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

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
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's review
Mar 29, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction, military-and-intelligence-non-fic, biography-autobiography-memoir, american-history
Read from March 29 to 30, 2011

Louie Zamperini was quite a character, wild, given to mayhem and thievery, but he straightened out enough to become a world-class runner, joining the US team in the Berlin Olympics. He continued his athletic career at USC, setting running records there, preparing for the next international competition. But the world would skip that event, leaving Louie adrift. He joined the military and washed out, but he was drafted back in after Pearl Harbor, as a bombardier. When Louie’s plane went down in the middle of the Pacific, while on a bombing run, his great adventure began. Unbroken is Louie’s tale of survival.

Louie and two other crew members would drift for an unthinkable duration before sighting land, struggling to collect potable water, desperate to catch fish and birds for food and terrified of being devoured by the constantly marauding sharks. Once they finally landed it was out of the frying pan and into the rising sun, as they were taken prisoner by the Japanese. Enduring years of the beatings, deprivations, forced labor and humiliations that were daily fare in Japanese POW camps made their ocean voyage seem like a pleasure cruise.

This is not only an amazingly researched book, with details that clearly took serious, serious digging to unearth, but Laura Hillenbrand is a gifted story-teller, as any who have read Seabiscuit can attest, and she brings her narrative skills to this remarkable, real-life tale. Having introduced Louie in the early chapters and providing reasons to care, she documents a relentless sequence of trials that he and his mates had to endure. It does get a little repetitive, but there were times when the hairs on my arm stood up and saluted and I had to put the book down because the horrors these men faced were so frightening and upsetting. Think Jaws vs a rubber raft. But I was so captivated by the story that I dove right back in after a short break. The unpleasantness of the Geneva-challenged WW II Japanese military was not news to me, but the details Hillenbrand provides gave that vision considerable depth. There is a psycho-guard character in this story who would fit in well in many a horror film. And yet, with all the monstrtosities of the camps, there is also Hogan’s Heroes-type humor that will make you laugh out loud.

Louie’s life post-liberation was no picnic either. PTSD was not in the lexicon at the time, but anyone today would recognize the symptoms. Even though the unspeakable horrors he endured had not killed him, the internalized terrors he brought home might have finished the job. Hillenbrand takes us through those trials and tells the surprising story of how this incredibly strong, but seriously damaged man, was mended.

Unbroken offers an important portrait about a dark time, but shows how strength, courage, incredible determination and a dose of faith can overcome any obstacle. You will weep, rage, laugh and cheer. What more can a reader ask?

==============================EXTRA STUFF

A fascinating article on Laura Hillenbrand from Smithsonian Magazine

July 3, 2014 - Zamperini passes, the NY Times obit
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Comments (showing 1-22)

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message 22: by Nancy (new) - added it

Nancy Wonderful review, Will. This looks like the sort of war story I'd enjoy.

message 21: by Will (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Nancy. Hillenbrand is an outstanding writer, and will keep you engaged. I am always reminded, when reading or watching documentaries about WW II, how the Germans were held to account (well, except, of course, the ones who were useful to us, the Brits or the Soviets) and most of the Japanese responsible for such horrors were held to a much different standard. Germany pays reparations to Israel, yet the Japanese pay nothing for their destruction of Nanking. The story here offers further evidence that in this world there is no law, only power.

Steve You do turn a phrase well, my friend. I especially liked "out of the frying pan and into the rising sun." But then "Geneva-challenged WWII Japanese military" was a close second. Great review!

message 19: by Will (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Steve. It is a remarkable tale, very well told.

Connie Lovely review, Will. I also thought it was a fabulous book. I saw an interview of Louie on the news when he was in his late 90s, and he was still so upbeat. Rest in peace, Louie.

Terry Everett I like your review, Will, but I gave the book five stars, won't quibble with you about that, though.

Terry Everett Alas, Louie is dead now, and your review is very timely, Will.

message 15: by Chloe Dale (new)

Chloe Dale do you think this story would be scary for me or not? i am not easily scared by descriptions of blood and people dying but still…

message 14: by Will (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Byrnes Without knowing you, it is difficult to say. There are certainly many terrible things that this poor man endured. That said, it is worthwhile knowing what awfulness people are capable of.

message 13: by Chloe Dale (new)

Chloe Dale ok thanks i think ill just wait a few years and btw i dont think ur an hold coot. :)

message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

RIP Louie

Debbie "DJ" Great review Will. I'm not much of a war/military reader, but found this book exceptional.

message 10: by Lela (new) - added it

Lela Amazing review, like all the others! This one I do plan to read! It won't scare me but will it make me cry?

Will Byrnes It is both horrifying and uplifting

Mikey B. There is an article on Laura Hillenbrand in this weeks NYT magazine


message 7: by Jason (new) - added it

Jason OK, but Will, is it at all realistic at times? i mean I've been punched, twice in a row, and i was out cold.

Will Byrnes I expect it is…and I would try ducking next time

message 5: by Jason (new) - added it

Jason Will wrote: "I expect it is…and I would try ducking next time"

At least a shift from right to left.

YoonPyo Lee I have just finished reading this book, and I totally agree with this review! Nice job!

Will Byrnes Thanks Yoon

4triplezed I am less enamoured with this book than most Will. It is not the story so much, a fascinating life indeed, it is the delivery by the author. The chapter on drifting in the Pacific and being, almost daily, attacked by sharks left a lot to be desired in my opinion. I felt that the author was padding out a "story to be told" with this and was on much safer ground once we reached the POW camps.

Will Byrnes I did not have a problem with her delivery, but while this is an interesting book, it does not come close to her bio of Seabiscuit, which is one of the best sports bios I have ever read.

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