Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand: Book Review.

OK, I had to see what all of the buzz was about.  Seems like everyone’s talking on the book, UNBROKEN, by Laura Hillenbrand.  And typically, World War II nonfiction does not get this kind of attention.  So I had to check it out for myself.

UNBROKEN tells the story of Louis Zamperini, and what a story it is.  The book begins with his early years as a juvenile delinquent.  Zamperini’s talent as a top-level runner carries him from trouble to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, where he actually shakes hands with Adolf Hitler.


World War II interrupts Zamperini’s athletic career.  He would serve as a bombardier in the Pacific Theater.  While searching for another lost plane, Zamperini’s less than air-worthy B-24 bomber, Green Hornet, likewise crashes into the ocean.  Only Zamperini, Mac, the tail gunner, and Phil, the pilot, would make it out alive.  The three would log nearly seven weeks in a rubber raft, dodging sharks and enemy bullets alike, though Mac would not survive.  In the end, Zamperini and Phil would be captured and spend the duration of the war in various Japanese POW camps.

Zamperini and his POW brethren would suffer unfathomable atrocities at the hands of their captors.  War’s end brought freedom, but in many ways, haunted by the past, Zamperini’s chains remained.  Hitting rock bottom—broke, a violent alcoholic about to be divorced, Zamperini attended a Billy Graham tent revival, and accepted Jesus Christ.  In forgiveness, Zamperini found true freedom, and began life anew.

UNBROKEN combines a great story with an extraordinary telling.  Stranger than fiction?  Absolutely.   What this guy went through is amazing.  Add Laura Hillenbrand’s work as the author, and you’ve got a bestseller.  Not only is her writing wonderful, but the detail work is what I found most worthy of praise.  It took Hillenbrand seven years to write this book, and I believe it.  The dogged research fills all the gaps to transform this tale into a truly amazing read.

Zamperini’s personal journey makes the story resonate with all of us who are less than perfect.  I like my characters “real”, not so good that they feel fabricated.  Louis starts out as a punk, til he finds a cause—running, to get straightened out.  The constant beatings at the hands of the Japanese prison guards, especially a sadistic psychopath called the Bird, steal Zamp’s dignity.  At war’s end, he rebounds briefly then begins to spiral down again.

The night Louis accepts Christ, his life turns for good.  Zamperini’s treks from down and out to top shelf occur no less than three separate times.  The fact that he never gives up can be appreciated by all readers.

In the end, UNBROKEN, lives up to the hype.  A great story told well.  I can’t wait for the movie! Buy this book! Also, check out Zamperini’s original telling of the story, DEVIL AT MY HEELS.

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