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Living with the Living Dead: The Wisdom of the Zombie Apocalypse

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When humankind faces what it perceives as a threat to its very existence, a macabre thing happens in art, literature, and culture: corpses begin to stand up and walk around. The dead walked in the fourteenth century, when the Black Death and other catastrophes roiled Europe. They walked in images from World War I, when a generation died horribly in the trenches. They walke When humankind faces what it perceives as a threat to its very existence, a macabre thing happens in art, literature, and culture: corpses begin to stand up and walk around. The dead walked in the fourteenth century, when the Black Death and other catastrophes roiled Europe. They walked in images from World War I, when a generation died horribly in the trenches. They walked in art inspired by the Holocaust and by the atomic attacks on Japan. Now, in the early twenty-first century, the dead walk in stories of the zombie apocalypse, some of the most ubiquitous narratives of post-9/11 Western culture. Zombies appear in popular movies and television shows, comics and graphic novels, fiction, games, art, and in material culture including pinball machines, zombie runs, and lottery tickets. The zombie apocalypse, Greg Garrett shows us, has become an archetypal narrative for the contemporary world, in part because zombies can stand in for any of a variety of global threats, from terrorism to Ebola, from economic uncertainty to ecological destruction. But this zombie narrative also brings us emotional and spiritual comfort. These apocalyptic stories, in which the world has been turned upside down and protagonists face the prospect of an imminent and grisly death, can also offer us wisdom about living in a community, present us with real-world ethical solutions, and invite us into conversation about the value and costs of survival. We may indeed be living with the living dead these days, but through the stories we consume and the games we play, we are paradoxically learning what it means to be fully alive.


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When humankind faces what it perceives as a threat to its very existence, a macabre thing happens in art, literature, and culture: corpses begin to stand up and walk around. The dead walked in the fourteenth century, when the Black Death and other catastrophes roiled Europe. They walked in images from World War I, when a generation died horribly in the trenches. They walke When humankind faces what it perceives as a threat to its very existence, a macabre thing happens in art, literature, and culture: corpses begin to stand up and walk around. The dead walked in the fourteenth century, when the Black Death and other catastrophes roiled Europe. They walked in images from World War I, when a generation died horribly in the trenches. They walked in art inspired by the Holocaust and by the atomic attacks on Japan. Now, in the early twenty-first century, the dead walk in stories of the zombie apocalypse, some of the most ubiquitous narratives of post-9/11 Western culture. Zombies appear in popular movies and television shows, comics and graphic novels, fiction, games, art, and in material culture including pinball machines, zombie runs, and lottery tickets. The zombie apocalypse, Greg Garrett shows us, has become an archetypal narrative for the contemporary world, in part because zombies can stand in for any of a variety of global threats, from terrorism to Ebola, from economic uncertainty to ecological destruction. But this zombie narrative also brings us emotional and spiritual comfort. These apocalyptic stories, in which the world has been turned upside down and protagonists face the prospect of an imminent and grisly death, can also offer us wisdom about living in a community, present us with real-world ethical solutions, and invite us into conversation about the value and costs of survival. We may indeed be living with the living dead these days, but through the stories we consume and the games we play, we are paradoxically learning what it means to be fully alive.

30 review for Living with the Living Dead: The Wisdom of the Zombie Apocalypse

  1. 4 out of 5

    Brandi

    I was rather surprised this book was as heavy with religion as it was, since I did not get that from the summary for the work that is written on Goodreads. Some readers may take issue with it, but the book is still an interesting read. Sometimes I feel like I am living in a zombie apocalypse and with several dive bars near where I live, sometimes, late at night, it looks like the zombie apocalypse, but I digress... Overall, Mr. Greg Garrett's book is an interesting study of the current zombie phe I was rather surprised this book was as heavy with religion as it was, since I did not get that from the summary for the work that is written on Goodreads. Some readers may take issue with it, but the book is still an interesting read. Sometimes I feel like I am living in a zombie apocalypse and with several dive bars near where I live, sometimes, late at night, it looks like the zombie apocalypse, but I digress... Overall, Mr. Greg Garrett's book is an interesting study of the current zombie phenomena and what can be taken from this trend. I'm not quite sure I'll ever look at zombie movies in quite the same way again. I would rate this book a 4.4. My copy of this book was obtained from a Goodreads giveaway.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bruce Gargoyle

    I received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley. DNF at 40% Ten Second Synopsis: An in-depth examination of the popularity of the zombie apocalypse and the social environments that give rise to this. I put this one down after 40% simply because I felt the author had done his job too well, and I had heard enough on the topic that I agreed with. The book highlights the ways in which the imagery of the undead often accompanies moments in history that trigger instability and a sense of I received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley. DNF at 40% Ten Second Synopsis: An in-depth examination of the popularity of the zombie apocalypse and the social environments that give rise to this. I put this one down after 40% simply because I felt the author had done his job too well, and I had heard enough on the topic that I agreed with. The book highlights the ways in which the imagery of the undead often accompanies moments in history that trigger instability and a sense of doom. The book focuses on different aspects of the human experience that are highlighted by the zombie apocalypse narrative - the strength of community, for instance - and does this by examining the themes and events common to various iconic zombie-related pop cultural phenomenon of recent history. These include The Walking Dead, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and the satirical Shaun of the Dead. I imagine hardcore fans of these stories will get a new perspective as they watch after reading this book. Even though, of the shows featured, I had only seen Shaun of the Dead (and that a long while ago), it didn't hinder my engagement with the points the author was trying to make. The author himself notes that he makes some of his points from a Christian perspective and while this didn't bother me particularly, it may not be to everyone's taste. The biggest problem I had with the book was that the author made his point so well during the introductory first chapter that I didn't really feel the need to read to the end of the book! If you have a burning interest in pop culture phenomena and how these influence and in turn, are influenced by wider world events, you should find something to keep you amused here.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Wagner

    I'm not a big fan of zombies and this book helped me to understand why. This is a work of nonfiction which analyzes the historical and philosophical roots of the Zombie Apocalypse, going back to the medieval Black Death and as recently as contemporary TV shows. The author views zombies and their fiction portrayals through a number of lenses and attempts to explain their appeal to contemporary society. Overall, this book made for an interesting read and I now have a better appreciation for the re I'm not a big fan of zombies and this book helped me to understand why. This is a work of nonfiction which analyzes the historical and philosophical roots of the Zombie Apocalypse, going back to the medieval Black Death and as recently as contemporary TV shows. The author views zombies and their fiction portrayals through a number of lenses and attempts to explain their appeal to contemporary society. Overall, this book made for an interesting read and I now have a better appreciation for the repulsive zombie.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Robert D. Cornwall

    Is there wisdom to be found in stories of a Zombie Apocalypse? That is a difficult question for me to answer, since I have tended to avoid novels and movies that involve the living dead. Maybe it was going to see Dracula as a child (I had nightmares) that has made me squeamish about such things. In any case, Greg Garrett has written a book to help us discern just such wisdom. With great dexterity, Garrett, who teaches English at Baylor University and is an ordained Episcopal priest, weaves reflec Is there wisdom to be found in stories of a Zombie Apocalypse? That is a difficult question for me to answer, since I have tended to avoid novels and movies that involve the living dead. Maybe it was going to see Dracula as a child (I had nightmares) that has made me squeamish about such things. In any case, Greg Garrett has written a book to help us discern just such wisdom. With great dexterity, Garrett, who teaches English at Baylor University and is an ordained Episcopal priest, weaves reflections on Zombie stories old and recent with theology. Being that I am not a fan of such stories, I found it somewhat difficult at times to work through the book. In other words, as he tells of characters and scenes in books and movies, I simply was at a loss, as I had not had encounters with them. Yet, when he turned to the explanation things began to make sense. I am like the disciples who did not have ears to hear the meaning of Jesus' parables. The point of the book is reflecting on what has become one of the most prominent stories of our time -- this sense that the end is dawning. We live in an apocalyptic moment, when the dead seem to be walking in our midst, seeking to eat our brains. Just look at our politics. Everyone seems to think that all is lost. Perhaps Donald Trump is the messiah or maybe he's the anti-Christ. Garrett writes that his intention is to explore a common story that suggests that "the world faces an impeding or actual breakdown of society because of creatures that are spreading across the earth, killing everyone in their path or turning them into beings like themselves" (p. 6). Thus, as he notes, the stories allow us to wrestle with questions about what it means to be human. The popularity of the stories also suggest that something is going on beyond mere entertainment. They appear to stand in for perceived threats that are looming. They also raise questions about the meaning of life, as well as what it means to be human. In the first chapter, titled "Life, Death, and Zombies," Garrett provides a lengthy discussion of the identity of zombies, introducing us to characters and stories. From there, he takes us into a conversation about community, and then ethics. It's intriguing how one can find meaning in such stories. In the fourth chapter, he asks whether the zombie apocalypse is good or bad. In essence, he brings us into a conversation about the value of apocalyptic stories. These stories reflect a a nihilistic vision. But, if we pay attention to the stories, they give visions of hope. Community emerges. People come together and support one another. He notes that secular apocalypses tend to be devoid of any sense of hope or redemption. The same is not true of religious versions, such as found in Revelation. I found this chapter and its discussion of nihilism especially poignant. Perhaps that is because we seem to live in a time of nihilistic movements like ISIS. He writes that "by admitting that things are bad, by sharing our dread, and by allowing ourselves to mutually agree that we are all a part of this alarming reality, we are at least taking away the suffering experienced by Robert Neville in his solitude. We are not alone, for others suffer alongside us" (p. 203). As noted, if, like me, you do not know these stories or characters, some of the book will be hard sledding. At the same time, there is much to be gained by reading the book. Garrett is a good, insightful author. He knows how to weave the stories (like parables) with the theological reflections. It is a reminder that the prominence of certain genres might tell us something about how we as a society are feeling. That might prove spiritually beneficial.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Overall, the book wasn't bad. It's put into 4 chapters with a conclusion as, arguably, a very long thesis. It ties the study of Zombies in pop-culture to religious studies, as well as other codified beliefs outside religious spectrums, and then dances into human behavior, outright, on and off again. If I have any qualm with the writing, it has to be this: the repetition of key scenes from select movies and shows makes the book, at times, feel unnecessarily tedious. Throughout the chapters, the sa Overall, the book wasn't bad. It's put into 4 chapters with a conclusion as, arguably, a very long thesis. It ties the study of Zombies in pop-culture to religious studies, as well as other codified beliefs outside religious spectrums, and then dances into human behavior, outright, on and off again. If I have any qualm with the writing, it has to be this: the repetition of key scenes from select movies and shows makes the book, at times, feel unnecessarily tedious. Throughout the chapters, the same exact scenes are replayed over and over again on an infinite loop (EG: Columbus being attacked by 406 is mentioned quite a few times, the same scenes from McCarthy's "The Road" are mentioned, The same scenes from "I Am Legend.") It seems the author had quite a bit of source material to draw from (Marvel Zombies, DC's Blackest Night, Game Of Thrones, The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later, I Am Legend, Night Of The Living Dead, The Road, IZombie, Scout's Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse, Shaun Of The Dead, Afterlife With Archie, as well as Poems by TS Eliot and others). So to repeat the same, exact, precise narratives multiple times just seems to be adding to page length, which only makes the book "weighty", but doesn't add any comparative function. Overall, I might suggest hiking through the narrative and/or reading the book if you plan on writing Zombie Fiction or anything similar to it. However, to read merely to read? Or for entertainment? At points, the repetition of various themes (Religious, Atheist, or otherwise), only creates drudgery and leaves a tax on continued interest. (Equally: The narrative of "What makes humans, human", seems to have taken quite a few liberties and pushed them forward as "fact". EG: In comparison to animals and a short segment on "Souls", while ignoring recent studies of: animals learning, and being able to choose their own willful, actionable courses in at the very least, select species.) Despite this: It's a decent book, but it should have been better culled (shorter), and arguably, the editor should have done a better job.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Steve Wiggins

    What's not to like about zombies? Greg Garrett introduces an unexpected theme here with zombies and their religious implications. These two ideas are naturally compatible since the original idea of a zombie derived from Haitian religion. Of course, the zombies in popular culture are something quite different. Garrett ably mines the concept for meaning in understanding religion. Popular culture demonstrates that religion is not really dead. There are many implications for this way of thinking, for What's not to like about zombies? Greg Garrett introduces an unexpected theme here with zombies and their religious implications. These two ideas are naturally compatible since the original idea of a zombie derived from Haitian religion. Of course, the zombies in popular culture are something quite different. Garrett ably mines the concept for meaning in understanding religion. Popular culture demonstrates that religion is not really dead. There are many implications for this way of thinking, for those who are able to see it. Garrett is clearly one. His narrative entertains and informs. Of course, zombies are a vast field these days, and Garrett had to make some decisions about what to leave out as well as what to include. The end result is an enjoyable romp through pop culture with an eye to what it can teach us about religion. I wrote a bit more about the book on my blog as well: Sects and Violence in the Ancient World.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    I’m not sure what I think of this book. Although, the author does an in depth study of society’s obsession with zombies and the zombie apocalypse, I feel it wasn’t enough for a full book. He does compare various zombie movies and the human need for survival and does tie it with religion. Some of it was repetitious and I found myself skimming through some of it. He acknowledges many movies and sometimes over and over again. It is an admirable attempt but too long.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    I love zombie stories and movies, so I jumped at the chance to win this book through Firstreads. This book is quite insightful as to why people are fascinated with zombies. I can't say any of his conclusions surprised me, as I've had many discussions about these same reasons over the years. I highly recommend this book if you are interested in understanding the zombie craze or the psychology behind it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I found this an interesting read, but one that for me that would be better read within a group where you can have discussions as you go along chapter by chapter. I do think this book would be a good one for Pop-culture classes to delve into, discuss, and compare to today's tumultuous times and/or what could become of our futures, as it does have these aspects within it, and could be used for a good debate.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Cat Calcagno

    I was one of those people who definitely didn't get why zombie stories are so popular today and this book opened my eyes to a lot of the appeal and start to recognize tropes in these narratives that I've never noticed before. I'm seriously way more interested in zombie stories now after reading this.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    An in-depth examination of the popularity of the zombie apocalypse and the social environments that give rise to this. I would say this book is for all the folks who, like me, are asking: why are zombies so popular? Garrett's book considers an answer from a variety of lenses.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Fran

    While a trifle heavy on the religious side, this was an interesting look at the psychology and philosophy behind the media fascination with zombies.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sofia

    A very heartwarming reflection on a subgenre I love. A reminder to carry the light in the darkest times.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Van

    In my opinion the book was okay. As I was reading I felt a little bored I think because it was repeated movie references and other points.

  15. 5 out of 5

    John Carter McKnight

  16. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sonicsputnick

  18. 5 out of 5

    Isabela

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Ronsen

  20. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

  21. 5 out of 5

    Dwayne Shugert

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ana Cole

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sam

  24. 4 out of 5

    Paul Retkwa

  25. 4 out of 5

    Adrianna Lamonge

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sethia

  27. 4 out of 5

    Graven

  28. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Felicetti

    I reviewed this book on Episcopal Cafe: https://www.episcopalcafe.com/book-re... I reviewed this book on Episcopal Cafe: https://www.episcopalcafe.com/book-re...

  29. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mary Corvo

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