Louie Zamperini and my father, Jim Wilson, were friends, and so I have known the outlines of Zamperini s story my whole life Somewhere in the photo archives around Moscow, we have a baby photo of me, taken by Zamperini I am drooling in that picture, something I have contrived not to do with recent photographs.Though I have been familiar with this story for a long time, Hillenbrand s telling of it is magnificent This is a book to reinforce everything you knew doctrinally about man s capacity for both depravity and heroism This was a deeply edifying read Highly recommended. If I knew I had to go through those experiences again, he finally said, I d kill myself Louis Zamperini was a precocious child He was always finding creative ways to get himself in trouble He was desperate for any attention Causing trouble is one way to get it, another way is to become really, really good at something His brother Pete, a multi sport star athlete, forced him into cross country and track in the hopes of keeping him out of trouble The running, at first, felt like a punishment for all of Louis s misdeeds, but then something clicked over and he discovered that not only did he like running, but that he had an aptitude for it He started winning races and then he started breaking records I went out for cross country my senior year of high school not because I had a burning desire to run, but because I wanted to get in shape for basketball season The football coach had visions of me being a tall, reasonably fast, wide receiver I had visions of a helmet crashing into my knee ending not only a short lived football career, but also wiping out my penultimate season of basketball On the cross country team was a guy named Roger His father had been an Olympic athlete He had qualified for the games in Mexico, drank the water, and became too sick to compete Roger had dreams of the Olympics in his future I had a much smaller goal of improved stamina for basketball By the time the first race rolls around I m still not sure how I will stack up with the other runners With Roger beating me easily every day at practice I was worried about embarrassing myself At this point I had no racing strategy, no thought except finishing two miles The gun sounds, everybody takes off in a stampede At about the one mile marker I started passing scads of runners who were flagging I was thinking am I outpacing myself here Am I going to run out of gas Then up ahead I caught a flash of Phillipsburg Panther blue I could see Roger He was duking it out with a pair of twins from a rival city The stories that Zamperini told the author about runners elbowing, pushing, gougingall true Of course Roger wasn t worried about how long he took to run the race he was just putting a pace out there that eliminated all but his most formidable opponents When the finish line came into sight he kicked down the afterburners and won with ease I finished 6th out of 65 runners, suddenly running took on a new meaning for me I was descended on by the local radio, television, and newspaper reporters They asked me about the upcoming basketball season, a sport with a lot interest to the community than cross country They did ask me a few questions about the race which I couldn t really answer because I wasn t really sure how I managed to come in 6th I looked over at Roger who was sitting on the ground changing out of his running shoes No one was asking him any questions I wish I d motioned him over or walked over to him bringing the people asking questions with me, but I was still trying to make sense of everything He told me later that he was just glad I was bringing some attention to the program He was magnanimous, but I felt about four inches tall Louis and Roger would have understood each other perfectly They knew all they had to do was keep winning and eventually the world would notice Louis Zamperini s Olympic passport.I never did learn to love running, but I did love competing Laura Hillenbrand knows how to tell a story Readers will find the descriptions of Zamperini s races leading up to the Olympics much compelling than they think, even if they don t have an interest in sports Zamperini qualified in the 5000 meters by the skin of his teeth for the historic 1936 Olympic Games Jesse Owens was the story that year He was putting a finger in Adolf Hitler s eyes every time he stepped onto the track Zamperini finished eighth, but he was determined to return in 1940 and win a fist full of medals The wheel of fortune landed on a different fate for Louis Zamperini B 24 diagramWorld War Two put a crimp in many plans, dreams were put on hold, careers were set aside, and marriages were speeded up Zamperini ended up a bombardier in a B 24 His job of dropping bombs on the Japanese was hazardous enough, but when a commanding officer ordered his crew up in a plane that flew mushy and had been stripped of all nonessential parts he was certainly tempting fate The plane was called The Green Hornet and just like the movie by the same name it crashed and burned Three members of the crew survived and Zamperini was one of the fortunate few The Bucket of Bolts that dropped the boys into the Pacific I always love the airplane artwork.After drifting for months, surviving by sheer grit and determination, they are picked up as prisoners of war by the Japanese Life has got to improve, right After all they don t have sharks rubbing at the bottom of their survival raft every day and every night They don t have to worry about where their next drink of water is going to come from or their next meal.Wrong The shark metamorphosis into a Bird, the Bird is Matsuhiro Watanabe He is a psychopath who actually became sexually aroused beating up helpless prisoners When the movie comes out this guy is going to be known the world over as one of the sickest most despicable human beings to ever exist The list of charges against him, at the end of the war, were a stream of paper eight feet long Matsuhiro the Bird WatanabeHis favorite target Lieutenant Louis ZamperiniThe Pacific POWs who went home in 1945 were torn down men They had an intimate understanding of man s vast capacity to experience suffering, as well as his equally vast capacity, and hungry willingness to inflict it They carried unspeakable memories of torture and humiliation, and an acute sense of vulnerability that attended the knowledge of how readily they could be disarmed and dehumanized I was surprised to learn that my own understanding of the treatment of POWs under the Japanese was sketchy at best I m still processing the images invoked from recently reading The Devil of Nanking about the massacres at Nanking in 1937 Like the Nazis the Japanese at this time were interested in the purity of their own race They felt that as a superior race it was their place to rule all of Asia They believed that to surrender was cowardly and dishonorable behavior This belief led to some very erratic aggressive behavior by Japanese soldiers who would rather die than be taken prisoner So The Bird was a corporal who had been turned down for an officer s position, this humiliation infuriated him He despised these American soldiers who had surrendered and he especially despised the officers More than 37% of Americans held captive by the Japanese died Only 1% of Americans held by the Nazis and Italians died The Japanese guards were brutal and sadistic and at the end of the war many of them were prosecuted and executed This changed as the Americans discovered that Japan would prove a valuable ally in the upcoming Cold War The prosecution of further war criminals became a political stumbling block and were stopped I reached a point where I wondered why Louis Zamperini continued to want to live He was too strong, too stubborn, too competitive to give up When he crashed, his parents didn t know he survived They were kept in nervous, soul crushing suspense because a demented Corporal decided that the POWs under his command would not be able to write home Laura Hillenbrand could have let the behavior of the Japanese guards weigh this book down into a horrific tale of depressing stories of physical and mental abuse, but though she does share a lot of those stories with us they are uplifted by the sheer determination of Zamperini not only to live, but to get one chance to wrap his hands around the neck of his tormentor This book had me considering who we are when we go to war Why do so many leave their homes as fathers, husbands, brothers and become this shockingly terrifying person capable of the most sadistic behavior War is hell I know that, but there is a huge difference between killing someone in self defense on a battlefield and quite another to systematically, with creativity, torture people The Rape of Nanking or the abuse of POWs defies all logic These soldiers are not criminals or murderers These are normal people until they are put in a uniform and then, somehow they transform into criminals and murderers Laura Hillenbrand with Louis ZamperiniHillenbrand includes a plethora of pictures all placed in with the text so you can look at a picture of what she is describing as you read it I wish publishers would do this for books It really enhances the experience Hillenbrand is an excellent writer with a gift for storytelling She adds in these wonderful details that really bring the story to life, so instead of waiting for the movie pick up the book and marvel at the capacity of humans to survive and bring their lives back from the brink of despair Survival, Resilience, and Redemption are the subtitle of this book You will end the book knowing and believing that Louis Zamperini exemplified all those qualities in the face of impossible odds.If you wish to see of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit also have a Facebook blogger page at 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 , An Army Air Forces Bomber Crashed Into The Pacific Ocean And Disappeared, Leaving Only A Spray Of Debris And A Slick Of Oil, Gasoline, And Blood Then, On The Ocean Surface, A Face Appeared It Was That Of A Young Lieutenant, The Plane S Bombardier, Who Was Struggling To A Life Raft And Pulling Himself Aboard So Began One Of The Most Extraordinary Odysseys Of The Second World WarThe Lieutenant S Name Was Louis Zamperini In Boyhood, He D Been A Cunning And Incorrigible Delinquent, Breaking Into Houses, Brawling, And Fleeing His Home To Ride The Rails As A Teenager, He Had Channeled His Defiance Into Running, Discovering A Prodigious Talent That Had Carried Him To The Berlin Olympics And Within Sight Of The Four Minute Mile But When War Had Come, The Athlete Had Become An Airman, Embarking On A Journey That Led To His Doomed Flight, A Tiny Raft, And A Drift Into The UnknownAhead Of Zamperini Lay Thousands Of Miles Of Open Ocean, Leaping Sharks, A Foundering Raft, Thirst And Starvation, Enemy Aircraft, And, Beyond, A Trial Even Greater Driven To The Limits Of Endurance, Zamperini Would Answer Desperation With Ingenuity Suffering With Hope, Resolve, And Humor Brutality With Rebellion His Fate, Whether Triumph Or Tragedy, Would Be Suspended On The Fraying Wire Of His Will I ve seen recently that negative commentary or reviews about this book invoke a kind of backlash normally reserved for non conformists who critique the Bible, The Diary of Ann Frank, The Last Lecture, or any Oprah Book of the MonthWell, brace yourself because here comes another one This book is a poorly written, exaggerated, sensationalized version of a true story, an over hyped pop history book concerned with drumming home the message that the human spirit can be indestructible in the face of extreme adversity a pet theme for the author it seems than in being a tight and accurate biography of a war hero I had the feeling throughout the book that the true story was buried somewhere deep in the pages, struggling to get past the hyperbole and over the top events to floor the reader with what really happened It s instead mired in the monotonous descriptions of our protagonist s lurid misfortunes and maltreatment, told in mind numbing detail, and never really allowed to break free Judging by the notes, Laura Hillenbrand has put in a respectable amount of research yet the way in which she weaves the facts into the book is so sloppy and lacking any hint of subtlety it leaves you feeling like you re reading a first draft script for a Michael Bay flick remains to be seen if you are The resulting story is horrendously tedious, repetitive, and despite the fascinating subject and the stage where it s all taking place boring as all hell The first part of the book takes us from Louie s humble beginnings through his meteoric rise to the Olympics The second part involves Louie s time in the military and all of his oftentimes unbelievable achievements The third is the account of his B 24 bomber crash, subsequent loss at sea, capture by the Japanese, and the endless rounds of torture and beatings The fourth and last part is his rescue life after the War and finding God with Billy Graham How can this be made boring Well, it can if your prose never rises above a dull, rambling, ill constructed narrative about how this event happened, then this one did, and then this thing happened after that.The characters in the book are so shallow and one dimensional, hardly a one is given than a passing intro before the story bumbles on to the next thinly veiled anecdote The people begin blurring into the next and you re left struggling to tell one cardboard person from another Apart from Louie and his family the only other characters that really stood out were his raft mate and best buddy Phil and his most sadistic prison guard dubbed The Bird Every minute of every one of Louie s beatings by The Bird is documented to the nth degree every one of The Bird s tantrums, mood changes, facial tics, and spazz attacks is written about in the most curious of detail The reader is subjected to dozens of last sightings of The Bird only to have him shockingly resurface in the most unlikely of situations a chapter later You know the kind of scene I mean And Louie looked up at the new arrival only to discover once again Dah dum duuuuuuumthat it was The Bird This can only be pulled so many times before the reader starts to feel like they re being strongly manipulated by the author It happens so often in fact you start to think of it as a good candidate for some kind of literary drinking game where you take a shot of bourbon every time he shows up.Now, far be it for me to disparage war veterans, especially POWs who ve endured the kinds of crushing abuse that Louie and his fellow service men have, but how is it that we are able to get such detailed minutia over 50 years after it all went down I ll bet you can t describe the full details of the days of your wedding, your first child being born, your first car crash, your first date, getting your driver s license, etc These were all life changing, and in some cases traumatic, days in your life and it s a safe bet that most, if not all, of these events took place recently for you than 50 years ago Most of us remember scant bits and pieces of events and many of these memories have drifted from reality in our fallible brains Even polling spectators who were there at the time and cobbling together all of the recollections won t make for a fully fleshed out memory This thought kept rattling around my brain as I made my way through the book How on earth could these things be recalled so clearly and precisely after all that time I ve read other POW accounts that say that all days start to blur together and the extreme horrors the soldiers endured are blocked out of memory Some soldiers, as Hillenbrand herself says in the book, forget the war entirely The sneaking suspicion and you can t help but feel like a total shit for thinking it is that a lot of the filler put in the book to string the anecdotes together is fabricated to puff up the story to appeal to a broader audience.These suspected filler bits are nothing compared to some of the fantastical events scattered throughout the book Zemperini is cheapened and the readers are dared not to roll their eyes as he is aggrandized and endlessly adulated from a man to a superhuman demi god He can withstand plane crashes, hourly beatings for over a year, prolonged starvation, backbreaking physical labor, diseases, and anything else that can be dished out Consider his scenes of fist fighting sharks in open water, meeting Hitler after his Olympic race, running a 4 12 mile in the fucking sand , surviving violent dysentery for weeks on end with only scant handfuls of polluted water to drink not to mention the death sentence disease beriberi that he contracted and overcame, despite it being untreated , blacking out as he s tangled in wires in his sinking bomber only to wake up untangled and able to swim freely to the surface, self repairing a broken nose and leg while at prison camp, and living through 40 days at sea with practically no water or food then having the patience to wait offshore overnight once he reaches an island of course, just in time for a typhoon to hit them in their raft Seriously These personal achievements are apart from his sufferings in a group setting like enduring over 220 punches in the face during one camp thrashing and moving 20 30 tons yes, TONS 40,000 to 60,000 U.S pounds of material at a rail yard in a day Why the author stopped there and didn t throw in a cage match with a silverback gorilla to determine alpha male dominance I m not sure.I imagine therein lies part of the reason why this book resonates so deeply with our intelligence starved society today Long titillated by years of reality TV, Saw movie sequels, and other torture porn many are conditioned to be drawn to the grisly and violent story of a guy who went through hell and made it to the million dollar vote by the end It s the car crash scene you slowly drive by and can t pull your eyes away from Can you pull those bodies closer to me so I can get a better look I also suspect the book serves as a keen display to whiners in search of inspiration that hey, maybe my life ain t so bad after all.I say hats off to Louis Zamperini and his fellow soldiers Seriously A toast I have nothing but bottomless admiration, respect, and gratitude for his service and am in awe of his mettle and perseverance He is one tough as nails guy whose achievements should not be overlooked and never be forgotten It just would have been nice if his story could have been told in a honest and fair manner, letting the facts speak for themselves without all the earnest dramatization, unabashed hero worship, and hyperbole slathered so thickly over them His autobiography Devil at My Heels maybe Louie Zamperini was quite a character, wild, given to mayhem and thievery, but he straightened out enough to become a world class runner, joining the US team in the Berlin Olympics He continued his athletic career at USC, setting running records there, preparing for the next international competition But the world would skip that event, leaving Louie adrift He joined the military and washed out, but he was drafted back in after Pearl Harbor, as a bombardier When Louie s plane went down in the middle of the Pacific, while on a bombing run, his great adventure began Unbroken is Louie s tale of survival Laura Hillenbrand image from FlavorwireLouie and two other crew members would drift for an unthinkable duration before sighting land, struggling to collect potable water, desperate to catch fish and birds for food and terrified of being devoured by the constantly marauding sharks Once they finally landed it was out of the frying pan and into the rising sun, as they were taken prisoner by the Japanese Enduring years of the beatings, deprivations, forced labor and humiliations that were daily fare in Japanese POW camps made their ocean voyage seem like a pleasure cruise This is not only an amazingly researched book, with details that clearly took serious, serious digging to unearth, but Laura Hillenbrand is a gifted story teller, as any who have read Seabiscuit can attest, and she brings her narrative skills to this remarkable, real life tale Having introduced Louie in the early chapters and providing reasons to care, she documents a relentless sequence of trials that he and his mates had to endure It does get a little repetitive, but there were times when the hairs on my arm stood up and saluted and I had to put the book down because the horrors these men faced were so frightening and upsetting Think Jaws vs a rubber raft But I was so captivated by the story that I dove right back in after a short break The unpleasantness of the Geneva challenged WW II Japanese military was not news to me, but the details Hillenbrand provides gave that vision considerable depth There is a psycho guard character in this story who would fit in well in many a horror film And yet, with all the monstrtosities of the camps, there is also Hogan s Heroes type humor that will make you laugh out loud Louis ZamperiniLouie s life post liberation was no picnic either PTSD was not in the lexicon at the time, but anyone today would recognize the symptoms Even though the unspeakable horrors he endured had not killed him, the internalized terrors he brought home might have finished the job Hillenbrand takes us through those trials and tells the surprising story of how this incredibly strong, but seriously damaged man, was mended Unbroken offers an important portrait about a dark time, but shows how strength, courage, incredible determination and a dose of faith can overcome any obstacle You will weep, rage, laugh and cheer What can a reader ask EXTRA STUFFThe author s personal and FBpagesA fascinating article on Laura Hillenbrand from Smithsonian MagazineJuly 3, 2014 Zamperini passes, the NY Times obit I ve just finished this awesome book, and have since washed the tears from my face I can t hope to write a coherent review there are so many good ones already written , so I ll just jot a few thoughts down This is why I love non fiction Best book by far I ve read this year Every positive cliche adjective should be applied to this story 5 stars isn t enough If it was fiction, you wouldn t believe it Go buy yourself a cloth hankie, cause a kleenex ain t gonna cut it by the last chapter Makes me wish my dad was still around so I could ask him about the war My next book is going to SUCK in comparison might as well re read Breaking Dawn then Read this great review by my GR friend Amy S her review made me want to read this book great job Amy Perfect book to wrap up on Memorial Day, 2012 To those who served, to those who still serve, to those who made it back, to those who didn t, to those who still suffer in ways we cannot imagine, thank you.Thank you.Thank you. Holy mackerel This is the single non fiction book you ought to put on your read list for 2013 Even if you don t read it, it s presence on your shelf will enrich your library.This is a WWII survival story of an American aviator in the Pacific theater And wow Louis Zamperini Zamp An Italian immigrant with the fastest mile in college track who shook hands with Hitler at the 36 Olympics, shot down in the pacific, 40 days in a 2 man raft with 3 people, captured, paraded for propaganda, tortured sadistically on mainland Japan for years by a Jap known only as The Bird that said we re not in Geneva any, rescued at 90 pounds wearing the same 3 year old clothes, followed by years of alcoholic depression, only to be saved by an upstart preacher, Billy Graham, when reminded of the promise he made God in the ocean doldrums with lips so burned and swollen they blocked his nostrils, dedicating his remaining life to working with underprivileged kids.This is the kind of story that causes people to break unexpectedly into chants of U S A, U S A, U S A Patriotic outbursts are common at international sporting events, political rallies, displays of military power, and they are also common at pages 85, 130, 165, 201, 232, 255, 287, 303, and 313.Laura Hillenbrand does a wonderful job presenting the timing and pacing of this novel, so that it simply reads itself to you And there re plenty of pictures Just enough information, just the right touch for a feel good story Bravo.In 10 15 years America will lose all its primary sources from WWII You will have no reference, no great grampa to reveal that epoch to you in lost military jargon and GI colloquialism Great grampa, the leatherneck, that, when you were a punk adolescent, sat alone in the warm sunroom with paper thin skin on the backs of his hands, spots of lentigo, and steaming black coffee in winter Gut rot coffee, the way he learned to drink it back then, in a hole, or at predawn prep for takeoff And so, I m afraid that younger generations will lose the silken threads that link living history I m afraid that kids who think nothing unusual of presidents with no military experience will view WWII simply as another knuckle in history something to study, fodder for a paper but no less important than history that piles up each year and must be studied in turn.But WWII was so defining for so many generations, globally, it just yearns not to be forgotten.Due diligence for my star rating 1 Zamp was an officer in the Army Air Corp I was an officer in the Air Force.2 Zamp was a navigator I was a navigator.3 Zamp flew in a B 24D LIBERATOR I flew in an RC 135W RIVET JOINT.4 Zamp flew in a multiseat, crew based aircraft I flew in a multiseat, crew based aircraft.5 Zamp had a callsign I had a callsign.6 Zamp flew in the Pacific theater I flew in the Pacific theater.7 Zamp fought a war and saw combat I fought a war and saw combat.8 Zamp took aviator survival school I took aviator survival school.9 Zamp has a standard issue leather jacket for high altitude flight I have the same.10 Zamp is still alive For non service members, it s a complete mystery the bonds that tie men of military and combat experience Zamperini is my brother He and I could talk at the O Club bar until closing, no matter the 51 years between our service We could talk about training, flying, targeting the enemy, jumping up during negative G s so that you hover for an unearthly span of time before settling easy back on the bulkhead His experience has sweetened my understanding of my own military service This book has at least extended Zamperini s legend to the end of my life Beyond that, spoken history is fact, then parable, then myth I believe this is the kind of book that military members especially aviators must read to carry forward the memorial and self sacrifice ofduty, honor, country If this doesn t convince you, almost 100,000 people have given the book 4.46 stars in 2 short years I wonder how many have been in the military U S A, U S A, U S A U S A, U S A, U S A If you are wondering if you should read Unbroken , just read it Even if you don t end up liking it, you just need to read it Everyone does.Louis Zamperini was an Italian American Olympic runner whose plane goes down in World War 2, and he and two other men drift on a raft for a long, long time I don t want to tell you anything else, because I want you to experience it This books packs a double punch the story itself is as amazing as Laura Hillenbrand s genius story telling.Books like this inspire us, they shift our perspectives, they enlighten us, and they scare the bleep out of us Louis stretched the human experience to the very depth and breadth of its ability to survive and lived, scratch that, LIVES to tell about it. 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 view spoiler his journey to forgiveness and healing through his conversion to Christianity, especially his willingness to meet with The Bird and offer unconditional forgiveness hide spoiler Wow am I in the minority I absolutely loved Seabiscuit, so I expected great things from this one However, where Seabiscuit focused narrowly on a small set of characters and events, this was 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 to Zamperini, as opposed to what was going through his mind, what gave him hope, etc material that I would have found infinitely 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 felt 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.
Laura Hillenbrand born 1967 is the author of the acclaimed Seabiscuit An American Legend, a non fiction account of the career of the great racehorse Seabiscuit, for which she won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year in 2001 The book later became the basis of the 2003 movie Seabiscuit Her essays have appeared in The New Yorker, Equus magazine, American Heritage, The Blood Horse, Thoroughbr
- 473 pages
- Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
- Laura Hillenbrand
- 09 October 2018 Laura Hillenbrand