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.
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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.
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!
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
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.
Unbroken is a very personal story; since Zamperini is still alive, Laura Hillenbrand had direct access to him and to his scrapbooks and other memorabilia. Through Louie she learned a great deal about his beloved crew members and soldiers he met in the camps. She also learned about the man Zamperini came to fear most: a Japanese guard nicknamed "The Bird," whose brutality landed him 7th on the list of war criminals sought for trial after the war. The result is an emotional page-turner that sometimes made me smile, more often made my stomach churn, and occasionally brought tears to my eyes.
So why did I rate it only 3.5 stars? There was a tinge of American exceptionalism running through this book that bothered me. Early on, Hillenbrand described the Nanking Massacre, which laid groundwork for an "Americans are good, Japanese are bad" theme. Other more subtle cues appeared elsewhere in the text, as when one of Louie's crewmates describes a failed Japanese bombing as "inept." The last straw for me was near the end of the book after the Japanese surrender, as Hillenbrand summed up the war. Of Japan's role in the conflict she wrote, "In its rampage over the east, Japan had brought atrocity and death on a scale that staggers the imagination." She then went on to cite casualty figures that, frankly, were nowhere close to the casualties from the American bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And a few pages later, describing those horrific bombings, she quoted a serviceman who felt "the end probably justified the means." I'm telling you, it turned my stomach.
And yet, I would still recommend this book as a first-hand account of the realities of war. Just be forewarned.
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.
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.
“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
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!
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.
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.
1) It's really starting to get boring. There's only so much you can say
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.
- 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:
- I usually read fiction, so find the style of bios lacking in poetry
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.
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.
Louie was a defiant and delinquent boy. Growing up in
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.
Louie Zamperini grew up in Torrence,
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.
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.
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.
Louis Zamperini was a delinquent teenager who was used to running from the local
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!
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.
Hillenbrand’s style is a no-nonsense deliver-the-facts kind of narrative. She’s meticulous with the details, but I missed the internal details
Louie Zamperini was a track star
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.
First, I must admit that I was hesitant to pick
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.