Sunday, June 5, 2011

Review: Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand

Author: Laura Hillenbrand
Publisher: Random House, 
Format: Audio, 13 hrs, 56 minutes, 496 pg equivalent
Narrator: Edward Hermann
Year of publication: 2010
Subject: Survival as a POW during WW II
Setting: California, South Pacific, various venues in Japan
Genre: history, biography
Source: public library audio download
Rating: 5 of 5 .  Highly recommended - a must read.

Laura Hillenbrand has given us a hero-- Louis Zamperini--of incredible achievements in this story.  Many of my parent's generation knew of his exploits, but those of us who were born after WWII may not have heard about his life. It was a book I kept passing by at first but can't tell you why.  It was only when I mentioned that I was in the middle of a pile of books all themed around WW II that one of my best friends (one whose reading tastes I trust) said "Oh, you must have read Laura Hillenbrand's book".  I was embarassed to admit that I hadn't, and she assured me that when I got home I had to go search it out.  I realized I was fated to read it when I logged on that night to discover it was available and ready to be checked out on our library's downloadable audio books.

This is an incredible story.  Edward Hermann's narration is spot on, and I literally stayed up late several evenings in a row to finish it.  I've let it sit for a week or so before trying to write this review because it was such a powerful and disturbing book, that I wanted to be sure I had a full appreciation of it. 

Zamperini, son of Italian immigrants, made a name for himself in southern California during the 20's and 30's by being a very fast runner.  Those in the know were convinced that he would be the runner to break the four minute mile barrier.  Louis himself wanted nothing else. His speed earned him not only  a scholarship to USC. and a spot on the 1936 Olympics team.  He finished 8th in the 5000 meter race, but had the fastest finishing lap, an achievement that earned him an invitation to meet Adolf Hitler.  He returned to the states determined to train to make the next Olympics and break world records.  The war intervened.

In September 1941, Louie enlisted in the Army Air Force, got a commission as a 2nd LT, and was subsequently posted to Hawaii to serve as a bombadier.  Flying in a B24, his plane was shot down on a search and rescue mission over the Pacific Ocean.  Louie, the pilot and the engineer were the only survivors of this horrific crash, and spent the next 47 days floating in life rafts, drifting over 2000 miles, subsisting on rain water, raw fish, and ever rawer courage.

When they were finally rescued, their joy was shortlived--their rescuers where Japanese.  Hillenbrand paints the story of their horrific experiences as POWs in a matter-of-fact prose that, along with Hermann's equally matter of fact narration, allowed me to get through the cruelty without feeling that I couldn't handle it.  I normally do not read violence this graphic, but somehow had, by this time in the story, become so intent on knowing how Louie handled his captivity and whether he survived and then got on with his life that I had to keep on.

This is an inspiring and affirming story of incredible humaneness as well as staggering inhumanity and cruelty. Louie's life on his return to the living is as interesting and inspiring as his POW service and his athlete prowess. This is a story that transcends generations, genders and and should appeal to all readers.  It is a 5 star must read.  I'm definitely getting my own copy to keep on hand.  If you're an audio fan, you won't go wrong with that version either.


  1. What an amazing and inspiring man Louis Zamperini sounds like and if this book is anything like Lauren Hildebrand's first one, I understand why you read it so quickly! I am in awe just reading your review and can imagine the intense, shocking and powerful scenes from the life of Louis Zamperini that must fill this book! I read an interview with the author several months ago and I think she spoke with Louis many times and did quite a bit of research which it sounds like it all makes for a captivating book!
    I'm definitely going to put this book on my tbr list and make sure I find the time to read it!

  2. I read the eBook version and loved it. I was totally hooked. It was an amazing story.


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