Revisiting the Zombie Survival Guide

 - The Walking Dead: Dead City _ Season 1 - Photo Credit: Peter Kramer/AMC

I remember being a teenager and stumbling across Max Brook’s Zombie Survival Guide. The early 2000s was a great time for zombie fans. Zombies became everything, with movies, shows, and, of course, books. In fact, as most of us know, it even infiltrated gun culture. Hornady made Zombie ammo, zombie-themed guns were released by Mossberg, and zombie targets were the norm. Looking back, it’s a little cringy, but I do think it helped the gun industry break into mainstream pop culture.

I have no doubts the zombie fad helped drive gun sales and ammo sales. Most people prepping for the zombie apocalypse knew they needed a gat to keep things real. If we were to look for a singular point of when this whole thing started, I can’t help but think it was 2003’s Zombie Survival Guide. The book labeled itself as a real survival guide and took itself seriously til the end.

The Zombie Survival Guide – Two Decades Later

It built a world that was referenced throughout and noted fictional tactics and military responses. I remember reading it from cover to cover, but I haven’t done so since I was a teenager. I recently found my old copy and read through the old gun advice Max Brooks gave and figured 20 years later is a great time to do a retrospective.

I’m just covering the firearm’s portions. The book itself isn’t terrible, but very basic. I even credit him with creating the idea of using a bicycle when the world ends as brilliant. In reading the firearm advice, I am keeping the fact it’s written for fighting zombies. Zombies don’t react to suppression, they don’t wear armor, and they aren’t carrying guns.

That changes tactics and needs, and I’ve kept that in mind. However, how good was Max Brooks on guns? What kind of understanding did he have of firearms and how effective they are against zombies?

No Lawyers, Just Guns and Zombies

The firearm section covers nine pages of the guide and is essentially a rundown of different firearm genres and their pros and cons. Is the information great? No, not really. It’s mostly a high-level overview, and while the Zombie Survival Guide gets some stuff right, it gets a lot wrong.

Heavy Machine Guns

Everything from a SAW to a 50 cal is covered in this section.

120628-M-CV710-071 U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Andrew C. Bell loads ammunition into an M2 .50-caliber heavy machine gun while training at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province, Afghanistan, on June 28, 2012. Marines conducted the training to familiarize themselves with different weapons systems. Bell is assigned to Headquarters Battalion, 1st Marine Division. DoD photo by Sgt. Sheila Brooks, U.S. Marine Corps. (Released)

The guide is right about how tough machine guns are to shoot on the fly and in a standing position. It completely ignores the capability and accuracy of a tripod-mounted machine gun against a horde of zombies at well over rifle distance. They even cover a fictional scythe tactic that didn’t work. It’s a nice world-building touch.

Submachine guns

His coverage of submachine guns is pretty correct. They have to be aimed, and single shots can be accurate. He talks about how short they are and why they work well in close quarters and mentions how they fire pistol rounds with limited range.

Assault Rifles

When he gets to assault rifles, it falls apart. He seems to dislike even the option of full auto and says it’s a downfall. The Zombie Survival Guide even publishes a lot of fuddlore on how unreliable the M16 is and why the AK is so great.

Lever Action and Bolt Action Rifles

The bad information spreads to bolt actions and lever guns, which are grouped together. He loves these guns because they encourage accuracy. He also ignores how slow they are to fire, how large they often are, and how slow they are to reload. The Zombie Survival Guide never touches on how the basic operation of the guns requires two hands.

Part of the section talks about how old military rifles are great for hand-to-hand fighting, which is true, but ignores that they had to be because they suck up close.

Semi-Auto Rifles

According to the Zombie Survival Guide, the semi-auto rifle is the best zombie killer, and I agree, but select fire weapons also have a semi-auto mode. Keeping in mind the book was written before the AWB sunsetted, the author’s choices aren’t bad. Sure, AR-15s still existed in this era, but they weren’t nearly as common or affordable as they are now.

The m1 Carbine and M1 Garand seem to be beloved. They are fine weapons, but they wouldn’t be my choice for a zombie-killing gun, even in 2003. We get into the SKS, Ruger Mini 14, and Mini 30, which, at this point, would have been excellent choices.

The Shotgun

The Zombie Survival Guide is a mixed bag on shotguns. It does cover their limited range and states you can use slugs and even mentions, but why not just use a rifle? However, it goes off the deep end with phrases like ‘scattering shot acts like a wall of lead’ and ‘a good shotgun blast can send several zombies sprawling.’


The guide gets plenty right about pistols and how hard they are to shoot accurately. A mention of laser sights increasing accuracy is tossed in, but we know how that goes. It gets it right that they are convenient to carry and mentions it being a backup, not a primary.


The section on rimfires isn’t bad. A mention of stopping power is cringeworthy, but ultimately, the information is mostly accurate. Where the Zombie Survival Guide really goes off the rails is in stating the .22LR will bounce around inside the skull and ‘do as much damage’ as a .45.

Bad Info, Fun Book

I still enjoy the Zombie Survival Guide. It was a fun book in 2003 and is still fun now. It’s self-seriousness and inherent world-building are great. Of course, it’s fiction, so it’s not something that’s giving actual advice. I don’t think Max Brooks is a gun guy, but I think for a non-gun-educated person, he did a great job.

Travis Pike
Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.