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The Undead and Philosophy – a review

April 15, 2010

My first reaction to hearing about this book was approximately this. Philosophy of the undead? Yeah, right. While books like this – the philosophy of [enter pop culture icon] – do come up fairly frequently, their quality is often dubious: they’re filled with pseudo-philosophy and illogical leaps and generalizations. Why is this? Probably because they’re written by self-taught kitchen philosophers and the like. Don’t get me wrong, books like that are often very entertaining, but they also tend to lack enough hard substance to make you really want to delve in. I’m happy to say that The Undead and Philosophy – chicken soup for the soulless positively surprised me.

Part of the ongoing series of books called Popular Culture and Philosophy (which I will definitely check out, if the quality equals this book), the Undead and Philosophy consists of 19 articles by various philosophy professionals – professors and associate professors mostly – focusing on the philosophical questions that surround the undead, the term in this book meaning zombies and vampires. While some people might dismiss something like this outright – a few friends of mine did – the questions are actually valid and interesting. Here are some examples of articles in the book:

  • The Badness of Undeath by Richard Greene – Is it actually bad being undead? Is undeath bad in itself?
  • When They Aren’t Eating Us, They Bring Us Together: Zombies and the American Social Contract by Leah A. Murray – Individualism and communitarianism in the event of a zombie apocalypse.
  • Zombies, Blade Runner and the Mind-Body Problem by Larry Hauser – The self awareness of zombies paralleled with the replicants in the movie Blade Runner.

Now if these didn’t sound interesting, this probably isn’t the book for you. If they did, read on!

One thing that strikes me as excellent in this book is that the writers know their undead culture sufficiently. They’ve seen their Romeros, Draculas and Buffys, so they can pose valid questions and observations. For a reader like me, with some knowledge in philosophy and a lot more in undead pop culture, this is of huge importance, as failure in either category immediately knocks the book down a notch.

Simplifying the classic philosophical theories to a comprehensible level is a challenge in itself, and again one which the book clears. Many of the writers are teachers, and it shows. They do a good job of making the book an easy read without dumbing it down too much.

The great thing in this book is that it adds a whole new level to the horror genre that we love so much. The articles in the book sparked a lot of those “hey, that’s true, I never thought about it that way” and whenever a book manages to do this, it gets a solid thumbs up from me. I know that watching the movies dealt with in this book after reading it will make me see them in a new light. Not a bad achievement, since we’re talking about films I’ve seen time and time again.

Overall verdict: You’re apparently already interested in the undead since you’re reading this blog. If you have even a passing interest in philosophy to boot, I strongly suggest you pick up this book. It’s bound to give you a few new points of view.

The Undead and Philosophy is edited by Richard Greene and K. Silem Mohammad, and you can get it in bookstores around the world. I picked mine up from  The Book Depository for 14 EUR.

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5 comments

  1. As a sociology and psychology student myself, you had me at “When They Aren’t Eating Us, They Bring Us Together: Zombies and the American Social Contract”.

    🙂


  2. As a university library director I buy most of the books in this series. They are in high interest areas for students and the philosophy is well written. These books allow a student research sophisticated arguments within areas that they have an interest. nice review!


    • Thanks for the comments! Having studied ethics, education and behavioral science, this one was right up my alley as well!


  3. […] the question of zombies with a degree of seriousness. Actually, I’ve even reviewed one or two. While TIPZ has its fair share of humour, it still presents us with the very very interesting […]


  4. […] is a lot to the cultural niche that is zombies (see these two for example). While it’s strongly anchored in gory and often trashy entertainment, there are […]



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