Customer Reviews: Devil at My Heels: A Heroic Olympian's Astonishing Story of Survival as a Japanese POW in World War II
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on February 13, 2012
I had read Unbroken first, then received Devil At My Heals as a gift on my IPAD. I decided to go ahead and read this version and was struck by how the first half of both books were basically identical, though more "first person experiences" with Devil than Unbroken. What became more striking with Devil is that the experience in war as a prisoner was really just prologue for his ultimate life's work which was his service to God. You do not get that sense with the Unbroken version. He never claimed to be a hero, claiming rather to be a survivor who got a lot of press. His tale of survival was amazing and his commitment to God after his post war trauma is equally admirable as his ability to survive the war. I would recommend the Devil version over the Unbroken version because it seemed more of a personal story as opposed to just a survival story.
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on February 27, 2003
All of these television personalities who fancy themselves "survivors" for having undergone challenges of one kind or another on the various survival programs now popular might have a different perspective on survival if they read this book. Lou Zamperini is the "ultimate survivor."

To Zamperini, surviving meant starving and thirsting while confined to a life raft for 47 days. That ordeal included fighting off sharks while enemy planes shot at him. Surviving meant living with the tryanny, torture, and torment of his captors, including the threat of decapitation. It meant living through two cold winters as a prisoner of war, his body weight dropping to as low as 66 pound.

Zamperini was forced to survive in the rigid domain of despair, beyond the reach of help, or rest, or pity. Survival meantmeant living from day to day with the heart tearing itself between hope and fear, merely subsisting under a cloud of doom with no end in sight.

Yet, Zamperini was able to call upon the inner strength that had been nurtured in his days as an Olympic runner, and to endure.

Some of Zamperini's greatest challenges came after the war was over, the biggest one being overcoming the anger and hate he felt for this Japanese captors.
With God's help, "Lucky Louie" succeeded in every one of his challenges. It's a fascinating story, a story of real survival.
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on December 7, 2003
I hope that Louis Zamperini's story becomes required reading for our children one day. This man's amazing story of survival against all odds during WWII is truly miraculous. To describe Louie as merely "lucky" misses the mark somehow. He should have died many times over before and during the war, but through God's grace and Zamperini's formidable willpower he survived to tell his story. And what an incredible, page-turning saga it is! I couldn't put this book down and after reading it, I was a changed woman. I had a new respect for my grandfather, and the men of his generation who suffered unimaginable horrors on the battlefields of Europe and Japan during the 1940's.
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on June 3, 2011
I had read Laura Hillenbrand's best seller, "Unbroken" just prior to reading this book. So I already knew much of Louis Zamperini's story and was quite familiar with the subject of this book. Nevertheless, since Zamperini is such a remarkable man and his story so compelling, I was still anxious to see how he, himself, would recount it. As I read his book, however, I couldn't help but contrast it with Hillenbrand's work and this review is the result.

In an earlier review, I gave "Unbroken" five stars. I did so even though I had a few misgivings. For one, I felt that the book wandered off the subject every now and then, presumably to broaden its scope. I also felt that it suffered from what I would call "over-kill," especially in describing the forty-seven days on the raft, the sharks, and the later brutality of the Japanese prison guards. After reading about Louie's time of the raft, for example, for what seemed to be an interminable number of pages, I almost felt that I had been reading on the raft myself for forty-seven days. And the later brutality was described so repetitiously and to such an extent that I came to believe that no one suffering such abuse, not even Louis Zamperini, could possibly have survived. The author had apparently compressed over two years of abuse into her book with no attempt to edit anything out. I also grew a little weary of constantly reading that Louis did this and Louis did that, and began to wonder if anyone else ever had an idea or did anything. Much better in the first person. And, finally, I was somewhat disappointed in the books ending. It somehow left something to be said, but there was no way of knowing what it might be.

I found Zamperini's book, "Devil At My Heals," to be more intimate, more focused, and what I would term "tighter." It also filled in some blanks left open in the opposing book, gave the reader a much better insight into what Zamperini was thinking and feeling, and in the end carried through to what I consider to be a much more satisfying conclusion.

Bottom line: These are two great books, and I would recommend them to anyone. If you have already read "Unbroken," I would suggest you also read this one. But, If you choose to read only one book, and if you're primarily interested in Louis Zamperini, I'd recommend this one. "Unbroken" is much broader is cope, but you won't learn a lot more about Louis by reading it. Your call.
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on October 21, 2003
In this exciting and epic book, author Louis Zamperini describes his life from a child through adulthood and the growth he experienced as a person during that time. Louis was a typical young child; full of mischief and adventure, and he always seemed to be getting into trouble for one thing or another, but thanks to his older brother Pete's love and encouragement, Louis' life began to change for the better.
Pete was an outstanding track and field athlete and he encouraged Louis to do the same. Soon, Louis was a world-class middle distance runner and held the national collegiate record for the mile run. He qualified for the 1936 Summer Olympics held in Berlin and placed eighth in his race. Even though he didn't win a medal, he still accomplished what the large majority of people never will.
A few years later, Louis joined the army as a navigator on a B-24 Liberator heavy bomber. Based in Hawaii, his crew participated in the bombing of Japanese-held territory as well as search and rescue missions. It was on one of these rescue missions that Louis' own plane became disabled and forced to crash. What happened next can only be described as a miracle, as Louis and another crewmember survived for forty seven days on a rubber raft, while eating small fish and even seabirds while collecting rainwater to drink.
After drifting for two thousand miles, Louis was finally picked up by the Japanese, where he was imprisoned on the Japanese-held island of Kwajalein. During his time in prison on Kwajalein and later in Japan itself, Louis was subjected to numerous beatings and very little food. One particular guard called "The Bird" was especially cruel.
The war finally ended in September, 1945, and slowly, Louis managed to return to civillian life. However, he had accumulated a great amount of hatred, and he suppressed his feeling with alcohol and carousing. Finally, Louis met a woman named Cynthia and fell in love. However, their relationship was anything but easy. Louis' drinking and harsh worlds nearly drove Cynthia and their newborn daughter away, but she decided to stay.
Cynthia met a neighbor who was a Christian and started attending meetings, but Louis was reluctant to go. After some nudging from his wife, Louis finally attended and a transformation began; Louis began to have feelings he never had before; feelings of forgiveness. Louis accepted Christ into his life and began working as a Christian missionary. He even travelled to Japan, met his former captors face to face, and forgave them for what they did to him.
This is a truly uplifting and inspiring book. Louis' life has been truly remarkable in every sense of the word. I was drawn in to his story and found myself cheering for him when he became a Christian. Read this great book and experience the growth of an unruly young man into a messenger for God.
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on February 10, 2012
I read Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken before I read this book. From reading Unbroken, I know that everything he says in this book is true and documented. It is an amazing story. I liked this book better than Unbroken, but would never just read one without the other. This is a story about his life so how can anyone be offended by the fact that he is religious--that is his life. Also, I think you need to be an overly optimistic person in order to have survived all that he did. He is a survivor, and survivors tend to be opportunists and self promoters, but what is wrong with that. I would bet that if he were growing up today he would be diagnosed with ADD or ADHD and would not have been able to have accomplished all that he did because he would have been stifled by treatment and a system that wants everyone to be the same.
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on July 21, 2012
I chose to read this auto biography by Louis Zamperini first, before I read Unbroken, the same story written by Laura Hildebrand. I am glad I read it. The author's own wartime situations made me understand my uncle's post WWII behavior, having also been a POW of the Japanese. It amazes me that Mr Zamperini even survived his multiple life-ordeals and was then, through his relationship with God, able to forgive so many and for so much. This book is an eye opener to the casual student of WWII and has become required reading in some high schools. It is also a reality check for those who think they have insurmountable circumstances...and a testament for those who have faith. I am donating my copy to my son's high school library and hope the kids wear it out from use.
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on August 15, 2011
A month ago I read "Unbroken" which was one of the BEST, and I mean BEST books I have ever read. In doing some research on Louis Zamperini I discovered he had written this book prior to "Unbroken"'s publishing. "Devil At My Heels" is basically the same story but with some additional information. Both books are a must read.
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on February 19, 2011
Great story. I read it in conjuction with the book Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand.
I recommend the combination. Unbroken is colorful and a bit over dramatic but draws the reader in while Devil at My Heels is a dry simple version of the same story.
I enjoyed both.
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on October 4, 2011
Wowee Wow Wow! What a man - what a life.

A story of one man's growth through some horrendous trials and tribulations; of endurance; of forgiveness; and redemption. A very compelling read.

The book has been thoroughly described by others, but I'd like to comment on some of the reviews. Some have panned the book because he converted to Christianity and are upset that he spent "so much time at the end of the book on his faith and Billy Graham." Well, this was an important aspect, actually reflecting back, he considered it THE MOST IMPORTANT aspect of his life. So it is his prerogative to include it and expand on it in HIS BIOGRAPHY. You may not like it, or agree with his faith, but it is a significant part of his life. And I'll tell you, unlike so many wolves in sheep's clothing within the church, he truly lived the faith. His faith made it possible for him to go back to Japan after the war. Geez, deal with it!

If you like this book - there is a similar autobiography and experience during the Vietnam War.... "Hero Found: The Greatest POW Escape of the Vietnam War" the story of Dieter Dengler of which the movie "Rescue Dawn" is based, starring Christian Bale.
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