The pending zombie apocalypse has inspired a vast recent wave of movies, comics, books, a TV show, bar crawls, and college games. Now two professors are trying to use the public’s love of the living dead as a teaching tool, with dramatically varying success.

Daniel W. Drezner is an international politics professor at Tufts University, a contributing editor to Foreign Policy and the author of several more standard political-science texts. In Theories Of International Politics And Zombies, he works to explain the four major theories of international relations through the lens of how they might react to the dead rising. The book is a tiny 136 pages, but the early parts, where he lays out his zombie terminology, drag a bit when they aren’t peppered with amusing points like his argument that the difference between fast and slow zombies would ultimately prove irrelevant on a global scale.


While he largely sticks to zombie canon like George A. Romero’s films and Max Brooks’ book World War Z, he sometimes stretches the narrative a little far to suit his metaphor. According to realpolitik, zombies would not be considered a threat, since they aren’t a state, so he leaps from portrayals of tool-using zombies to the possible evolution of a zombie state that could try to justify its quest for brains before the United Nations.

For the most part, Theories Of International Politics And Zombies is clever, nicely dissecting the strengths and weaknesses of different theories and offering observations about how, for instance, constructivists should destroy all previously published zombie-apocalypse movies, lest people actually act as selfishly as most characters in those films do. While most zombie narratives start after government has failed, Drezner is far more optimistic that through cooperation, humanity would survive a zombie outbreak.

Steven C. Schlozman, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, focuses on the medical nature of zombies in his debut novel, The Zombie Autopsies: Secret Notebooks From The Apocalypse. Schlozman provides shrewd neurological explanations for common zombie behavior: In his world, a disease that combines influenza and prions, the infectious agent responsible for mad-cow disease, consumes the frontal lobe while leaving the brainstem and hypothalamus intact, resulting in people that aggressively try to satisfy their unending hunger with only animal-level brain function. Damage to the area of the brain that controls balance is responsible for their signature ambling gait, and brain swelling from high fever combined with bone deterioration from malnutrition is why zombie heads tend to explode so dramatically when shot.


Unfortunately, it only takes a few pages to share all those ideas, and the rest of Secret Notebooks feels like poorly thought-out padding. The book constantly reiterates that the scientists are desperately trying to find a third pathogen they believe may be part of the disease, while working to grasp how some parts of the body continue to thrive while the rest is ruined. The story is told through the journal of a Center For Disease Control researcher, and while the repetition may be meant to show his mental degeneration as he becomes a zombie, it’s just annoying.

Many of the major plot points are also nonsensical. In Schlozman’s 2012, governments have taken to nuking zombie-infested cities, causing widespread environmental damage, but scientists still won’t dissect the brains of humans who are infected but have not yet turned. The disease is said to spread like the flu, yet for some reason, researchers working with zombies always contract it, with no reason given as to why a Hazmat suit wouldn’t protect them. Even with this universal contagion known, governments continue to send their best virologists to a lab known as The Crypt, where a human’s expected lifespan is two weeks, and much of that will be spent mentally declining due to the disease or medication used to slow its progress. It seems like a fiat created solely to let Schlozman graphically describe physical and psychological decline. It’s a particularly disappointing execution of a promising premise.