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The Zombie Survial Guide, by Max Brooks

November 19, 2012

You may have noticed before but I have a thing about zombies. In that vein, this is a book that I’ve been meaning to read for quite a while now.


The Zombie Survival Guide, by Max Brooks, is exactly what it sounds like. Detailed instructions and advice on how to survive the zombie apocalypse. Basing his guidance on rigorously controlled “research” and “statistic”, Brooks details how one should defend against a zombie (shotgun and chainsaws, no. Crowbars, yes!) and how to travel, defend and strike back in an outbreak scenario.

This all builds on the physiology and behaviour of a zombie, which Brooks details in the first chapter. Though the foundations are laid on a virus called Solanum (which made the doctor in me cringe in despair) Brooks strives to be otherwise logically consistent and rational. He takes great pains in distinguishing the “Hollywood zombie” (running, jumping, all nimbly-bimbly), “Voodoo zombie” (suggestible, poisoned living people) and the “real” zombie with which he is concerned.

The book can be thought of as one long thought experiment. Specifically, that one pub conversation about how to survive in the zombie apocalypse (usually after 28 Days Later or The Walking Dead). But instead of whiling away half an hour or so, Brooks has filled a book with consistent clarity and level-headedness. Personally, I was particularly gratified to read that bicycle is one of the premium modes of transportation in the post-apocalyptic wasteland.

However, the downside is that Brooks takes himself too seriously. The book comes across with all the gravitas of a textbook. Whilst there is room for the occasional spot of black humour and theatrical imagination, the overall tone is quite dry. All the celebrated tropes of zombie fiction, Brooks lectures, are more likely than not just going to get you killed.

However, in the last third of the book, Brooks compiles a list of all recorded zombie outbreaks stretching back to 60,000 BC. Documenting them in a curt, professional tone akin to, say, the Discovery Channel, Brooks injects a bit of life into the book. The list also serves as practical examples of the lessons and principles he has explained earlier. There is also a rewarding sense of interconnectedness to the stories as zombies from previous outbreaks re-appear elsewhere later.

On the whole, I found this an enjoyable book to read but only from the standpoint of a zombie aficionado. Those naive to the genre will find themselves stopping too often, thinking, “But zombies aren’t real!” Even I found myself pausing at the effort put in to something fictional. However, Brooks has been encyclopaedic in his imagined scenarios and as such, The Zombie Survival Guide belongs firmly to the heart of zombie canon.

EDIT: On a related note, another one of Max Brooks’ zombie texts, World War Z, is coming to theatres near you next year. It features Brad Pitt doing a decent impression of Chris Hemsworth. I can’t tell if it looks any good at this stage, but I’ll keep an eye (probably two) on it. I understand The Zombie Survival Guide is also in the pipeline to make the leap into celluloid. Watch this space.

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