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Distributed for Reaktion Books


A Cultural History

Distributed for Reaktion Books


A Cultural History

Add a gurgling moan with the sound of dragging feet and a smell of decay and what do you get? Better not find out. The zombie has roamed with dead-eyed menace from its beginnings in obscure folklore and superstition to global status today, the star of films such as 28 Days LaterWorld War Z, and the outrageously successful comic book, TV series, and video game—The Walking Dead. In this brain-gripping history, Roger Luckhurst traces the permutations of the zombie through our culture and imaginations, examining the undead’s ability to remain defiantly alive.
Luckhurst follows a trail that leads from the nineteenth-century Caribbean, through American pulp fiction of the 1920s, to the middle of the twentieth century, when zombies swarmed comic books and movie screens. From there he follows the zombie around the world, tracing the vectors of its infectious global spread from France to Australia, Brazil to Japan. Stitching together materials from anthropology, folklore, travel writings, colonial histories, popular literature and cinema, medical history, and cultural theory, Zombies is the definitive short introduction to these restless pulp monsters. 

224 pages | 60 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2015

Culture Studies

Film Studies

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“Luckhurst tells the sinuous tale of the life of the zombie with evident glee in a book that is academically valid but fun to read.” 


“Luckhurst offers a mindful exploration of mindless violence. He is thoroughly well informed, and his writing proves lively and critically astute. It’s hard to imagine a significantly better book on the zombie phenomenon.”

London Review of Books

“From their emergence in the 1920s Western imagination to their position today as the go-to trope for a generation ‘flatlined by the alienating tedium of modern life,’ zombies have proved remarkably flexible metaphors. They have come to embody the Other, the economic zeitgeist, and even ourselves. This entertaining study begins in Haiti, with 19th-century America’s fears about vodou.” 

Sunday Telegraph

“Luckhurst is characteristically acute on many of these recent iterations, reading modern zombiedom with his usual swashbuckling confidence. . . . Never does he allow the familiarity of the more modern material to overshadow the beginnings of the phenomenon. No matter how it is diluted, parodied, or misunderstood, the rage of the zombie’s origin, of these ‘ambulatory dead,’ endures still, as a kind of haunting.” 

Times Literary Supplement

“As we discover in Roger Luckhurst’s always entertaining history of the walking dead, this evolution in the zombie’s homicidal efficacy has been mirrored by a rapid evolution in their cultural significance. . . . Such irreverence and range is characteristic of Luckhurst, who mixes pop cultural connoisseurship with scholarly rigour to great effect. . . . His style is engaging, his commentary lucid, and his message clear: they’re coming to get you, however fast you run.” 

Daily Telegraph

“As Roger Luckhurst declares in his alternately solemn and zany book. . . . the zombie’s history is a delayed but gruesomely satisfactory revenge, another version of the archetypal Freudian plot that narrates the return of the repressed.” 


“Luckhurst’s breadth is immense and he has managed to corral a huge subject into a very helpful primer for anyone interested in the latest monster on the block.”

Los Angeles Review of Books

“Gory and highly informative. . . . an entertaining history of those who continue to walk among us, even after death.”


“A short review cannot do full justice to this book. I urge you to read it and, for those who have never read Roger Luckhurst before, seek out many of his other writings. What he does brilliantly is weave culture, politics, and history into a singular tapestry that leaves scope for thought and discussion. The history of zombies is, in his hands, demonstrably worthy of our attention and time.”

Hong Kong Review of Books

“Straddling the gap between popular and scholarly writing, Roger Luckhurst’s masterly study sets out a rich and fascinating chronological account of the zombie’s history.”

Review 31

“Entertaining and informative. It is more than worth having a read if you are a fan of the flesh eating, mindless killing machine that is the zombie.”

Impulse Gamer

“Such irreverence and range is characteristic of Luckhurst, who mixes pop cultural connoisseurship with scholarly rigour to great effect . . . his style is engaging, his commentary lucid, and his message clear: they're coming to get you, however fast you run.”

Daily Telegraph

“No matter how lurid and pulpy, popular culture is Luckhurst’s meat and drink, and he’s a connoisseur. He interprets historical shifts and nuance with scrupulous attention to detail and a lucid grasp of the larger picture; in this succinct yet rich study, the case he makes for zombies’ political and psychological significance is compelling, disturbing, and consistently lively.” 

Marina Warner, author of Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale

“Luckhurst’s wide-ranging history of this cult phenomenon is a richly detailed and eminently readable, nuanced, and rigorous story. He outlines the different shapes the complex, colonially driven monster takes in its century-long journey through the imperial American sub-Zeitgeist—including its surprising global resurrection in the new millennium. Everyone from Zora Neale Hurston to 1950s pulp comics to esoteric space scientists and Kirkman had a hand in fashioning the imaginary creature we know today as the zombie.”

Victoria Nelson, author of Gothicka and The Secret Life of Puppets

Table of Contents

1. From Zombi to Zombie: Lafcadio Hearn and William Seabrook
2. Phantom Haiti
3. The Pulp Zombie Emerges
4. The First Movie Cycle: White Zombie to Zombies on Broadway
5. Felicia Felix-Mentor: The ‘Real’ Zombie
6. After 1945: Zombie Massification
7. The Zombie Apocalypse: Romero’s Reboot and Italian Horrors
8. Going Global
Select Bibliography
Photo Acknowledgements

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