The Zombie Survival Guide
"Complete protection from the living dead"
by Max Brooks
This is where it all starts, Max Brooks, son of the not so obscure Mel
Brooks, has taken it on himself to warn us of the clear and present danger
from the hordes of undead. As he puts it in the introduction.
"The dead walk among us. Zombies, ghouls, no matter what their label - these
somnabulists are the greatest threat to humanity, other than humanity
itself. To call them predators and us prey would be innacurate. They are a
plague, and the human race their host. The lucky victims are devoured, their
bones scraped clean, their flesh consumed. Those not so fortunate join the
ranks of their attackers, transformed into putrid carnivorous monsters..."
The Zombie Survival Guide was written in 2003, it is described as a
satirical take on the survivalist literature, by taking a completely
straight-faced approach to surviving a completely fictional threat. There
may well be post 9-11 echoes in this choice of subject matter as well. The
follow-up book, 'World War Z' takes a more in-depth look at what would
happen in the event of this fictional disaster going to its ultimate
The book is split into several sections, starting with 'Myths and
Realities'. This first part describes Max Brooks definition of what makes a
Zombie, the device of a fictional virus Solanum and how it is spread (100
percent fatal, the vector is bodily fluids.) Also it describes the symptoms,
from first bite to resurrection. He also takes the time to establish his
version of what should be zombie canon. (They don't go around saying they
want to eat brains!) He also spends a little while detailing the difference
from a voodoo zombie. The voodoo zombie has some traces of humanity left,
the undead zombie is totally inhuman, a full-sized walking virus with an
insatiable desire to feed. He also describes the four levels of zombie
outbreak, from minor to a full-scale class 4 world takeover.
There is a lot of discussion about the physiological aspects and functioning
of a zombie, it needs no sleep or rest, and does not even make use of the
"food" that it eats so ravenously. The best way to understand a zombie is in
computing terms, as a unitasking machine, which cannot be altered, and will
keep going until it is stopped. There is also an explanation as to why they
don't simply decompose and go away. Solanum is resistant to most bacteria
and toxic to life in general, zombies do rot away, but it takes years rather
than weeks or months.
Part 2, 'Weapons and Combat Techniques' goes into detail on the best and
worst weapons and defences to use in the event of a zombie attack. Head-
shots, preferably with a semi-automatic rifle or light carbine are
recommended, but going "rock and roll" with a machine gun isn't! Also
different types of close-combat weapons are discussed. There is an
interesting digression on the value of armour, (or possibly not, as tight
clothes and short hair are recommended here.)
'On the Defensive' looks at what you can do to fortify your home in the
event of a local outbreak, or how to improvise a longer term sanctuary for a
bigger siege. Different types of building are considered for their
defensible value, an old-style high-walled prison is good, a church is a bad
idea. The sound of people frantically praying as if the day of judgement has
come tends to draw more zombies to that location!
'On the Run' deals with what you do if you have to move through zombie-
infested territory. This is the most dangerous thing you can do, the author
points out that a traveller will know what it feels like to be prey! There
is detailed advice on how to prepare to travel, assuming a journey on foot.
Other modes of transportation are considered, mostly as a bad idea, apart
from bicycles, or dirt-bikes. There is a section on travel by boat, and how
to traverse several different kinds of terrain.
'On the Attack' - The survival guide does not pretend to offer a training
manual for the would-be zombie hunter, but some useful hints and tips are
given here. Various strategies to hunt and kill zombies are explained,
including specific advice for specific terrain types, and even a section on
subaquatic zombie 'fishing'!
'Living in an Undead World' explains the detailed measures that might be
needed in a class 4 outbreak, the scenario described in 'World War Z'. It is
suggested that a lot of detailed planning should be done before the first
sign of a zombie outbreak, appropriate survivalist training is undertaken,
and equipment stockpiles set aside. A team is gathered to flee to a safe
location, ideally in the harshest and most inaccesible terrain possible.
Several different kinds of wilderness are considered for their suitability.
Concealment of the new settlement is suggested, not only against zombies,
but the various kinds of human problems that would be thrown up in the wake
of a full-blown zombie outbreak. Indeed it is suggested that the group stays
in isolation for 20 years before sending out a scouting party to see what is
Finally, we have a series of case histories, starting with one unverified
prehistoric outbreak, going through ancient Egyption times, and including a
Roman empire aware of, and able to cope with the threat. Various other
historical epochs are covered, each adding a little bit more knowledge about
the threat, until we get to modern times where a lot of emphasis is on
covering up the true nature of this, the most recent outbreak being at St
Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands, from a seaborne zombie.
The book ends on a warning, that with the burgeoning population and growth
of urbanisation, the opportunities for infectious diseases have never been
better, and that there are two possible outcomes for the Solanum virus.
Firstly that governments can publicise the threat and set up organisations
to contain it, or else keep on trying to conceal it, with the real threat of
a full-on war between humanity and the zombies, a premise which is followed
up in a later book I've mentioned a couple of times already!
The Zombie Survival Guide is entertaining and thought-provoking reading, in
a similar fashion to World War Z. For the 'Living in an Undead World'
chapter, you could almost remove the zombies, and pencil in any other worst
case scenario for yourself. It is an essential companion to the later book,
although not explicitly following the timeline, but the zombies operate in
the same fashion there as well. The Zombie Survival Guide is even referenced
in World War Z, critically by one commentator as 'too US-specific' with some
of its advice!
A worthy addition to the bookshelves of any self-respecting zombie geek,
once you've read this book, you will be looking at buildings in your
neighbourhood for weeks afterwards, assessing their defensive properties!
CiH,for Alive Mag,Nov '06.