Meet the guy who could save us all from zombies
The bookish Max Brooks, author of 'World War Z,' has become America's zombie laureate.
Max Brooks bounds on stage in front of a thousand college students, grabs the microphone and proclaims, "Let's deal with the Brad Pitt elephant in the room."
The 43-year-old novelist proceeds to tell the rapt audience how his zombie apocalypse book, "World War Z," was turned into a blockbuster movie starring one of the most famous actors on the planet.
For Brooks, zombies are more than just a fictional foe for Brad Pitt to show off his hero skills. His multiple books on the subject have been New York Times bestsellers. It's likely because the self-proclaimed history nerd tackles zombie outbreaks through a lens of realism.
For example, in "World War Z," Brooks examines how different countries would cope with a possible zombie attack. Some deal with it well: The U.S. and Israel construct safe zones that keep the zombies at bay. Others, like Russia and North Korea, do not.
The nations that fare well conduct a simple calculus: Every human being they save is one less zombie to fight.
"I wanted to make it global. I wanted to make it about the world," Brooks tells From The Grapevine. "What I was trying to say in this book is that we're all in this together. We can't wait for the 11th hour before it's too late. We need to look at global problems and global solutions and work together to solve them."
Instead of focusing on action sequences, Brooks intellectualizes the zombie genre. "If there was a real zombie apocalypse, how would it really go down?" he asks. "Everything that happened in 'World War Z' has already happened, just not with the zombies."
Brooks' serious take on a usually silly topic has inspired others. The most notable example is AMC's popular "Walking Dead" series, which returns for its sixth season next month. As fans of the show know, zombies often take a backseat to the more interpersonal drama happening between the human survivors. And it's now one of the most watched shows on television.
While Brooks doesn't seek credit for the zombie renaissance, others point it out. "He’s a zombie laureate," the New York Times wrote, "our nation’s lone zombie public intellectual, touring everywhere from Long Island to Ireland to Sugar Grove to prepare humans for the coming zombie plague."
And tour he does. His freewheeling and funny lectures are big draws on college campuses. At West Virginia University, where "World War Z" was required reading for all incoming freshman this school year, 1,000 students packed into a ballroom at a recent lecture. During the Q&A session afterwards, one female student bashfully told the author, "I think I'm in love with you."
Brooks is used to the crowds and adoring fans. After all, he grew up in Hollywood, the only child of famous parents. His dad is legendary funnyman Mel Brooks and his mom was the late actress Anne Bancroft.
Max takes after his comedic dad and peppers his college talks with spot-on impressions. During the hour-long event, he personified everyone from Kermit the Frog to Barbara Walters.
But silliness aside, he asks the students to look at his books as a metaphor for how to deal with real-life natural disasters and outbreaks, like Hurricane Katrina or Ebola. Zombies, he says, are merely metaphors.
"I think 9 times out of 10 when there's a real problem, it really just comes down to us all just doing our job, and sacrificing and coming together and solving it."
And, perhaps, seeking a little help from Brad Pitt.
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