One of the unexpected gifts my girlfriend got me this Christmas was Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide, a how-to manual on surviving encounters with the living dead. It was a sweet gift, and one she’s already suffered for greatly: I was running around for days quizzing her and taunting her about her zombie holocaust preparedness! (“Do you know the best vehicles to look for when your town is overrun? I do!”)
Anyway, the book was published in 2003, but many people may not have given it a look-see, so I thought I’d do a review anyway.
Billed as “Complete protection from the living dead”, the guide was a New York Times bestseller. I suspect that many people bought it as a gag gift, or expected a straight-up humor book, but the guide is definitely horror fiction, told in a unique manner.
The book reads very matter-of-factly, and has terse, almost clinical chapters on the nature of the undead (“Undead: Myths and Realities”), weapons, defense, attack, and flight strategies, and tips for surviving a global zombie holocaust. The book is presumably tied to Brooks’ other novel, World War Z, and gives ‘scientific’ explanations about the source of the zombie threat, a virus called Solanum.
Though clinical in nature, that doesn’t mean the book isn’t quite funny (intentionally) on occasion. The tips given on how to tell the difference between a ‘real’ zombie and a ‘fake’ voodoo zombie had me giggling a bit, as did the explanation of why a chainsaw is a very poor antizombie tool.
The highlight of the book for me, however, is the last chapter: “Recorded attacks”. Brief summaries of confirmed and suspected zombie outbreaks throughout history are listed, including many which stretch into the time before Christ. These anecdotes are well written and fascinating as the local responses are culturally and technologically dependent. Early peoples fought with fire and sword, whilst the Soviets just nuked the problem away. The terseness of the descriptions actually makes them quite creepy, as almost all of them have unanswered questions surrounding them.
Overall, I found The Zombie Survival Guide a quite fun read. I don’t have to tell the zombie fans to read it, as they’ve probably done so long ago (“Be prepared!” is their motto), but other more general horror fans may find the book more engaging than a first glance suggests. I’m thinking of giving Brooks’ World War Z a read, now.