World War Z by Max Brooks

To put it simply, this is a generation defining book. Like it or not, that is an undeniable fact. It can be argued that this book along with its semi-prequel The Zombie Survival Guide, have single handedly started the present zombie fad. This is quite simply one of my favorite books and since it is being made into a movie (one that will most likely fail to live up to its written form) I felt that it would be a good time to give my review of it. If you haven’t read this book yet please keep in mind that this review may have some spoilers in it.

The writing in this book is rather different from most other books in that it is actually a collection of short-stories in the form of interviews. The premise of the story is that the author has gone across the world as a UN agent to interview survivors of a recent global war on zombies that humanity barely won. Each interview helps add to the larger picture of the global struggle against the undead as well as adding a distinct human element. Each story is radically different from the last. One story, for example, will be about how human trafficking in Asia helped to hasten the spread of the undead, while the next story will be about a housewife in the USA and how she and her family narrowly avoided being slaughtered in their home. The fact that the author chooses to focus on the world at large rather than just the US or some other country as most other zombie novels choose to do adds to the wide appeal of the book.

Another beautiful aspect of this book is the fact is that the story has several important themes that make this book surprisingly adult. While being a fun read about the undead it also a rather lesson in political theory. The book is decidedly anti-isolationist and also deals extensively with how countries deal with large scale disasters. It is because of this as well as for other reasons I have heard that, at least at the University of Pittsburgh, it is being used as an actual text book for political theory classes. Unfortunately I have no way of confirming this as I do not go to said school.

One of the sillier aspects of the book is that it is written by a decidedly “liberal” author, while the book is actually rather “conservative” in nature. The idea of individuality and self sufficiency is heavily pushed in many of the stories. It should be noted, however, that many stories also discuss team survival, but the the individualist stories are much more detailed and more memorable than the latter.

While this is truly an amazing book, I have serious doubts as to the movie. I admit that I have yet to see the movie (I will update this when I have) but from what I have seen in the form of previews that it will most likely only be World War Z in name only. While this is a book about deep ideas about humanity as a whole, the movie looks like a simple action flick. What can you expect from someone like Brad Pitt though? Even the author, Max Brooks has expressed doubts about this movie in at least one interview, which can be seen here, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QEq-ud0NIc . Will I still see the movie? Yes. Will it be an abortion? Most likely. Hopefully I’m proven wrong.

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Hungry by Dan Parme

I feel that it is a very good and wonderful thing to take pride in the place you were born and have lived most of your life. Afterall the place you call home will have an amazingly large impact in who you are and how you develop into a full fledged member of society. What sports team you like, what foods you eat, even how you talk is influenced by where you grow up. In my case I am from the “Paris of Appalachia”, Pittsburgh, PA. Being from Pittsburgh (a city which in my opinion is often overlooked in good literature) I will occasionally read books that take place in my home. It’s fun to read descriptions of places and things that you already know or have already visited. This is one of the things that drew me to the book Hungry by Dan Parme. Much of this easy read is located in or around my fair city, namely in the downtown and drinking district.

The second thing that drew me to this book was the plot. In short its about cannibals. The main character is the sole survivor of a devastating plane crash in Alaska, where he is forced to eat the remains of his friends to survive. Upon being rescued he becomes an instant celebrity. It is then that he inadvertently falls in with a secret society that has some rather unsavory secrets.

As I said above this story is a very easy read. It’s also light hearted with a dash of seriousness. It also shows a side of Pittsburgh that has nothing to do with the sports teams its known for and takes time to show people as they are rather than with their terrible towels. The characters are also believable and likeable. I highly recommend this book for a quick relaxing read. It’s a very enjoyable work and a great starting novel for the author, Dan Parme.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Very rarely do I read a book that so completely transports me to an entirely different world. The Devil in the White City is one of these rare cases. Not only is the subject of the book interesting, but the descriptions and the writing style are absolutely beautiful.

This book is about two very different subjects. The first is the construction and running of the 1893 World’s Fair held in Chicago. This is the proverbial “White City”. The main character of this part of the story is famous architect, Daniel H. Burnham. It charts the story of his designing the buildings built at the fair as well as the numerous problems that occurred in their construction and upkeep.  It then goes on to describe the various attractions prepared and preformed at the fair. The second part of the story is about America’s first publicized serial killer, H. H. Holmes. This part of the story charts his life as well as his numerous terrible crimes. Most of his crimes include nefarious murders and numerous other types of fraud. These two stories are told through alternating chapters which helps to keep the story fresh for the reader.

As I said above I am amazed by Mr. Larson’s talent for writing and description. He not only describes a subject beautifully, but he also manages to keep the most boring subject wonderfully interesting for the reader. The reader will be just as engrossed in the parts about the murders as they will be about the placement of trees at the Fair. Let’s be honest, this is no small task and Mr. Larson has done an absolutely outstanding job in writing this book. His descriptions of 1890s Chicago show how much our society and nation have changed over the last 100 years. Its almost feels like you’re reading about an alien planet. Even if mystery books or architecture are not large interests of yours I do believe that anyone can become engrossed in this amazing novel. I highly recommend it!

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.

CAUTION SPOILERS!

It isn’t often that I find a book that is not only beautifully written and thought provoking, but also at times downright terrifying. This can all be attributed to this novel. This novel went far and above what I expected from it and days after having read it I still find myself thinking about it.

The story is broken into three separate stories all of which take place a few hundred years after each other. All the stories take place long after a nuclear war that threw the human race back into the dark ages. The story focuses on a catholic monastery located in the deserts Utah. The monastery was set up by Saint Lebowitz, a Jewish electrical engineer who worked for the US military during the nuclear war. After the war he converts to Catholicism and sets up an order of monks whose sole job is to preserve the knowledge of the world from before the war which is being destroyed by the survivors as being evil. The stories cover three major points in the monastery’s history. The first covers a the conflict the monastery goes threw in order to get Lebowitz to be declared a saint during which a potential miracle appears. The second story involves the place of the monastery in the beginning of a second Renaissance. The third story tells of the end of the monastery through a second nuclear war.

As I said before all three of the stories are thought provoking.  The first deals with the place of miracles in society. The second deals with the massive frustration caused between religion and the state, and the third deals with euthanasia and religion.

The third story was for me the most troubling as well as the most poignant. The horrifying picture of a second nuclear war and the local  government’s response to the survivors of a nuclear blast are reminiscent of On the Beach by Nevil Shute.

Besides being thought provoking, the story also gives a wonderful description of the inner workings of a monastery and the Catholic Church. In this respect it is also exceptionally interesting.

This book has found a place in my heart as one of my favorite books and I highly suggest it to anyone who is into thought provoking science fiction.