Reading Rarities: The Zombie Survival Guide

Buy this book on Amazon.

Well, here we are, starting off a new year and a new decade by talking about that most menacing of threats, the Zombie Apocalypse. Dun dun dun…

I’ll be honest, while I’m not much of a horror fan, I’m even less enamored with zombies. They’re undead like vampires, although they’re not nearly as elegant, and watching them gnaw on various human body parts is just plain icky. I know it’s supposed to be icky, but still, I don’t care for it. A zombie’s vocabulary is considerably smaller than a vampire’s, too. There are only so many times I can hear a zombie slur around before I’m reaching for the stop button on the remote.

But hey, journalistic integrity or something, so I will press on with Max Brooks’s 2003 volume, The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From the Living Dead. This book is actually from my husband’s collection, and when I first conceived “Reading Rarities,” he suggested I review the Guide. So thanks, honey. Here goes…

Max Brooks. (KFMX)

Max Brooks has some cred when it comes to zombies, as he’s the author of the 2006 novel, World War Z. He can’t help having cred in a couple of other departments–it’s hard not to when his dad is Mel Brooks and his mom is Anne Bancroft. However, the Survival Guide is actually full of legit information on how to survive a stuff-hitting-the-fan situation.

First things first, though: A little Zombie 101. Among other tidbits, the term, “zombie” has several meanings, primarily in voodoo–it’s a resurrection spell and also a god–but the horror film trope of the walking undead is the only definition we’re interested in.

The Conversation

Apparently the phenomenon is caused by a virus called Solanum, which attacks the bloodstream. The brain becomes a dormant organ although it still sends signals to the body, which has limited function. Solanum is highly contagious, but can only be transmitted by coming in contact with zombie flesh in some way. There is no cure, and no, the Solanum virus can’t be used to bring someone back to life.

A zombie has limited physical abilities, too. We know that zombies prefer to snack on human body parts, preferably fresh, and they do have a sense of taste. They also have sight, but no sense of touch. Hearing? Meh. Digestion? Heck no, which is why their bodies will sooner or later get distended from chomping on the living.

“There’s a zombie on your lawn…eating plants.” (Tumblr)

Yuck, this is gross.

Oh, and while the film stereotype is that zombies are lurchingly slow, the Guide advises getting away from a zombie at all speed. Zombies are sluggish in their movements, but their would-be victims need to realize that while they may be the hare in a “Hare and Tortoise” kind of scenario, the hare will eventually get eaten if they don’t take care.

Apparently zombie powder is blown in victims’ faces, making them sleepy and giving them amnesia. (Daily Mail)

The Guide also clarifies the differences between a conventional zombie, a voodoo zombie, and a Hollywood zombie. Voodoo zombies don’t get there by Solanum. In their case, someone, maybe a priest gives the victim zombie powder, which makes them appear dead. Some of them are buried alive and have to claw their way out. Voodoo zombies do have some abilities left; namely, they can feel pain and still discern their surroundings. They don’t like fire. They will also stop and evaluate you before deciding to attack, unlike the run-of-the-mill zombie, who just lurches indiscriminately forward. No matter what, while these people appear normal, they exist to unconsciously follow orders.

However, accounts of voodoo zombies appear to be exaggerated according to pharmaceutical sites such as, which state that so-called “zombie powder,” is actually scopalamine, a type of sedative. It’s also called Devil’s Breath. Small amounts of the drug have been employed as a seasickness remedy, but may or may not be used to make people into voodoo zombies. News services like Business Insider disagree, citing the drug’s wide criminal use in Colombia.

Grrr….arrghh… (IMDb)

When it comes to the Hollywood zombie, no, it isn’t an euphemism for a yes-person, but a phrase denoting zombies as they’re portrayed in movies. The Guide dismisses most zombie movies as taking too many liberties with the zombie threat, and cryptically alludes to the existence of zombie documentaries. However, it doesn’t mention any specific ones, which feels like a little like cheating, but whatever. The Guide has bigger fish to fry anyway.

So how do we shake off a zombie? And in the event of the Zombie Apocalypse, how do we dispel the threat?

Well, the Guide has answers. Lots and lots of answers.

“Dad, you killed the Zombie Flanders!”

First of all, height matters. If one lives in a two-story house, then the plan should be to store supplies upstairs, destroying the staircase and using a ladder to haul everything up. The Guide is big on destroying staircases because zombies can’t climb anything else, plus they don’t know how to make their own ladders. For those who live in one-story houses, use the attic. If there is no attic, use the roof. Above all, though, don’t hole up in the basement. This is a massive no-no because there is always the danger of becoming trapped.

What if home isn’t an option? Well, the Guide offers this wisdom: Office buildings and warehouses are ideal to hide out in. Schools and houses of worship are so-so. Supermarkets and shopping malls should be avoided at all costs. Why? A building that can provide lots of cover is a natural zombie repellant, whereas grocery stores and malls have tons of windows and doors, which make them harder to defend. The other thing is that their large stores of food mean everyone else will be dropping in too, a situation with its own set of pitfalls.

What’s the Simlish word for “brains?” (Steam)

Cities aren’t the greatest option in the Zombie Apocalypse. There are too many people and therefore too many potential enemies. Rural and remote areas are preferable, and the Guide discusses the pros and cons of each type of environment. The desert is the hardest place to survive in. The tundra is the easiest. Regardless of where one ends up, the needs are always the same: Those on the run will need to find shelter and a healthy source of water.

Speaking of being on the run, is it better to travel alone or in groups? Well, groups are fine as long as they aren’t massive. Everyone needs to constantly train in self-defense, using both martial arts and various weapons such as machetes. Brooks cautions survivors to keep a low profile when it comes to caching weapons, and he doesn’t rule out anything that could keep a zombie at bay, as long as local laws are observed. Also, defenders should keep in mind that zombies aren’t afraid of fire, so flame throwers and the like are useless.

Karloff got in on the zombie racket, too. (IMDb)

Those who live in a post-Zombie world must keep on the move, undercover, and defensible. Unfortunately, vigilante justice will be the rule, which means individual rights may be minimal at best. The big question is, though, how long will mankind have to keep it up if zombies take over? A lot depends on the zombies’ rate of decomposition. Only when the live-undead ratio begins to flip towards the live can humans make a comeback. In the meantime, Brooks recommends reading stories of survival, even fictional ones such as Robinson Crusoe to keeps one’s morale up.

As if to prove his point, about a quarter of the Guide includes a survey of possible zombie attacks throughout history. Many of them are shrouded in mystery, but they can make a person wonder if zombies aren’t just a horror movie device. Regardless of where one lands, they make for interesting reading.


Even though I think I’m much better-informed about post-apocalyptic survival since I read the Guide, I still don’t like zombies. The book is fun, though.

Okeydokey, thanks for reading all, and I hope you enjoyed our first Reading Rarity of 2020. The Wedding Bells Blogathon is on the way Thursday…

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