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

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
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Jul 27, 12


Laura Hillenbrand’s book about Louie Zamperini’s life as an Olympian and later as a POW in Japan gives us powerful reminders that some things in life are real cool and some things just basically suck. Here’s a list that Unbroken brings to mind – things that would be either great () or decidedly not ().

Having a family that supports you as a child even when you’re a light-fingered, hyperactive little hellion.

Becoming enough of a juvenile menace that the police are called to intervene.

Having an accomplished older brother who has your back, especially if this brother knows you well enough to divert your energy on to the track.

Showing rapid improvement in races, ultimately making the 1936 Olympic team at the age of 19.

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Gorging yourself on the trans-Atlantic boat ride’s free food that proves all too tempting if you’ve never had a restaurant meal before in your life. Gaining 12 pounds as a result and losing race fitness.

Passing numerous runners with a blazing last lap to finish 8th and having Hitler ask to meet you afterwards, remarking, “Ah, the boy with the fast finish.”

Stealing a German flag as a souvenir.

Setting a collegiate record two years later for the fastest mile, a record that would stand 15 years. Having experts say you’re the likeliest to first break the four minute barrier.

Seeing hopes of Olympic glory in 1940 go up in flames with the advent of the war.

Joining the Army Air Corps as a bombardier; soon thereafter coming back from a mission with 600 bullet holes in your B-24’s fuselage.

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On a different plane (a lemon that nobody wanted to fly), having it crash into the ocean due to mechanical problems, killing 8 of the 11 crew members.

Finding out after the crash that your life raft has very little in the way of supplies.

Living on small raw fish and rainwater for week upon week, aimlessly drifting at sea.

Facing a typhoon with 40 foot waves.

Facing Japanese bombers strafing you with bullets, missing you (miraculously), but blowing holes in your raft.

Sharks. (Even if they don’t come with laser beams, this would suck.)

Finding out that the survival manual was correct. With a hard punch in the snout, a shark will usually turn tail. (I’m forcing an interruption to the down-arrow streak.)

Discovering that the land you finally get to after a record 6+ weeks at sea is a Japanese-controlled island.

Getting beaten every day by a hyper-sadistic prison guard they call The Bird. Getting singled out as his favorite target. ↓↓

Finding out how much starvation, filth, dysentery, and physical abuse a human being can endure.

Finally being liberated, going home to a hero’s welcome after you’d been declared dead, and eating mom’s pasta again.

Showing signs of PTSD. Drinking to forget.

Having your devoted young wife guide you to a spiritual conversion that allows forgiveness and a chance to move on as a motivational speaker.

Going strong – still unbroken – into your nineties.

Up- and down-arrows apply to Laura Hillenbrand, too. She suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome that, for the most part, keeps her in the house and inactive. But she had this to say about her writing, particularly her subjects. “I'm looking for a way out of here. I can't have it physically, so I'm going to have it intellectually. It was a beautiful thing to ride Seabiscuit in my imagination. And it's just fantastic to be there alongside Louie as he's breaking the NCAA mile record. People at these vigorous moments in their lives - it's my way of living vicariously.”

Ups and downs like Everest and Death Valley – a remarkable story, really. And one that was very well-told.
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 61) (61 new)


Jason This revew. ↑


Steve Thanks, Jason. I include HTML codes in everything → now that you've taught us the tricks.


Jason HTML codes? ✔


message 4: by Jeffrey (new) - added it

Jeffrey Keeten Excellent! Trudi suggested this book to me on my Lost in Shangri-la review. I've been picking up WW2 books of late. I must have some psychological need to revisit the "greatest generation".


Steve Jeffrey wrote: "Excellent! Trudi suggested this book to me on my Lost in Shangri-la review. I've been picking up WW2 books of late. I must have some psychological need to revisit the "greatest generation"."

Most of us have no clue about such sacrifice. "Greatest generation" indeed. BTW, your review of Lost in Shagri-la was excellent. And I can see from the subject matter why Trudi would recommend Unbroken. I also saw Will second the motion. Add my voice to the chorus as well (even though I'm mixing the metaphor).


message 6: by Jeffrey (new) - added it

Jeffrey Keeten Steve wrote: "Jeffrey wrote: "Excellent! Trudi suggested this book to me on my Lost in Shangri-la review. I've been picking up WW2 books of late. I must have some psychological need to revisit the "greatest gene..."

Thanks Steve! I did a search looking for a first edition, first printing good lord...Hillenbrand sold a lot of copies. This book at least went into 30 printings. She is very pretty and very rich. I look forward to reading it.


Trudi What a great review for this book! I've been intimidated to even try. You've made it look so easy :)

@Jeffrey - I'm listening to Lost in Shangri-la right now and enjoying it so much!


Steve Trudi wrote: "What a great review for this book! I've been intimidated to even try. You've made it look so easy :)"

That's such a nice thing to hear, Trudi. The truth is, reviewing for me is easy only compared to facing sharks with laser beams.


Trudi Steve wrote: "The truth is, reviewing for me is easy only compared to facing sharks with laser beams..."

LOL! Isn't that the truth? :)


message 10: by Kris (new) - added it

Kris This is a fantastic review, Steve! The individual ups and downs give a wonderful picture of the book, and you develop the theme so well in the end. I am adding this to my tbr list.

I am especially interested because of family stories about one of my great uncles, who was imprisoned in a Japanese POW camp through much of WWII. My mother remembers that when he was liberated and returned home after the war, he refused to talk about the war at all, but he did write an open letter to the family in which he described some of his experiences. I've read it - it's a fascinating document.


Steve Thanks, Kris. A roller coaster like that is only for the intrepid. I suppose, like your great uncle, it's not like they wanted to ride, they just did. He must have had plenty to overcome once he was back.


message 12: by Will (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Byrnes Outstanding and creative review, Steve. Bravo. The up and down arrows reminded me of Louie's ocean voyage.


Steve Will wrote: "Outstanding and creative review, Steve. Bravo. The up and down arrows reminded me of Louie's ocean voyage."

I like that. I also liked your review of this. When you called the Japanese prison guards "Geneva-challenged", I had to laugh, though I'm sure it wouldn't have been as funny on the receiving end.


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

Will Byrnes If we can't apply our instruments of humor to the horrors of life, what good are they?

The arrows are definitely outside the box, which is a very good thing when dealing with the issues at hand.


Steve Will wrote: "If we can't apply our instruments of humor to the horrors of life, what good are they?"

Good point, Will. I wonder what the first instance of that might have been. "Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the show?" was probably not it. My bet is that it goes back at least as far as Homer.


message 16: by Will (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Byrnes Or to those people writing satire on cave walls


message 17: by Steve (last edited Jul 30, 2012 09:30AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Steve Haha, I can just imagine the spit-takes when the pre-historic cartoonist drew Ogg taking a bison horn in the loincloth.


message 18: by Will (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Byrnes Or lyrics to prehistoric songs - I am auroch. I am an island

Really, don't you think the Neanders and early Cro-Mags were using those zaftig fertility goddesses for wanking? Our first religious articles maybe were porn?


Steve Yes, Will, the Neolithic Revolution was known for its puns, too.

As for early porn, less is known. From what I hear, though, the expression, "You'll go blind," dates back to then.


message 20: by Will (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Byrnes Might explain unusually hairy hands on early man


message 21: by Steve (last edited Jul 30, 2012 11:01AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Steve :-)

The phrase "choke the chacomylus" comes from that era, too.

(Wikipedia got a workout, coming up with that one.)


Melissa not sure if anyone will see this but I'm looking for more books like this. Pacific wwii stories. it sounds so cliche but I feel like this book changed something in me. I want to know more stories of our wwii heroes before they're gone.


Steve That's a good question, Melissa. My wife suggested The Caine Mutiny if you're open to fiction. One by David Howarth called We Die Alone: A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance gets a good review, too. I've also been interested in the Jimmy Doolittle story, but I don't know of anything specific to recommend. I bet some of the history groups on Goodreads would love to offer us some opinions.


message 24: by Miriam (new)

Miriam There's also the Readers' Advisory group, that's purely for recommendations.

http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/4...


Steve Great link, Miriam. I should take advantage of that one myself. Are you part of the advisory group yourself?


message 26: by Miriam (new)

Miriam I am in the group, but it's huge -- kind of like that "what's the name of that book?" group, it's a ton of people chiming in when they have a book that fits the bill, rather than a small group trying to gives lots of recs.


Steve Sounds like the scattershot ought to register some hits in any case. Thanks, Miriam!


Sarah Null I loved this book. It means so much to me. I hope more people will read it as a result of your review. That would be ↑ .


Jason I totally plan to read this.


Steve Thanks, Sarah! I see it got all 5 stars out of you. And, yes, let's get Jason on board with this! Then he can spread the word, too.


Sarah Null I've thought about buying it in bulk and handing it out on street corners.


Sarah Null I actually got to see Louis speak at church on Easter the year this book was published. Two years ago, I think. It was at Arco Arena and every seat was full. Amazing.


message 33: by Miriam (last edited Nov 14, 2012 03:50PM) (new)

Miriam In case any of you ever go to Taos, there is a shop by the reservation there that is owned by a survivor of the Death March of Bataan, Tony Reyna.

[image error]


Steve Louis selling out Arco Arena and inspiring Sarah. ↑ ↑

Tony Reyna surviving the Bataan Death March and Miriam referring us to his shop. ↑ ↑


Gary the Bookworm I'm reading this for the Read Between the Wines group. Your unorthodox review is very encouraging (And where are those vertical arrows from? I can't find them on my touch screen).


Steve There's a lot to like about this one, Gary. Hope you enjoy it, between wines, that is.

The up and down arrows are HTML. Type ↑ or ↓ to get them to show up.


Jason I'm so proud of Steve. Not for knowing those codes but for typing out the codes without Goodreads parsing them as arrows.


Trudi I tried to give my friend the spoiler tags last night, but they disappeared behind a spoiler. How very meta and postmodern, I thought :)

like this: (view spoiler)


Jason <spoiler></spoiler>


Steve Jason, I think you were the one who taught us all these tricks. Trudi, you were probably already aware of his status as a guru and reputation for all-around awesomeness.


Gary the Bookworm &uarr &darr


Gary the Bookworm Ok, now what?


Steve You need the semicolon after each one as well. Try it again. It's such a great feeling of power when it works. :-)


Gary the Bookworm


Gary the Bookworm I guess an old dog can learn some tricks...thanks, Steve!


Jason Gary, there's a thread in our group called "Tips & Tricks." (Scroll down toward the bottom, under the "Off-Topic Postings" folder.) There's a ton of useful HTML stuff in there.


Steve Yes -- you're now in the club, Gary! ↑↑


Steve Jason wrote: "Gary, there's a thread in our group called "Tips & Tricks." (Scroll down toward the bottom, under the "Off-Topic Postings" folder.) There's a ton of useful HTML stuff in there."

I'm glad you mentioned this, Jason. I was just about to google it to remind myself where it was. As usual, I'm reminded that Jα∫∅η rocks!


Steve Gary wrote: "I guess an old dog can learn some tricks...thanks, Steve!"

I'm a canine of similar vintage and am here to tell you we can do this.


Gary the Bookworm Thanks for the info, Jason, and for admitting me into the club, Steve. Unfortunately, I still struggle with cut and paste on my iPod. I gave my new lap top to my daughter because it featured Windows 8 and my wireless printer is still in the box after 2 weeks so I have my doubts.


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