World War Z

World War Z

by

Max Brooks

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World War Z Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Max Brooks's World War Z. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Max Brooks

Max Brooks is the son of filmmaker Mel Brooks and actress Anne Bancroft. As a child, he struggled with dyslexia, and Bancroft shelved her acting career in order to advocate for and support him. When he was 12, Brooks was so focused as he worked on a short story that his mother predicted that he would become a writer. After getting an undergraduate degree in history and then attending film school, Brooks worked as a writer for Saturday Night Live. He didn’t enjoy his job much because he found it hard to work in a collaborative environment, and in 2003, his contract wasn’t renewed. However, by then, he’d sold his first book, The Zombie Survival Guide. He went on to write World War Z, which was published in 2006. Paramount Pictures acquired the movie rights to the book and Brad Pitt starred in and produced the film, which was released in 2013. In 2019, the book was also made into a videogame. Brooks has said that he suffers from anxiety and his own meticulous research into disaster preparedness percolates into his fiction. His research is so thorough that he has been invited to prepare in an Army Weapons of Mass Destruction preparedness exercise, and has also served as a fellow at West Point’s Modern War Institute. After World War Z, Brooks has written several other books, including Minecraft: The Island, a novel based on the popular videogame, and Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainer Sasquatch Massacre, which is about Bigfoot.
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Historical Context of World War Z

Brooks has admitted to struggling with anxiety that is exacerbated by just living in today’s disaster-a-minute world. He says there is some really “scary stuff” that’s happening, including wars, illnesses, natural disasters, and global warming. His father, Mel Brooks, fought the Nazis in World War II and is also Jewish, and Max Brooks says that he heard stories of the war while growing up. As a child of the 80s, Max Brooks became a teenager at just around the same time as the AIDS virus claimed many lives, and he felt the government wasn’t doing as much as it should to help the situation. He also says he is anxious about the idea of nuclear warfare that could decimate the world at any moment. Brooks channels these anxieties into his work, which he says focuses on “characters having to adapt to external changes that they did not choose and do not want.”

Other Books Related to World War Z

Brooks has stated that he loved Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October as a child. He says that he always appreciated books that he could learn something from. The Hunt for Red October tells the story of a Soviet submarine that defects to the United States during the Cold War. The book is labeled a “techno-thriller” since it gives a large amount of technical information about weapons and military vehicles, something that Brooks does in his fiction, as well. World War Z is chock-full of information, and Brooks, too, aims to educate as well as entertain—on not just the armed forces’ gadgets but also on how to best prepare for a disaster and what kinds of skills might be required to survive when society’s support system crumbles. Brooks has also mentioned admiring Studs Terkel’s The Good War: An Oral History of World War II, a nonfiction book that consists of interviews with people over the world who lived through World War II. Brooks borrowed the template of the collected interviews for his own book, and also used a very similar subtitle for novel. He has said that he admired the structure of Terkel’s book and wanted to use it because “an oral history is a great way to bring in so many voices, literally, from all around the world.” World War Z is a future history in the same vein as sci-fi books that document the fate of mankind in an imagined future while maintaining the illusion of being a real history book by using devices like footnotes and timelines. One of the books that paved the way for this genre is H.G. Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come. More recent books that fall under this genre include Lois Lowry’s The Giver and Theodore Judson’s Fitzpatrick’s War.
Key Facts about World War Z
  • Full Title: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
  • Where Written: USA
  • When Published: 2006
  • Literary Period: Contemporary Fiction
  • Genre: Apocalyptic Horror Fiction
  • Setting: Various places in the world where the narrator travels to interview people associated with the global zombie war.
  • Climax: Battle of Hope, New Mexico
  • Antagonist: Zombies
  • Point of View: The novel is presented as an “oral history” consisting of a collection of transcribed first-person interviews.

Extra Credit for World War Z

Meticulous Research. For this novel, Brooks’ research on disaster preparedness was so thorough that World War Z was featured on a reading list put together by a former president of the U.S. Naval War College, and also earned Brooks a fellowship at West Point’s Modern War Institute.

Truly Presidential. Brooks drops hints that the much-admired US President in the novel is Colin Powell—like the president in the novel, Powell is of Jamaican descent and is renowned for his calm manner of speaking. The US Vice-President, “the Whacko,” is probably Howard Dean, who is also from Vermont and is infamous for his yell.