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Cannonball Read V: World War Z by Max Brooks

By Popcultureboy | Book Reviews | June 19, 2013 | Comments ()


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In a world... where a cinematic adaptation of a book is about to be released... where volunteer reviews are about to be irrevocably shadowed by a new blockbuster, Cannonball Read brings you the 2006 novel, World War Z.

You might feel like you've been hearing about this movie for a long time, but Cannonballers have had this book on their radar since the very first Cannonball Read.

Drayke's review of Max Brooks' novel went up in November 2008, where I learned something new:

Being the son of Mel Brooks (who knew?) , you'd expect to find a lot of humour in this book. Instead, you find almost none. This book manages to be both extremely dark and hopeful at the same time. He manages to hit all of the standard zombie cliches and still keep the entire story completely new.

I guess I missed the author's parentage in all the marketing hubbub.

Brian Prisco (primo Cannonballaera) also reviewed the book during that first Read, writing a somewhat prescient review in 2009 where he said: "I don't know how this will translate as a film, unless they go the supercast route, and just pack it full of neato cameos." Brad Pitt probably qualifies it as a "supercast," but anyone know anything about any "neato cameos"?

As the years went on, they told two Cannonballers, and they told two Cannonballers, and so on, and so on. When Cannonball Read III started up, we had five reviews of this novel posted to the group blog, while Cannonball Read IV had eight reviews. We're halfway through Cannonball Read V, and we already have five reviews posted.

Reviews tended to be on the positive side, but that doesn't mean everyone completely agreed (everyone agree on Pajiba? Never!) Excerpts from this year's Cannonball Readers of World War Z include:

  • denesteak - "World War Z should be read, not as fiction, but as a parable."
  • KayKay - "I want to forget ever reading it..."
  • loulamac - "This book is so brilliant. Read it! This instant! Is that not enough? Do I need to write more?"
  • BenML - "While I do like good science fiction, I haven't yet been ensnared by the now prolific zombie apocalypse genre. This book, though not a favorite, does make me wonder what I've been missing."

Whether you see the movie or not, like it or hate it, the construct of World War Z will change in your mind once the movie is released. How many of us read the Harry Potter books long before the movies, only to find that years later our mental images of Harry, Ron and Hermione are now supplanted by Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson? So take a moment to read through the linked reviews above, and popcultureboy's take on it below, and experience this zombie apocalypse through the eyes of a Cannonballer.

If you'd really like to experience life as a Cannonballer, join us for the July Pajiba Book Club, where we read and discuss Shift, the second in Hugh Howey's Silo series. (Check jennp421's winning Cannonball Read V review of Wool, the first in the series.)

Follow the Cannonball Read V group blog for details, and watch for an announcement here. -- mswas

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World War Z is a remarkable achievement. What could have so easily been a shallow shoot 'em up (which is what the upcoming movie seems to have gone for, which may explain the negative buzz) is instead an in-depth look at all the ramifications of its titular War. The unnamed journalist travels across the world, meeting with key players in halting the zombie invasion that nearly wiped out humanity. From those who witnessed Patient Zero, to rebuilding a shattered Earth, the scope of Brooks' vision is quite breathtaking.

I'm probably one of the few people on the planet who hadn't read the book when it was first published back in 2006. I toyed with it, but for some reason never got round to it. Kicking myself for that now. The book is grimly fascinating and breathlessly exciting with it. There were several first person accounts that had my palms sweating. I haven't been this gripped by a book in a long time.

There are some detractors who bemoan the similarity of the voices telling the story. I don't agree. Throughout, I marvelled at the dexterity Brooks was demonstrating and how well he differentiated his characters. There are a lot of them, and all of them have a different story to tell. Not one of them is any less than utterly fascinating. To maintain that level of interest and excitement when you're refracting such a huge narrative through such a large prism is an absolute marvel. Top notch stuff.

This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read V. Read all about it, and for more of popcultureboy's reviews, check out his blog popcultureboy's book quest.

(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • ferryman

    After just having finished the book, I find I have to label it as "unremarkable". Certainly some of the author's imaginings of the beginning, spread and methods of resolution to the outbreak in relation to the POV's of those being interviewed were interesting, but again I never felt invested in the story. From beginning to end I felt as if I were reading words written by the same person, pretending to be others. And I was.

  • ferryman

    I bought the book a couple days ago and have finished a little more than half. I admit that I'm a bit disappointed, as I feel the "interviews" are a little too sanitized and don't make me feel involved in the story.
    A book with similar structure but is far more engrossing is "Battle; the Story of the Bulge" by John Toland. It may be out of print now and you know how the story ends, but it puts you there as individual's stories are told. I highly recommend it.

  • YES.I love that book so much. I think I've read it 10 times by now, and I can totally see myself re-reading it forever.

  • disqus_mQPW6cixfl

    I read this and was ... underwhelmed.

    ,

  • BWeaves

    I think I'll wait for the Mel Brook's parody movie to come out.

    World War Zayin

    starring Gene WIlder as Brad Pitt, and Jamie Foxx as Richard Pryor as Patient Zero.

  • Mrcreosote

    The movie seems to be trying to hit every beat of clueless Hollywood. Hear buzz about a great book? Buy the rights! Kids love the zombies these days! Now what? Get a star! Brad Pitt wants to do this, and the kids love Pitt, right? (Note: Kids do not love him.) Now we've got him, get him extra grimy, give him a family for pathos, and profit!

    Ignore the actual book you have rights to. The amazing set pieces, the documentary set-up, the compelling characters, the painstaking research. Fuck that. The kids love fast zombies, right? Get me those Tough Mudder/Spartan zombies! Get some CGI that Paul W. Anderson would reject for being too hokey and PIMP THAT MUTHA!! Get Superbowl ads, interviews, a tie in videogame, whatever. Trade in the series of amazing stories for a plot the GENERIC SUMMER MOVIE PLOTBOT 8000 shat out and make sure there is no original thought.

    Realize that after spending a mountain of money on zombie hookers and blow you still need to produce a movie. Somehow spend between a 100 and 200 million where, at least so far none of it is on the screen in any meaningful capacity.

    Try new idiotic marketing techniques to try to pull money out of the audience. "Mega tickets" that allow you to see the movie 2 days early? That's.....just stupid. 50 dollars for a ticket? Hey, you might want to grease that up first.

    And when this fails, and make no mistake I WANT this to fail, the discussion will be about how the audiences are tired of zombies, or how hard it is to predict the outcome. It's not hard, really it's not-respect the source material. Don't just use the name. Don't focus group and finesse all the intellegence out of hte story. Don't listen to the fucknut who's available at 11:30 on a Tuesday to watch a movie and fill out a card in exchange for a sandwich and a 5 dollar gift certificate to Fudruckers. That guy is a moron, and of course he won't follow the plot.

    This whole process reeks. Every step feels calculated to try to suck money out of a name without any respect for anything else. It's a tone deaf kareoke version of a photocopy of a fax of the original. It needs to suck, because if it succeeds like Titanic we'll get more of this pablum.

  • Fredo

    Since we've discussed the book ad nauseum, I wanted to ask a question about the movie:

    We're all expecting a shoot 'em up style movie that ends with Brad Pitt winning by entering the black Russian hole and finding Patient Zero and surviving long enough to save humanity. But what if we're wrong?

    What if this movie is just the first third of the novel and it ends with Pitt failing and the Great Panic running through Earth and the Earth ruled by the Zed heads? What if this is just part 1 in a series? Would that change your mind?

  • TK

    It'd certainly restore some of my faith.

    Never gonna happen though.

  • denesteak

    ahhh very cool of you to tie it all together, mswas!

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