Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by 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 and pulling himself aboard. 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, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails. As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile. 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. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion. His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.

In her long-awaited new book, Laura Hillenbrand writes with the same rich and vivid narrative voice she displayed in Seabiscuit. Telling an unforgettable story of a man’s journey into extremity, Unbroken is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit.


I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The history geek in me has always fostered a love of WWII and the "Greatest Generation." For me, this time period exemplifies all that is good and evil in human nature. Louis Zamperini's story is so amazing that at times it was hard to remember that this was a nonfiction book. If I hadn't kept reminding myself that it was all true, I could have easily believed that it was a work of fiction, made with the express purpose of filling the reader with a sense of suspense and amazement. Just when I thought that the events of Louis's life couldn't get any worse, some other misfortune befell him. The things that this man had to endure are truly inconceivable, but what amazed me the most was that he made it through to the other side. It's sad to think how many didn't.

I liked Hillenbrand's writing style. It was fact based (including several footnotes), but not dry and boring. It read like a story, rather than a straight forward biography, and she weaved the different "character" stories together artfully. I think that she presented Louis in a way that made him human - she didn't shy away from his faults and sins, nor did she paint him as a glorified hero. Instead, I think she struck the perfect balance. The result was a remarkable testament to the human spirit.  

The story left me with a feeling of gratitude and respect for this dying generation, as well as all our service men and women. It is so easy today to take these men and women, and their sacrifices, for granted because the wars they fight are so far removed from us. The advances in our military and technology allow our country to be at war, without it really impacting the average citizens's everyday life. It was so different then. We were at war overseas and at home. While I was reading Louis story, especially the part about his struggles after returning home, I couldn't help but think about the veterans that I know and the few that make the news, who struggle to integrate back into society after literally putting their lives on the line. I couldn't help but feel like in many ways we (the collective we) fail them. But I also continue to be amazed by their stories of bravery and their willingness to stand on the front line. It takes a special breed of person to do that, and I am profoundly grateful to them all. 

Sorry, went off on a tangent there...  

Anyway, I highly recommend this book, even if you are not a history nerd/nonfiction fan. I thought the story was compelling and well written, and it made for an entertaining read.

2015 Reading Challenge: A book that became a movie

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