Max Brooks: 'Pandemics come in predictable cycles. If I'm the smartest guy in the room, we're in big trouble'

The World War Z author talks about how science fiction turned him into a disaster expert, Donald Trump, and growing up with parents Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft

Max Brooks is getting a little tired of being proved right. An author with cult appeal and massive sales, he is regularly referred to as “a soothsayer” and “a genius”. His 2006 novel, World War Z, was about a deadly virus originating in China that causes global devastation, and his compulsive new one, Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Sasquatch Massacre, is about people forced into self-isolation, huddling in terror from an unimaginable threat outside. But Brooks, 47, is dismissive of the hyperbole: “Everything I write about has already happened. The history of pandemics tends to come in extremely predictable cycles. So if I’m the smartest guy in the room, we’re in big trouble,” he tells me over Skype from his home in Los Angeles (our interview was in May, before the national protests after the killing of George Floyd, but well after lockdown started.). He has the jittery energy of the chronically anxious, and the easy confidence of one who has been thoroughly validated.

He certainly saw the coronavirus coming long before most politicians, and was making preparations in January. On 16 March, when most people in the western world were barely getting to grips with the lockdown, he made a video about the importance of social distancing to protect the elderly. He enlisted the help of the oldest person in his life, his father, comedy god, Mel Brooks. “If I get the coronavirus, I’ll probably be OK. But if I give it to him, he could give it to Carl Reiner, who can give it to Dick Van Dyke, and before I know it, I’ve wiped out a whole generation of comedic legends,” says Brooks, pointing to his father behind a glass door and listing his closest friends. The video has been watched more than 16m times. “I wasn’t given some secret information. I got my information from the news. Really deep state: turning on CNN and watching Wuhan getting locked down,” he says dryly.

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