This is a fantastic book, one of the most entertaining I've read in years. It's a biography of Louis Zamperini who, judging by the number of schools and airports named after him in the US, is a rather famous individual.
Most British readers, myself included, will not have heard of him. Don't let that put you off though, as Zamperini is one of those individuals who has led both a charmed, lucky, and fascinating life.
We start with his youth, where despite the book making light of his mischief, he was a thug and a thief, destined for a life of dodging the police and jail. He is saved by discovering he has a talent for running. Inspired by his slightly more cunning brother (who is just as much a tearaway as Louis but has the charm to get away with it) he finds himself at the Berlin olympics, running in front of Hitler. His natural talent has him on the verge of a four-minute mile and he appears certain for gold at the 1940 games. Instead, Louis finds himself over the Pacific, manning the bombsight of a B24 bomber, and ultimately fighting for survival in a canvas raft in the middle of the ocean.
And this is just the start of his adventures! Louis Zamperini, as well as being talented, lucky, and brave, is revealed to be pretty much indestructible. I won't summarise any more of the story, as it would spoil it, but this is a great book. A real page turner, written with a wonderfully engaging style that will keep you awake to find out what happens next.
Absolutely first class, highly recommended.
on 29 March 2014
`Unbroken' by Laura Hillenbrand brings an amazing story based on real events that describes the fate of a man who was a member of the Olympic team of his country, and a few years later ended up as a prisoner in World War II camp.
Louis Zamperini was a soldier who found himself back in 1943 in an Army Air Forces bomber that crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Beside two colleagues he was the only survivor of this accident, and although what he went through was hard, the hardest thing was there waiting in front of him.
His youth was not ideal, it cannot be said that he was an example with his behavior, which often exceeded the boundaries and even came to the edge of the law - he stole, broke into the houses, brawled and escaped from his hometown in order to ride with train. However, in some ways it helped him to find out that he was extremely talented in sports, especially running which enabled him to quickly progresses and finally comes to what every athlete is considering the highest honor - representing his country in the Olympics, in his case one that took place in Berlin 1936.
And when the Second World War started, Louis like many other young men across America and around the world replaced his freedom with the military life in the struggle against the Axis powers. Survival in the ocean today with top-quality equipment would be a challenge, and we can only imagine how Louis felt in the ocean, far away from anything, almost without hope, hungry and thirsty, exhausted and surrounded by sharks to which he was supposed to become food.
Still he managed to survive this incredible test, but the nightmare was still far from being over - he was captured by the Japanese and sent to the camp for its brutality comparable to the Nazi ones, and in some ways it was even worse. For Louis even that was not strong enough to break his robust spirit that led him to sport success; he did not give up next three years of his life even in the most difficult days and this book is story of his hope and dreams about freedom, about suffering, about all that seen from today's perspective is difficult to conceive.
What is particularly interesting is that the story does not end with his release from the camp, but continues by describing the continuation of his life, which could not become perfect like using magic wand after all he went through.
Laura Hillenbrand with `Unbroken' managed to once again deliver a powerful piece of non-fiction that speaks about incredible journey of a man who refused to give up, who did not want to surrender, who fought against himself, but finally succeeded.
Therefore her book is dedication to the human spirit that can be measured by force with anything, which is sometimes almost impossible to break as was the case with Louis Zamperini. For this reason `Unbroken' can certainly be recommended to everyone as a lesson and an inspiration for all the battles, large and small, that we fight every day in our lives.
on 9 August 2012
Unbroken is so many stories rolled into one. You could say that it is a story about a young Italian-American tearaway who is redeemed by sporting success. Louie Zamperini is a young hooligan who discovers a talent for middle distance running and this talent takes him as far as the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Zamperini becomes a rising sporting star aiming for the then unbroken 4 minute mile. Like many sportsmen of his generation his career is interrupted by the outbreak of World War Two; Zamperini presently finds himself conscripted into the USAF as a bomb aimer aboard a B-24 bomber based in the Pacific.
Following a successful raid on Wake, Zamperini's luck takes a turn for the worst when his rickety replacement plane, the Green Hornet, ditches in the middle of the Japanese controlled Pacific. The three surviving crew-men begin a harrowing journey for survival aboard a disintegrating raft. Initially their goal is merely to stay alive as long as Eddie Rickenbacker, the former WW1 ace, who in 1942 survived for 24 days in the Pacific before reaching safety. Forced to eat inedible seabirds that alight on their raft and kept alive by an occasional rain shower, Zamperini and his crew mates achieve an incredible feat of survival.
Unbelievably, this is only part of their extraordinary story: deliverance from the sea proves to be something of a mixed blessing...to say the least! Louie then gets caught up in another traumatic episode and he is called upon again to summon up superhuman strength in order to survive yet another ordeal. With the ending of World War Two Zamperini's life turns into a search for salvation and forgiveness towards those who have harmed him.
This really is an extraordinary book and unless you have read it you will not believe that one man could have endured so much.
The story of the life of Louie Zamperini, track athlete at the Berlin Olympic Games, is truly extraordinary. A young American airman whose plane was downed in the Pacific, with just two other survivers, his friend the Pilot, Allen Phillips, and Francis MacNamara, a new member of the crew. All three were to end up sharing a one-man raft and one of the men was not strong enough to survive. The other two were to hang on for 34 days, catching fish and storing rain water, constantly surrounded by circling sharks, before being taken up on a Japanese boat just off the Gilbert Islands. But that was only the beginning.
The treatment for which Zamperini was particularly singled out at the hands of a sadistic and vicious guard, christened The Bird by the POWs, was to bring him close to madness and have a horrendous effect on him lasting until long after the war. To take the edge off the memories he turned to drink, but later he found Evangelistic Christian, Billy Graham, and remembered pledges he'd made to God while drifting across two-thousand miles towards land. The post-war search for The Bird, or Mutsuhiro Watanabe, Zamperini's torturer, is also related.
This is such a well-written book; the pages really fly by (398pp, excluding notes and the epilogue). The research must have been difficult to say the least, yet it never reads like something mired in history. The people caught up in the story include other heroes (as well as villains), on both sides, but it is Zamperini's life story and the cruelties meted out to him and others that grips the imagination (often against one's will). Much of it is taken from diaries that he wrote over the period of his incarceration and kept hidden. It will shock and alienate some readers, but there is much more to admire, especially in Zamperini's courageous and valiant resistance.
Stunning. That sums this book up in a word.
I had read a brief summary of Louis Zamperini's life in Don Stephens' excellent book War and Grace and was fascinated to see a much longer version. I wasn't disappointed.
Some authors struggle when they are faced with a welter of facts, details, interviews - they either smother you with them, thus losing the storyline, or they ignore them, thus depriving the story of colour, depth and character. Laura Hillenbrand has mastered her homework without it mastering her. She strikes a perfect balance, and delivers an engrossing, engaging read.
From Zamperini's early days as a tearaway, to his success as an athlete, through his American Air Force career, to the POW camps in Japan, to his return from the 'grave', to his even more amazing transformation by God's grace - all is superbly told. It is hard to find a point at which to put the book down.
The story captures the horror of air combat, the sickening losses even before combat, the sheer awfulness of the POW camps and the trauma the men faced on returning to 'normal' life. The characters are very real, their fear, courage, humanity, anger, bitterness are all displayed, rather than hyped up or hidden away. One of the aspects I liked was the balance in which the Japanese camp officials were portrayed - some brutal and sadistic, but some deeply courageous and humane. It would have been easy to create a one sided impression.
But for me the absolute highlight is found in the closing chapters. I dont think a review would be complete without mentioning them - But STOP HERE if you dont want to know the ending!
I think it would be a fair reflection to say that the title is slightly inaccurate. Louis Zamperini was eventually broken, he may have survived the camps, but he wasnt surviving the aftermath; he was unraveling at a tremendous rate. Yet it is in this context that this broken man finds himself being remade, set free by a power much greater than his own rugged determination.
It put me in mind of a verse in the Bible - "If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come." 2 Corinthians 5:17
As such, this book is more than an inspiring story, it is one which holds out hope to everyone.
It was refreshing to see a Christian story being treated by an author whose religious leanings I know nothing about, in away that does justice to the impact of God's work in Louis' life. Full marks Laura Hillenbrand.
This book is a perfect read for virtually anyone - even if you aren't drawn to war stories, or Christian biography, I suspect that you will find yourself engrossed in this captivating tale of a struggle for survival and much more.
I very much enjoyed Sea Biscuit by Laura Hillenbrand, but this one is way ahead of it in every way. The life of a young Italian American tear away saved from a life of crime by a loving brother and the discovery of a talent for and love of running. In his teen years he breaks all the age group records for middle distance running and makes the US Olympic team for the 1936 Berlin games.He does well in the 5000 metres ,but his target is the 1940 games 1500 metres and the strong possibility of being the first to run a sub 4 minute mile. Alas the war takes over his life.
He ditches in the Pacific and with 2 others drifts with virtually no rations for 47 days. The irony is that he was not shot down , but was on a search and rescue flight in an unairworthy plane that failed.
After his heroic survival he is picked up by the enemy Japanese and so begins years of absolute hell at the hands of sadistic guards who beat and starve their captives without mercy . In particular a masochistic , pervert , the Bird who by unrelenting torture tries and almost succeeds in breaking Louis' spirit.
The war over Louis can not adjust to freedom and domesticity and descends into alcoholism to escape his demons and the ever present nightmares haunted by theBird. He is too good a man to perish in booze and remembers his vow to God back adrift on the Pacific to serve Him if he is allowed to survive.
His running days are alas over and the dream of the 1948 London games dashed due to the recurrence of a Japanese inflicted injury ,but he is still a young fit man and dedicates the rest of his life to helping young delinquents back to a decent way of life and lecturing about his captivity and the recovery of his life.
This is a special man heaped with honours for his good humanitarian work and amazingly full of forgiveness for those who tried to destroy him. He lives to a busy, happy old age without resentment or fear.
Laura Hillenbrand's descriptions of the dire conditions are well researched and bring the horrors of his captivity to life. The book moves at a fast pace and is rich in facts and details of a hellish time not so long ago.
What a fine example of a decent human being. If only we could all be half the man Louis Zamperinii is.
Laura Hillenbrand can certainly tell a story. "Unbroken" is a biography, the story of Louis Zamperini, who represented the USA in the 1936 Olympics, where he briefly met Goebbels and Hitler, then fought in WWII as a bombadier based in Hawaii. And that's only the start of the tale.
The prologue finds Zamperini in a liferaft on the open ocean, being strafed by an enemy bomber. Boys' Own stuff, perhaps, but Zamperini's lifestory is so interesting, and is told in such an involving way that it's easy to get wrapped up in the story. Other then the prologue, Hillenbrand is careful not to give too much away - Zamperini's life story is narrated in the order events happened, so we know as much - or as little - as Zamperini did himself of what would happen next.
It's a powerful book, cathartic but also leaving a strong sense of injustice. By showing the war through one person's experience, it also helps explain how hard - or impossible - it was for so many to adjust to their former lives when they returned home.
People sometimes talk about books they couldn't put down. "Unbroken" was like that for me - I was reading it through the night when I knew I should be getting some sleep. Time Magazine named it the best non-fiction book of 2010; it's certainly the best book I've read in the past year.
on 12 February 2011
Not literally unbelievable of course, but that will be your reaction as you read of Zamperini's odyssey. It makes for a compelling read. As we saw with "Seabiscuit" Hillenbrand excels at this type of biography. It is true there are a handful of passages which hint, as others have said, that it's over-researched, but there are many moments which leave a lasting impression. I do suggest that to maximise that impact you read as little as possible in advance of reading the book, even avoid the book-jacket itself - just let it unfold and prepare to be left awe-struck.
I admit I approached this book with a certain amount of trepidation. I wondered how you could write a book about someone spending weeks on a raft and yet keep it interesting? It turns out that there is so much more to Louie Zamperini's story than that, although I don't want to give too much away.
This is a man I suspect very few Brits will have heard of. And yet his story is utterly astonishing and completely riveting. This was a very hard book to put down and I read it very quickly.
I love the way the author has told this story. No lantern-jawed heroes, fearing nothing, in these pages. Rather, very genuine and very honest, flesh-and-blood people - scared to death at times, traumatised by what has happened to them. The real deal. People like you and me who yet find within themselves a courage to endure that is so astounding, so amazing that you are left in awe. Which is how it should be. Still, I think she did take a certain lick of gloss to Louie's youth and I was left a little curious, suspecting more 'behind the scenes'. But that is a very, very small point and this is someone who earned redemption. This was, ultimately, a man unbroken by what happened to him - but who came, many times, very very close to being destroyed by it.
Ms Hillenbrand is an excellent author and this is a brilliant tale. I cannot recommend it highly enough and I'll certainly be looking out for other books she has written. You won't regret buying this book, I'm certain
on 14 December 2010
I couldn't stop reading until I got to the end at 6:00am. My first "all-nighter" in years. This book is not only well written but reveals a historical time no longer part of our education system. Louie, is amazing. I will read this book again to make sure I get the facts right. This book will change or reinforce your opinion of the Japanese during WWII.