Unbroken : a World War II airman's story of survival, resilience, and redemption

by Laura Hillenbrand

Hardcover, 2010

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Random House, 2010.

Description

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--Lt. Louis Zamperini. Captured by the Japanese and driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor.

Media reviews

The ideal way to read “Unbroken” would be with absolutely no knowledge of how Mr. Zamperini’s life unfolded. Ms. Hillenbrand has written her book so breathlessly, and with such tight focus, that she makes it difficult to guess what will happen to him from one moment to the next, let alone how long he was able to survive under extreme duress...So “Unbroken” is a celebration of gargantuan fortitude, that of both Ms. Hillenbrand (whose prose shatters any hint of her debilitating fatigue) and Mr. Zamperini’s. It manages to be as exultant as “Seabiscuit” as it tells a much more harrowing, less heart-warming story.

User reviews

LibraryThing member brenzi
If Louie Zamperini had been in your high school class he would have been one of those bad boys that every girl wanted for her boyfriend and every boy wanted to hang out with. Athletically gifted, good looking, highly intelligent, full of himself and yet getting himself into trouble at every turn. He can run like the wind and goes on to compete in the Olympics. He could probably be the first person to run a four minute mile but it’s now 1942 and there’s a World War going on. Soon after Louie’s appearance in Berlin his plans to prepare for the next Olympics are shelved as the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor and Louie is soon training for a different sort of endurance. As a member of the AAF, he is a bombardier assigned to serve his country aboard a B-24 (also known as “The flying coffin) in the Pacific.

The rest of the story, as they say, is history. What Laura Hillenbrand has done, much as she did in Seabiscuit, is to bring to life Zamperini’s story of tremendous courage against unlikely odds, as a castaway and a Japanese POW, and his struggle, after the war, to deal with the memories of his horrific experiences.

And what a story it is. As the narrative unfolds you can’t help but wonder how these young men coped with the shocking conditions they endured at the hands of their captors. But I won’t go into that because Hillenbrand is just so skilled at what she does and the story is so compelling that I’m sure that, like me, you will have a hard time putting this book aside even for a little bit. Very highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member msf59
Louie Zamperini began life as a fleet-footed juvenile delinquent. After a healthy nudge from his older brother, he finds himself in high school track and is quickly smashing state records and suddenly qualifies for the 1936 Olympics. He performs honorably, with his sights firmly on the ‘40 Olympics and then World War II intrudes and Louie finds himself in the Air Corps. He becomes a bombardier and in ’43 his B-24 plane crashes into the Pacific, stranding him and two others, on a skimpy life-raft, for over forty days. Finally, rescue comes but from the Japanese Navy. Off to a hellish POW camp.
This amazing story finds Louie battling sharks, sadistic inhuman prison guards, starvation and later, alcoholism. Somehow this man continues to survive.
Hillenbrand came on the scene in 2002 ,with a little book called “Seabiscuit”, not only introducing us to a wonderful racehorse but giving the non-fiction world a real boost. She does it again here, with her irresistible narrative style and sharp eye for detail. Another winner all the way!
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LibraryThing member tloeffler
If this had been a fiction book, I would have thrown it across the room for being so unrealistic. It is a true story, however, and I am in awe.
Louis Zamperini was an Olympic runner in the 1930s, who joined the Air Force during World War II. He was extremely rambunctious as a child, but when he discovered running, it became a passion for him. After competing in the 1936 Olympics, he joined the Army Air Corps as a bombardier. One day, on a search mission for another plane, his plane went down in the ocean. He and two others survived, and spent the next month and a half drifting on a raft in the Pacific Ocean. They were picked up by the Japanese, and spent the rest of the war in Japanese POW camps.

I can not imagine the strength of will that it took for Zamperini to survive all that he did. The "Resilience" of the title was the most amazing part of the book. And he is still alive and kicking.

Although some of the descriptions of the torture in the book are intense, I would recommend this book to anyone.
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LibraryThing member tututhefirst
Laura Hillenbrand has given us a hero-- Louis Zamperini--of incredible achievements in this story. Many of my parent's generation knew of his exploits, but those of us who were born after WWII may not have heard about his life. It is an incredible story that kept me up late several evenings in a row to finish it.

Zamperini, son of Italian immigrants, made a name for himself in southern California during the 20's and 30's by being a very fast runner. Those in the know were convinced that he would be the runner to break the four minute mile barrier. Louis himself wanted nothing else. His speed earned him a scholarship to USC In the 1936 Olympics, he finished 8th in the 5000 meter race, but had the fastest finishing lap, an achievement that earned him an invitation to meet Adolf Hitler. He returned to the states determined to train to make the next Olympics and break world records. The war intervened.

In September 1941, Louie enlisted in the Army Air Force, got a commission as a 2nd LT, and was subsequently posted to Hawaii to serve as a bombadier. Flying in a B24, his plane was shot down on a search and rescue mission over the Pacific Ocean. Louie, the pilot and the engineer were the only survivors of this horrific crash, and spent the next 47 days floating in life rafts, drifting over 2000 miles, subsisting on rain water, raw fish, and ever rawer courage.

When they were finally rescued, their joy was shortlived--their rescuers where Japanese. Hillenbrand paints the story of their horrific experiences as POWs in a matter-of-fact prose that, along with Hermann's equally matter of fact narration, allowed me to get through the cruelty without feeling that I couldn't handle it. I normally do not read violence this graphic, but somehow had, by this time in the story, become so intent on knowing how Louie handled his captivity and whether he survived and then got on with his life that I had to keep on.

This is an inspiring and affirming story of incredible humaneness as well as staggering inhumanity and cruelty. Louie's life on his return to the living is as interesting and inspiring as his POW service and his athlete prowess. The story transcends generations, genders and readers. It is a 5 star must read.
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LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
This would have been a 5 star book if Hillenbrand could have left off the proselytizing. Instead it turned out to be a book length advertisement for the 700 Club. Church, Country, the Military and Mom's lasagna. If this were an older book I could forgive Hillenbrand for thinking that Americans are eternally good people who would never harm a prisoner of war; but I'm wondering, did she somehow miss the war in Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay? America's light is not shining so brightly after all those revelations.

I also can't believe the idea promoted through the story of Louis Zamperini that god doesn't give you any more than you can bear. He did survive through torture, beating and starvation, and it's wonderful that he got his life back. But thousands and thousands of people didn't. Does that mean that god did give them more than they could bear? Did he miscalculate their mortality whilst putting them through the test of their faith? I'm very disappointed that she promotes such thinking.

I can't say I'd recommend this book to anyone except evangelical christians. For them it's perfect.
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LibraryThing member gooutsideandplay
Sorry, spoilers....

This is one of those rare books that combines superb writing, biographical and historical significance and a message of hope, inspiration and joy. I purchased the Kindle edition on an impulse, because I wanted something to download to my brand-new Kindle on Christmas morning. What a stroke of luck! All during Christmas activities, I kept creeping back to try to finish the book because I couldn't stand the suspense of not knowing what was going to happen next.

Louis Zamperini was a California kid, son of Italian immigrants, whose outstanding athletic abilities saved him from a childhood fraught with turbulence and downright juvenile delinquency. He qualified for the 1936 Olympics and should have been the runner to break the 4 minute mile, if WWII had not intervened. This is only the first part of his amazing life. Hillenbrand takes us through Louis' WWII career with the Airforce, culminating with being one of only three men to survive his plane's crash into the Pacific, 40+ days on a rubber raft fighting off sharks, starvation and madness.

The real heart of the story takes place during Louis' internment at several POW camps in Japan. The brutality, dehumanization and sheer cruelty of the experience was shocking to read. At one point, Louis realizes that the camps' goal was to break down and erase his very humanity. I think this insight really is the main theme of the book -- and the remaining story details how Louis fights to remain "Unbreakable" -- both as a POW and throughout the remainder of his life.

I feel so lucky--- really honored-- to have read this book.
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LibraryThing member karynwhite
What I liked:
- the narrator's voice does not get in the way of the story
- the action - the drama - the anticipation
- while the text is focused on one main person, the writer does a good job of presenting other people in the story including their thoughts/psychology

What I did not like as much:
- At times, I skim read because I was a bit bored and I just wanted to know what happened next
- I usually read fiction, so find the style of bios lacking in poetry
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LibraryThing member lit_chick
2010, Random House Audio, Read by Edward Herrmann

“All he could see, in every direction, was water. It was June 23, 1943. Somewhere on the endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean, Army Air Forces bombardier and Olympic runner Louis Zamperini lay across a small raft, drifting westward. Slumped alongside him was a sergeant, one of his plane’s gunners. On a separate raft, tethered to the first, lay another crewman, a gash zigzagging across his forehead. Their bodies, burned by the sun and stained yellow from the raft dye, had winnowed down to skeletons. Sharks glided in lazy loops around them, dragging their backs along the rafts, waiting.” (Preface)

Louis Zamperini was a hell-on-wheels adolescent, always looking for trouble, and always finding it. His older brother, Pete, hatched a plan to harness Louis’ energy productively. In a few short years, Louis had morphed into a world-renowned Olympic runner. He competed in 1936 Berlin Olympics, but the pursuit of further world records was waylaid by the outbreak of WWII. Louis enlisted in the American Air Force (AAF) as a bombardier. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, the next five years of Louis’ life would be hell-on-Earth.

Hillenbrand writes breathtakingly of AAF missions in the B-24 bomber, an aircraft notorious for its mechanical deficiencies and known amongst crewmen as a “flying coffin.” Crewmen also knew that most downed men were never found. Pacific rescue searches netted only dismal results, and airmen’s survival would be tested by hunger, thirst, exposure to blistering sun by day and chill by night, and insanity. But the worst fear was capture by the Japanese – the Rape of Nanking firmly entrenched in recent memory. For Louis Zamperini, this worst fear materialized. He would spend more than two years in the infamous Japanese POW camps of Ofuna, Omori and Naoetsu. He would survive the ordeal, but he, and thousands like him, who finally returned home did so as torn-down men: humiliated, beaten, tortured, and dehumanized beyond the imagination of civilians. Repatriation would prove to be as perilous as the Pacific POW camps; many would not make it. “For these men, nothing was ever going to be the same.” (Ch 34)

Hillenbrand’s Unbroken is an exceptional read. Edward Herrmann does an exemplary job of narrating this audio edition. I can’t recommend this one highly enough!
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LibraryThing member clif_hiker
I purchased the audio version of this book so as to listen to on the way back and forth to work (about an hours commute each day). As of today I am abandoning the story at about 60% complete. There are several reasons for this:

1) It's really starting to get boring. There's only so much you can say about the brutality of POW camps. Repetition leads to boredom leads to callousness. Louis got up.. The Bird beat him... Louis went to bed... The Bird beat him... Louis got up....etc etc. This AFTER pages on pages of description of life in Ofuna, which was AFTER pages on pages of descriptions of his cell and mistreatment on Kwajalein, which was AFTER about 100 pages of descriptions his 47 day ordeal in a raft. As I said, I have the audio version so perhaps this isn't as long or as big a part of the book as it seems when listening to it.
2) Some stories are somewhat unbelievable. One example is the one Louis describes about running a race against a Japanese athlete and how he somehow found the strength to come back and win the race. For which of course he got beaten. Since Louis' specialty was intermediate distances (the mile or longer), one assumes that this race was at least a mile long. This race supposedly occurred AFTER 47 days in a raft with little food or water, AFTER several weeks on Kwajalien with the described horrific conditions and AFTER several months in Ofuna with daily beatings, little food, and rampant disease. Forgive me if I doubt that any man in those conditions would be able to 'run' any distance, let alone win a race against an athlete not subject to those same conditions.
3) Finally... I can see where this story is going. I knew it when I read the reviews, but I hoped that it wouldn't be so blatant. Forgiveness is one thing... but this is more than unbelievable. A 92 year old man has just been convicted of being a brutal prison guard in Nazi Germany. Yet Isohuro Watanabe is forgiven and forgetten? (I'm speculating at this point since I haven't finished the book... but I did look up Watanabe, and it appears that he's never been arrested for his crimes, and the general consensus is that it wasn't his fault. Or something.) One wonders if there would be so many 5-star reviews if Billy Graham and Louis' conversion story were replaced with a different ending.

I may go back and finish the story later. I did enjoy the Olympics description and the stories of Louis' childhood. But the rest... not so much.
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LibraryThing member labfs39
Louis Zamperini, the subject of the biography Unbroken, led an absolutely amazing life. From a life of childhood delinquency, Zamperini becomes a record-breaking runner, which alone would have made a good story. But Louis' experiences in WWII are equally riveting. Shot down over the Pacific, he breaks more records, and then survives some of the worst Japanese POW camps. His return home is difficult, as it is for most vets, but he perseveres in much the same way as he does with other challenges in his life.

As fascinating as Zamperini's life is, Hillenbrand's writing is equally impressive. Not having read Seabiscuit, this was my first exposure to her straightforward but beautiful prose. Her descriptions, ability to create suspense, and unmelodramatic style kept me turning pages in a "just one more" sense of anticipation.

I particularly enjoyed the chapters on his running career and his war experiences, but the story of his childhood sets the stage for understanding later behaviors. I found the last chapters, detailing his life after the war to be the least interesting, but it is important to hear the homecoming stories, as too often I feel that part of the story is glossed over. I wish, however, that Hillenbrand had spent more time on his post-war running.

All-in-all a fabulous and surprising read that I would recommend to everyone.
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LibraryThing member VivienneR
Louis Zamperini was a rambunctious youngster who discovered he could run fast. After running in the 1936 Olympics, he was on his way to a career as an athlete when war intervened. As a bombardier in the Army Air Corps, his plane was shot down over the Pacific, and with two others, he remained floating on the ocean in a raft for 47 days before landing on a Japanese island. Although drawn out too much, this part was the most interesting. However, after capture, his problems became worse. It's a story that should not be forgotten but there is no redeeming quality in relating the torture at such length. In parts, Hillenbrand suggests the concept that Americans are good, Japanese are bad (except one Japanese, a "Christian" who was good). The bias is especially noticeable in the casualty figures she quotes, statistics that say nothing about the Japanese casualties in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, all civilians. In fact she makes the claim that those bombs saved the lives of prisoners by avoiding a "kill all” order. No one can accurately say what would have happened.

I kept ploughing through it but it's difficult to understand the rave reviews the book has garnered. Hillenbrand's writing is pedestrian and without the nuances of a natural storyteller. The very nature of the story was distressing, but particularly protracted description of torture. A good writer knows that this type of detail is unnecessary to get the point across. As well, Hillenbrand includes information that could not possibly be known by anyone, adding a fictional element. And although I'm glad Zamperini found some relief from his misery, the crowning annoyance was the "born again" ending, reinforcing the American (read Christian) good, Japanese bad. I do not recommend this to anyone.
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LibraryThing member Aprillhatch
Wonderful story and beautifully written. Loved this book
LibraryThing member NovelChatter
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.

If I gave stars, I'd give this one a big 5 out of 5. 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.
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LibraryThing member CarolynSchroeder
This truly is an amazing story of survival, resilience and redemption as predominantly told through the story of Louis Zamperini. However, it is a lot more than that. It is many little untold truths and horrors of WWII as discovered in the journals, letters and oral stories of the soldiers who fought, and were captured, in the "Pacific arena." There are countless staggering statistics on how many died and why - and shockingly, much was not in combat. What also becomes clear is how, in the 50s and beyond, the soldiers did not really feel they could discuss most of the emotional side of that war, for many reasons, but there was so much humiliation, degradation and spirit breaking. Once back in the States, I'm sure it was then time to "be a man" and put that all behind them, when that was asking the impossible. So this is a very sensitive book and one that had me in tears many times over. Despite that, this is a fever pitched survival story and it's a testament to Hillebrand's skill - that she took such a massive amount of research - and told a story that had me actually holding my breath. I recommend this highly to anyone, to really understand the history beyond the Pacific side of WWII. I learned an immense amount. My only small complaint, why I did not give it five stars, is the "redemption" part of the book is so incredibly brief, in fact, most of it was in the Epilogue. I would have loved to learn more about the recovery, redemption and rebuilding of Zamperini's spirit because in that way, he accomplished that which few were able to do: finally put the war behind him.… (more)
LibraryThing member writestuff
All he could see, in every direction, was water. It was June 23, 1943. Somewhere on the endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean, Army Air Forces bombardier and Olympic runner Louie Zamperini lay across a small raft, drifting westward. - from Unbroken, preface -

Louie Zamperini grew up in Torrence, California. He was an intrepid and curious child who fearlessly forged his way through the world. Difficult to manage, always in some sort of trouble, and a talented thief from an early age, Zamperini seemed destined for the criminal life. Luckily, he had an older brother, Pete, who saw greatness in him and steered his energies towards running. Louie was a natural talent and found himself qualifying for the 1936 Berlin Olympics in the 5000 at only nineteen years old. Although he failed to medal, he finished a respectable seventh place in that event and caught the eye of none other than Adolph Hitler. And then WWII unfolded, drawing Zamperini into the military where, despite his fear of flying, he trained as an Army Air Forces bombardier. Sent to the Pacific, he began flying missions aboard a B24 bomber. In June of 1943 while on a rescue mission, Zamperini’s plane went down. He and two crewmen drifted aboard a life raft for more than thirty days, surviving huge waves, hot and unrelenting sun, starvation, dehydration and aggressive sharks…before drifting into Japanese waters and being taken captive. Unbroken is Zamperini’s story of survival against all the odds, but it is also the story of the War in the Pacific, the brutality which thousands of POWs faced as captives of the Japanese, and the resiliency of the human spirit.

Laura Hillenbrand brings the war to the reader with impeccable research and a talent for narrative that is hard to find in many nonfiction books. She spent seven years writing Unbroken, and has introduced a hero who is hard to forget. Hillenbrand peppers first hand accounts with facts about the war to tell Zamperini’s chronological story which is mesmerizing. There were many things I learned that I had not known before…for example, I was stunned to learn that trainees were killed at an astonishing rate before even seeing any combat. For every plane lost in combat, six planes were lost in accidents.

Pilot and navigator error, mechanical failure and bad luck were killing trainees at a stunning rate. In the Army Air Forces, or AAF, there were 52,651 stateside aircraft accidents over the course of the war, killing 14,903 personnel. – from Unbroken, page 61 -

A report issued by the AAF surgeon general suggests that in the Fifteenth Air Force, between November 1, 1943, and May 25, 1945, 70 percent of men listed as killed in action died in operational aircraft accidents, not as a result of enemy action. – from Unbroken, page 80 -

Perhaps even more shocking, the ability to rescue men in downed planes was dismal. Not only were planes poorly equipped for emergencies prior to mid-1944, but search planes were even more likely to crash than combat planes.

The most difficult part of this book to read was that about the lives of prisoners of war. Hillenbrand does not spare her readers any of the brutality and inhumanity which faced servicemen captured by the Japanese. She attempts to explain why those POWs captured in the Pacific theater were the most-ill treated of any prisoners.

Few societies treasured dignity, and feared humiliation, as did the Japanese, for whom a loss of honor could merit suicide. This is likely one of the reasons why Japanese soldiers in World War II debased their prisoners with such zeal, seeking to take from them that which was most painful and destructive to lose. – from Unbroken, page 183 -

The statistics support this cultural phenomenon – indicating that for “every Allied soldier killed, four were captured; for every 120 Japanese soldiers killed, one was captured.

Hillenbrand provides a balanced look at what happened in the POW camps – showing readers that although many Japanese soldiers delighted in the torture and debasement of prisoners, there were those who heroically tried to help POWs…and in so doing, probably saved many lives. She also provides wonderful stories of internal sabotage orchestrated by prisoners. Survival for many, depended on maintaining their dignity, helping others, and actively undermining their enemies.

I raced through this book, reading almost 300 pages in less than 24 hours (a fast pace for me). Hillenbrand is a gifted author, one who carefully uncovers the essence of what it means to be human in the face of cruelty, degradation, and hopelessness. Although graphic at times, I could not stop reading this amazing book.

The book also takes a look at the US decision to drop the A-bomb. A long controversial subject, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is something that I have always steadfastly criticized. Unbroken didn’t necessarily make me change my mind, but it did offer a view from the other side.

A few of the trains slipped past Hiroshima. Virtually every POW believed that the destruction of this city had saved them from execution. John Falconer, a survivor of the Bataan Death March, looked out as Hiroshima neared. “First there were trees,” he told historian Donald Knox. “Then the leaves were missing. As you got closer, branches were missing. Closer still, the trunks were gone and then, as you got in the middle, there was nothing. Nothing! It was beautiful. I realized this was what had ended the war. It meant we didn’t have to go hungry any longer, or go without medical treatment. I was so insensitive to anyone else’s human needs and suffering. I know it’s not right to say it was beautiful, because it really wasn’t. But I believed the end probably justified the means.” - from Unbroken, page 320 -

Hillenbrand provides a copious bibliography and explained that she cross-checked individual accounts against the historical record to ensure accuracy of reporting. The result is a touching biography of a resolutely courageous man. Unbroken will surely be a favorite read for book clubs – it provides much to discuss. It is definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member jolerie
This self-respect and sense of self-worth, the innermost armament of the soul, lies at the heart of humanness; to be deprived of it is to be dehumanized, to be cleaved from, and cast below, mankind. Page 188

Louis Zamperini was a delinquent teenager who was used to running from the local authorities. His running would one day bring him to the grandest stage of sports excellence, the Olympics. Although he did not win any medals at his first appearance, the fire and the passion for competing was lit. All was to be dashed when Japan bombed Pearl Harbour, and the United States was thrust into the chaos of World World II. This trouble making youth from Torrance would defy the odds stacked against him, becoming a hero in every sense of the word and a testimony to the inextinguishable flame that is the human spirit.

For the longest time, I've heard about the hype and buzz surrounding Unbroken and in all honesty, it never captured my attention just because of the label nonfiction. As good as it sounded, a nonfiction book conjures to mind just an endless rattling of facts and statistics which to some may seem fascinating, but to me was a remedy for insomnia. On top of that, the book is about war. So you have a generous dosing of doldrum information coupled with the inevitable gruesome realities of war and I just couldn't see myself finding such a book readable, let alone enjoyable. I was wrong. Unequivocally and unashamedly wrong! From the very first page, I was held captive by Zamperini's story. I could not come up for air fast enough or long enough. Hillenbrand does a brilliant job of balancing the facts (which there is a wealth of, evidenced by her extensive Notes and footnotes section) that give the book creditability and substance, but never over powering the heart and essence of the story itself. It is a very human story, with a flawed main character, but one who from the moment you are introduced to, cannot help but cheer and root for. With an average LT rating of 4.46, don't make the same mistake that I did. Pick up this book and read it now because it is one of those rare gems lives up to all the hype surrounding it. I can't recommend it enough!
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LibraryThing member ElizaJane
Reason for Reading: This book dealt with many topics that interest me: World War II, especially the war with Japan, the Japanese war atrocities and survival stories, especially those at sea.

What an amazing book! I would give it 10/10 if I could and two thumbs up if it were a movie. I'd be very surprised if it wasn't made into a movie either, unless telling about the relatively unknown Japanese atrocities is too much for Hollywood to handle.

Louis Zamperini was a boy with humble beginnings, who grew up to have a shot at Olympic stardom, which was torn away from him by WWII and instead replaced by one of the most horrific survival stories you will ever hear. Seven years in the writing Hillenbrand has brought a book and a story that will not be forgotten by time. This is a story that everyone need read to see what despicable, horrific things human beings are capable of doing to others and how the spirit of other human beings are capable of surviving even the most degrading and self-demeaning tasks placed on top of daily torture of the most extreme kind. This book is hard to read in many places, but is also full of many moments of pathos. The POWs managed to find little ways to brighten their days at the expense of their prison keepers to help keep their morale up.

Louis started life as a thief and a thug, until his older brother took his energy and placed it into something more constructive. Track. Louis was a natural, but didn't take to it kindly at first, since he easily won without trying, until he saw that with real effort he could actually break efforts and his dream for the Olympics took over and he became a changed youth, participating in the Berlin Olympics. The War came along, and the draft changed Louis's life forever. As a bombardier of a B-29 he survived a crash into the Pacific Ocean and floating aboard a life raft for a record breaking 47 days with two other crew members only to be "rescued" in the end by the Japanese. Where he then spent the rest of the war with Japan as a POW in their Geneva Convention breaking camps. As one officer is quoted as saying "This is not Geneva. This is Japan."

The rags to riches story of Louis' childhood truly endears him to the reader as a character one really cares for. He is a sharp, intelligent man-youth, witty and with a sense of fun, that one cannot help but fall for him. Making his life story all that more horrific. Hillenbrand has done a good job of bringing Zamperini to life as a human being with his character strengths, quirks and flaws. The survival in the Pacific makes for absolutely riveting, unbearable and compelling reading. Hillenbrand, while writing of the POW experience, also manages to reveal some information on why the Japanese atrocities are so little known today and why their war criminals were given amnesty, while German war criminals are still hunted down to this day. (Though I believe what they presume to be the last living war criminal was extradited in just the recent past.) It certainly had nothing to do with the Japanese being any less inhumane during the war. In Hillenbrand's "Acknowledgements" she notes that the war is still a controversial topic in Japan and some of her Japanese sources asked not to be named. A MUST READ BOOK!!!
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LibraryThing member LaBibliophille
Unbroken tells the story of Louis Zamperini, an athlete who ran in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and later became a prisoner of war in Japan. Laura Hillenbrand, the author of Seabiscuit, brings Louie's story to life with remarkable detail.

Louie was a defiant and delinquent boy. Growing up in Torrance, California, he was the scourge of the neighborhood; stealing pies from neighbors, assaulting other children, running away from home, failing in school. With the encouragement and coaching of Pete, his older brother, Louie began running track. His focus and abilities soon brought him medals and renown.

During World War II Louie was in the Army Air Force. After his plane crashed in the Pacific, the survivors drifted for weeks until being "rescued" by the Japanese. Louie spent the remainder of the War as a POW. He was treated brutally by guards and other prison camp personnel, both civilian and military. He suffered through beatings, starvation, illness, degradation and forced labor.

This book details Louie's struggles, and tells how he survived. That Louie is alive and well to this day is a testament to his strength, faith, and optimism. Unbroken is well-written, well-researched and truly inspiring.
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LibraryThing member cmparkhurst
Great story of one WWII veterans survival and experiences as an airman and prisoner of war.
LibraryThing member es135
Believe the hype! This is a soaring book covering one man's refusal to be broken by the horrors in his life. From fending off sharks while stranded in the ocean to remaining strong in the worst conditions of POW camps, Louie proved that will of mind can help you survive.
LibraryThing member jnwelch
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand lived up to the accolades. What a story! Hillenbrand starts it with devilish, always on the go Louie Zamperini as a kid whose parents probably despaired of him more than once. With the help of his loyal older brother Pete he gets himself on track (literally) and becomes an Olympic quality runner. Then WWII intervenes. He enlists in the Air Force, becomes a bombadier, and begins an unforgettable series of adventures and travails.

Somehow he remains Unbroken. The journey is riveting for the reader, with both the depths and heights of the human spirit on display. This book also provided a view of WWII new to me, from Pearl Harbor to the Pacific theater to the mistreatment of POWs to the end of the war in Japan. It's impeccably researched and written. She relates that Louie once told his friends, "When I want to know what happened to me in Japan, I call Laura." We can see why.
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LibraryThing member techeditor
UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand (author of SEABISCUIT) is nonfiction. I’m afraid many readers will miss this book for that reason. They think nonfiction is dull. But I promise, UNBROKEN is not dull. It’s a can’t-put-it-down book that will keep you up at night.

Louie Zamperini was a track star in the 1930s. He was good enough to go to the 1936 Olympics in Germany, and all expected, with more experience, he would be a medalist in the next Olympic games. Instead, World War II interfered, and Louie was drafted into the Army Air Corps.

Then Hillenbrand relates his life as a wartime flier. But Louie’s experiences, even compared with other fliers who saw combat, weren’t typical. Although “war is hell” is true for everyone involved, Louie’s hell was progressively worse. Just when I thought, this is more than a person can take, it got even more hideous.

Somehow, in part because Louie was so physically fit, he kept going. But he wouldn’t have if not for amazing mental strength as well.

If you expect a summary of what happens, I’m sorry. It would be unfair to you. I found the book un-put-downable just because I wasn’t familiar with Louie’s story. I would be doing you a disservice by summarizing the book’s various parts.

Do yourself a favor: don’t read the book flap or other reviews, either, until you’ve read the book yourself.

I can tell you this. UNBROKEN begins with a prologue. Louie and two other men are floating on a rubber raft in the ocean. They’re starving to death and weak when a jet flies low over them. Louie thinks it is American, and they are about to be saved. But it’s not. What happens on that ocean is really bad. But after the prologue and after the story begins with Louie’s early life to his experiences as a runner to the Olympics to the military, it then keeps getting worse.

Even so, I didn’t think this was a depressing book. I’ll admit, sometimes it was hard to read, and, if you’re like me, you may get so caught up in the story you’ll even get a headache at times (although I think mine may have been caused by heat and humidity). I wanted to keep reading because, even though bad kept happening, Louie kept overcoming.

Hillenbrand continues the story after Louie’s military service, and we see his (and others who were with him) ability and inability to cope. We see lives forever changed, often disastrously.

And we also see . . . . Well, I can’t continue without giving away what you should read and not anticipate because of something I said. But hint: I learned some unpleasant facts about Japanese civilians during World War II and after, even to present day.

Although I read slowly, I read a lot. I usually find one, maybe two, books a year that are so wonderful I can’t speak highly enough of them. This is one of those books.
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LibraryThing member enemyanniemae
What an amazing story! Louis Zamperini, juvenile delinquent turned Olympic runner, enlists in the Army Air Corps in 1941. He is in a war plane that goes down in the Pacific during WWII during a search and rescue mission. After drifting on a raft for a staggering 47 days, he spends the next several years of his life in the worst of Japan's prison camps, enduring unspeakable cruelty and torture by his captors.

This is an inspirational tale of the human will to thrive, of refusal to give up and give in. It is also a story of genuine forgiveness.

Definitely recommended reading.
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LibraryThing member girlsgonereading
To say that Louis Zamperini has had an amazing life is an understatement. To say that Unbroken is a great book is also not enough. Written for fiction and non-fiction readers alike, Unbroken is simply a great story that made me want to kiss a veteran.

First, I must admit that I was hesitant to pick up this book. Not an avid reader of non-fiction, WWII, POWs, and running are not topics that I usually rally around. Laura Hillenbrand, though, did the impossible. She made me love all these topics, and she made me tear through this book almost as fast as Zamperini himself. I couldn’t put it down. I just had to know what happened to him, and the wording of the Unbroken forced me to look deeper into the sacrifices of our American servicemen.

Louis Zamperini is a man who has lived a thousand lives in one, and even in the brief moments when he failed Hillenbrand wrote so eloquently that I cheered for him nevertheless. Similarly, unlike a lot of non-fiction Hillenbrand coupled Zamperini’s story with only small amounts of data. By using data and statistics sparingly, the new information became all the more powerful. The material, for example, about the lives of POWs was both fascinating and tragic.

Simply, Unbroken is a book that won’t leave you quickly, and I can honestly say that it made me appreciate a topic-and thousands of people-who I didn’t think much about before. I took men like Louis Zamperini for granted. Thankfully, Laura Hillenbrand has brought him, and all the men like him, back into the spotlight.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
Unbroken tells the remarkable story of Louie Zamperini, a man who ran in the 1936 Olympics, who was a bombardier on a warplane fighting over the small islands and atolls of the Pacific, who survived shipwreck and being lost at sea, who survived in Japanese POW camps and who had to find a way to be an ordinary civilian again after the war.

Author Laura Hillenbrand does a workmanlike job of telling the story. She certainly did her research and her writing does not get in the way of Zamperini's story. But nor does she make this remarkable story sing. The reader is told about amazing feats of survival, without ever feeling as though they were there. It's as though the very eventfulness of Zamperini's life reduces the force of any one of them. This is a page-turner of a book, but only because of the facts; the story-telling, while thorough, never brings any of the facts to life. Maybe it doesn't need to, maybe in the hands of a story-teller this book would be too intense to make for comfortable reading and maybe the sheer amount of things that happened to Zamperini meant that there was simply no room for amplification, but I the lack did leave a hole in the heart of what is an amazing story about the human spirit.
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