The New York Times
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemptionby Laura Hillenbrand
On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane's bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft. So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the… See more details below
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On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane's bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft. So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.
The lieutenant's name was Louis Zamperini. In boyhood, he'd been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent. As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics. But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown.
Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will. Unbroken is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit.
The New York Times
Almost three quarters into Unbroken, the book's subject, World War II airman Louis Zamperini, is transferred from one Japanese POW camp, Omori, to another, called Naoetsu. When Laura Hillenbrand writes, "Of the many hells that Louie had known in this war, this place would be the worst," the effect is jarring. By this point in the narrative Zamperini has already crashed into the Pacific, drifted on a life raft for 47 days surviving on little more than rainwater, been captured by the Japanese, and been beaten and nearly starved at three previous camps. How much more can he take?
Things do get worse at Naoetsu: under the sadistic rule of Corporal Mutsuhiro Watanabe, called the Bird by prisoners, Louie (as he's referred to throughout the book) is forced into slave labor and falls gravely ill before the camp's liberation in August 1945. It is Hillenbrand's great accomplishment that the heart of Unbroken, describing the more than two brutal years between Louie's crash and his unlikely return home, is not an exhausting catalog of misery but a suspenseful and at times uplifting testament to human survival. And just as Hillenbrand's previous book, Seabiscuit, was about more than a horse, so Unbroken ends up being about more than the punishing wartime experiences of one man.
Louis Zamperini, son of Italian immigrants, was born in 1917 and grew up in Torrance, California. According to Hillenbrand, he was "untamable" in childhood, picking up smoking at age 5 and drinking at 8. He seemed to be headed for a life of crime until his older brother, Pete, began coaching him in track. Louie, a naturally gifted runner, immediately started winning meets and breaking records, and he ended up representing the United States in the 5000-meter race at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He didn't win, but his performance impressed Hitler, who asked to meet him.
Louie's dreams of medaling at the 1940 Olympics were of course dashed by the war. As an Army Air Forces bombardier, Louie -- under the assured flying of Russell Allen Phillips, piloting a B-24 -- participated in a number of combat missions in the Pacific theater. But it was a rescue mission that sent Louie, Phillips, and nine other men into the air on May 27, 1943, searching for a B-24 that had gone down. When their plane crashed in turn, only Louie, Phillips, and one other man, a tail gunner named Francis "Mac" McNamara, survived.
Hillenbrand describes the men's 47-day ordeal at sea in wrenching detail, including the constant circling of sharks, an attack by a Japanese bomber on the 27th day, and Mac's death on the 33rd. By the time they reached land, having drifted 2000 miles to the Marshall Islands, each man had lost at least half his body weight. While Louie and Phillips were treated kindly by the stunned Japanese who found them, they were soon transferred to Kwajalein, nicknamed Execution Island, where, separated into tiny, sweltering, dark cells teeming with lice, mosquitoes, and maggots, Louie actually "missed the raft."
As Unbroken recounts the trials that Louie faced during and after the war (much of the narrative is based on interviews with him), Hillenbrand often pulls back to paint a broader picture. An exhaustive researcher, she provides context on everything from wartime flight (in the Pacific theater, "for every plane lost in combat, some six planes were lost in accidents," and search planes may have been more likely to go down than to find the men they were searching for) to the neglected stories of Pacific POWs. "Of the 34,648 Americans held by Japan, 12,935 -- more than 37 percent -- died. By comparison, only 1 percent of Americans held by the Nazis and Italians died," she writes, explaining that the Japanese contempt for POWs was rooted in a cultural belief that "to be captured in war was intolerably shameful."
Hillenbrand also paces the book expertly, inserting affirming moments of grace and heroism just when the narrative is getting unbearably grim. She describes the kindnesses of several Japanese guards and POWs -- including Louie, who once gave his ration to a critically ill friend, calling it "the hardest and easiest thing he ever did." She also details the "humming underground of defiance" that existed at the camps, the risky acts of rebellion through which captives communicated war news to each other and stole food. Louie was even able to keep a diary with a tiny book made of flattened rice paste sewn into pages.
Now 93, the remarkable Zamperini has outlived his siblings, his wife, and most everyone he served with. His first years home were clouded by nightmares, heavy drinking, and an obsession with revenge, and he credits a conversion at a revival led by a young Billy Graham with turning his life around. Louie (who told his own story in a 2003 autobiography, Devil at My Heels) eventually founded a camp for troubled boys. He has visited Japan and met with some of his former captors. He's carried the Olympic torch at five different Games. The book includes a photograph of him riding a skateboard at 81.
But, as Hillenbrand seems to acknowledge by dedicating Unbroken to "the wounded and the lost," the book is haunted by the presence of those who didn't survive the war. In Louie's cell at Execution Island someone had carved the names of nine marines who'd been captured there and, Louie learned, executed. He carved his name alongside theirs but, of course, met a different fate. While Louis Zamperini is probably -- and deservedly -- about to become as well known as Seabiscuit, it's difficult to read Unbroken without thinking of all the lives cut short and stories never told.
In May 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific and quickly sank, leaving behind only two survivors bobbing helplessly in the restless seas. One of them was Louis Zamperini, a 26-year-old airman who had overcome a troubled past to become an Olympic athlete. After 47 perilous days adrift on a raft, Zamperini and his companion survivor were rescued by the Japanese navy. He remained a prisoner of war until the end of hostilities. This riveting narrative by the author of Seabiscuit is the story of one plucky man. Now ninety-three, Louis Zamperini lives on.
“[A] one-in-a-billion story . . . designed to wrench from self-respecting critics all the blurby adjectives we normally try to avoid: It is amazing, unforgettable, gripping, harrowing, chilling, and inspiring.”—New York
“Staggering . . . mesmerizing . . . Hillenbrand’s writing is so ferociously cinematic, the events she describes so incredible, you don’t dare take your eyes off the page.”—People
“A meticulous, soaring and beautifully written account of an extraordinary life.”—The Washington Post
“Ambitious and powerful . . . a startling narrative and an inspirational book.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Marvelous . . . Unbroken is wonderful twice over, for the tale it tells and for the way it’s told. . . . It manages maximum velocity with no loss of subtlety.”—Newsweek
“Moving and, yes, inspirational . . . [Laura] Hillenbrand’s unforgettable book . . . deserve[s] pride of place alongside the best works of literature that chart the complications and the hard-won triumphs of so-called ordinary Americans and their extraordinary time.”—Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air
“Hillenbrand . . . tells [this] story with cool elegance but at a thrilling sprinter’s pace.”—Time
“Unbroken is too much book to hope for: a hellride of a story in the grip of the one writer who can handle it. . . . When it comes to courage, charisma, and impossible adventure, few will ever match ‘the boy terror of Torrance,’ and few but the author of Seabiscuit could tell his tale with such humanity and dexterity. Hillenbrand has given us a new national treasure.”—Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run
“Riveting . . . an exceptional portrait . . . So haunting and so beautifully written, those who fall under its spell will never again feel the same way about World War II and one of its previously unsung heroes.”—The Columbus Dispatch
“Magnificent . . . incredible . . . [Hillenbrand] has crafted another masterful blend of sports, history and overcoming terrific odds; this is biography taken to the nth degree, a chronicle of a remarkable life lived through extraordinary times.”—The Dallas Morning News
“No other author of narrative nonfiction chooses her subjects with greater discrimination or renders them with more discipline and commitment. If storytelling were an Olympic event, [Hillenbrand would] medal for sure.”—Salon
“A celebration of gargantuan fortitude . . . full of unforgettable characters, multi-hanky moments and wild turns . . . Hillenbrand is a muscular, dynamic storyteller.”—The New York Times
“[A] masterfully told true story . . . nothing less than a marvel.”—Washingtonian
“Zamperini’s story is certainly one of the most remarkable survival tales ever recorded. What happened after that is equally remarkable.”—Graydon Carter, Vanity Fair
“Irresistible . . . Hillenbrand demonstrates a dazzling ability—one Seabiscuit only hinted at—to make the tale leap off the page.”—Elle
“A tale of triumph and redemption . . . astonishingly detailed.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“An astonishing testament to the superhuman power of tenacity.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Intense . . . You better hold onto the reins.”—The Boston Globe
“Incredible . . . Zamperini’s life is one of courage, heroism, humility and unflagging endurance.”—St. Louis Post Dispatch
“Hillenbrand has once again brought to life the true story of a forgotten hero, and reminded us how lucky we are to have her, one of our best writers of narrative history. You don’t have to be a sports fan or a war-history buff to devour this book—you just have to love great storytelling.”—Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
The author of Seabiscuit (2001) returns with another dynamic, well-researched story of guts overcoming odds.
Hillenbrand examines the life of Louis Zamperini, an American airman who, after his bomber crashed in the Pacific during World War II, survived 47 days on a life raft only to be captured by Japanese soldiers and subjected to inhuman treatment for the next two years at a series of POW camps. That his life spiraled out of control when he returned home to the United States is understandable. However, he was able to turn it around after meeting Billy Graham, and he became a Christian speaker and traveled to Japan to forgive his tormentors. The author reconstructs Zamperini's wild youth, when his hot temper, insubordination, and bold pranks seemed to foretell a future life of crime. His talents as a runner, however, changed all that, getting him to the 1936 Olympics and to the University of Southern California, where he was a star of the track team. When the story turns to World War II, Hillenbrand expands her narrative to include men who served with him in the Air Corps in the Pacific. Through letters and interviews, she brings to life not just the men who were with Zamperini on the life raft and in the Japanese camps, but the families they left behind. The suffering of the men is often difficult to read, for the details of starvation, thirst and shark attacks are followed by the specifics of the brutalities inflicted by the Japanese, particularly the sadistic Mutsuhiro Watanabe, who seemed dedicated to making Zamperini's life unbearable. Hillenbrand follows Watanabe's life after the Japanese surrender, providing the perfect foil to Zamperini's. When Zamperini wrote to his former tormentor to forgive him and attempted to meet him in person, Watanabe rejected him. Throughout are photographs of World War II bombers, POW camps, Zamperini and his fellow GIs and their families and sweethearts, providing a glimpse into a bygone era. Zamperini is still thriving at age 93.
Alternately stomach-wrenching, anger-arousing and spirit-lifting—and always gripping.
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Read an Excerpt
The One-Boy Insurgency
In the predawn darkness of August 26, 1929, in the back bedroom of a small house inTorrance, California, a twelve-year-old boy sat up in bed, listening. There was a sound coming from outside, growing ever louder. It was a huge, heavy rush, suggesting immensity, a great parting of air. It was coming from directly above the house. The boy swung his legs off his bed, raced down the stairs, slapped open the back door, and loped onto the grass. The yard was otherworldly, smothered in unnatural darkness, shivering with sound. The boy stood on the lawn beside his older brother, head thrown back, spellbound.
The sky had disappeared. An object that he could see only in silhouette, reaching across a massive arc of space, was suspended low in theair over the house. It was longer than two and a half football fields and as tall as a city. It was putting out the stars.
What he saw was the German dirigible Graf Zeppelin. At nearly 800 feet long and 110 feet high, it was the largest flying machine evercrafted. More luxurious than the finest airplane, gliding effortlessly over huge distances, built on a scale that left spectators gasping, it was, in the summer of '29, the wonder of the world.
The airship was three days from completing a sensational feat of aeronautics, circumnavigation of the globe. The journey had begun onAugust 7, when the Zeppelin had slipped its tethers in Lakehurst, New Jersey, lifted up with a long, slow sigh, and headed for Manhattan. On Fifth Avenue that summer, demolition was soon to begin on the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, clearing the way for a skyscraper of unprecedented proportions, the Empire State Building. At Yankee Stadium, in the Bronx, players were debuting numbered uniforms: Lou Gehrig wore No. 4; Babe Ruth, about to hit his five hundredth home run, wore No. 3. On Wall Street, stock prices were racing toward an all-time high.
After a slow glide around the Statue of Liberty, the Zeppelin banked north, then turned out over the Atlantic. In time, land came below again: France, Switzerland, Germany. The ship passed over Nuremberg, where fringe politician Adolf Hitler, whose Nazi Party had been trounced in the 1928 elections, had just delivered a speech touting selective infanticide. Then it flew east of Frankfurt, where a Jewish woman named Edith Frank was caring for her newborn, a girl named Anne. Sailing northeast, the Zeppelin crossed over Russia. Siberian villagers, so isolated that they'd never even seen a train, fell to their knees at the sight of it.
On August 19, as some four million Japanese waved handkerchiefs and shouted "Banzai!" the Zeppelin circled Tokyo and sank onto a landing field. Four days later, as the German and Japanese anthems played, the ship rose into the grasp of a typhoon that whisked it over the Pacific at breathtaking speed, toward America. Passengers gazing from the windows saw only the ship's shadow, following it along the clouds "like a huge shark swimming alongside." When the clouds parted, the passengers glimpsed giant creatures, turning in the sea, that looked like monsters.
On August 25, the Zeppelin reached San Francisco. After being cheered down the California coast, it slid through sunset, into darkness and silence, and across midnight. As slow as the drifting wind, it passed over Torrance, where its only audience was a scattering of drowsy souls, among them the boy in his pajamas behind the house on Gramercy Avenue.
Standing under the airship, his feet bare in the grass, he was transfixed. It was, he would say, "fearfully beautiful." He could feel the rumble of the craft's engines tilling the air but couldn't make out the silver skin, the sweeping ribs, the finned tail. He could see only the blackness of the space it inhabited. It was not a great presence but a great absence, a geometric ocean of darkness that seemed to swallow heaven itself.
The boy's name was Louis Silvie Zamperini. The son of Italian immigrants, he had come into the world in Olean, New York, on January 26, 1917, eleven and a half pounds of baby under black hair as coarse as barbed wire. His father, Anthony, had been living on his own since age fourteen, first as a coal miner and boxer, then as a construction worker. His mother, Louise, was a petite, playful beauty, sixteen at marriage and eighteen when Louie was born. In their apartment, where only Italian was spoken, Louise and Anthony called their boy Toots.
From the moment he could walk, Louie couldn't bear to be corralled. His siblings would recall him careening about, hurdling flora, fauna, and furniture. The instant Louise thumped him into a chair and told him to be still, he vanished. If she didn't have her squirming boy clutched in her hands, she usually had no idea where he was.
In 1919, when two-year-old Louie was down with pneumonia, he climbed out his bedroom window, descended one story, and went on a naked tear down the street with a policeman chasing him and a crowd watching in amazement. Soon after, on a pediatrician's advice, Louise and Anthony decided to move their children to the warmer climes of California. Sometime after their train pulled out of Grand Central Station, Louie bolted, ran the length of the train, and leapt from the caboose. Standing with his frantic mother as the train rolled backward in search of the lost boy, Louie's older brother, Pete, spotted Louie strolling up the track in perfect serenity. Swept up in his mother's arms, Louie smiled. "I knew you'd come back," he said in Italian.
In California, Anthony landed a job as a railway electrician and bought a half-acre field on the edge of Torrance, population 1,800. He and Louise hammered up a one-room shack with no running water, an outhouse behind, and a roof that leaked so badly that they had to keep buckets on the beds. With only hook latches for locks, Louise took to sitting by the front door on an apple box with a rolling pin in her hand, ready to brain any prowlers who might threaten her children.
There, and at the Gramercy Avenue house where they settled a year later, Louise kept prowlers out, but couldn't keep Louie in hand. Contesting a footrace across a busy highway, he just missed getting broadsided by a jalopy. At five, he started smoking, picking up discarded cigarette butts while walking to kindergarten. He began drinking one night when he was eight; he hid under the dinner table, snatched glasses of wine, drank them all dry, staggered outside, and fell into a rosebush.
On one day, Louise discovered that Louie had impaled his leg on a bamboo beam; on another, she had to ask a neighbor to sew Louie's severed toe back on. When Louie came home drenched in oil after scaling an oil rig, diving into a sump well, and nearly drowning, it took a gallon of turpentine and a lot of scrubbing before Anthony recognized his son again. Thrilled by the crashing of boundaries, Louie was untamable. As he grew into his uncommonly clever mind, mere feats of daring were no longer satisfying. In Torrance, a one-boy insurgency was born.
If it was edible, Louie stole it. He skulked down alleys, a roll of lock-picking wire in his pocket. Housewives who stepped from their kitchens would return to find that their suppers had disappeared. Residents looking out their back windows might catch a glimpse of a long-legged boy dashing down the alley, a whole cake balanced on his hands. When a local family left Louie off their dinner-party guest list, he broke into their house, bribed their Great Dane with a bone, and cleaned out their icebox. At another party,he absconded with an entire keg of beer. When he discovered that the cooling tables at Meinzer's Bakery stood within an arm's length of the back door, he began picking the lock, snatching pies, eating until he was full, and reserving the rest as ammunition for ambushes. When rival thieves took up the racket, he suspended the stealing until the culprits were caught and the bakery owners dropped their guard. Then he ordered his friends to rob Meinzer's again.
It is a testament to the content of Louie's childhood that his stories about it usually ended with "...and then I ran like mad." He was often chased by people he had robbed, and at least two people threatened to shoot him. To minimize the evidence found on him when the police habitually came his way, he set up loot-stashing sites around town, including a three-seater cave that he dug in a nearby forest. Under the Torrance High bleachers, Pete once found a stolen wine jug that Louie had hidden there. It was teeming with inebriated ants. In the lobby of the Torrance theater, Louie stopped up the pay telephone's coin slots with toilet paper. He returned regularly to feedwire behind the coins stacked up inside, hook the paper, and fill his palms with change. A metal dealer never guessed that the grinning Italian kid who often came by to sell him armfuls of copper scrap had stolen the same scrap from his lot the night before. Discovering, while scuffling with an enemy at a circus, that adults would give quarters to fighting kids to pacify them, Louie declared a truce with the enemy and they cruised around staging brawls before strangers.
To get even with a railcar conductor who wouldn't stop for him, Louie greased the rails. When a teacher made him stand in a corner for spitballing, he deflated her car tires with toothpicks. After setting a legitimate Boy Scout state record in friction-fire ignition, he broke his record by soaking his tinder in gasoline and mixing it with match heads, causing a small explosion. He stole a neighbor's coffee percolator tube, set up a sniper's nest in a tree, crammed pepper-tree berries into his mouth, spat them through the tube, and sent the neighborhood girls running.
His magnum opus became legend. Late one night, Louie climbed the steeple of a Baptist church, rigged the bell with piano wire, strung the wire into a nearby tree, and roused the police, the fire department, and all of Torrance with apparently spontaneous pealing. The more credulous townsfolk called it a sign from God.
Only one thing scared him. When Louie was in late boyhood, a pilot landed a plane near Torrance and took Louie up for a flight. One might have expected such an intrepid child to be ecstatic, but the speed and altitude frightened him. From that day on, he wanted nothing to do with airplanes.
In a childhood of artful dodging, Louie made more than just mischief. He shaped who he would be in manhood. Confident that he was clever, resourceful, and bold enough to escape any predicament, he was almost incapable of discouragement. When history carried him into war, this resilient optimism would define him.
Louie was twenty months younger than his brother, who was everything he was not. Pete Zamperini was handsome, popular, impeccably groomed, polite to elders and avuncular to juniors, silky smooth with girls, and blessed with such sound judgment that even when he was a child, his parents consulted him on difficult decisions. He ushered his mother into her seat at dinner, turned in at seven, and tucked his alarm clock under his pillow so as not to wake Louie, with whom he shared a bed. He rose at two-thirty to run a three-hour paper route, and deposited all his earnings in the bank, which would swallow every penny when the Depression hit. He had a lovely singing voice and a gallant habit of carrying pins in his pant cuffs, in case his dance partner's dress strap failed. He once saved a girl from drowning. Pete radiated a gentle but impressive authority that led everyone he met, even adults, to be swayed by his opinion. Even Louie, who made a religion out of heeding no one, did as Pete said.
Louie idolized Pete, who watched over him and their younger sisters, Sylvia and Virginia, with paternal protectiveness. But Louie was eclipsed, and he never heard the end of it. Sylvia would recall her mother tearfully telling Louie how she wished he could be more like Pete. What made it more galling was that Pete's reputation was part myth. Though Pete earned grades little better than Louie's failing ones, his principal assumed that he was a straight-A student. On the night of Torrance's church bell miracle, a well-directed flashlight would have revealed Pete's legs dangling from the tree alongside Louie's. And Louie wasn't always the only Zamperini boy who could be seen sprinting down the alley with food that had lately belonged to the neighbors. But it never occurred to anyone to suspect Pete of anything. "Pete never got caught," said Sylvia. "Louie always got caught."
Nothing about Louie fit with other kids. He was a puny boy, and in his first years in Torrance, his lungs were still compromised enough from the pneumonia that in picnic footraces, every girl in town could dust him. His features, which would later settle into pleasant collaboration, were growing at different rates, giving him a curious face that seemed designed by committee. His ears leaned sidelong off his head like holstered pistols, and above them waved a calamity of black hair that mortified him. He attacked it with his aunt Margie's hot iron, hobbled it in a silk stocking every night, and slathered it with so much olive oil that flies trailed him to school. It did no good.
And then there was his ethnicity. In Torrance in the early 1920s, Italians were held in such disdain that when the Zamperinis arrived, the neighbors petitioned the city council to keep them out. Louie, who knew only a smattering of English until he was in grade school, couldn't hide his pedigree. He survived kindergarten by keeping mum, but in first grade, when he blurted out "Brutte bastarde!" at another kid, his teachers caught on. They compounded his misery by holding him back a grade.
He was a marked boy. Bullies, drawn by his oddity and hoping to goad him into uttering Italian curses, pelted him with rocks, taunted him, punched him, and kicked him. He tried buying their mercy with his lunch, but they pummeled him anyway, leaving him bloody. He could have ended the beatings by running away or succumbing to tears, but he refused to do either. "You could beat him to death," said Sylvia, "and he wouldn't say 'ouch' or cry." He just put his hands in front of his face and took it. As Louie neared his teens, he took a hard turn. Aloof and bristling, he lurked around the edges of Torrance, his only friendships forged loosely with rough boys who followed his lead. He became so germophobic that he wouldn't tolerate anyone coming near his food. Though he could be a sweet boy, he was often short-tempered and obstreperous. He feigned toughness, but was secretly tormented. Kids passing into parties would see him lingering outside, unable to work up the courage to walk in.
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Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen
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I couldn't tear myself away from this long book once I started! Louis Zamperini was an average little boy until he became a teenager. It was then that he learned to run. He went to the Berlin Olympics to represent the USA. But this isn't what this book is about. It's raw, exciting and gripping, about salvation, survival, fighting inner and outer demons, suffering horrific pain. The trouble began when he was called into service, like so many young American men, to fight the Japanese. His greatest feat was his survival of an Air force plane crash in the Pacific during WWII, then somehow surviving being a prisoner of war, the torture, starvation, beatings. As painful as it was to read the POW camp accounts, the remarkable, miraculous thing is that Zamperini and the others managed to persevere and survive. The book continued after this horrific experience to detail the after effects fighting the inner demons to get back to a place of peace. This is an excellent story, an excellent account, excellent writing and an excellent lesson. I big time recommend!
I have just finished an advanced copy of Unbroken, the true story of Louis Zamperini and realized I have read the next New York Times Bestseller and looked up to see if it had already been optioned for a movie, because that is what I saw when I was reading it; an Oscar Award film playing from the pages of an incredible but absolutely true story. Ms. Hillenbrand is the award winning, #1 New York times Bestselling Author of Seabiscuit and it took seven years to research and write this book. The cover sheet in the advance reader copy a publishing executive writes to readers that she is humbled to write about this book, the author and its subject. I was certainly humbled to read it. Ms. Hillenbrand very successfully brings Louie's life, from his mischievous childhood, through his Olympic experiences, and the extremes of his military service to the reader with such detail as to be physically palpable. My father served in the Navy in the Pacific and I have always been partial to the history of that theater of World War II so I was drawn by the book jacket to read this. Being from the East coast, I had not heard of Mr. Zamperini, so I have completely consumed by this incredible journey of a book and the life of the man. It carried me through every emotion and I found myself laughing out loud, reaching for tissues, and holding my breath in suspense. Sometimes I was afraid to turn a page and then at the same time afraid not to. From cover to cover, I could not put it down. As we have just past the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II and come close to the end of 2010 with Veterans Day, I would like to thank Mr. Zamperini for his service and sacrifice (along with my father and those who suffered and gave their lives for our country) and sincere and heartfelt appreciation to Laura Hillenbrand for bringing his story to all and especially to those of us descended from the greatest generation. Don't miss this book. Seabiscuit was a wonderful book. This one is even better !
On June 23, 1943 three American soldiers had been drifting in the Pacific Ocean for twenty seven days. The rafts were deteriorating, their bodies were covered in salt sores, and they didn't know it at the time, but there would be another twenty days of drifting ahead for them. Only two of the three would survive. One of them was former Olympic runner Louis Zamperini whose life would never be the same. Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken is an amazing study in resilience, defiance and strength that takes you on the journey of one man's lifetime. Zamperini was an incorrigible child, a natural runner, and a man who would not be broken. He survived unspeakable torture and deprivation at the hands of his Japanese captors only to find himself being tortured by his memories after returning home at the end of the war. Being over taken with the reoccurring tortures that resided in his mind, Zamperini turned to alcohol. He reclaimed his life after hearing an inspiring speaker in a tent on a street corner in Los Angeles. That speaker was Billy Graham. Graham taught him about total forgiveness. It was then and there that Louie was able to release the hatred and take hold of his own life and destiny. Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit, brought the story of depression era wonder horse to us all. Now she brings us the story of Louis Zamperini, who as of this writing is ninety-three years old and residing in Los Angeles. Hillenbrand said that she came across an article about Louis Zamperini while doing research for Seabiscuit and set it aside. I'm glad she went back to Zamperini's story. In one of her countless interviews with Mr. Zamperini spanning seven years, he assured Hillenbrand that "I'll be an easier subject than Seabiscuit, because I can talk." Although Unbroken is over 450 pages in length, but there's never a dull or lagging moment, just the opposite. The story flows quickly and the suspense keeps you turning the pages. Zamperini's struggle to reclaim his life is beautifully told by Hillenbrand. In Unbroken, Hillenbrand captures the spark of a man determined to survive what he had to and to come out the winner he'd always been. I received this book as an advance readers copy upon my request to the publisher. I like it so much, I'll be at the brick and mortar book store Tuesday to buy a copy to add to my own library.
I am proud to say this man is a member of my family and I grew up hearing his story. This book is a beautiful tribute!
As difficult and complex as this story is, it's easy to read. And don't be stopped because it's a WWII story. It's not so much about combat as all sides of human nature.
"Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand (Website | Facebook)is the amazing non-fiction story of Loius Zamperini (Website| Wikipedia) and American athlete, World War II Air Corp bombardier who survived a crash and interment in a Japanese POW camp. The book is divided into five parts: Part I - where we meet the juvenile delinquent Louis Zamperini and his family. Always getting in trouble for breaking & entering, fighting and stealing, Louis finally finds his calling on the track and becomes a prodigy in short distance running. Part II - After a commanding performance in the Berlin Olympics, Louis' dreams of a medal get tarnished with the events leading to World War II. The athlete becomes an airman. Louis' crew mates and buddies train for bombing missions on their B-24 and even have several successful runs. Feeling lucky to be alive they rejoice everyday until they are forced to go on a rescue mission (the plane they were given was not air worthy) and crash into the Pacific. Part III - Adrift at sea Louie', Phil and Mac survive and astounding 47 fighting sharks, hunger, thirst, heat and cold. They drift 2,000 miles only to become POWs. Part IV - The survives are sent to the dreadful island of Kwajalein, known as "Execution Island" and unexpectedly sent to Yokohama, a POW camp. Louie meets his share of sadistic POW guards, disease, starvation and slave labor. However the stubborn man lives through the ordeal to the end of the war, all the way home. Part V - Louie's home, but the war leaves its scars, both physical and emotional. Epilogue - What happened to the those mentioned in the story. A wrap up. Acknowledgment- well worth reading. The author tells of her research, interviews and more. Notes - Certainly worth a glance. "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand is a gripping, well written and diligently researched book. It is hard to decide what's more amazing, Louis Zamperini's story or Ms. Hillenbrand's telling of it. OK, Mr. Zamperini wins - but by a small margin. The story is amazing, but the prose is brilliant. Ms. Hillenbrand uses a straightforward narrative without testing the reader's knowledge of the English language. Each sentence is plain, clear and understandable, which to me only shows that it was labored on rigorously. The account is so descriptive one can almost feel themselves floating in the shark infest waters for a 1,000 miles with Zamperini and his friends. But "Unbroken" is not only the story of Zamperini, but also of World War II from the vantage point a POW who was uncertain when the sun rose, whether he'll get to see it set again. The confusi0n which the men felt during their time as POWs only expatiated after the war, when they realized the political games being played by the world's leader at their expense. For more book reviews please visit ManOfLaBook dot com
I loved this book! I am a 24 year old female and am not usually drawn to war stories in particular, but this is an amazing story and it was so well written. Laura did an tremendous job researching to create this book and it shows not only in the finite details of the stories, but in the documentations in the back of the book. I cannot phathem how someone thought this would only be for war buffs or how it was depressing. It was reality! I am now intrigued to read more war books but I am also convinced any book written by Laura would be a recommended read.
I tore through this book and found myself staying up late and paying far too much attention to the book instead of getting sleep. Hillenbrand is an excellent writer; her chapters end in a way that I found I couldn't tear myself away and I kept saying to myself "one more chapter." Great work; this book is exhaustingly well researched and written. What an amazing man, and an amazing book. Bravo!
Reviewed by Hana Gabrielle Packard Unbroken is the biography of an incredible man, Louie Zamperini. Hard to imagine anyone living through the tortured existence that Zamperini endured of unfathomable circumstances and unimaginable physical and emotional pain. The author had 75 different interviews with Louie Zamperini. It's an unsettling account of man's inhumanity to man but also of hope and heart that shines through in Hillenbrand's exquisite writing. Zamperini lived his life well from pre World War One through and beyond World War two and he continues in good health today at the age of 94. This is a truly worthwhile read. It's a masterpiece!
"Unbroken" is a wonderful book, studiously researched and evocatively written. Props to Laura for an excellent, wide-ranging, outside-looking-in retelling of Louie's life. Given her illness, Laura is herself heroic. Many congratulations to her on her book's success. For those also interested in the first person version, please seek out Louie's autobiography, "Devil at My Heels: A WWII Hero's Epic Saga of Torment, Survival, and Forgiveness," published in 2003. (A very different version was originally written in 1957, but is long out of print and missing much. The current softcover has the same title, but a different subtitle.) Full disclosure: I helped Louie write "Devil at My Heels" after his late wife, Cynthia Applewhite -- a long-time friend -- called me to suggest that I watch Louie's story on "48 Hours." She said the call was "accidental," but knowing Cynthia, I suspect she was up to something. I watched. I called her immediately and asked about Louie doing a book. He'd simultaneously been contacted by an agent. Cynthia put us all together. I knew of Louie, of course, but actually working with him for two years -- and remaining friends ever since -- has immeasurably enhanced my life, then and now. Taken together these two books tell an unforgettable story.
A beautifully written and captivating story. It took me a while to adjust to the nature of the writing because she has a unique style, but it is very descriptive and definitely takes you into a new world where you are completely invested in the characters. It is highly emotional and evocative and I would recommend it to anyone.
This book is extremely well written; I purchased the audio version and the narration by Edward Herrmann was perfect. I wish all books were so well narrated. The author researched this story very well and her writing is straight forward and clear---there is not one wasted word in this book. I wish I could say the same for all authors! This non-fiction account had me with the first sentence and then I could not stop listening. I am old enough remember that war. I had 2 uncles in the Pacific: one was killed and one was badly wounded. I have never been happy (as I am sure no one is) about using the A-Bomb. This story reminded me why we felt it was necessary to do so.
Loved this book. Could hardly put it down. Makes a person appreciate (even more) what our Vets have gone through for us.
What an incredible story. Well worth reading.
I am so proud to be an American, and this book showcases why. I must admit that I was becoming overrun with anger at the attrocities that our brave POWs had to endure, but the forgiveness showcased at the end truly is the climax of the story.
This is an amazing true story and as I read it on my Nook I could not put it down. Louis was brought to the brink of deaf more than once during the war & somehow managed to receive an incredible inner strengh that would not let him die. More than once I was on the edge of my seat reading till late at night cause I wanted to know what was going happened next. Stories of these brave men should be taught in school what an amazing story of survival.
This book was captivating; I read it from cover to cover in two days, and when I wasn't reading it I was thinking about it. I found the entire book intriguing. Hillenbrand did an amazing job; the way the book is written only adds to this unbelievable true story. Reading it near the anniversary of Pearl Harbor only added to the weight of the story; this unforgettable reminder of the thousands of lives that were lost during World War II is, in my opinion, a must-read.
Only in America could this story have been lived. Only America could have produced a Louis Zamperini. I cheered him as Ms. Hillenbrand described his races. I cheered him when she wrote about his military career in the Pacific. I was aghast at his conditions during his imprisonment. I again cheered with Louie when the B-29's made their first appearance over his prison camp. This book captivated me until the very end. This book is about the life, redemption and forgiveness in the life of an outstanding American hero. I wish I could shake his hand and tell him thank you, face to face.
Sitting on my couch with heat and food when i want, you can't but feel thankful while reading this story of survival and human spirit. This was not just a great WWII story but a trial of the human soul. There are many stories like this but none written better.
Hands down, best book ive ever read!
A read captivating and intense . As the son of a WWII veteran , it was rarely discussed in my home growing up and when it was , it came with teary eyes and cracking voice that never completed the thought,only small pieces of thoses memories emerged.Now I understand the why . After this reading , two haunting questions. How would I have preformed and where do we find such men ?
Just finished reading this book. It was a book that I couldn't put down. I typically do not read war stories but came across this book and I would recommend it especially if you are not a history buff and are looking for an inspiring story. I heard of the POW's and some of what they had to endure but this book took you there to that time in history and you get lost in the story!!!
Slow at first, then couldnt put it down. What an amazing book. Zamp and all other military Thank You. Dont second guess getting this nook. Buy it! God Bless America!
I enjoyed every page of this book. It is one of the best books I have ever read. I highly recommend it. You won't be disappointed.
An amazing story of strong and brave men in horrorific situations. I did not enjoy the authors style, it was eposodic,repedative and choppy.