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Literature: The Zombie Survival Guide

The Zombie Survival Guide is a book written by Max Brooks.

The title is pretty much self-explanatory. The book gives a detailed account on how to survive zombie outbreaks (all four levels). Written in a Deadpan Snarker tone, it is a comical look at what the average person would have to do to survive the Zombie Apocalypse, complete with a guide to arranging suitable food and weapon stores. Additionally, it explains how, if possible, to acquire a remote plot of land, and details describing how to turn it into a place to live for around twenty years, or until the zombies have decomposed.

It also provides information as to what a zombie is, common myths, how to spot a zombie outbreak (the government is covering it up) and historical examples of zombies and how everything turned out.

Followed up three years later by World War Z in which characters make occasional reference to it, usually saying how it wasn't very good.

This book provides examples of:

  • Armor Is Useless: Brooks holds that most body armor would just be dead weight when running from zombies. Most zombie bites occur on the arms and legs, while modern body armor focuses the best armor on the center of mass. Furthermore, chain mail is generally too noisy and will just attract more zombies to you, and cumbersome plate armor is just suicidal. The best protection is making yourself harder to grab in the first place, by wearing tight-fitting clothes and short hair.
    • That said, he mentions that shark suits, while still noisy, are specifically designed to protect against much stronger jaws than a zombie's, and are especially useful when fighting zombies underwater. Though given that Zombies can survive under the waves with no need for oxygen, the threat of underwater zombies makes this a crucial piece of advice.
  • Anachronism Stew: In the book a zombie attack in China was mentioned. The zombies were said to be attacking a nuclear power plant in 1987. What's the problem with radioactive zombies in China? There were NO nuclear power plants in China until the 1990s' and they produced less radiation than most power plants at the time.
  • Artistic License Biology: A few examples.
    • The idea that the solanum virus renders zombie flesh a Universal Poison. And it's not just brought up once or twice; it's stated that every animal from every ecosystem recognizes and flees from the smell of zombie flesh. Even other bacteria and viruses dare not to occupy a body that's infected with solanum. From the solanum virus's point of view, this makes about as much sense as an animal rendering all its own prey items inedible.
    • It also says that all of a zombie's nerve endings are non-functional ... not just pain receptors, but all of them. If that were true, the damn things wouldn't even be able to crawl, let alone walk, because they'd have no sense of their own limbs' positions and couldn't detect whether any given appendage was touching the ground or not.
    • A dried out body would be so fragile that it would fall apart.
    • This book resurrects (pun intended) the hoary old chestnut about humans only using 5% of their brain capacity.
    • The slave ship scenario wouldn't actually work, as Solarum takes so long to incubate that the majority of the slaves would have died of thirst long before it reached them.
  • Artistic License Physics: This really applies to any work of "standard" zombie fiction, but it is particularly glaring in this book, because the author goes to such pains to appear realistic. Zombies apparently gain no nourishment from the flesh they eat; they just have a compulsion to gorge themselves until their stomachs burst. And they can live for years. Even a dismembered zombie head can continue to live if its brain is intact. In Real Life the universe follows a little rule called the Second Law Of Thermodynamics, which states that, basically, you can't get something for nothing; if you consume no fuel, you cannot use energy. So where are the zombies getting the energy to move from?
  • Author Appeal: Of a certain type - the book exists because Brooks himself is terrified of zombies and has been since childhood, and he apparently decided to overcome his fear by writing about it.
    • Brooks himself explained both in one interview and the foreword to the book: men have perfected over millennia the art of dealing with living predators. But predators, from a wolf through a tiger and towards an armed human, can be swayed, scared, wounded, starved, outwitted, baited, trapped or poisoned. Zombies don't obey any law of evolution, they kill because they were programmed to do so. In Brooks' words, zombies are like a virus themselves, not predators.
  • Awesome, yet Impractical: The fact zombies will only die if their brain is sufficiently damaged makes many things less than useful against them.
    • The good news? The "trench spike", a set of brass knuckles with spikes on either end, are fantastic zombie-killers. The bad news? They haven't been in mass-production since World War One.
    • During the 2nd World War, the Japanese tried using zombies as offensive weapons, by unloading them from subs onto American island bases, dropping them by parachute into China, and even setting them loose in enemy territory in Asia. Sounds awesome, right? Unfortunately, the crews of the submarines were either eaten en route or destroyed by enemy forces, the parachute zombies were shot by sniper fire, and the ones that were to be set loose on the battlefield ate their handlers before they could get there.
  • Badass: practically everyone who not only didn't lose his/her cool during the recorded incidents, but was also able to kill a lot of zombies single-handedly, or came up with a winning strategy against them.
    • Regina Clark from Canada being one of them. Clark, armed only with a U.S. M1 carbine, led the zombies into a blind alley. Herding the undead into a confined space to allow her no more than four targets at one time. With cool aim and an astounding reload time, Clark dispatched the entire mob. Even more astounding is that the first zombie she dispatched was her own husband.
    • The Lakota Indian named Elija Black, presumably the first zombie slayer. Armed with a U.S. Army cavalry saber, and a Winchester repeater he saved an entire town by himself.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Hilariously subverted with Harland Lee.
  • Boom, Headshot: The only, only, only way to kill a zombie for sure is to deal proper damage to the brain.
  • Boring but Practical: The book highly recommends using a crowbar as a melee weapon over more exotic weaponry, due to its reach, balance, and ability to tear down any blockades that people might have set up.
    • Also, guns are only recommended when stealth is not a concern, as the noise will attract more zombies. The best type of gun to use would be a scoped semi-automatic rifle with a suppressor. The book specifically calls out automatic weapons as being not particularly useful: Why fire a spray of bullets when you only need one well-placed shot to kill a zombie? After all, hitting a zombie anywhere else is a waste of ammo.
    • Bolt-action rifles are highly recommended as well, as they are very tough, can be used as a good hand-to-hand weapon, and thanks to the bolt-action, the person can make every hit count, and therefore have a higher chance of killing a zombie.
    • Bicycles are an optimal vehicle for the zombie apocalypse, being quiet, versatile, and easy to use and maintain.
    • One attack on a dockyard is foiled by crane operators who place cargo containers as barriers, then drop more of them on several of the zombies.
  • Brain in a Jar: Back when Marco Polo came by, Kublai Khan had a live zombie head preserved in a jar full of some kind of colorless alcohol.
  • Burn The Undead: Discussed, and strongly advised against. Zombies are not scared of nor slowed down by fire, they take a long time to burn, and a burning zombie can do far more collateral damage to the environment than a regular one. That said, Brooks advises that, if you have a trench or are on a structure that is completely fireproof (like a castle), or are in a serious situation and are fleeing for your life, feel free to set them on fire. He also says that burning the bodies is an excellent way to make sure that the virus doesn't spread and for disposing of corpses after the zombie has been re-killed.
  • Call Back: A lot of the recorded zombie attacks mentioned in the latter half of the book are linked to each other, as ghouls from previous incidents show up to cause more trouble: the Japanese forces come across the island Francis Drake called 'the Isle of the Damned'; the Canadian film maker Jacob Tailor has to fight off a horde created by the defrosted Cossack who was infected in 1583; zombies left over from the Knudhansen Party massacre continue to cause outbreaks in America throughout the 19th century; and some downed pilots in WWII happen upon the remains of Fort Louis Philippe.
  • Chainsaw Good: Averted. The book specifically mentions chainsaws as being incredibly impractical as zombie-killing tools, because of their weight and the noise they make (which is liable to attract more zombies). The dangers of running out of fuel for the saw while surrounded by a horde of the undead are also highlighted as reasons to disregard it as an effective zombie-killing tool.
  • Cherry Blossoms: Japan at one point attempted militarizing zombies; the operation was referred to as "Cherry Blossom", in reference to the role Cherry Blossoms play in death, according to Shinto beliefs.
  • Crazy-Prepared: You're advised to be.
  • Enemy Mine: In 1993, two rival Los Angeles gangs team up to fight zombies. Interestingly, it's noted as one of the few times that overkill was applied to a zombie attack, resulting in the zombies all getting wiped out with very few human casualties.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: The book warns you to be careful about shooting on the highway when derelict cars are littered on it, because "a stray bullet could ignite an inferno". Outside of action movies, it is actually really hard to get a modern car to explode using bullets.
  • Exotic Weapon Supremacy: Generally averted—the guide greatly emphasizes the importance of practical, easy-to-use weapons—although it's noted that if you had an unlimited selection in terms of bladed weapons, you'd definitely want to go with a Shaolin spade.
    • Brooks recommends the katana as the best melee weapon against zombies. While many actual sword experts disagree, a good katana can easily decapitate a zombie provided the proper two-handed draw-cutting method is used. Traditional tamahagane katanas are prone to rusting, require constant maintenance, and are somewhat fragile, so a katana made of modern alloys may be preferable.
    • A World War I-era trench spike (a.k.a. "that knife from Heavy Metal") is also recommended. While not "exotic", they're definitely antique.
    • The humble hatchet, in the small size used in camping trips, can smash a skull, living or undead, with little effort.
  • A Fate Worse Than Death: The Portuguese Slave Ship incident is speculated to have involved a member of the crew becoming infected, and he spread the disease to the rest of the crew. It was then thought that one of the zombies bit one of the chained slaves. Who became a zombie and bit the next slave, and so on. The book mentions what that would be like for the unfortunate people at the end of the lines, watching their doom get closer and closer.
    • Not that dying of thirst in their chains would've been much kinder, if they hadn't been infected...
  • Fire Keeps It Dead: The guide recommends burning corpses during a zombie attack to make sure they don't resurrect, as well as diminishing the health hazard posed by decomposing flesh. Fire is the only way to safely dispose of a Solanium-infected corpse. All traces of the infection will be wiped out once the fire brings them down. That being said, it also warns that setting fire to the zombie while it's still moving will basically make a giant, flaming torch that is still capable of biting and infecting while retaining the charming ability to set fire to everything it touches.
  • Foreboding Fleeing Flock: All animal life on earth instinctively fears and runs away from zombies, so a conspicuous absence of animals or animal noise might be your first clue that the undead are nearby.
  • Government Conspiracy: No matter how much evidence you have, the government will make no one believe you. The author points out a particularly impressive cover-up, namely of the 1994 incident at the San Pedro port, which entailed shutting up dockyard management, the local police department, a private security company, and the entire crew of a freighter and its shipping company. No leaks except the one person who took photos (easily discredited due to the above), and all this at one of the busiest ports in the United States.
    • Averted with the final entry, where the zombie became something of a local folk legend, gaining spinoff merchandise and everything.
  • Hard Head: The book emphasizes that a human skull is one of the hardest things to fracture, let alone shatter, which is why most blunt weapons are not exactly one's best weapon of choice against the undead.
  • Hollywood Law: Brooks says "Obviously, any civilian group will not have access to a real tank or APC". In practice, a civilian can acquire a tank having enough money to spend, as civilian collections/museums do, just that legally all weapons have to be deactivated by welding the breechblock. But it still has treads and armor and can reduce the enemy to a bloody pulp.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Occasionally referred to as being an adequate substitute for a crossbow or similar silent weapon. The point would be more viable with respect to the "on the move" situation covered in one chapter, where weight would be a key factor. And where the difference in noise between a suppressed and an unsuppressed weapon might actually allow one to kill and run without too many more zombies being drawn to your location.
  • Honor Before Reason: While you are advised to travel through urban areas as quickly as possible and not stop except under dire circumstances, an exception can be made if you want to assist other survivors. "Sometimes, logic must give way to humanity."
    • Elsewhere though, and in multiple places, Brooks explicitly says to not look for survivors or absent family members when the outbreak hits. You're not going to help anyone by getting yourself killed. The cowboy hero who rides in to save the day does not have zombie immunity.
  • Historical In-Joke: Zombies are speculated to be the reason behind various historical events, such as...
    • ...the detente between Egypt and Israel, supposedly directly related to a 1975 outbreak.
    • ...the disappearance of the British colony at Roanoke.
    • ...the fact that the ancient Egyptians removed the brain during mummification.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: The author states that Solanum is the worst enemy of humanity... beside humanity itself. Even if you don't take the failed attempts at using zombies as a weapon by armies over time, sometimes the sheer stupidity and cruelty of some people worsened zombie outbreaks. And look how colonists treated locals who were better prepared than them in fighting zombies, even after they saved their asses sometimes.
  • Hummer Dinger: Large SUVs are generally treated as Awesome but Impractical due to their fuel consumption and misleading claims about all-terrain prowess.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The Cossacks of the 1583 incident. They eat all the food in a village of people who saved them, and then turn to cannibalism with disturbing readiness. Once that runs out the decide to dig up graves; one of the corpses they eat turns out to be a zombie. They all die.
  • Infernal Retaliation: The author notes that, while fire will definitely get rid of a zombie eventually, you have to wait for it to burn away while it gains the ability to set everything on fire.
  • It's Quiet... Too Quiet The author explains that wildlife of all kinds instinctively flee when they detect Solanum, the virus responsible for reanimating zombies, seemingly as if evolution had coded this behaviour into all creatures. If, in areas abundant with noisy wildlife such as jungle and swamps, humans in the area hear nothing, this means that the undead are very likely to be near as there are next to no situations in which this would be the case. In addition, heavily infested areas are found devoid of any wildlife by survivors as everything has been consumed by ghouls, so cities especially but also other areas known for constant noise, whether human or wildlife created, become jarringly and eerily silent.
  • Katanas Are Just Better: A combination of this trope and a highly competent zombie-hunting sect leaves Japan completely safe on the zombie front until operation Cherry Blossom.
  • Kick the Dog: The slaves of Castries, ST. Lucia had rallied together to retake their island from zombies after their white slave owners were wiped out. They even asked some of the few remaining whites for help, but they refused and locked themselves up in the local fortresses. The other remaining whites fled the city to the outlying plantations, or escaped using what ever boat was available. By the tenth day, 50 percent of the white population was dead. Forty percent, more than several hundred individuals, were prowling the island as reanimated zombies. This left a sizable force of black slaves who now found themselves "free". The slaves were eventually successful in defeating the zombie horde.... Only for the cavalry to arrive and enslave them all over again. Ten days after the last zombie was dispatched, British and French colonial troops arrived. Instantly, all former slaves were placed back in chains. Also, all the free blacks and mulattoes were made into slaves because this incident was viewed as a slave uprising and so they were being punished for helping the slaves rebel. Any resisters were hanged....damn.
  • Meaningful Name: Solanum in real life is a genus of plants that the Deadly Nightshade belongs to. On the other hand, potatoes and tomatoes are in the same genusnote ...
  • More Dakka: The guide warns against this, saying that a single accurate headshot is the only thing that can truly stop a zombie. Anything else is a waste of precious ammunition.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: During the "Khotan incident", zombies attacked a nuclear power station and became contaminated with radiation, resulting in Radioactive Zombies. The author freely admits that this sounds like "something from bad 1950's science fiction".
    • Amusingly enough, the only special power granted to the zombies by their radiation exposure was... radioactivity. Specifically, causing nearby human survivors to suffer from radiation sickness, the (already dead) zombies not being bothered one bit.
  • No Bikes In The Apocalypse: Averted. The guide considers bicycles the ideal vehicle for a zombie apocalypse, since they're quick, versatile, easy to use and maintain, and almost noiseless.
  • No Honor Among Thieves: It's asserted several times that bandit groups will inevitably die out from in-fighting.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Type P. This book will only be useful if you're dealing with shamblers, as opposed to 28 Days Later- or Zombieland-style ones (the ones that sprint). The guide also takes care to remind you that you're after undead zombies, not voodoo-living-slave zombies.
  • Perpetual-Motion Monster: Lampshaded.
  • Properly Paranoid: At one point, the book reassures the reader that even though its instructions border on paranoid, they're entirely justified.
  • Rapunzel Hair: Will definitely get you killed by zombies grabbing at you - tie it up or cut it off. Zombie-minded people with long hair are already aware that running around with loose hair is impractical, and they'd be braiding/bunning their hair anyway.
  • The Siege: Quite a few small towns in the recorded attacks section. Especially Fort Louis Philippe, a French out post in North Africa.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The above-mentioned gangs in Enemy Mine kill all the zombies, but when the cops show up their story is impossible to prove — it just looks like they murdered a ton of homeless people. They all go to prison and are murdered by rival gang members.
    • Hell, most of the survivors of the recorded attacks wind up either discredited, imprisoned, or executed. Special mention to the Canadian Documentary Maker who survived a two day siege, and managed to get the entire thing recorded on camera, only for him to have the film declared a hoax, gets discredited, has to settle a divorce and several lawsuits, and for the footage to be restricted from public viewing. Ouch.
    • Judging by the horrible fate which awaits any human contaminated by the virus, turned into a moving brainless slowly-rotting corpse with no physical sensations, even being imprisoned or shot is milder. Shoot first and deal with the law later.
    • The Russian military survivors and scientists, who manage to turn their overrun base into a fortress, with its own power. They and the zombies are nuked off the face of the Earth.
  • Shotguns Are Just Better: Averted. Because you have to destroy the brain to take a zombie out, for a shotgun to work you have to let the zombie get closer than you probably want. Also, ammo is extremely bulky. A semiautomatic assault rifle is far more effective.
    • Although, the author does state that shotguns have incredible stopping power to help you keep your distance and could potentially blow a zombie's head clean off.
    • Also, shotguns actually have much lower spread than implied. Unless you're using target load, it would be EASIER for an inexperienced shooter to make a headshot at the ranges where they'd realistically be able to hit with a rifle.
  • Short Range Shotgun: The book perpetuates the myth that shotguns are both inaccurate and of short range.
  • Shovel Strike: The guide says the Shaolin Spade is a very effective weapon in decapitating zombies from a good distance.
  • Super Senses: Brooks considers the possibility that the undead may possess some form of sixth-sense, as even when robbed of their ability to see, smell or hear, zombies still possess the ability to track down their human prey.
  • Take That: The intro mentions zombie movies, and suggests that you ignore them, because they're filled with big guns, big men, and unrealistic action sequences... like the Resident Evil film series.
  • The Tetris Effect: Get too into this book and you'll soon be idly scanning your neighborhood for easily barricaded streets, potential fortifications, arable land and secure sources of potable water.
  • The Virus: Solanum.
  • Too Dumb to Live: We'll give the civilians in the documented zombie attacks a pass due to the panic, mass hysteria and difficulty of pulling off a headshot at the best of times, but the section with the French Foreign Legion is definitely this. These are trained soldiers who were under siege in a fairly secure fort for three years, and they never once realised that shooting the zombies in the head would solve all their problems??? They deserved to get eaten.
    • The book has this to say about the possibility of the sexual transmission of Solanum:
    "[...]the nature of Solanum suggests a high danger of infection. Warning against such an act would be useless, as the only people deranged enough to try would be unconcerned for their own safety."
  • TV Never Lies: Chinese conspiracy and zombie lovers believe that zombies are being developed in Xinjiang. Some even posted "evidence" satellite photos, but they turned out to be made with Class 3 Outbreak, a satellite-map based zombie game. Now it has become some kind of internet Memetic Mutation, being associated with all kinds of strange tales from Xinjiang.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: The Cossack scouts who, after being given shelter by an Asiatic tribe, conquer, enslave, plunder and cannibalize their generous hosts. They get theirs, though.
  • Uninhibited Muscle Power: Why zombies are so strong. It also explains why this is a weakness as well, because using the muscles damages them... and zombies can't self-repair, so the older a zombie is, the weaker it gets.
  • Universal Poison/Enemy to All Living Things: Zombie flesh and the Solanum virus respectively, to the point that the smell of a zombie can be used as a repellent against every animal from every ecosystem, everywhere.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: This is how the Romans treated zombie outbreaks. With cold mundane efficiency, like any other job that needed to be done.
    • Also the Zulu nation, who used zombie pit-fights as a rite of passage for young noblemen. The Romans were however the only culture (prior to Max Brooks) to write an actual anti-zombie manual.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: The 1960 Byelgoransk incident.
    Inside the prison walls, a coalition of scientists, military personnel, and prisoners was surviving quite comfortably. [...] Radio contact was even maintained on a daily basis. The survivors reported that, given their position, they could hold out until winter, when, hopefully, the undead would freeze solid. Three days before the first autumn frost, a Soviet aircraft dropped a crude thermonuclear device on Byelgoransk.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: Most of the book talks of surviving through small outbreaks, but one section is dedicated to knowing how to survive a "Class-4" outbreak, in a world where zombies have completely overrun humanity.

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alternative title(s): The Zombie Survival Guide
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