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“the zombie survival guide” by max brooks


“the zombie survival guide” is really and truly a survival guide that tackles the question of how to survive if zombies were to unleash themselves upon the world. it is deadly serious, thoroughly researched and very carefully thought out. in fact, “thought out” has connotations of something that is invented, a fancy – so that isn’t perhaps the right turn of phrase. planned, is better. yes, planned. max brooks has a plan – and its in this book.

brooks covers everything imaginable – the only things that he doesn’t cover are those which one could find in other sources, like first aid etc. every eventuality, every consideration, every variable with regards to zombies has been considered. he covers weapons, terrain, combat techniques, battle strategies, transport, preparation guidelines and defending your stronghold. with each section he looks into the variables and the pros and cons of each option.

i was seriously impressed by his planning as i was reading the book and then there was one point that i got to when i realised “whoa, he really has thought of everything”. it was in the chapter when he discusses how to maintain a stronghold and one of his points was “entertainment”. he describes how every group must find out about the skills (whatever they be) of the group members and encourage them to learn songs or write skits or whatever, and perform them, the reason being that it is of vital importance for relaxation and morale. brooks really has thought of everything.

the end of the book contains a chronology of suspected outbreaks of zombie attacks, to provide a quasi-record. it also provides guidance on what to do (and what not to do) in a zombie attack.

i tell you, if one follows everything in this book then one has a serious chance at survival.

but, as good as this book is, as a read it left me a bit cold. to be frank, i found it a bit boring.

thats an odd thing to say, isn’t it, considering how good it is and how much i love zombies – it doesn’t seem to make sense. but the fact of the matter is the book is simply too dry. too factual. “yes, of course it is” you say, “its a survival guide”. but, i guess, even though i knew it was a survival guide in my heart i still expected to be entertained.

brooks goes to tiresome lengths to cover everything and there is a stage, when one is halfway through the book, when one pretty much knows what he’s going to say in most sentences. thats because the logic has already been established by then – the basic advantages and disadvantages of every strategy. the rest one can pretty much work out for oneself.

also, the book repeats itself. once the reader understands the advantage of a certain terrain then there really is no need for any further mention of it – but brooks devotes an entire chapter on how to use terrains when one is on the run or on the offence. granted, there are some differences as to how one uses it in defence, but something which could have been tacked on in the “defence” chapter or been a few pages in length, becomes several pages. and especially when one reads about bloody tundra or the dangers to safety in city streets for the third time, one’s patience wears very thin indeed.

but then, i think if this is a failing, it is a failing because brooks is too thorough, too careful. he considers that one has read what has gone before, but for the most part he has written the book so that every section can be a self-contained piece of guidance. and so if there is a problem, it is perhaps not with the way brooks wrote the book, but with the way i read it. in retrospect, this is definitely a dip in and dip out kind of book. a coffee table book. a book for that moment when you think to yourself “i wonder which hideouts would be safest?”.

although, as i sit here and write this, i think why couldn’t there have been a little humour, a bit of horror, a bit of fun? is that so wrong? but i guess thats part of the book’s whole angle – that it takes its premise so seriously. if it is humorous, then it was so dry that it totally passed me by (although, i must say, i couldn’t help but find the illustrations funny. however, every time i did laugh i found myself feeling like a little boy, laughing at pictures in the bible or something).

the other thing to say is that while this is almost exclusively advertised as the “perfect companion to ‘world war z’ ” i must tell you that this is not true. yes, it might be interesting to pick up the survival guide and look and gauge how effective a weapon a character has chosen is, or read about a hideout that a group has chosen, but when i read it i didn’t pick the guide up once. for one thing “world war z” is totally self-contained. the advantages and disadvantages behind the characters choices are given or inferred, because the book is a retrospective telling and the narrators all have the benefit of hindsight. the other thing is that the book is written for you, the individual, and how to survive by yourself or within a group, but a lot of the book looks at official organisations and how they dealt with the crisis.

so, while it is an interesting companion piece, it is by no means essential. at the very least i can tell you that you definitely don’t have to “read it before you read ‘world war z’ ” as i told myself i had to. the best way to enjoy it is to grab whenever curiosity takes you. for that, this book is perfect. if you’re like me and have spent any length of time seriously contemplating how to make a castle habitable, then this book is for you. if you have a question, theory, or if you’re just curious as to how to kill zombies underwater (you hadn’t thought of that one had you?! (well, i hadn’t)), then theres a good chance brooks has the answer!

Categories: books
  1. November 24, 2007 at 5:11 pm

    You know, I’ve thought about picking this one up a few times, but I’ve always passed on it, for a few of the reasons you mentioned. Mainly, it seems so dry! It’s literally just a survival guide. And while I understand that it is what it is, like you said, he could have made it a bit more entertaining to read. I do still plan on picking up World War Z though! That book sounds awesome!

  2. jean pierre
    November 24, 2007 at 5:58 pm

    i couldn’t agree more chris. i mean, it seems bizarre to criticise it for the very thing that it is, but still, i personally would’ve liked some more fun or entertainment there…

    pick up wwz, though! that one’s a cracking read! if i can ever get around to it i’ll do a review of it.

  3. November 25, 2007 at 9:00 pm

    wow, I had no idea there was actually a book about how to survive a zombie attack! I would imagine a book like that to be at least partially tongue-in-cheek, even if it does take the premise seriously. Or to at least contain a bit of humour. It’s too bad that wasn’t the case!

  4. jean pierre
    November 26, 2007 at 10:25 am

    yeah – one would imagine that. i certainly did!

    but this book is deadly serious!

  5. November 26, 2007 at 7:33 pm

    I’ve thought about picking this up ever since I read World War Z. But as you so eloquently put it, I figured it would be a little dry. I’m starting to think I might need to find Max Brooks and befriend him. You know. Just in case!!

  6. November 26, 2007 at 11:25 pm

    A great, thorough review. It does sound like something that would be fun to pick up on a whim and read a chapter rather than plowing through the thing from start to finish. If zombies attack, you’ll be my first line of defense!

  7. jean pierre
    November 28, 2007 at 9:12 am


    yeah… it is a little dry – but mr brooks would certainly be a good man to have around (just in case!) 🙂


    thanks 😉

  8. November 28, 2007 at 10:43 pm

    My cousin-in-law (is that even a real word?) mentions this book in the novel she wrote last year for NaNoWriMo, and it’s intrigued me ever since. But after reading your review (which was wonderful, I might add), I think I’ll pass. Really would like to get to World War Z one of these days though!

  9. jean pierre
    December 3, 2007 at 11:58 am

    i’m intrigued by what your cousin’s novel is like!

    yeah, skip this one and go straight for wwz! thats the real deal. of course, having this one around as a coffee table book or a dip-in-dip-out of book is nice too…

  10. December 29, 2008 at 6:01 am

    I’m gonna see if they have it at borders!

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