'The Zombie Survival Guide'

With Max Brooks
Author and Preeminent Zombie Expert
Thursday, October 30, 2003; 1:00 PM

What are the best ways to protect yourself and loved ones from the rising threat of zombie attack? Which means of transportation offer the best advantage over the hordes of undead? In close combat, how effective are power tools?

Author and preeminent zombie expert Max Brooks was online to discuss his book 'The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead' and the best plans for defense and attack when the undead rise.

Brooks lives in New York City but is ready to move to a more remote and defensible location at a moment's notice.

The transcript follows

Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Arlington, Va.: How did you get interested in zombies and where did you do your studies?

Max Brooks: I think the concept of zombies; animated corpses with no other goal than devouring human flesh, have always frightened me. My research came from a variety of sources, from traveling to other countries, to the web, to old forgotten texts, to my own private experiences.


Silver Spring, Md.: How can a layperson like myself distinguish between a zombie and a bureaucrat?

Max Brooks: Simply put, a zombie will try to eat you, a bureaucrat will try to ruin several hours of your day.


College Park, Md.: Enjoyed the book. So useful.

You mentioned an outbreak in 1965 in Montana (I think), but it is not listed in the recorded outbreaks sections. Why is this?

Max Brooks: I placed a selected incident at the head of each chapter to illustrate a point (weapons, defence, flight, attack) but didn't include them in the "recorded attacks" section because I just didn't want to be redundant.I'm glad you enjoyed the book. I hope you never have to use it.


Falls Church, Va.: What do zombies do during the day?

Max Brooks: Attack and kill, just like the night. One of the reasons they scare me so much. They don't have any rules.


Boo, OH: I figure any impending attack will be foreshadowed by some sort of apropos music. Any tunes in particular I should look out for?

Thanks in advance, hoping to survive at least long enough to read your response.

Max Brooks: I think, if your radio were to start playing "we interupt this broadcast", or "this is only a test" or just static, that's a pretty fair hint.


Hell's Kitchen, N.Y.: If a Ph.D. and a high-school dropout are transformed into zombies simultaneously, will the professor retain some greater residual intelligence? In other words, do zombies have a variable IQ or is it "one size fits all?" I am terrified by the thought of a zombie who feasts on flesh while discussing, oh, say, Lacan's Mirror Stage.

Max Brooks: Sadly, zombies are completely devoid of any inteligence. If they were, we could communicate with them, control them, confuse them, bribe them. Unfortunatly that simplistic computer that is the zombie brain has only one program running: Eat! Eat! Eat!


Washington, D.C.: I have a sawzall, a high-heeled stiletto sandal and a child's lawn mower (with the bubbles). How can I protect myself?

Max Brooks: Drop the sawzall, take off the heels, throw the child's lawnmore at the zombie, and get out of there!


Durham, N.C.: I keep a Remington 870 12-gauge pump shotgun in my house, and it's loaded with 00-buck shotshells. How many rounds of 00-buck does it take to fell the average zombie? With the Evil Dead movies in mind (and the Doom computer games as a guide), would you say that I've covered my bases with regard to the undead, or should I also keep some sort of holy water or other relics around also? Also, I'm a first-year law student at Duke; would my Civil Procedure casebook perhaps BORE a zombie to death?

Max Brooks: The problem with buckshot is that you'll have to get pretty close for skull penetration. If you're intent on sticking with your remington, I'd load up with solid slugs, a barrell extension and a laser sight.


Frederick, Md.: I just watched 28 Days Later. It seems the British response to this type of "Rage" zombie was all wrong. How would you have handled this situation? Could the spread have been more effectively controlled?

Max Brooks: The zombies in "28 Days" later weren't really zombies (in that they weren't technicaly dead). I think the scientific term for them is "crazies". The good think about crazies that they die just like normal humans. Shoot them in the chest, stab them in heart, run them over with the car. As in the movie, even starving them seems like a pretty good solution.


Washington, D.C.: Whether we like it or not, most of us will find ourselves engaged in hand-to-hand combat with a Zombie at some point in our lives. However, there seems to be no consensus as to what the best way to fight a Zombie actually is. George Romero clearly thinks that the answer is a shotgun blast to the head, whereas Lucio Fulci seems to argue that you can only defeat a Zombie with fire. What is the best way to eliminate a Zombie foe?

Max Brooks: That's a pretty hot debate right now. Personally, I would go with Romero's solution of a headshot. Be careful with fire because, as we all know, it takes a long time to burn a human body to ash. In that time, everything the flaming zombie touches might ignite. Never use fire if you're in a fixed position, say defending your home.


Alexandria, Va.: I hate the use of the term "zombie" to refer to the living dead. A zombie is a very specific term used in some Caribbean cultures to refer to those people who are given certain drugs, ceremonially buried alive and then removed from their graves (still alive but because of the drugs, believing they are dead and without a will of their own)to be used as slaves.

Romero didn't use the term "zombie"--(though Fulci did)-- he preferred "living dead."

Personally I prefer "ghoul" as more accurate term for the dead that eat the flesh of the living.

What are your thoughts on how "zombie" became the most common term?

Max Brooks: Good observation. I'm loath to use this innacurate, and some might say, culturaly insensitive label as well. However, as most of humanity has little or no knowledge of the living dead, the term "zombie" is still the most recognizable word. I have heard many theories on why the word "Zombie" has risen to dominance over similar terms like "Ghoul" or "Living Dead". These theories range from the presence of Voodoo in the America's (misunderstood but still present in the collective subconscious) to the rise of it's use in popular movies, the simple fact that "zombie" sounds somehow more exotic and frightening than "ghoul".


Cabin John, Md.: I have often heard it said that zombies are devoid of intelligence, but I have occasionally seen evidence to the contrary. How can you, for instance, explain the anecdotal evidence of zombies using axes or other tools? This would certainly indicate SOME residual intelligence in the retention of the knowledge of tool use. Wouldn't you agree?

Max Brooks: I have heard of zombies using tools, but am not quite sure I believe it. This does not mean I discount such information.


Falls Church, Va.: Can you clarify the differences between zombie, revenant, vampire and ghoul -- different terms for members of the undead. I believe that they vary, at least, in terms of lifestyle and culinary preferences. Also, in the Eastern European religious tradition, isn't it believed that certain species of the undead, especially vampires, lack a soul -- meaning therefore, that their bodies won't decay in a Christian cemetery (because the earth rejects them). Thank you and Happy Halloween.

Max Brooks: That's a complicated issue. I think we could all benefit from more descriptive terms to better illustrate the differences in members of the undead. The zombies that I tackle in my book are human corpses that have been reanimated by a virus, have no inteligence to speak of, and prowl the earth looking to devour human flesh. These zombies do decay, although it does take some time, as the toxic nature of the virus repels most bacteria (including those that aid in decomposition).


Rockville, Md.: Do you think private homes should keep Zombie Preparedness Kits on hand? If so, what should those kits contain?

Max Brooks: Yes, most definitely. A zombie preparedness kit is a must for all homes. My book contains several lists for several kits (defence, flight, attack). A basic zombie survival kit can be found on Amazon with ten items you'll need. I think the most important thing to remember is, don't skimp on the details. Always have a bottle of water handy (zombies don't dehydrate but you do!), and if you're fleeing across wet, cold terrain, always pack a dry pair of sox (again, zombies don't Trench Foot, but you might).


Lyme, Conn.: What piece of literature first mentioned zombies? How has the concept of zombies changed over time?

Max Brooks: Every culture has it's own version of the dead returning to life. The classic zombie that we know today (corpses rising from the grave to eat human flesh) first entered public culture with George A. Romero's "Night Of The Living Dead". Since that time, the pop-culture zombie has mutated into many forms. You know have "The brain eaters", "Zombie Dogs (From Resident Evil)", "Crimson Heads (Again, R.E.)". I've even heard of a movie that has zombie birds, although I haven't seen it yet.


Washington, D.C.: If a zombie is hacked up into pieces -- will each of the pieces still try to come after you or is it finally over? Also, do they hunt in packs or are they usually on their own?

Max Brooks: Two important points. No, zombie pieces will not come back together, but the head, if still intact will continue to snap at you and must be destroyed. Also, the body of the zombie must be burried or burned as any rotting flesh, human, zombie or otherwise, is a serious health risk.


Washington, D.C.: Besides writing this book, what else are you doing to get the message out? Have you talked to the president? The U.N.?

Max Brooks: I have tried to get the message out, but for some reason, the White House and the U.N. wont return my calls. I am doing a lecture tour at various universities to try which, at least in it's early stages, appears to be going well.


Cabin John, Md.: I have noticed on your otherwise VERY informative site that you prominently display both a machete and an M1 carbine. Would these be suggestions or just the uninformed work of marketing execs at Random House?

I would think that a firearm with a more powerful projectile (e.g.: the Remington 870 or surplus nazi flammenwerfer) and a blunt force close quarters implement (e.g.: baseball bat or gravedigger's shovel) would be a far more appropriate tool for the job of defending against the living dead.

Otherwise, excellent information all around.

Max Brooks: I beleive both the Machete and the M1 carbine to be superb anti-zombie weapons. The M1 carbine is light, accurate at close range (if a zombie is farther away than 100 meters, it's not a threat), and uses a round so small and light that many can be carried. It's report is relatively quiet, as oposed to a larger caliber weapon, and it's short barrell allows it to be used (somewhat) in tight quarters. I find the machete to appropriate for similar reasons. It's light, strong, easy to handle, and, most importantly, when buying one, you know it's ready to be used, as opposed to a samurai sword that might be made just for decoration.


Williamstown, N.J.: Max,
Looking forward to reading your book. In the meantime, I'm surprised that no one seems to have mentioned the chainsaw defense method (ala Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead). Do you consider this an effective weapon? Also, what do you recommend as far as close quarters weapons for children under 6?

Max Brooks: I've been asked a lot about the chainsaw, and my standard answer is this: Don't use it! The chainsaw is heavy, loud, dangerous to it's user, and supplied with limitted fuel. There are a lot of good weapons out there. Rank a chainsaw pretty low on that list.


Lakeland, Fla.: How strong/agile are zombies? From the movies they often seem not agile at all, although most seem reasonable strong.

It seems if their agility is low enough, and their strength only normal, they don't really pose much of a threat.

Max Brooks: You're right, zombies are only as strong as us and far less agile. However, they don't tire. This is important as they are able to perform a task, say, hammering at a door, until the door falls apart or they do.


Herndon, Va.: I have never been scared of Zombies, especially when compared to other species of the undead. In fact, exploding man hole covers scare me more. Zombies just seem slow and, well, rather mentally challenged. Am I just blissfully unaware of the danger and headed for an unpleasant surprise? Should I protect my cubicle from Zombies?

Max Brooks: To many zombies do not appear scary, and that, of course, is one of their greatest assets. They are slow, they are "dumb", they don't appear like much of a threat. Just what one needs to be lulled into a false sense of security. Think of it as the tortois and the hare, only in this story, the hare might be eaten alive.


Arlington, Va.: What do you know about research into possible military applications for zombies? It would seem that they might be practical alternatives (being already dead, or undead, whatever) for some of our current entanglements. Or are zombies considered WMD's?

Max Brooks: As a private citizen, I'm not privy to information about the weaponization of zombies or the zombie virus. However, if there anything in this world that could possibly threaten humanity, you can be that somewhere, someone is trying to turn it into a weapon.


Arlington, Va.: Is there any sort of innoculation I can get now to protect myself from the bacteria and becoming a zombie after I die?

Max Brooks: Unfortunatly, no. There is no known innoculation or cure for the zombie virus, Solanum. The best defence is avoid all possible contact.


Washington, D.C.: I thought zombies only eat brains, but you said "human flesh." Which is it?

Max Brooks: I've always beleived that zombie eat human flesh. Perhaps they eat brains as well, perhaps even another part of the human body. Regardless, if a zombie is coming after me, arms out, mouth open, it's going down.


Parkville, Md.: Any chance the solar flares that are now bombarding planet Earth will cause the dead to rise from their resting places and seek out living flesh? Maybe tomorrow night?

Max Brooks: That is an interesting, and frightening thought. Thank you for the lack of sleep tonight.


Parkville, Md.: I've welded bars on all the windows of my Ford Escursion, I've got the gun port-holes installed, got a spiked snow-plow welded up front, and I'm working on a mechanism of spinning blades that will pop out of the hub-caps to chop Zombies down at the knees when ramming through a wandering mob of the undead. But here's my question: I've been toying with the idea of cutting through the roof and installing a port-hole with a hinged cover, and mounting a flame-thrower up there. But with all the fires currently raging in California, I'm worried that I might wind-up doing more harm than good. If I come upon a gathering of zombies dining on human flesh, and turn the flame thrower on them, will I just be creating a swarm of wandering fire-hazzards? How long can a zombie wander about on fire before collapsing?

Max Brooks: You've answered your own question. Yes, flame is a dangerous ally. However, cutting a hole in the top of your vehicle is always a good idea. If you're suffering a breakdown, or stuck in traffic, you can always scramble out of the roof.


Yakima, Wash.: I've categorized people who don't agree with me as being "zombies," could I be right after all?

Max Brooks: As long as you don't attack them with a machete, feel free to disagree with them as much as you want.


Washington, D.C.: I'm pretty sure there are some people at work I can count on to back me up when a zombie attack occurs. Strong team players. As for others-- would it be wrong to use them to create a "diversion"?

Max Brooks: I always say "Organize before they rise!" The reason we, as humans, have risen to dominance over the planet is our ability to cooperate. Try not to face zombies alone. Tell a friend, get a zombie-survival group together. Have regular meetings, delegate responsibilities. Any tight team of 5 humans is more than a match for a thousand unorganized zombies.


Washington, D.C.: I'm going to ask the generic question -- how did you get your ideas for this book? The topic is pretty far out there for me. But it is an interesting topic, nonetheless.
Question about zombie protection: Is Halloween the big time for zombies to "come out?" And how can you spot one?

Max Brooks: This time of year is more dangerous, not so much for zombies as for people mistaken for zombies. Let's be careful out there, folks. If you see someone stumbling and moaning, smelling unpleasant and maybe even trying to bite someone, it might not be a zombie, it might just be someone drunk trying to stagger home.


Behind, ME?: Why does the Washington Post insist on buring all zombie attack reports on page A17 (if mentioned at all), when clearly the need to be prepared is so obvious? In whose interest is it to keep us in the dark about Zombies?

Max Brooks: I've always said, the first duty of any government is the preservation of Law and Order. Imagine what our government would have to deal with if they admitted their were zombies out there. I certainly don't want to have to tie up our government with that political football, and I certainly don't want to pay a "Zombie" tax to keep me safe when we, as private citizens can do it on our own.


Alexandria, Va.: Are there currently celebrity Zombies that we simply don't recognize as undead?

Max Brooks: They may not be zombies, but that doesn't mean they're human.


College Park, Md.: This is the funniest forum the Post ever did. You're kidding, right?

Max Brooks: Laugh now, survive later!


Max Brooks: Thank you all for your questions. They were awesome! I wish I had time to answer them all. You can send any more to me at "". The books' out at (among others) B&N, Borders and Amazon. I hope everyone had as much fun as I did.
Organize before they rise!


© 2003 The Washington Post Company