Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption

In her long-awaited new book, Laura Hillenbrand writes with the same rich and vivid narrative voice she displayed in Seabiscuit. Telling an unforgettable story of a man's journey into extremity, Unbroken is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit. On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared...

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Title:Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption
Author:Laura Hillenbrand
Rating:
Edition Language:English

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption Reviews

  • Annalisa

    Hillenbrand has broken the unwritten code for Americans to downplay the wrongs of the Japanese during World War II (other than Pearl Harbor) in favor of focusing on the egregious acts of the Nazis. My education in World War II history has focused on the Holocaust and the unforgivable damage we did to Japan by unleashing the atomic bomb. I appreciate all the research Hillenbrand did to bring us the other side of the story.

    Louis Zamperini is my new hero. I loved his charisma and endurance, both of

    Hillenbrand has broken the unwritten code for Americans to downplay the wrongs of the Japanese during World War II (other than Pearl Harbor) in favor of focusing on the egregious acts of the Nazis. My education in World War II history has focused on the Holocaust and the unforgivable damage we did to Japan by unleashing the atomic bomb. I appreciate all the research Hillenbrand did to bring us the other side of the story.

    Louis Zamperini is my new hero. I loved his charisma and endurance, both of which shined through in Hillenbrand's meticulous writing. I haven't been this invested in non-fiction in a long time. Even when she was talking about airplane design I was enthralled. And even though I figured Zamperini had to have survived his ordeal to give Hillenbrand an interview, I was still anxious about his survival. My favorite part of Louis' story is

    . How inspiring and moving, his whole story, but especially his life after the war.

    I don't think I can pick up another book for a few days. I need to let this one settle before I delve into fiction that will feel meaningless after this.

  • Kemper

    I was cleaning up after the wife and I had dinner last night and there was a small amount of green beans left. There weren’t nearly enough for another serving to make them worth saving so I dumped them in the sink, but just as I was about to turn on the garbage disposal, I realized that to the POWs described in

    those few green beans I was about to mulch would have been a feast they would have risked torture and beatings for. I was disgusted with myself for the rest of the night. You kno

    I was cleaning up after the wife and I had dinner last night and there was a small amount of green beans left. There weren’t nearly enough for another serving to make them worth saving so I dumped them in the sink, but just as I was about to turn on the garbage disposal, I realized that to the POWs described in

    those few green beans I was about to mulch would have been a feast they would have risked torture and beatings for. I was disgusted with myself for the rest of the night. You know the book you’re reading is hitting you hard when you feel that much shame for letting a tiny bit of food go to waste.

    Louie Zamperini is one of those guys who definitely earned that Greatest Generation label. The son of Italian immigrant parents, Louie was a rebellious kid who was constantly into one form of mischief or another, but when he finally channeled his energy into running, he became a high school track star in California. Louie was so good that he made the 1936 Olympics in Berlin at the age of 19, and even though he didn’t medal, he ran one lap of a race so quickly that he electrified the crowd and even caught Hitler’s attention.

    As a college runner, Louie held several national records and many thought that he’d be the man to eventually break the four minute mile. He was poised to do well in the 1940 Olympics, but then World War II cancelled the games. Louie left college and ended up in the air corps even though he was scared of planes. He became a bombardier and went to the Pacific after Pearl Harbor. Louie survived several missions, including one where their B-24 barely made it back with over 500 holes in it.

    While on a search and rescue mission, Louie’s plane crashed in the ocean, and only he and two others survived. With few supplies on two tiny life rafts, they’d endure exposure, starvation, thirst and sharks.

    However, after finally reaching an island and being captured by the Japanese, Louie’s hellish experience as a POW would make him miss the raft and the sharks. Starved, beaten, tortured and degraded, Louie also faces extra punishment at the hands of a brutally sadistic guard who singled him out. Louie and the other prisoners desperately try to hang on long enough for America to win the war and free them.

    I didn’t care anything about race horses, but found Laura Hillenbrand’s

    an incredibly interesting read. She’s surpassed that book here with this well researched story. Hillenbrand creates vivid descriptions of Louie’s childhood, the Berlin Olympics, the life of an air man in the Pacific, and a Japanese POW camp while also telling the stories of the people around Louie.

    She also does a superior job of describing a phase of World War II that tends to get overlooked, Japanese war crimes against prisoners. The number of prisoners killed by the Japanese through starvation, beatings and forced labor are staggering, but Hillenbrand also shines a light on the Japanese policy of killing all POWs if that area was about to be invaded. Per her research, they were preparing to begin slaughtering prisoners in Japan in late August and September of 1945, but the dropping of the atomic bombs and the surrender of the emperor probably saved those POWs lives. If the war would have carried on or a conventional invasion done, then mostly likely those prisoners would have been killed.*

    Ultimately, while this is a book about people enduring incredible hardship and cruelty during war, it's a hopeful book, not a depressing one. Great writing and the care that Hillenbrand took with the people and places make this compelling reading.

  • Laura

    Wow am I in the minority.

    I absolutely loved

    , so I expected great things from this one. However, where Seabiscuit focused narrowly on a small set of characters and events, this was more sprawling, bursting with a poorly-sketched cast of characters who, over time, became nearly indistinguishable. For most of the middle section, the book wore me down with its unrelenting catalogue of abuse and privation. On a related note, I wasn't crazy about the fact that the book endlessly described

    Wow am I in the minority.

    I absolutely loved

    , so I expected great things from this one. However, where Seabiscuit focused narrowly on a small set of characters and events, this was more sprawling, bursting with a poorly-sketched cast of characters who, over time, became nearly indistinguishable. For most of the middle section, the book wore me down with its unrelenting catalogue of abuse and privation. On a related note, I wasn't crazy about the fact that the book endlessly described what was happening

    Zamperini, as opposed to what was going through his mind, what gave him hope, etc.--material that I would have found infinitely more interesting.

    As other reviewers have noted, although listed as non-fiction, the book suffers from potentially unreliable narration, as most details were reported to the author some 50 years after the fact. After that long, memories of events dim or, conversely, are embellished. Indeed, some details

    a bit off to me (for instance, Zamperini described being tangled up in wires and going down with his plane when he blacked out; he was miraculously free of all encumbrances when he came to). A huge detail that seemed off was Zamperini's redemption at the end: it didn't make sense to me that Zamperini's problems with alcoholism, post-traumatic stress disorder, and rage, fueled by years of the aforementioned abuse and privation, were all completely and conveniently cured by a couple of hours listening to the preaching of Billy Graham. (To be honest, I thought this plot point tends to demean veterans' struggles generally.)

    But the book moved along at a brisk pace and held my attention. I feel like I learned a lot about an aspect of American and WWII history that may be overlooked (the experiences of POWs in Japan was never covered in any of my high school or college history classes). So for that I give this book an enthusiastic 3 stars.

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