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Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption Paperback – July 29, 2014
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“Extraordinarily moving . . . a powerfully drawn survival epic.”—The Wall Street Journal
“[A] one-in-a-billion story . . . designed to wrench from self-respecting critics all the blurby adjectives we normally try to avoid: It is amazing, unforgettable, gripping, harrowing, chilling, and inspiring.”—New York
“Staggering . . . mesmerizing . . . Hillenbrand’s writing is so ferociously cinematic, the events she describes so incredible, you don’t dare take your eyes off the page.”—People
“A meticulous, soaring and beautifully written account of an extraordinary life.”—The Washington Post
“Ambitious and powerful . . . a startling narrative and an inspirational book.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Marvelous . . . Unbroken is wonderful twice over, for the tale it tells and for the way it’s told. . . . It manages maximum velocity with no loss of subtlety.”—Newsweek
“Moving and, yes, inspirational . . . [Laura] Hillenbrand’s unforgettable book . . . deserve[s] pride of place alongside the best works of literature that chart the complications and the hard-won triumphs of so-called ordinary Americans and their extraordinary time.”—Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air
“Hillenbrand . . . tells [this] story with cool elegance but at a thrilling sprinter’s pace.”—Time
“Unbroken is too much book to hope for: a hellride of a story in the grip of the one writer who can handle it. . . . When it comes to courage, charisma, and impossible adventure, few will ever match ‘the boy terror of Torrance,’ and few but the author of Seabiscuit could tell his tale with such humanity and dexterity. Hillenbrand has given us a new national treasure.”—Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run
“Riveting . . . an exceptional portrait . . . So haunting and so beautifully written, those who fall under its spell will never again feel the same way about World War II and one of its previously unsung heroes.”—The Columbus Dispatch
“Magnificent . . . incredible . . . [Hillenbrand] has crafted another masterful blend of sports, history and overcoming terrific odds; this is biography taken to the nth degree, a chronicle of a remarkable life lived through extraordinary times.”—The Dallas Morning News
“No other author of narrative nonfiction chooses her subjects with greater discrimination or renders them with more discipline and commitment. If storytelling were an Olympic event, [Hillenbrand would] medal for sure.”—Salon
“A celebration of gargantuan fortitude . . . full of unforgettable characters, multi-hanky moments and wild turns . . . Hillenbrand is a muscular, dynamic storyteller.”—The New York Times
“[A] masterfully told true story . . . nothing less than a marvel.”—Washingtonian
“Zamperini’s story is certainly one of the most remarkable survival tales ever recorded. What happened after that is equally remarkable.”—Graydon Carter, Vanity Fair
“Irresistible . . . Hillenbrand demonstrates a dazzling ability—one Seabiscuit only hinted at—to make the tale leap off the page.”—Elle
“A tale of triumph and redemption . . . astonishingly detailed.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“An astonishing testament to the superhuman power of tenacity.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Intense . . . You better hold onto the reins.”—The Boston Globe
“Incredible . . . Zamperini’s life is one of courage, heroism, humility and unflagging endurance.”—St. Louis Post Dispatch
“Hillenbrand has once again brought to life the true story of a forgotten hero, and reminded us how lucky we are to have her, one of our best writers of narrative history. You don’t have to be a sports fan or a war-history buff to devour this book—you just have to love great storytelling.”—Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
About the Author
Laura Hillenbrand is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Seabiscuit: An American Legend, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, won the Book Sense Book of the Year Award and the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award, landed on more than fifteen best-of-the-year lists, and inspired the film Seabiscuit, which was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Hillenbrand’s New Yorker article, “A Sudden Illness,” won the 2004 National Magazine Award, and she is a two-time winner of the Eclipse Award, the highest journalistic honor in Thoroughbred racing. She and actor Gary Sinise are the co-founders of Operation International Children, a charity that provides school supplies to children through American troops. She lives in Washington, D.C.
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Prior to the war, Zamperini had overcome serious obstacles to become one of the best milers in track and field history, competing in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin with Jesse Owens and other famous American Olympians. As America entered WWII he became a bombardier flying B-24s in the Pacific Theater. When his plane ditched in a remote part of the Pacific, Louie and two colleagues survived the crash, and drifted thousands of miles for more than 47 days before being picked up by a Japanese ship. During those weeks they endured unthinkable hardships: one of their companions died aboard the life raft, they were repeatedly attacked by sharks, and strafed by Japanese planes.
After Louis and his pilot, Russell Allen Phillips were "rescued," an even more harrowing journey began, as both men were incarcerated in a series of brutal Japanese POW camps. The vivid descriptions of camp conditions and the inhuman brutality of many of the prison guards are gut wrenching. The depth of depravity that Louie and his fellow prisoners had to endure is unimaginable, and the fact that he survived to live a productive life is a testament to his incredibly resilient and unbreakable will and spirit.
The author does not shrink from telling about Louie's post-war troubles with alcohol, rage and PTSD. The account of Zamperini's reluctant encounter with evangelist Billy Graham,is touching and instructive, for it proved to be the event that allowed Louie to finally come to peace with his hatred of the worst of the Japanese guards, Mutsuhiro Watanabe, "The Bird," Louie was finally free of the haunting nightmares and his need to seek revenge.
As I was reading this book, one of my close friends saw the book in my hand and said: "This book changed my life!" The story of Louie Zamperini and his trials and tribulations is that inspiring.
Please bear with me for a moment, while I provide a little personal background before launching into my review. I feel it is relevant.
I can very proudly say that my parents (I am 51) were members of that generation to whom we all owe an immeasurable amount of gratitude. At the time of World War II, My father was a very young Marine (one of my pet peeves is seeing "Marine" spelled with a lowercase "m") who joined the USMC shortly after the war broke out. As so many in the US military did, he fought the Japanese in the Pacific from one hell hole island to another. Thankfully, he made it home safely, and went on to lead a very distinguished career in the United States Marine Corps. Sadly, he died when I was only 17 (he was a much too young 59), and many is the time I have wished I could have talked to him about his war experiences, especially since I have grown to become an avid student of history for the past 25 years. Note; if there are any members or past members of the US military in your family or circle of friends, LISTEN TO THEM ABOUT THEIR EXPERIENCES! I was young and stupid, and my opportunity is lost.
Now for the book. POSSIBLE SPOILERS.....
This book is Odyssean in its vast tapestry of one epic struggle after another. The name of Louis Zamperini is one that, hopefully now, thanks to Laura Hillenbrand, will become a household name in the pantheon of great Americans. From the time of his youth, to the rigors of the Olympics, to the gripping fear of aerial combat, she traces his remarkable life through a seemingly never ending ordeal of survival while being lost at sea for a record 47 days, only to be captured by the Japanese to endure a withering, seemingly ceaseless nightmare of thirst, starvation, torture, sickness, humiliation, loss and loneliness, eventually becoming a fixed recipient of unbelievable brutality by a sick and twisted sadist who is relentless in his devotion to break Mr. Zamperini's spirit.
Frequently, when thinking about WWII vets, I have often wondered out loud to my wife; "how in the world did these guys, after seeing what they saw and experiencing what they experienced, get on with 'normal' life?" Indeed, one could argue that Louis Zamperini's greatest challenges came AFTER he experienced a multitude of challenges that would have utterly destroyed most people in body, mind and soul. Thankfully for Louis and his family (and his family is VERY much a part of the story), he eventually found a way. Regarding his family, this book should appeal to many people across a wide spectrum, as Laura Hillenbrand takes us into the thoughts and emotions of those who loved him most, and we share in their seemingly interminable hours of agony, spent in the uncertainty of any knowledge of the well being of one they held so dear.
The book is very well researched, and one can tell that Laura Hillenbrand certainly put a Herculean amount of effort into putting it together. My only negative critique would be that I occasionally found some of the sentence structure to be a bit choppy. However, that being said, she does a wonderful job of allowing us, as much as possible within a book, to see, hear, smell, feel, and taste the details of a story that stagger the imagination. It is emotionally riveting.
This book will inspire you, make you angry, make you cry, and make you immeasurably proud to be an American. Ultimately, it will reveal in a very raw, graphic, (this book is not for the squeamish), heartbreaking and heartwarming way, the indomitable spirit of mankind, and how one man, after living through seven kinds of hell, remained, UNBROKEN.
Please allow me to close by expressing a deeply heartfelt THANK YOU to all the brave and wonderful men and women, past, present, and future, who wear the uniform, be it Army, Navy, Air Force, United States Marine Corps, Coast Guard, or National Guard. We live free because you serve.