The Ten Best Books About Zombies | Giant Fire Breathing Robot

The Ten Best Books About Zombies

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It must be because I read Frankenstein at such a young age, but I have always been fascinated with zombies and their kin. If you haven’t already made the connection, Frankenstein’s monster is the first zombie. If he had a name, it should be “Adam” or “Adam Redux.” Either way, I’m a sucker for a good zombie story. A quick glance through my library and you’ll find quite a few books that have zombies as the theme.

Although I love the genre, there are also some stinkers out there. So I thought I’d put out a list of books that I feel are worth any zombie aficionado’s time. Feel free to add any that I missed in the comments area. Or, if you didn’t like any of these, let me know why.

Ben’s List of the Ten Best Zombie Books (in no particular order):

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

I would summarize The Forest of Hands and Teeth as one part M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, one part George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and one part Hughes brothers’ Book of Eli. The first of a planned trilogy, the world Carrie Ryan creates is one where, a hundred years or so after the Return, the undead have risen and wiped out all normal life in the world. Set in the middle of a forest, a small band of people have made a life for themselves despite the threat of zombies just outside their gates. The story follows a teenager, Mary, who lives within the confines of the fenced in community, where no one dares escape to the world outside. Of course, the story is fraught with teenage angst and longing for escape. But instead of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll corrupting young Mary, there’s the looming threat of a world that is destroyed and populated by flesh-hungry zombies, with no hope for any other kind of life for her. Or is there?

Day By Day Armageddon by J. L. Bourne

What I love most about J. L. Bourne’s Day By Day Armageddon is that it not only is a gripping and realistic work of fiction, but the way with which it came about is fascinating. What started as an online journal soon transformed into a DIY project to see his notes, scribbles, and “account” of the zombie apocalypse bound and published. The popularity and acclaim this story received has led to a second book, as well as future planned stories. The story itself follows a Naval Officer as he documents his travels in a zombie wasteland and struggles to survive. The side notes and spelling errors add a sense of realism to the journal aspect of the story, and the human emotions add depth to the character that are usually missing from most zombie stories.

World War Z by Max Brooks

The premise behind Max Brooks’ World War Z is that it is a set of interviews from a report that was commissioned by the United Nations, approximately ten years after an outbreak that caused the dead to rise and take over the world. For me, this is the quintessential zombie book, because it is really just a bunch of short stories that paint one, larger picture. It’s Howard Zinn’s A Peoples History of The United States—if zombies took over the U.S. (some would say they already have). The stories are realistically told, as if by real bystanders or witnesses to the zombie epidemic. There are stories that reveal a governmental cover-up, despicable human behavior, survivalism at an almost visceral level, and heartfelt stories of loss. It’s a great read, and, coming soon to a theater near you.

Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry

I’ve never really been too interested in reading crime literature or detective novels. The closest I have ever gotten are the Jim Butcher Dresden File novels. But in Patient Zero, I was introduced to Joe Ledger, and might have found a hero I could follow indefinitely. Joe is the leader of a task force with one mission: keep the zombie apocalypse from happening. He and his elite team are sent out like Jack Bauer and his team of operatives to stop would-be zombie-terrorists from releasing “the infected” into populated areas and political events. Imagine a presidential election where the inaugural speech was interrupted by zombies unleashed not only in the crowd of onlookers, but also in the cabinet and Congressional offices as well. Of course, books of this kind always have the hero winning in the end, but while reading this novel I was constantly aware of the possibly imminent doom of Mr. Ledger and his team. A favorable outcome wasn’t always certain, and, in the end, it’s clear that while his “Seal Team Six”-like victory may have won the battle, the war is far from over.

Tooth and Nail by Craig DiLouie

Not as much a zombie novel as a military novel, Tooth and Nail tells the story of a military unit and their attempt to secure a facility in New York City after it has been overrun with zombies. What is most gripping about this novel is the squad-based action throughout. You get a sense that you could insert “terrorists” or “hostiles” into the book wherever “zombies” or “the undead” was used, and you’d still have an excellent novel. Of course, the catch in that statement is that whenever a comrade goes down in normal war situations, they aren’t immediately turned against their squad as they are in the case of zombie attacks inflicted upon the commandos. Dealing with loss within the squad is heartfelt, and makes you reflective of the wars we fight, and the price we pay, and whether or not it’s worth it. This story is action-packed throughout and adds a zombie theme to an excellently written military drama.

Cell by Stephen King

Disclaimer: I am a Stephen King fanboy. I feel he gets a bad rap sometimes, yet the man knows how to tell graphic, horror-filled stories like no other. In Cell, Stephen King not only throws a new twist on how “zombies” are created, but he also makes social commentary (oh so subtly) on the whole technology-fueled masses. You could say the story is an allegory, or it’s just another great novel in a long line of classic Stephen King stories; either way you slice it, it is fast-paced, gruesome at times, and one of my favorite takes on the zombie genre. Essentially, there is a digital plague that infects people through technology, turning them into rage-fueled zombies. Only people who avoid cell phone use (i.e. hippies) are spared, and must fight for survival in a post-apocalyptic Boston.

The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman

By now, you’ve probably seen plenty of coverage and attention given to The Walking Dead, as it has become a hit TV series on AMC. What you still may not know is that the show is based on an excellent comic book series that goes way deeper, in a more gruesome way, than the TV show. The premise is the same; the story follows various characters and their comrades as they navigate the zombie wasteland. The zombies almost take a back seat in the books, as the real horrors are what humans do to one another. The comic is collected in trade paperback and hardcover formats, and while it is hard for some people to get into a book once there is a movie or live-action version of it, this is one series that excels in comic form, above and beyond the TV series.

The Rising by Brian Keene

You might know Brian Keene from the film 28 Days Later. He is pretty much credited with bringing the popularity of zombie lit into the mainstream. His take on zombies has always been outside of the usual. His zombies move fast, are fairly intelligent, and are always created in some bizarre way. In The Rising, his zombies are really demons that have come to possess human bodies. There are lots of metaphysical, and even spiritual, aspects to this novel. It may not be what you think of when you think of shambling and bumbling zombies, but the horror in this novel is top notch.

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Zone One is a great read that follows a group of “sweepers” who are busy clearing out the remaining undead in Manhattan. The story focuses on Mark Spitz, a sweeper himself, as he recalls life before the “Last Night” of the zombie apocalypse, as well as feeling compassion towards some of the undead that he must dispatch in his daily job. At times, this novel reads like social commentary about how elitists see the dawdling masses of the world. But Colson Whitehead writes with such skill and characterization that you realize that he’s not condemning humanity in this novel, he’s really praising it. This story is really about hope and rebuilding something for everyone, and it’s about the social bonds we make in life that create a world where, no matter what the catastrophe, humans will always band together to fight back despair and entropy.

Notables:
Monster Island by David Wellington
Plague of the Dead by Z.A. Recht
The Autumn Series by David Moody
White Flag of the Dead by Joseph Talluto
Dead City by Joe McKinney
Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lundqvist

There are 28 comments.

  1. Billy Billy said on November 15, 2011 at 11:20 am

    Oh man, I am so downloading like three of these right now on my Kindle. I think World War Z is my favorite though, such a great book. I couldn’t get into Cell (despite my love of zombies) because of it’s heavy handed “cell phone users are zombies” message.

    One my favorite zombie books (though I admit now that it’s not very good) is Return of the Living Dead. John Russo, George A. Romero’s co-writer on Night of the Living Dead wrote this book. He and Romero had a falling out and Russo decided to write the book as a sequel to Night with the intention of springboarding it into a film franchise. The film went nowhere but the book does have some interesting ideas, like a religious cult that finds people who have died and spikes their brains to prevent resurrection.

  2. Billy Billy said on November 15, 2011 at 11:23 am

    I should say that the version of the film based on the Return of the Living Dead book went nowhere, there IS a Return of the Living Dead movie but it has no connection with Russo’s book aside from Russo being credited as one of the writers, but the director heavily re-wrote the script.

  3. BenL said on November 15, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    I read that a long time ago, when I was younger. I should re-read it. I should note that my list isn’t at all comprehensive. I’m sure there are plenty I’ve left off, forgotten, or haven’t read yet. But I remember that being one of the first I had read. I’ll have to see if it’s available on Bookmooch! Thanks for commenting!

  4. Jeannie Jeannie said on November 16, 2011 at 9:18 am

    DOOD! Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament by S.G. Browne. REALLY really good. And deeply silly. And disturbing. I wrote a review of it way back. I still think its good. Its not apocalyptic or anything. Just a story about an average guy. Who happens to be a zombie. Its a quick read.

    I cant read the Walking Dead. Its just too much. But Ive heard really great things about World War Z. Still, dont think I can read it. Just. Too. Much.

  5. BenL said on November 16, 2011 at 10:27 am

    Thanks Jeannie. Although, part of the reason I read and like zombie books is the human element, the moral and psychological choices that must be made in order to survive. A lot of the greatest fiction I’ve read has the character changing in unforseen ways, and nothing seems to be as good a catalyst as the zombie apocalypse.

    One book to avoid, though: Empire by David Dunwoody. I just did not think this was a good book at all.

    I’ve got a list of post-apocalyptic fiction that I’ll be putting up soon.

  6. Jason Kristopher said on November 16, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    One to add to your list, Ben: “The Dying of the Light: End”

    Yes, it’s mine, but it’s got great reviews (53 4- & 5-stars out of 56 total) so far and was called “the best zombie book since World War Z.” Plus, it’s only $3 right now on Kindle.

    I met Craig & Jonathan at ZomBcon 2011 and they are both great guys. Just finished reading “The Infection” by Dilouie, and it was really good. Snagged “Dead of Night” from Maberry at the con and lemme tell ya – that’s a fantastic book in general, not just a fantastic zombie book.

    So there’s two more good ones for your list as well.

  7. Tony Schaab said on November 16, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    Well, technically, Jesus is probably the world’s first zombie… 😛

  8. BenL said on November 16, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    @ Tony – HAHA! Good point!

    Jason – I’ve just added your book to my growing list of books to pick up at my local bookstore. If it’s as good as the reviews online, I may have to revise my list. Thanks for commenting!

  9. Jeannie Jeannie said on November 16, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    Actually, I think the first zombie would be Lazarus. But point taken. And, Im glad SOMEONE said it! I was SO thinking it!

  10. Nicodemis said on November 17, 2011 at 12:08 am

    Two AWESOME books not up here are Ex-Heroes and Ex-Patriots by Peter Clines. It meshes zombies and superheroes very nicely. I couldn’t put either one down. Ex-Patriots is the follow up to Ex-Heroes.

  11. BenL said on November 17, 2011 at 10:38 am

    Nice recommendation. I liked Ex-Heroes as well. Slipped my mind! Thanks Nic!

  12. Iain McKinnon said on November 17, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    Tony Schaab we don’t know who the first zombie was but the first recorded zombies date back 3000 years before Christ and are mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

    “Ishtar spoke to her father saying, I will pull down the gates of Hell itself, Crush the doorposts and flatten the door, And I will let the dead leave, And let the dead roam the earth, And they shall eat the living, The dead will overwhelm all the living,”

    From The Epic Of Gilgamesh written five thousand years ago.

  13. Hectarion said on November 17, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    Personally, I think the greatest zombie book is World War Z. It’s just so amazingly written that I could not put it down and I blazed through it in a day or two. The chapters are only 10-ish pages long and are generally a self-contained piece of the story. The fact that they are bite sized chunks is what makes them so addictive since each chunk reveals just a bit more of the overall story. So good…

  14. BenL said on November 18, 2011 at 8:14 am

    @ Iain – I have Remains of the Dead queued for future reading. So I’m sorry it’s not on my list. But thanks for the history lesson. I love ancient fables and folklore. It almost makes you wonder if there were several histories to the world. That the world now is not like the world once was. (To paraphrase from Crowley’s Aegypt). 🙂

  15. Darren said on January 27, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    Apocalypse of the dead is the 2nd book in a trilogy by Joe Mckinney. The first is Dead City and the 3rd is Flesh Eaters. It’s a trilogy in the sense that the 3 stories take place in different time periods of the zombie outbreak. Each book hasseperate stories and no recurring characters. That said, Dead City occurs in a single day and is one mans story. Apocalypse of the dead is in the tradition of Morning star series. This book really stands out for it’s unique, diverse and compelling cast. Porn stars, preachers, retired 70 year old marshall, blind girl, reporter, bikers, convict, Harvard grad and one badass helicopter pilot. Just to round out an unforgetable cast we get a glimpse from a simple minded zombie victem who might be the key to humanities survival.

  16. Sheela Mussayar said on August 25, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    Your missing hallows by amanda Hockings and contagious by Emily goodwin.

  17. AverageJoe said on August 28, 2012 at 9:36 am

    One of the weirdest books I’ve ever read was “The Pisstown Chaos” by David Ohle. It’s not a traditional zombie story where the dead rise and eat the living, but more of a contagion where the living pick up a parasite and slowly die but never stop walking around. Some of them even talk. They’re called stinkers in the book, but they’re more of the background hum in the story. They’re everywhere, but the story is more about how the world has dealt with stinkers than about the immediate threat they pose.
    It’s a very short book at 208 pages… I don’t know if I can tell you that’s it’s “good”, but it is definitely memorable.
    The effect it had on me when I was done reading it was kind of like waking up and finding out some prankster replaced my bedsheets with worms. So, yeah… not for everyone, but maybe for some in this crowd. Enjoy!

  18. Shasta Payne said on September 8, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    If you love zombies, you have to check out the zombie fallout series by Mark Tufo! There are five books in the series and one extra side book that answers alot of questions about the plague. Mark Tufo has become my favorite zombie writer! Also, Rhiannon frater is a close second with her series. There are currently three books titled; the beginning, fighting to survive and the siege. These are definitely worth checking out as well 😉

  19. Avril McCormack said on November 4, 2012 at 1:45 am

    A great zombie book is the Zombie Fallout series.

    Could not put it down.

    Read more: http://www.istumbledupon.com/zombie-fallout-6-til-death-do-us-part-volume-6/

  20. zach said on November 14, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    Eden by Tony Monchinski

    is also a great zombie novel it is one of the best i have ever read

  21. Richard said on November 25, 2012 at 3:24 am

    Just finished Apocalypse Z: The Beginning of the End by Manel Loureiro. Loved it, couldn’t put it down. Anyone know if theres a sequel?

  22. Greg said on December 3, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    Thank you for the list. I will definitely be checking these out. I’d also like to mention an EXCELLENT zombie story. It is an online blog and written as a journal/diary of a man surviving after the zombie apocalypse. How he creates a safe zone, hunts for supplies, finds and helps other survivors and tries to recreate society. I heard about it, read a couple entries and was hooked. It also has a pretty original take on the zombies origins.

    http://adriansundeaddiary.com/pt/September-21/blog.htm

  23. J.S. said on December 28, 2012 at 5:18 am

    Could you check out my first short story Now It Begins by J.S. Desiato. It is available on Amazon Kindle and Smashwords. I did artwork for the cover page.
    Let me know what you think, good – bad – ugly, whatever. The first 40 pages are available as a preview for free.
    You can reply to me at HoMobie@aol.com

  24. mike373 said on January 27, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    My brand new favorite zombie novel is by marc stock called “The Nanobot Conspiracy: Fear The Dead” I liked how the virus in this case is actually transmitted via a nanobot which the the govt tried to cover up. Good characters and even a better story with sub plots. All very believable and great start to a refreshing new series that I’m sure will catch the eyes in Hollywood this year! I provided a link here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AWZ2V0K

  25. davey said on March 29, 2013 at 6:30 am

    cookie, zombie apocalypse by scarlett dupree is funny as hell. sexy chick that kicks zombie ass – what more do you want? lots of gore, sex and wit. World War Z is one of my favorites! if you count yourself a zombie fan, then you should read that one. Classic!

  26. Smirking Revenge said on March 31, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell is also wicked good. The lead character while a teenager grew up after the dead had wiped most of civilization. She has grown up living on her own and making some pretty hard decisions. While the protagonist is technically a young adult this is not a young adult book. Excellent story that has zombies as a background element, but not the sole purpose of the novel.

    Great choices by the way

  27. Ron Albury said on May 2, 2013 at 3:35 pm
  28. Ed said on July 6, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    You should check out the Arisen series, based in Great Britan with American special forces influence. Good, but quick reads.

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