Kemper's Reviews > Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
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Feb 24, 11

bookshelves: 2011, history, biography, non-fiction, over-there, war, military, usa-usa
Read in February, 2011

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 Unbroken 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 Seabiscuit 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.*

*(Do not take this as my personal feelings about whether nuclear weapons should have been used or not. I’m just relaying a part of the book here, and Hillenbrand makes no argument as to whether dropping the bombs was justified. She writes that many of the POWs believed that the bombings probably saved their lives and leaves it at that. And if you feel like trying to start a comment fight about it, I’m just going to delete it so don’t bother. I left my sword and shield at home today and don’t feel like battling trolls.)

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.
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 61) (61 new)


message 1: by TK421 (new)

TK421 Great review. I really enjoy reading books like this, but I do so spareingly. I find I have too many green bean moments.


message 2: by Stephen (new) - added it

Stephen Outstanding review...this is going on the TBR list.


Kemper Thanks guys. I've got to limit my intake of these types of books too because the green bean moments get to be too much.


message 4: by Sandi (new)

Sandi Terrific review. My husband loved this book. Unfortunately, he passed it on to a friend before I got a chance to read it.


Kemper Sandi wrote: "Terrific review. My husband loved this book. Unfortunately, he passed it on to a friend before I got a chance to read it."

Be sure to punish your husband accordingly until he gets the book back so you can read it.


Janet S Great review. Also overlooked by history, but carefully described by Hillenbrand was how Pacific POWs fared much worse than European POWs both during &after the war.


message 7: by Eva (new) - rated it 5 stars

Eva Leger I agree, great review and I'm glad I found it. And I think I may steal the 'sword and sheild/battling trolls' part - I have a decent number of my own.


Kemper Janet S wrote: "Great review. Also overlooked by history, but carefully described by Hillenbrand was how Pacific POWs fared much worse than European POWs both during &after the war."

Thanks. Yeah, she did a nice job of pointing out the differences on the treatment between the two.


Kemper ♥Eva♥ wrote: "I agree, great review and I'm glad I found it. And I think I may steal the 'sword and sheild/battling trolls' part - I have a decent number of my own."

Thanks!


Sonia Fails Just finished...and loved this book. Your review was much appreciated. Thanks.


message 11: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Great comments.. To read a book and be swept away, and have every emotion evoked.. Incredible gratitude to an amazing story.


message 12: by Eva (new) - rated it 5 stars

Eva Leger Just wanted to stop by to say that I finished this tonight. Usually I'll find a book and finally get to it months, sometimes years, later, no matter how interested I am and even if it's sitting in my house. This I ordered because of your review and as hard as it was to read I loved it.
I'm going to read Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit also - she's magnificent. I'm in shock at what Zamperini and these men lived through. I want to read more so I'm open to suggestions if anyone has any!


Kemper Eva wrote: "Just wanted to stop by to say that I finished this tonight. Usually I'll find a book and finally get to it months, sometimes years, later, no matter how interested I am and even if it's sitting in ..."

Glad you liked it. Since you enjoyed it so much, I'll bet you'll like Seabiscuit too. Completey different story but Hillenbrand has a real knack for taking these stories and turning them into page turners.


message 14: by Ryan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ryan If you're interested in reading more about Japan's atrocities during WWII, I suggest "The Rape of Nanking". Unbelievable story that has reminded me what terrible creatures we humans can be. Germany often bears the brunt of the WWII anger for the horrible things that occurred, but Japan had more than it's fair share of terrible decisions.


Laura Spragg I too loved this book! Rarely does a book move me to tears like this did. I couldn't believe what they went thru. I kept thinking "I'll put the book down as soon as I get him out of this situation only to find him in another, much worse situation. Lost lots of sleep finishing this one!


message 16: by Eva (new) - rated it 5 stars

Eva Leger Kemper, I am planning to read Seabiscuit now. I wouldn't have before but I agree, Hillenbrand definitely has a knack and I think if anyone can make any subject interesting, it's her.
And Ryna, thank you so much for the recommendation! I definitely do want to read more on the subject and I'm going to check this title out right now. I do a lot of reading on WWII and Germany so it's interesting learning about this other side I knew next to nothing about.


message 17: by Chip (new) - rated it 4 stars

Chip Just finished it. Excellent. I think, actually, that Seabiscuit was better, but that may be because that story was entirely new to me, whereas that wasn't true with this read. FYI, in addition to The Rape of Nanking, Ghost Soldiers and Prisoners of the Japanese are pretty good reads re WWII Pacific theatre POWs.


message 18: by Eva (new) - rated it 5 stars

Eva Leger Awesome Chip! I'm going to find the other titles you mentioned and add them right now.
I'm surprised at how interested I am in the subject when it really was never an interest of mine before.
I have this book to thank for that. (And you all for your help!)
;-)


message 19: by Sketchbook (last edited Sep 25, 2011 02:41PM) (new)

Sketchbook Hollywood never makes pix about "What the Japanese Did."
Why not?


message 20: by L. (new) - rated it 5 stars

L. Sketch, I think you can probably answer that one yourself :) It's Hollywood, they no longer just entertain.... they have an agenda.


message 21: by Sketchbook (new)

Sketchbook The Japanese are big film funders, I realize.


message 22: by Chip (new) - rated it 4 stars

Chip Sketchbook - is your question a joke? There are tons of them ... Tora Tora Tora, Pearl Harbor, etc. etc.


Kemper Chip wrote: "Sketchbook - is your question a joke? There are tons of them ... Tora Tora Tora, Pearl Harbor, etc. etc."

HBO miniseries The Pacific is another recent one.


message 24: by Sketchbook (last edited Sep 26, 2011 06:41AM) (new)

Sketchbook I encompass espionagers and the aftermath period which seems to be entirely Eurocentric.


Yvette That was a fabulous review! Thank you so much for sharing that! I loved reading that book and am now hungry for another just as good!


message 26: by Pc (new)

Pc Silver Good review AND comments, thx. I read Seabiscuit and it was fabulous! Had my pulse racing at times. (The movie was good, too).
Although I have not read Unbroken, I definitely will do so now.
My family is partly of Japanese decent and some, including my mother, spent time in the Japanese internment camps during WWII, so I know about this subject. From what I have learned growing up, the only thing that stopped the Japanese atrocities was the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Thank God for strong decision-makers.
It's like tough love, in a way. Sometimes you just have to bring out the "big guns" in order for things to change. It's a horrible truth. Interesting how Japan has become an ally and turned around 180 degrees.


message 27: by Dawn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dawn EXCELLENT REVIEW!


Kemper Dawn wrote: "EXCELLENT REVIEW!"

Thanks!


Trudi Dawn wrote: "EXCELLENT REVIEW!"

That about sums it up for me! Awesome job Kemper.


Linda Kemper, wonderful review for an excellent book.


Kemper Linda wrote: "Kemper, wonderful review for an excellent book."

Thanks!


message 32: by Lorraine (new) - added it

Lorraine Vail a truly wonderful review.


message 33: by Jason (last edited May 24, 2012 05:48AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jason Fine. But don't pretend this review wouldn't have been better with some troll slaying.


Kemper Lorraine K. wrote: "a truly wonderful review."

Thanks!


Kemper Jason wrote: "Fine. But don't pretend this review wouldn't have been better with some troll slaying."

Everything goes better with troll.


Chrystelle Thank you for such a Great review.... I already read this book and could not put it down. I had always respected war veterans but after this book i have a better understanding of the extent of their sacrifice


message 37: by Miriam (new)

Miriam I didn't realize until people started commenting on this book that so many people were unaware of the Japanese treatment of POWs.


laura I'm glad that there are other people on the planet that can empathize so deeply with human suffering. I’ve always hated waste, and reading these types of stories compound that feeling. Louis is my new hero. I love this guy; so wish just to touch his face and thank him for being a glimmer of hope in a dark world. He’s proven that the impossible is possible; one can emerge from hell into a renewed mind and existence.


Jayaprakash Raja I wish you had just did the review and not summarized the whole story.


Jayaprakash Raja I stopped reading it after the first few sentences, Kemper seems to be giving away the whole story.


Jason Jayaprakash wrote: "I wish you had just did the review and not summarized the whole story."

I wish you had just left a comment without admonishing the reviewer for what he does (or consequently does not) do with his own fucking review space.


message 42: by Chip (new) - rated it 4 stars

Chip My review of the movie "Titanic": the ship sinks.


Larry I am glad you done did the review and summary. :)


message 44: by philip devine (new)

philip devine that has to be 5*


message 45: by philip devine (new)

philip devine that has to be five stars


message 46: by John (new) - added it

John Thanks for the review. I'm getting it soon. I know this is going to be a movie soon.


Libby Excellent review. I'm interested to know why you didn't give it five stars? I'm going to stalk your books now to see what earns five....


Kemper Libby wrote: "Excellent review. I'm interested to know why you didn't give it five stars? I'm going to stalk your books now to see what earns five...."

I tend to be pretty stingy with the five stars. There's plenty of books I love with four star ratings on my shelves so there's no shame in it.


Cindy Barnett Remembering in honor, Louis Zamperini, who passed 7/3/14. RIP and thanks for serving.


message 50: by Barbara-seda (new) - added it

Barbara-seda Aghamianz My middle son is reading this for 10th grade summer reading. Since he is dyslexic, we are reading this together. Good review - while this is not typically my genre, you are making me look forward to finishing it.


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