Thursday, June 30, 2011

Review: The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks

The Zombie Survival Guide
By Max Brooks

Published: 2003

Synopsis (Goodreads): The Zombie Survival Guide is your key to survival against the hordes of undead who may be stalking you right now. Fully illustrated and exhaustively comprehensive, this book covers everything you need to know, including how to understand zombie physiology and behavior, the most effective defense tactics and weaponry, ways to outfit your home for a long siege, and how to survive and adapt in any territory or terrain.

As some of you may know I'm currently working on a thesis which concentrates on zombies in film, so obviously I'm a bit of a zombie fan! That said I actually picked up this book (out the bookshelf it belongs to Tom) thinking it was Max Brooks' other zombie novel World War Z. Perhaps it was this original confusion which had me ready for an epic zombie narrative that resulted in my, well, boredom when I attempted to read 272 pages of 'non-fiction' zombie survival techniques.

I thought the concept for this book was great, and it was obvious Brooks spent a long time researching and conceptualising the idea, but reading a book about what weapons to take, what buildings will protect you best, and what transport to steer clear of, was fairly dull for me. I was lucky if I could get through more that 15-20 pages at a time, so this book has taken me close to 2 weeks to get through which is longer than I've spent on difficult classics! I did consider just throwing in the towel, several times in fact, but I forced myself to finish it so I could write this review.

It was a similar experience for me as reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the gimmick wore off quickly and I sat there reading it thinking, "why am I wasting my time reading about barricading houses and head shots when I could be reading True Grit or World War Z like I'd intended?" That probably makes it sound worse than it is. Granted, it wasn't my cup of tea, but this sort of dry, educational non-fiction never is. In saying that I do think there would be people who could enjoy this book, you just have to be open to this format of book.

The final chapter somewhat redeemed the experience for me. Quite a bit longer than the others that proceeded it, this chapter was a chronological account of zombie threats and attacks that have happened in the past. Spanning from the earliest account in 60,000 B.C of cave painting depicting a zombie attack (central Africa) to the most recent (at time of publishing) in 2002 of a single zombie in St. Thomas which has spawned a tourist campaign similar to the loch ness monster, the chapter covers attacks from across the globe and is formulated mostly thanks to 'unnamed' informants who were able to take the original files or archived documents from police stations, government agencies and even the Vatican.

I think if these accounts had been dotted through the other chapters more (although there already was the occasional anecdote) I would have found it easier to push through the drier content. The tales in this final chapter were full of conspiracies and government cover-ups and some even wound real historical figures (Alexander the Great makes an appearance) or events into the story, and, while still written in a rather dry manner, were far more interesting and engaging that the rest of the book put together.

While I found it a tough to read through this entire book, I can't actually fault it in terms of writing or ideas. Max Brooks clearly put a lot of time and energy into it and wrote in accordance with the style of book he was trying to create. The only problem is that I would never otherwise think to crack open a survival guide, perhaps even with an actual apocalypse breathing down my neck! I'd only recommend this to people who are interested with the idea of a survival guide, and are happy to read a book devoid of any plot, characters or action sequences.

My rating: 3/5


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