Book Review: The Zombie Survival Guide

Tue, 2017/11/07
Ethan Castro

Before the undead infest our mortal world, we as humans would do well to arm ourselves with the knowledge, resources, and training we will need in order to survive the inevitable zombie apocalypse. Luckily, in 2003, American author Max Brooks published “The Zombie Survival Guide” to provide the general population with everything that they will need to know to avoid adding themselves to the ranks of the undead.

True to its name, “The Zombie Survival Guide” is written in the style of an informative survival manual, reading like a nonfiction compendium of tips, cases, and best practices to survive the worst. The book is split into six independent chapters, as well as a list of “recorded attacks” throughout human history through the modern day.

The first chapter of the book, “The Undead: Myths and Realities” establishes the canon that the fictional virus Solanum is the source of zombies. The chapter goes on to detail the symptoms of the virus (culminating in undead reanimation after 24 hours), the virus’s transmittance through “direct fluidic contact” (including bites and open wound exposure), and the overall physiology of a zombie. Brooks notes that zombies retain all five senses of a normal human being, but zombies are driven entirely by an insatiable hunger for human flesh. With its immune system no longer functioning, zombies are subject to slow and steady decomposition over time. However, until then, the zombie will continue to bring itself to feed on the living with only one way to stop it: destruction of the brain.

The following chapter, “Weapons and Combat Techniques” lays out a general overview for the average American citizen (with legal access to firearms) to prepare for a zombie uprising. Brooks stresses the importance of zombie preparedness weapons being simple, reliable, and easy to maintain. A steel crowbar or a simple machete can serve one well during a zombie apocalypse, both for combat against the undead and for general survival. This philosophy extends to firearms as well. Brooks advises the reader to stray away from fully automatic or military-grade weapons, both because of the increased difficulty in acquiring them, as well as the fact that zombies MUST be dispatched with a headshot. Instead, he proposes that the reader become familiar with a simple semiautomatic rifle, available at every commercial gun retailer. Discipline and training will carry one much farther than having the biggest weapon one can find. Above all else, Brooks urges the reader to develop “the first weapon” -- your own body. Remaining in physical shape, being well-versed and trained with simple, accessible weapons is the key to survival in a zombie world.

The next three chapters, “On the Run,” “On the Defense,” and “On the Attack” detail different scenarios for different severities of a zombie uprising. Whether individuals are fortifying a private residence to hold out against the apocalypse, fleeing the zombie hordes across the ocean, or even taking matters into their own hands and cleansing an urban infection zone, Brooks has detailed possible scenarios and guidelines for each situation. At the core of these scenarios is an emphasis on human survival; zombies are not the only (or even the largest) threat in a zombie apocalypse. Maintaining an adequate food and water supply, keeping one’s sanity, and being able to find supplies are all valid considerations that must also be taken into account.

Finally, the sixth chapter, “Living in an Undead World” details an absolute worst-case scenario in which humanity loses the war against zombies and all social orders collapse. Pockets of humanity and bands of survivors are left to scramble for survival and hopefully rebuild some semblance of civilization. Brooks provides over a dozen general guidelines for staying alive and attempting to bring society back from the dead. He leaves the fate of human history to those able to survive the apocalypse, and he advises these survivors to “take heart in the knowledge that you have survived a catastrophe not seen since the extinction of the dinosaurs, a world ruled by the living dead.”

He ends the book with a list of historical instances of zombie outbreaks across different human societies all the way back to 60,000 B.C. From ancient cave drawings depicting man eating man to attempts during World War II to weaponize zombies, this historical catalog provides a highly entertaining spin to human history that speaks of a war older than modern society.

 “The Zombie Survival Guide” provides a very informative (yet still very entertaining) treatment of the zombie plague, and its informative approach to the apocalypse will likely surprise readers with its loving attention to detail and wide array of scenarios and approaches to survival. As we all prepare for the inevitable rise of the undead, this TechNews writer urges all who intend to survive the fall of humanity to pick up a copy of the book.

Of course, Brooks would truly perfect his treatment of zombie fiction in his follow-up book to “The Zombie Survival Guide,” the oral history collection “World War Z,” to be reviewed soon…