Thursday, March 29, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

I’ve finished another book for the Mount TBR challenge hosted by My Reader’s Block : Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.

I bought this book last year because it was the selection for one of my book clubs. I read the first few pages and was blown away. I don’t think I’ve ever read such an adventure-filled, compelling preface. But it turned out I wasn’t going to be able to attend the book group meeting, so I set the book aside, intending to get back to it. Other books took precedence for one reason or another and Unbroken sat unread in a basket by my bed.

Finally, we chose it for my history/historical fiction book club, giving me a chance to rescue it from the pile.

For anyone unfamiliar with this NY Times bestseller, Unbroken (subtitled a World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption) is the story of Louis Zamperini. As a teenager, Zamperini competed in the Berlin Olympics. It was widely expected that he would soon break the four minute mile. But war broke out and he joined the Army Air Forces instead.

Hillenbrand builds the character up from a delinquent and defiant youth, defined by petty thievery and pranks, to an only semi-reformed adolescent track star. Zamperini’s backstory is necessary to understanding the type of person he is and what strengths he draws upon in times of trouble.

So, Zamperini joins the military. Life in the Army Air Forces is terrifyingly dangerous. The men are just as likely (if not more likely) to die in training than in combat. Zamperini’s missions are recounted in elaborate detail. His crew (he is the bombardier) is luckier than most, but even his crew’s luck eventually runs out. While on a search and rescue mission, they crash land in the Pacific. This is the beginning of Zamperini’s ordeal.

Three survivors of the crash are adrift in two small rafts on the open ocean. This is point where the reader was first introduced to the story in the preface, so this much is not a spoiler. The remainder of the book follows Zamperini (and a few other men) through the remainder of the war. It makes for fascinating, grueling reading. Like most WWII books, it leaves you appalled by how brutal humans can be to one another and astonished at the human capacity for survival.

The depth of Hillenbrand’s research is impressive. The story-telling is straightforward and intense. And while this is Zamperini’s story, I was left thinking that there were quite a few remarkable, resilient men in the book, not just Zamperini. If you’re in the mood to be inspired, Hillenbrand’s book fits the bill.


  1. Hmm...the topic isn't one that would usually interest me but I've yet to see a bad review of this. I might have to give it a try!

  2. I haven't seen a bad review of this book either. I've been meaning to buy it for my dad, but it's a bit more difficult to find in Australia. I think he'd enjoy it.

  3. I have heard so many good things about this book, I am going to have to read it soon! Your review was wonderful!