The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks

I'm a big fan of Max Brooks, especially World War Z, his definitive oral history of mankind's war to the death with the undead.

First published in 2003, three years before his better-known towering work, is The Zombie Survival Guide. By its nature, a self-help book generally does not have the drama of an oral history, not even when the subject is as important as escaping the cold, hungry clutches of hordes of reanimated ghouls.

Thus most of the book is pretty prosaic stuff, about such matters as which vehicles are safest in a mass zombie outbreak, what kind of clothes to wear (Brooks advocates tight, to frustrate their habit of grabbing prey and pulling it in), the use of boats, and securing food supplies in a hostile world. He spends time on weapons too, and which ones are best for destroying ghoulish central nervous systems. Brooks is entirely functional, logical, unsentimental and cold as a ghoul's unbeating heart when it comes to dispensing such advice. Look for the joy of combat elsewhere. Brooks will just tell you how to live, no questions asked, in an approach that treats excitement as a fatal vice.

Sometimes reading The Zombie Survival Guide is a little like reading a Boy Scout manual. Only there are zombies.

The most interesting and entertaining part of the book comes at the end, with series of brief synopses of zombie outbreaks throughout the centuries. For those who thought that zombies only emerged in Evans City PA in 1968, as shown by the eminent documentarian George A. Romero, it is enlightening to find that Alexander the Great probably encountered the reanimated dead, and the Romans developed such an efficient anti-zombie military doctrine that disposing of them became routine. However, with the collapse of civilization and the coming of the Dark Ages, and all that medieval superstition, the West's ability to deal with zombie infection declined rapidly.

Brooks brings the story through the ages, relating stories of heroic stands against zombie hordes by the French Foreign Legion, heroism by a quick-thinking Canadian woman, and a surprising, and wholly under publicized, incident in which two Los Angeles street gangs held the line against masses of the homeless undead. Throughout, the author underscores how the lessons of the books are rooted in actuality, and what served our ancestors well could serve us again when the wind carries the moans of the dead to the ears of living.

The author's dedication to a scientific approach to fighting the living dead is evident throughout this volume. Based on his meticulous research of zombie history, and keen analysis, the reader should emerge with a better chance of surviving an attack, than someone who wasted his time instead.

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