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VINE VOICEon August 25, 2016
Laura Hillenbrand follows her spectacular biography of race horse Seabiscuit with the gripping tale of Louis Zamperini's life and tribulations as a downed airman in WWII. "Unbroken" is written in Hillenbrand's inimitable style, blending global events with personal anecdotes from the lives of Lt. Zamperini and his family and fellow airmen.

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.
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on September 1, 2016
I'm a voracious reader. Addicted to reading since I was a young child. I love and read a great deal of history. This book was hands down, one of the best written I've ever read on WWII. Laura Hillenbrand is now as beloved an author to me as Stephen Ambrose. My grandfather spent years in Europe during WWII. My mother tells the story of meeting her father for the first time when he came home after the war. He left when she was a toddler and she has no memories of him before the war. Sadly, there was no information on PTSD in those years. He did his best, but the war broke him in profound ways that would chase all his children and grandchildren through the years. This book has given me great sadness for what all the men suffered, but has also healed a wound. Grandfather didn't hate us all, he was merely dealing with a burden he could never share. Great book. Very well written. I haven't stayed up all night reading in many years, but this book have me that rare pleasure of trading sleep for getting lost in a story.
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on January 6, 2015
First off, I must say that I am very encouraged to see the THOUSANDS of positive reviews of this book. The bravery, unbelievable sacrifices, devotion, patriotism, and tenacity of "The Greatest Generation" should never be forgotten. I am heartened to see that even in this day and age of Political Correctness, many share my feelings on the matter.

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.
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on June 30, 2016
This work of World War II non-fiction sticks with me even two years after reading it. The scenes, drama and people that populate the story were so vividly drawn that I can still recall the Japanese POW camp guard named the Bird. I grew terrified each time he arrived, as if I, not Luis Zamperini, would have to drum up the mental fortitude to survive his torture. Even now my heart-rate notches up a speck.

What can I say that hasn’t already been said by the many reviewers who loved this book? Well, it goes without saying that I highly recommend it: for anyone who loves WWII memoirs (or any memoir for that matter), for writers of non-fiction, and for those who enjoy stories of valor, defying the odds, and in-depth profiles. Hillenbrand is a master of detail. She researches the hell out of a story, and how she does it, I don’t know, but it makes for a compelling, highly believable read. Thank you, Laura.
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on January 21, 2016
What a fantastic book! I read it in only a few sittings. It was so engaging I couldn't put it down. My father also flew in B-24 Liberators in WWII. My father, Hank Culver, flew with Jimmy Stewart, the movie actor-turned bomber pilot. They both flew some of the most dangerous missions of the war together in the same squadron - 703rd Bomb Squadron, 445th Bomb Group - with the U.S. 8th Air Force based at Tibenham, England. I used this book as a reference for the writing of my first book, Nine Yanks a and a Jerk, and my forthcoming books, Daylight Raiders and Son of a Gunner. See my website page www.sonofagunnerb24.com for more details. You did a wonderful job Lauren. Your book is a great tribute to Mr. Zamperini and the Greatest Generation!
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on March 5, 2017
This is one mans account of being a POW in Japan during World War II. The inside story of how men were so brutally treated. Then, if you survived, how it affected their life. But, it didn't end there. It tells how God can restore a broken life & heal the anger & bitterness he felt replacing it with personal peace. This book held my attention from beginning to end as it described this mans experience during the war & what him and so many of our soldiers had to endure. It was an eye opener.
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on December 18, 2017
In "Unbroken," Laura Hillenbrand returns to tell another story (after "Seabiscuit") of someone who has been bloodied by adversity, but not broken by it.

Louie Zamperini was one of the world's hottest track stars, breaking record after record and running in the 1936 Olympics. Then WWII broke out, and he ended up as a bombardier on a B-24 assigned to the Pacific theater. After several harrowing missions, his plane went down over the ocean, and only he and two other crewmembers survived. They spent almost 50 days drifting slowly across the Pacific, living off what they could catch and fighting off sharks, before being captured by the Japanese. Louie and the one other surviving member of the crew then spent the next 2+ years undergoing brutal mistreatment in Japanese POW camps, before finally being freed at the end of the war--something that left Louie adrift and struggling to find his purpose in life, now that he no longer had either war or sports (the privation and abuse he received in the camps left him unable to run competitively) to sustain him.

Hillenbrand is a skillful scene-setter and tension-builder, and the book, although meticulously researched (she even had someone come to her house and set up a Norden bombsight in her living room so she, although largely housebound at the time, could practice bombing Arizona, she says in the afterword), reads like a thrilling adventure tale. The raft trip across the Pacific is particularly harrowing, with the men forced to use their oars and sometimes their bare hands to fight off sharks on a daily basis. And the horrors of the POW camps are described in detail, making this not a read for the faint of heart.

That being said, "Unbroken" does have a certain "Go Troops!" wholesomeness and ra-ra-America sentiment that will probably appeal to patriotic readers; more skeptical readers may find themselves asking questions. The US troops and US war effort are generally depicted with the halo of sanctity that seems to surround so much of the Allied side of the war these days. Since Hillenbrand is telling Louie's story, that's not surprising, and she does make a strong case for why the POWs were, at least initially, thrilled at the bombing of Japanese cities, including the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Still, it's hard from a modern perspective (at least for me) not to be appalled at the destruction both the regular fire-bombing and the A-bomb unleashed on heavily populated urban areas, and to feel that, whatever war guilt Japan might have had, it was all redeemed the moment the A-bomb burst over Hiroshima.

In the end, though, "Unbroken" is not so much a war story--although it's that as well--as it is a story of one man's triumph over adversity, including, at the end, his multi-year struggle with alcoholism brought on by the trauma he experienced in the war. It's both understandable and ironic that Hillenbrand, who has been severely ill, including long periods of being housebound or bed-bound, for most of her life, should be drawn to these characters who do manage to recover from the severe trials they undergo. Very likely that fascination on her part adds to the liveliness she brings to her writing, and begs the question of what does it mean to be unbroken? A riveting read about a truly remarkable person, written by another remarkable person.
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on February 26, 2016
This book. I can't say enough about it. I have read it. I've seen the movie. I am now listening to it on compact disc in my car. I've gifted it to a friend. I want to give it to others. There are not words to describe how it has impacted my thinking. The book is far more involved than the movie. I know this is usually the case. But the life and thought processes of Louis Zamperini are life altering for me.

Without spoiling it for those who have yet to read this work, all I can say is Thank You, to our marvelous military service men and women for your selfless courage. You have taught me so much from your bravery. And to Laura Hillenbrand, I thank you for making this book available to those of us who need to read it. It is a work of art.

I love listening to it in my car. I find myself driving slower and slower in order to make my trip last longer so as not to arrive at my destination and have to turn off the book.

This is one of those books that will leave you changed. It makes me think about almost every circumstance of my own life and how I choose to handle it. I know I will be listening to it and reading it again and again.

I can't recommend this book enough!
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on December 12, 2016
A good history lesson from a perspective that I hadn't known much about. Obviously a story of great courage and ultimately triumph at overcoming so much hardship and abuse. The writing sometimes felt like the content was assembled from a lot of interviews with a goal of leaving no memory or anecdote unwritten and occasionally felt like it needed a deft editor's touch to know what (and how much) to keep. Contains a lot of very descriptive detail of physical and mental abuse. I appreciated the stats near the end that helped explain the different effects that Pacific POWs and European POWs faced -- that really hit home for me the extreme abuse and lingering impact that Pacific POWs endured.
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on November 22, 2016
There were 2 reasons why I was hesitant to read this book when it was chosen as a read for our bookclub last summer. To my shame, I labor with non-fiction however well crafted and have always preferred a good mystery or fantasy novel to anything historical or biographical.

Second, I admit to a phobia for anything dealing with imprisonment or confined captivity. I rarely watch movies that feature prison stories ... The 'Green Mile' and 'Papillon', and even 'The Great Escape' were tough watches. I squirm and fret as if I was the one confined.

But I could not be more glad that I turned every page. The story of Louis Zamperini is lovingly and respectfully recounted in an engaging and page-turning way by Laura Hillenbrand. It is a story of determined and resolute courage in the face of unspeakable cruelty and hardship. But more it is the story of a remarkable and inspiring forgiveness and mercy toward those who might least deserve it.

If you imagine there is little that is redeemable in society, or that our world is more broken than whole, 'Unbroken' is certain to restore your faith in what is good and noble in men.
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