Off with Their Heads: The Zombie Survival Guide

Written in a tone every bit as serious as a traditional survival book, The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks (son of the man behind “Hitler Rap“) is chock full of tips on surviving a living-dead apocalypse, should one ever occur. Brooks has done a good job of defining in broad strokes the tools necessary for subsistence in pre-, mid-, and post-apocalyptic zombie wastelands. It’s clear that he has done his research by watching every zombie movie several times before creating one scientifically similar to those in 28 Days Later and I Am Legend.

Brooks starts the ZSG by dispelling some myths about zombies, mainly by asserting that zombie-dom (or “reanimation,” as he calls it) occurs after the contraction of the Solanum virus; he also divides zombie “outbreaks” into four classes, depending on the number of living dead who emerge. Next, the author considers what weapons work best in fending off a frenzied ghoul, depending on the situation. The middle three chapters of the book deal with surviving on the defense, on the run, and on the attack, respectively. The penultimate chapter describes what life would be like if a zombie outbreak were not contained and ghouls overtook the planet, and the last chapter depicts some zombie outbreaks throughout history.

The tongue-in-cheek component to the book only goes so far, however. Sure, it’s funny to read sentences like “As the zombie’s muscular system is basically that of a human, electricity does the have ability to temporarily stun or paralyze its body” (taken from Chapter 2, Section 5: Electrocution). But after a while, the joke wears thin, especially when Brooks comes dangerously close to retreading old ground in the middle three chapters on surviving in various scenarios. Perhaps most interesting is the book’s closing chapter wherein Brooks relates most of the major “outbreaks” from history. Others seem to agree, given that Brooks’s latest effort, 2009’s Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks, is a graphic novel expanding on the sketches from this book. Also, I would have liked to have seen more of Max Werner’s illustrations; the visual element of a certain survival guide is most often what makes it better than others like it, and the ZSG is no different.

Overall, the Zombie Survival Guide was fun to read, but I doubt that I will return to it again (as evidenced by my placing it for sale on Amazon) or ever seriously recommend it to anyone.

Have any of you read the ZSG or some other so-called Zombie apocalypse novel (such as Brooks’s other book, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War or Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies)? What are your thoughts?

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