Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption

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. On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared...

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Title:Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption
Author:Laura Hillenbrand
Rating:
Edition Language:English

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption Reviews

  • Annalisa

    Hillenbrand has broken the unwritten code for Americans to downplay the wrongs of the Japanese during World War II (other than Pearl Harbor) in favor of focusing on the egregious acts of the Nazis. My education in World War II history has focused on the Holocaust and the unforgivable damage we did to Japan by unleashing the atomic bomb. I appreciate all the research Hillenbrand did to bring us the other side of the story.

    Louis Zamperini is my new hero. I loved his charisma and endurance, both of

    Hillenbrand has broken the unwritten code for Americans to downplay the wrongs of the Japanese during World War II (other than Pearl Harbor) in favor of focusing on the egregious acts of the Nazis. My education in World War II history has focused on the Holocaust and the unforgivable damage we did to Japan by unleashing the atomic bomb. I appreciate all the research Hillenbrand did to bring us the other side of the story.

    Louis Zamperini is my new hero. I loved his charisma and endurance, both of which shined through in Hillenbrand's meticulous writing. I haven't been this invested in non-fiction in a long time. Even when she was talking about airplane design I was enthralled. And even though I figured Zamperini had to have survived his ordeal to give Hillenbrand an interview, I was still anxious about his survival. My favorite part of Louis' story is

    . How inspiring and moving, his whole story, but especially his life after the war.

    I don't think I can pick up another book for a few days. I need to let this one settle before I delve into fiction that will feel meaningless after this.

  • Hannah

    I've just finished this awesome book, and have since washed the tears from my face. I can't hope to write a coherent review (there are so many good ones already written), so I'll just jot a few thoughts down:

    *

    is why I love non-fiction.

    * Best book (by far) I've read this year.

    * Every positive cliche adjective should be applied to this story.

    * 5 stars isn't enough.

    * If it was fiction, you wouldn't believe it.

    * Go buy yourself a cloth hankie, 'cause a kleenex ain't gonna cut it by the last ch

    I've just finished this awesome book, and have since washed the tears from my face. I can't hope to write a coherent review (there are so many good ones already written), so I'll just jot a few thoughts down:

    *

    is why I love non-fiction.

    * Best book (by far) I've read this year.

    * Every positive cliche adjective should be applied to this story.

    * 5 stars isn't enough.

    * If it was fiction, you wouldn't believe it.

    * Go buy yourself a cloth hankie, 'cause a kleenex ain't gonna cut it by the last chapter.

    * Makes me wish my dad was still around so I could ask him about the war.

    * My next book is going to SUCK in comparison (might as well re-read

    then).

    * Read this great review by my GR friend Amy S:

    (her review made me want to read this book - great job Amy!)

    * Perfect book to wrap up on Memorial Day, 2012:

    To those who served, to those who still serve, to those who made it back, to those who didn't, to those who still suffer in ways we cannot imagine, thank you.

    Thank you.

    Thank you.

  • Kemper

    I was cleaning up after the wife and I had dinner last night and there was a small amount of green beans left. There weren’t nearly enough for another serving to make them worth saving so I dumped them in the sink, but just as I was about to turn on the garbage disposal, I realized that to the POWs described in

    those few green beans I was about to mulch would have been a feast they would have risked torture and beatings for. I was disgusted with myself for the rest of the night. You kno

    I was cleaning up after the wife and I had dinner last night and there was a small amount of green beans left. There weren’t nearly enough for another serving to make them worth saving so I dumped them in the sink, but just as I was about to turn on the garbage disposal, I realized that to the POWs described in

    those few green beans I was about to mulch would have been a feast they would have risked torture and beatings for. I was disgusted with myself for the rest of the night. You know the book you’re reading is hitting you hard when you feel that much shame for letting a tiny bit of food go to waste.

    Louie Zamperini is one of those guys who definitely earned that Greatest Generation label. The son of Italian immigrant parents, Louie was a rebellious kid who was constantly into one form of mischief or another, but when he finally channeled his energy into running, he became a high school track star in California. Louie was so good that he made the 1936 Olympics in Berlin at the age of 19, and even though he didn’t medal, he ran one lap of a race so quickly that he electrified the crowd and even caught Hitler’s attention.

    As a college runner, Louie held several national records and many thought that he’d be the man to eventually break the four minute mile. He was poised to do well in the 1940 Olympics, but then World War II cancelled the games. Louie left college and ended up in the air corps even though he was scared of planes. He became a bombardier and went to the Pacific after Pearl Harbor. Louie survived several missions, including one where their B-24 barely made it back with over 500 holes in it.

    While on a search and rescue mission, Louie’s plane crashed in the ocean, and only he and two others survived. With few supplies on two tiny life rafts, they’d endure exposure, starvation, thirst and sharks.

    However, after finally reaching an island and being captured by the Japanese, Louie’s hellish experience as a POW would make him miss the raft and the sharks. Starved, beaten, tortured and degraded, Louie also faces extra punishment at the hands of a brutally sadistic guard who singled him out. Louie and the other prisoners desperately try to hang on long enough for America to win the war and free them.

    I didn’t care anything about race horses, but found Laura Hillenbrand’s

    an incredibly interesting read. She’s surpassed that book here with this well researched story. Hillenbrand creates vivid descriptions of Louie’s childhood, the Berlin Olympics, the life of an air man in the Pacific, and a Japanese POW camp while also telling the stories of the people around Louie.

    She also does a superior job of describing a phase of World War II that tends to get overlooked, Japanese war crimes against prisoners. The number of prisoners killed by the Japanese through starvation, beatings and forced labor are staggering, but Hillenbrand also shines a light on the Japanese policy of killing all POWs if that area was about to be invaded. Per her research, they were preparing to begin slaughtering prisoners in Japan in late August and September of 1945, but the dropping of the atomic bombs and the surrender of the emperor probably saved those POWs lives. If the war would have carried on or a conventional invasion done, then mostly likely those prisoners would have been killed.*

    Ultimately, while this is a book about people enduring incredible hardship and cruelty during war, it's a hopeful book, not a depressing one. Great writing and the care that Hillenbrand took with the people and places make this compelling reading.

  • Laura

    Wow am I in the minority.

    I absolutely loved

    , so I expected great things from this one. However, where Seabiscuit focused narrowly on a small set of characters and events, this was more sprawling, bursting with a poorly-sketched cast of characters who, over time, became nearly indistinguishable. For most of the middle section, the book wore me down with its unrelenting catalogue of abuse and privation. On a related note, I wasn't crazy about the fact that the book endlessly described

    Wow am I in the minority.

    I absolutely loved

    , so I expected great things from this one. However, where Seabiscuit focused narrowly on a small set of characters and events, this was more sprawling, bursting with a poorly-sketched cast of characters who, over time, became nearly indistinguishable. For most of the middle section, the book wore me down with its unrelenting catalogue of abuse and privation. On a related note, I wasn't crazy about the fact that the book endlessly described what was happening

    Zamperini, as opposed to what was going through his mind, what gave him hope, etc.--material that I would have found infinitely more interesting.

    As other reviewers have noted, although listed as non-fiction, the book suffers from potentially unreliable narration, as most details were reported to the author some 50 years after the fact. After that long, memories of events dim or, conversely, are embellished. Indeed, some details

    a bit off to me (for instance, Zamperini described being tangled up in wires and going down with his plane when he blacked out; he was miraculously free of all encumbrances when he came to). A huge detail that seemed off was Zamperini's redemption at the end: it didn't make sense to me that Zamperini's problems with alcoholism, post-traumatic stress disorder, and rage, fueled by years of the aforementioned abuse and privation, were all completely and conveniently cured by a couple of hours listening to the preaching of Billy Graham. (To be honest, I thought this plot point tends to demean veterans' struggles generally.)

    But the book moved along at a brisk pace and held my attention. I feel like I learned a lot about an aspect of American and WWII history that may be overlooked (the experiences of POWs in Japan was never covered in any of my high school or college history classes). So for that I give this book an enthusiastic 3 stars.

  • Craig

    I’ve seen recently that negative commentary or reviews about this book invoke a kind of backlash normally reserved for non-conformists who critique the

    ,

    ,

    , or any

    . Well, brace yourself because here comes another one.

    This book is a poorly written, exaggerated, sensationalized version of a true story, an over-hyped pop history book more concerned with drumming home the message that the human spirit can be indestructible in the

    I’ve seen recently that negative commentary or reviews about this book invoke a kind of backlash normally reserved for non-conformists who critique the

    ,

    ,

    , or any

    . Well, brace yourself because here comes another one.

    This book is a poorly written, exaggerated, sensationalized version of a true story, an over-hyped pop history book more concerned with drumming home the message that the human spirit can be indestructible in the face of extreme adversity (a pet theme for the author it seems) than in being a tight and accurate biography of a war hero. I had the feeling throughout the book that the “true story” was buried somewhere deep in the pages, struggling to get past the hyperbole and over-the-top events to floor the reader with what really happened. It’s instead mired in the monotonous descriptions of our protagonist’s lurid misfortunes and maltreatment, told in mind-numbing detail, and never really allowed to break free.

    Judging by the notes, Laura Hillenbrand has put in a respectable amount of research yet the way in which she weaves the facts into the book is so sloppy and lacking any hint of subtlety it leaves you feeling like you’re reading a first draft script for a Michael Bay flick (remains to be seen if you are). The resulting story is horrendously tedious, repetitive, and – despite the fascinating subject and the stage where it’s all taking place – boring as all hell.

    The first part of the book takes us from Louie’s humble beginnings through his meteoric rise to the Olympics. The second part involves Louie’s time in the military and all of his oftentimes unbelievable achievements. The third is the account of his B-24 bomber crash, subsequent loss at sea, capture by the Japanese, and the endless rounds of torture and beatings. The fourth and last part is his rescue life after the War and finding God with Billy Graham. How can this be made boring? Well, it can if your prose never rises above a dull, rambling, ill-constructed narrative about how this event happened, then this one did, and then this thing happened after that.

    The characters in the book are so shallow and one-dimensional, hardly a one is given more than a passing intro before the story bumbles on to the next thinly veiled anecdote. The people begin blurring into the next and you’re left struggling to tell one cardboard person from another. Apart from Louie and his family the only other characters that really stood out were his raft mate and best buddy Phil and his most sadistic prison guard dubbed The Bird. Every minute of every one of Louie’s beatings by The Bird is documented to the nth degree; every one of The Bird’s tantrums, mood changes, facial tics, and spazz attacks is written about in the most curious of detail. The reader is subjected to dozens of "last sightings" of The Bird only to have him "shockingly" resurface in the most unlikely of situations a chapter later. You know the kind of scene I mean: "And Louie looked up at the new arrival only to discover once again –"

    "—that it was The Bird!" This can only be pulled so many times before the reader starts to feel like they’re being strongly manipulated by the author. It happens

    often in fact you start to think of it as a good candidate for some kind of literary drinking game where you take a shot of bourbon every time he shows up.

    Now, far be it for me to disparage war veterans, especially POWs who’ve endured the kinds of crushing abuse that Louie and his fellow service men have, but how is it that we are able to get such detailed minutia over 50 years after it all went down? I’ll bet you can’t describe the full details of the days of your wedding, your first child being born, your first car crash, your first date, getting your driver’s license, etc. These were all life-changing, and in some cases traumatic, days in your life and it’s a safe bet that most, if not all, of these events took place more recently for you than 50 years ago. Most of us remember scant bits and pieces of events and many of these memories have “drifted” from reality in our fallible brains. Even polling spectators who were there at the time and cobbling together all of the recollections won’t make for a fully fleshed-out memory. This thought kept rattling around my brain as I made my way through the book. How on earth could these things be recalled so clearly and precisely after all that time? I’ve read other POW accounts that say that all days start to blur together and the extreme horrors the soldiers endured are blocked out of memory. Some soldiers, as Hillenbrand herself says in the book, forget the war entirely. The sneaking suspicion (and you can’t help but feel like a

    for thinking it) is that a lot of the filler put in the book to string the anecdotes together is fabricated to puff up the story to appeal to a broader audience.

    These suspected filler bits are nothing compared to some of the fantastical events scattered throughout the book. Zemperini is cheapened and the readers are dared not to roll their eyes as he is aggrandized and endlessly adulated from a man to a superhuman demi-god. He can withstand plane crashes, hourly beatings for over a year, prolonged starvation, backbreaking physical labor, diseases, and anything else that can be dished out. Consider his scenes of fist-fighting sharks in open water, meeting Hitler after his Olympic race, running a 4:12 mile --

    (!!), surviving violent dysentery for weeks on end with only scant handfuls of polluted water to drink (not to mention the “death sentence” disease beriberi that he contracted and overcame, despite it being untreated), blacking out as he’s tangled in wires in his sinking bomber only to wake up untangled and able to swim freely to the surface, self-repairing a broken nose and leg while at prison camp, and living through 40+ days at sea with practically no water or food then having the patience to wait offshore overnight once he reaches an island -- of course, just in time for a typhoon to hit them in their raft! Seriously? These personal achievements are apart from his sufferings in a group setting like enduring over 220 punches in the face during one camp thrashing and moving 20 – 30 tons (yes, TONS -- 40,000 to 60,000 U.S. pounds) of material at a rail yard in a day. Why the author stopped there and didn’t throw in a cage match with a silverback gorilla to determine alpha male dominance I’m not sure.

    I imagine therein lies part of the reason why this book resonates so deeply with our intelligence-starved society today. Long titillated by years of reality TV, Saw movie sequels, and other torture porn many are conditioned to be drawn to the grisly and violent story of a guy who went through hell and made it to the “million dollar vote” by the end. It’s the car crash scene you slowly drive by and can’t pull your eyes away from ("Can you pull those bodies closer to me so I can get a better look?"). I also suspect the book serves as a keen display to whiners in search of inspiration that hey, maybe my life ain’t so bad after all.

    I say hats off to Louis Zamperini and his fellow soldiers. Seriously. A toast! I have nothing but bottomless admiration, respect, and gratitude for his service and am in awe of his mettle and perseverance. He is one tough-as-nails guy whose achievements should not be overlooked and never be forgotten. It just would have been nice if his story could have been told in a more honest and fair manner, letting the facts speak for themselves without all the earnest dramatization, unabashed hero worship, and hyperbole slathered so thickly over them. His autobiography "Devil at My Heels" maybe?

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