World War Z – Max Brooks


Besides having the same title, there is very little else in common between the 2006 novel World War Z and the 2013 film ‘adaptation.’ That is not to say that each does not have its merits, but even what makes one good in its own right is very different from what makes the other one good. From the small details to the larger big picture, two pieces of work with the same title and technically about the same subject could not be any more different from one another than this novel and film. Even the novel’s author, Max Brooks, states that the film and novel are the same in title alone in an interview conducted at Mansfield University in 2012 and again at San Diego’s 2013 Comic-Con.


First edition cover

Like Max Brooks, I cannot say that I dislike the movie just because it had basically nothing in common with the novel that I enjoyed reading so thoroughly. In fact, I found the movie to be very entertaining and I appreciated that the movie strayed from the typical zombie movie structure. The action did not focus on the experiences of one geographical region but rather on the global impact of such a tragedy, which is one thing the movie does have in common with the novel. I also enjoyed the visuals (especially the growing pile of zombies outside the ‘protective’ wall in Israel), and the suspense that the film is able to establish.

What I would say is lost in the film version is the sense of pride in humanity that is established in the novel. In the novel, it is the combined efforts of all types of people from all across the world that saves humanity. Instead, in the film the credit is given to one person alone. From the American leaders hiding out on a military boat to the scientists locked away in the WHO facility, truly no one else in the film seems to be making any real contribution to the war’s efforts. If Gerry Lane had died at any point during the action of the film, where would humanity have been? Certainly, the scientists were nowhere near coming up with Gerry Lane’s miraculous solution.

This is extremely different from the sense that one gets reading the novel. The novel is entirely comprised of first hand recollections from all stages of the war from all over the world. Max Brook’s ability to predict the effects of the war on different groups of people and to anticipate all the different roles that would need to be filled during such a situation is incredibly insightful and almost uncanny. By following the experiences of only Gerry Lane, the film really misses out on sharing some very creative and moving stories of survival.

Book Vs. Film Facts

  • Film’s title character, Gerry Lane, does not appear in the novel. Perhaps he is intended to be the same character as the unnamed narrator in the novel, but this not clear.
  • The novel does not follow the events of one character but is rather a collection of many individuals’ experiences from the beginning of the Zombie war through to the clean-up efforts after the war is over.
  • The zombies are called “Zeke” in the movie but are called “Zack” in the novel.
  • In the novel, the speed at which bitten people turn into zombies varies based on the location and severity of the bite. Infected people can seem healthy for days before developing a fever and transitioning to a zombie. They do turn more quickly if they die after being bitten.
  • Zombies in the book are slow enough that survivors are told they can out-walk pursuing zombies if needed.
  • Zombies have white eyes in the novel because they do not blink and dust particles and debris scratches their eyes.
  • With the exception of the man Gerry Lane talks with in Israel, none of the film’s characters can be found in the novel.
  • Zombies do not avoid sick humans in the novel. 

Rating (match to book) - 0

There was really no question about this book and movie’s match rating. Since the movie has literally almost nothing in common with the novel, I easily give this particular rating a 0. 

Which was Better?


I’ve Seen the Movie – Should I Read the Book?

Absolutely! When I first saw the movie, I thought perhaps it was written as a companion to the novel World War Z rather than as an adaptation. Since the novel is written as a collection of the experiences of different people living during the Zombie War, I thought perhaps the movie was just one of those stories on a large scale. Now it is clear that this is not exactly the case since so many other details are changed in the film. For example, in the book, humans do not survive the Zombie War because they find a way to make zombies avoid them all together, so really the story of Gerry Lane could not just be neatly inserted into the collection of stories in the novel. Still, if you enjoyed the movie at all, you will love reading the experiences of many more characters who are just as, if not even more so, interesting than Gerry Lane. Also, I really recommend that you do not miss out on Max Brooks’ incredible insight into the way that different countries and groups of people would react to a global crisis based on the world’s current political and economic situation.

I’ve Read the Book – Should I See the Movie?

Maybe. In my experience, book lovers are easily enraged when a book they love is not accurately adapted to film. So, unless you go into watching this film with an open mind, knowing not to expect to see the movie you would expect, you will be very disappointed by the movie World War Z. In a presentation at Comic-Con in San Diego, Max Brooks explains that he could not be upset with this adaptation of his novel simply because it was not his novel being represented in any way; it was an entirely different movie written completely by someone else. As a lover of the novel World War Z, you need to think of the film in this way: it simply is not the film version of the novel. It is instead a whole different story with the same title. As long as you know this, I think that watching the film can be a very enjoyable experience, and in general, I do recommend the film. 



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