World War Z | Study Guide

Max Brooks

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World War Z | Introduction | Summary

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Summary

An unnamed investigator explains how the oral history came to be. The United Nations Postwar Commission Report dispatched him to gather information from around the world on the so-called Zombie War. He returned with a wealth of data—and with people's stories, which the chairperson removes from the report. The after-action report must be objective.

The investigator argues future readers need the human stories. They need to grasp the suffering and loss so they'll never allow the crisis to happen again. Annoyed, the chairperson tells him to take the stories and "write your own (expletive deleted) book!" So he does. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War is the result. The investigator defends his work against critics who say it's too soon for such a work and admits that time will provide new insights. He knows the world faces pressing problems, yet he wants to preserve the survivors' stories for future readers.

Analysis

In this brief introduction the investigator reveals much about himself and the state of the world. Since the investigator draws as little attention to his presence as possible during the interviews, readers learn most about him from these two scant pages. He's a well-traveled, resilient young man who works under tough conditions to complete a task he calls "a labor of love" not only for him but for the commission. He had translators, security access, a stipend—whatever was needed to get the job done. The range of places he visited reaches nearly from pole to pole and touches every continent and many islands. His work, in short, matters a lot.

But what the commission wants out of it and what the investigator gains are different things. The commission wants the facts; the investigator gets the "human factor," which is, he argues, what sets people apart from zombies. He records people's memories, withholds judgment, and presents the stories to a world still recovering from the war, about a decade after the primary threat is past.

The introduction states matter-of-factly the condition of the post-war world. Many people's psyches have been shattered; many live with physical scars and disabilities. Life expectancy has dropped, malnutrition is widespread, and diseases once under control have resurged. The planet is polluted and poisoned. Now, the investigator says, the enemy is time, which will rob the world of survivors' memories.

Readers can sense the investigator's empathy for the war's dead, for the burdened survivors, and for future people. He also hints at his hopes, however. The United States' economy is beginning to rebound, and the nation now provides universal healthcare. He himself survived the crisis. These details underscore his trustworthiness as a collector of stories.

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