I read Max Brook's previous book "The Zombie Survival Guide", and enjoyed most of it. I liked the realistic assessment of just how things might go down in the event of a zombie crisis, and it was the perfect book for know-it-alls like me who when watching a horror movie yell "aim for the head!!!" at the screen. It took de-zombification to the next level with very practical tips; shotguns and chainsaws might look cool in video games but once you're out of shells and out of gas you're screwed. Contrast that with a shaolin spade or a genine katana however... Anyway, where I felt that book was less interesting was the appendix in the back listing various zombie encounters throughout history. The problem is that all outbreaks follow a similar pattern; mysterious illness, reanimation, fear and ignorance causing more harm than the zombies, discovery of how to defeat them, then resolution (or total ahnhilation of the population involved). Right? Well that's not particularly interesting for isolated outbreaks in Papua New Guinea. But what if we had a big outbreak today; with cheap air travel and people smuggling and loose borders and human rights laws and the internet and thermonuclear stealth bombers... we'd be fine right?
Maybe not. Where Brooks excels is highlighting the worst elements of human society in its initial response to the outbreak. The Chinese try to cover it up, big pharma tries to make a buck out of it, the government release a safety video and then go about winning the next election, and if your kids get worried just bang them on Ritalin and Prozac. When the swarms finally attack mainland USA and western Europe, everyone is caught totally unprepared. Suddenly sweaty executives who've never done a day's manual labour in their lives are having to live rough in the woods with no Blackberry and no lattes in sight. Isolated pockets of trigger-happy gun nuts have their apocalyptic survivalist fantasies brought to life, and the governments of the world have to make some hard, hard choices.
But as bleak as this sounds, the individual stories of heroism and daring demonstrate why it is that humanity ever got this far in the first place. In a not-too-subtle swipe at the way the military is turning into a video game, all the "advanced warfighter" strategies of battlefield technology, GPS, infra-red goggles, armour piercing bullets etc. are all rendered utterly useless, and it turns out the most useful weapon in the arsenal of the world's greatest superpower is the little shovel that their grunts carry as an entrenching tool. Whack a zombie over the head with it, repeat as necessary.
Although it's become somewhat of a cliche to draw parallels with modern "anti-terrorist" warfare, the rise of the zombies has one major echo with today's suicide bombers and jihadists; there is no fear of death, no centralised infrastructure, and very little point deploying tanks against them.
All in all Brooks has created a convincing alterate universe which is well informed by accurate geopolitical knowledge, group psychology, military doctrine, and genuine humanity.
Finally, I should state that this is the only book I've ever read where, having finished it, I turned back to page one and started over.