facts removed (‘the human factor’), so this book was written to give the full story, as it were. In making the report, he has visited many survivors and got them to tell him their stories – what they saw, what they did, what the world was like when the world was overcome by a zombie outbreak. It gives a vivid description of the different experiences and the different responses, or lack of responses by certain governments and the way people reacted.
I liked the different viewpoints – the book is fairly America-centric, focusing on how the US responded, how they reacted, how amazing the president was, but the experiences of other countries shows a wider perspective. The way that Europe was grateful for its castles, which acted as defensible strongholds; the way that Russia became a religious empire in response to the outbreak; the way Israel quarantined itself as its response; the way that Cuba survived and then thrived after the war – it’s a fascinating ‘What If …?’ scenario and an impressive piece of thinking and researching of different geopolitical systems. I particularly liked the inclusion of the space station and its role in the post-war recovery. It certainly helps to overcome the heroics of the American bias, even if the author doesn’t quite have the level of detail correct in everything – he has a British survivor helpfully use the word ‘wanker’ to identify him as British, but then has him use the phrase ‘tax dollars’, something a British person would never say.
Despite this linguistic oversight, I thoroughly enjoyed this book – it’s smart, exciting, interesting and thought-provoking. It certainly got me thinking about what would be needed in the event of an apocalypse: get to a castle because it’s a powerful stronghold; thinking about water purification and developing medicine; old weapons that are sharp are definitely good; head north because the zombies will freeze (I know zombies aren’t real – I just thought that was a good piece of thinking). It also doesn’t explain the zombie outbreak: there is a ‘patient zero’ in China, then there are illegal organs sold to South America from China, then ‘The Panic’. I really like this as a book, and I can’t see how it will work as a film (the trailer for the film looks like it is nothing like the book – the zombies are fast in the film, whereas the ‘Zacks’ in this book are the traditional slow variety), but at least the book will always exist in its correct form.