Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken has held a place on the New York Times Best Sellers List ever since it was published in 2010, so its reputation among readers is well established. Hillenbrand first came across the story of Lt. Louis Zamperini when she was researching her earlier best-seller, Seabiscuit, and contacted him in 2002 about writing his story. Mr. Zamperini, an Olympic runner who survived a plane crash and 47 days on a life raft in WWII, only to be captured as a prisoner of war by the Japanese, had already written his own story and felt there was nothing more to say. But Hillenbrand told him she wanted to write about the war through the eyes of one person, and he consented. After interviewing him hundreds of hours and doing extensive research, she has written a thoroughly engrossing read that reveals in great detail what it was like for many fighting on the Pacific front and, in particular, the amazing resilience of one man.
Zamperini lived a remarkable life. (He died in 2014 at the age of 97.) The book begins with his childhood and moves briefly through his discovery of running, training for the Olympics (he ran in 1936), and his enlistment in early 1941 in the Army Air Corps. Beginning with the attack on Pearl Harbor, the rest of the book is a detailed account of the riveting war experiences of Zamperini and his comrades. It concludes with his post-war trauma, and a life-changing experience in Billy Graham’s tent in 1949 that enabled him to forgive his Japanese persecutors and be released from his nightmares. Louis Zamperini spent the rest of his life as a Christian inspirational speaker, and he founded a camp for troubled boys.
Members of the Book Discussion Group thought this book was enthralling, and amazing in its depth and breadth. All agreed that Hillenbrand is an excellent writer, one member saying that the words flowed so well, she sometimes forgot to breathe. Several members thought the research done by Hillenbrand was excellent, but that the use of too many statistics slowed down the narrative. One member switched to the Young Adult version of the book, which is shorter, and found it more to her liking. Another member shared her experience of meeting Mr. Zamperini, and of reading his writings about his career as a Christian speaker.
Reviewed by Nancy
Date of Discussion: May 6, 2015 Average: 4.5 stars