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No.
26


 
Inspiring,
Informative,
Dramatic

217 reviews

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

Published: 2010-11-16
Hardcover : 496 pages
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Recommended to book clubs by 211 of 217 members
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE • Hailed as the top nonfiction book of the year by Time magazine • Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for biography and the Indies Choice Adult Nonfiction Book of the Year awardOn a May afternoon in 1943, an Ar...
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Introduction

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE • Hailed as the top nonfiction book of the year by Time magazine • Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for biography and the Indies Choice Adult Nonfiction Book of the Year award

On a May afternoon in 1943, 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 War.

The 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 unknown.

Ahead 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.

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.

Praise for Unbroken
 
“Extraordinarily moving . . . a powerfully drawn survival epic.”The Wall Street Journal
 
“[A] one-in-a-billion story . . . designed to wrench from self-respecting critics all the blurby adjectives we normally try to avoid: It is amazing, unforgettable, gripping, harrowing, chilling, and inspiring.”—New York
 
“Staggering . . . mesmerizing . . . Hillenbrand’s writing is so ferociously cinematic, the events she describes so incredible, you don’t dare take your eyes off the page.”People
 
“A meticulous, soaring and beautifully written account of an extraordinary life.”—The Washington Post
 
“Ambitious and powerful . . . a startling narrative and an inspirational book.”—The New York Times Book Review
 
“Marvelous . . . Unbroken is wonderful twice over, for the tale it tells and for the way it’s told. . . . It manages maximum velocity with no loss of subtlety.”Newsweek
 
“Moving and, yes, inspirational . . . [Laura] Hillenbrand’s unforgettable book . . . deserve[s] pride of place alongside the best works of literature that chart the complications and the hard-won triumphs of so-called ordinary Americans and their extraordinary time.”—Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air
 
“Hillenbrand . . . tells [this] story with cool elegance but at a thrilling sprinter’s pace.”Time

Unbroken is too much book to hope for: a hellride of a story in the grip of the one writer who can handle it.”—Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run

Editorial Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, November 2010: From Laura Hillenbrand, the bestselling author of Seabiscuit, comes Unbroken, the inspiring true story of a man who lived through a series of catastrophes almost too incredible to be believed. In evocative, immediate descriptions, Hillenbrand unfurls the story of Louie Zamperini--a juvenile delinquent-turned-Olympic runner-turned-Army hero. During a routine search mission over the Pacific, Louieâ??s plane crashed into the ocean, and what happened to him over the next three years of his life is a story that will keep you glued to the pages, eagerly awaiting the next turn in the story and fearing it at the same time. Youâ??ll cheer for the man who somehow maintained his selfhood and humanity despite the monumental degradations he suffered, and youâ??ll want to share this book with everyone you know. --Juliet Disparte

The Story of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Eight years ago, an old man told me a story that took my breath away. His name was Louie Zamperini, and from the day I first spoke to him, his almost incomprehensibly dramatic life was my obsession.

It was a horse--the subject of my first book, Seabiscuit: An American Legend--who led me to Louie. As I researched the Depression-era racehorse, I kept coming across stories about Louie, a 1930s track star who endured an amazing odyssey in World War II. I knew only a little about him then, but I couldnâ??t shake him from my mind. After I finished Seabiscuit, I tracked Louie down, called him and asked about his life. For the next hour, he had me transfixed.

Growing up in California in the 1920s, Louie was a hellraiser, stealing everything edible that he could carry, staging elaborate pranks, getting in fistfights, and bedeviling the local police. But as a teenager, he emerged as one of the greatest runners America had ever seen, competing at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where he put on a sensational performance, crossed paths with Hitler, and stole a German flag right off the Reich Chancellery. He was preparing for the 1940 Olympics, and closing in on the fabled four-minute mile, when World War II began. Louie joined the Army Air Corps, becoming a bombardier. Stationed on Oahu, he survived harrowing combat, including an epic air battle that ended when his plane crash-landed, some six hundred holes in its fuselage and half the crew seriously wounded.

On a May afternoon in 1943, Louie took off on a search mission for a lost plane. Somewhere over the Pacific, the engines on his bomber failed. The plane plummeted into the sea, leaving Louie and two other men stranded on a tiny raft. Drifting for weeks and thousands of miles, they endured starvation and desperate thirst, sharks that leapt aboard the raft, trying to drag them off, a machine-gun attack from a Japanese bomber, and a typhoon with waves some forty feet high. At last, they spotted an island. As they rowed toward it, unbeknownst to them, a Japanese military boat was lurking nearby. Louieâ??s journey had only just begun.

That first conversation with Louie was a pivot point in my life. Fascinated by his experiences, and the mystery of how a man could overcome so much, I began a seven-year journey through his story. I found it in diaries, letters and unpublished memoirs; in the memories of his family and friends, fellow Olympians, former American airmen and Japanese veterans; in forgotten papers in archives as far-flung as Oslo and Canberra. Along the way, there were staggering surprises, and Louieâ??s unlikely, inspiring story came alive for me. It is a tale of daring, defiance, persistence, ingenuity, and the ferocious will of a man who refused to be broken.

The culmination of my journey is my new book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. I hope you are as spellbound by Louieâ??s life as I am.


Excerpt

Chapter One
The One-Boy Insurgency

In the predawn darkness of August 26, 1929, in the back bedroom of a small house inTorrance, California, a twelve-year-old boy sat up in bed, listening. There was a sound coming from outside, growing ever louder. It was a huge, heavy rush, suggesting immensity, a great parting of air. It was coming from directly above the house. The boy swung his legs off his bed, raced down the stairs, slapped open the back door, and loped onto the grass. The yard was otherworldly, smothered in unnatural darkness, shivering with sound. The boy stood on the lawn beside his older brother, head thrown back, spellbound. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

Suggested by Members

We had the questions from the author's web site.
by Lirpa (see profile) 02/23/14

Is Louie a hero? How do you define heroism?
Do Louie Zamperini’s wartime and postwar experiences give you a different perspective on a loved one who was, or is, a veteran?
Hillenbrand wrote that among the former POWs she interviewed, forgiveness became possible once the POW had found a way to restore his sense of dignity. Was this what Billy Graham gave to Louie? If so, what was it about that experience, and that sermon, ga
by paintbabe (see profile) 11/15/13

Where would your "breaking" point would have been? Where you would have given up and done whatever you needed to do to end the suffering?
by Jessicalaugh (see profile) 01/31/13

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
by sarfaraj.khokhar (see profile) 10/31/12

Would you have read this book if you hadn't read or heard about Seabiscuit?
Which passages would you have wished were more in depth?
by Kiridog (see profile) 06/04/12

The best question we discussed was this: Is the title accurate? Was he unbroken? How was he ultimately able to overcome?
by ingsink (see profile) 04/07/12

Absolutel
by Bookbods (see profile) 03/25/12

Contrast of treatment of POWs is different wars and in different cultures. United States vs Japanese for example
by maril (see profile) 03/21/12

Did this book provoke discussion with anyone you know who served in the military? If so what did you learn that you wouldn't know from reading history books?
by MarthaL (see profile) 02/08/12

What is it about Louie's character that pushes him to survive even the darkest circumstances?
How does Louie's family relationships mold him?
by terrieril (see profile) 11/19/11

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Praise:

Praise for Unbroken

"A master class in narrative storytelling…Extraordinarily moving...A powerfully drawn survival epic."—The Wall Street Journal

"Will you be able to put [Unbroken] down once you poke your nose into it? You will not. … No one delivers a play-by-play better than Laura Hillenbrand… No other author of narrative nonfiction chooses her subjects with greater discrimination or renders them with more discipline and commitment. If storytelling were an Olympic event, she’d medal for sure…"—Laura Miller, Salon

"Unbroken is wonderful twice over, for the tale it tells and for the way it’s told. A better book than Seabiscuit, it manages maximum velocity with no loss of subtlety. [Hillenbrand has] a jeweler’s eye for a detail that makes a story live."—Newsweek

"Monumental… as mesmerizing as it is gut-wrenching. Hillenbrand’s writing is so ferociously cinematic, the events she describes so incredible, you don’t dare take your eyes off the page."—People

"Ambitious and powerful… Hillenbrand is intelligent and restrained, and wise enough to let the story unfold for itself. Her research is thorough, her writing crystalline. Unbroken is gripping in an almost cinematic way." The New York Times Book Review

"Hillenbrand is a muscular, dynamic storyteller… But she happens also to have located a tale full of unforgettable characters, multihanky moments and wild turns…A bang up research job.—The New York Times

"A one-in-a-billion story… seems designed to wrench from self-respecting critics all the blurby adjectives we normally try to avoidL It is amazing, unforgettable, gripping, harrowing, chilling, and inspiring. It sucked me in and swept me away. It kept me reading late into the night. I could not…(it really hurts me to type this)…put it…(must find the strength to resist)… down."—New York Magazine

"A warning: after cracking open Unbroken you may find yourself dog tired the next day, having spent most of the night fending off sleep with coffee refills, eager to find out whether the story of Louis Zamperini, Olympic runner turned WWII POW, ends in redemption or despair..In Hillenbrand’s [hands], it’s nothing less than a marvel—a book worth losing sleep over."—The Washingtonian

"Zamperini’s story is certainly one of the most remarkable survival tales ever recorded. What happened after that is equally remarkable. Do yourself…a favor and buy the book."—Graydon Carter, Vanity Fair

"Hillenbrand demonstrates a dazzling ability—one Seabiscuit only hinted at—to make the tale leap off the page…. Irresistible.—Elle

"A tale of triumph and redemption…a clear-eyed tale of yet another underestimated creature who tried hard, ran fast, and miraculously beat the odds. … Astonishingly detailed.."--O magazine

"Another epic of long odds and unbreakable spirit… Zamperini’s story is almost dangerously rich, full of pulpy overheated detail, but Hillenbrand cools and tempers it with precise prose and disciplined eye for facts that ground Zamperini’s incredible odyssey in reality."—TIME

"An astonishing testament to the superhuman power of tenacity…" --Entertainment Weekly

"Intense…you better hold onto the reins."—The Boston Globe

"Riveting…so haunting and so beautifully written, those who fall under its spell will never again feel the same way about World War II and one of its previously unsung heroes."—Columbus Dispatch

"Incredible… Zamperini’s life is one of courage, heroism, humility and unflagging endurance…"—St. Louis Post Dispatch

"Unbroken is too much book to hope for: a hell ride of a story in the grip of the one writer who can handle it. Killing sharks with his bare hands...outracing Olympic runners...outwitting one of the most notorious fiends to stalk Japan's POW camps — when it comes to courage, humanity, and impossible adventure, few will ever match "the boy terror of Torrance," and few but the author of Seabicuit could tell his tale with such humanity and dexterity. Laura Hillenbrand has given us a new national treasure."

—Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

"Hillenbrand has once again brought to life the true story of a forgotten hero, and reminded us how lucky we are to have her, one of our best writers of narrative history. You don’t have to be a sports fan or a war-history buff to devour this book—you just have to love great storytelling." —Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

"Heart-wrenching…It is impossible to condense the rich, granular detail of Hillenbrand's narrative…[her] triumph is that in telling Louie's story (he's now in his 90s), she tells the stories of thousands whose suffering has been mostly forgotten. She restores to our collective memory this tale of heroism, cruelty, life, death, joy, suffering, remorselessness, and redemption."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"[Hillenbrand] returns with another dynamic, well-researched story of guts overcoming odds…Alternately stomach-wrenching, anger-arousing and spirit-lifting—and always gripping."—Kirkus Reviews

"[Hillenbrand’s] skills are as polished as ever, and like its predecessor, this book has an impossible-to-put-down quality that one commonly associates with good thrillers."--Booklist

"Unbroken is too much book to hope for: a hellride of a story in the grip of the one writer who can handle it. Killing sharks with his bare hands...outracing Olympic runners...outwitting one of the most notorious fiends to stalk Japan's POW camps — when it comes to courage, charisma, and impossible adventure, few will ever match "the boy terror of Torrance," and few but the author of Seabiscuit could tell his tale with such humanity and dexterity. Laura Hillenbrand has given us a new national treasure."

—Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  "Voted a Top Pick by our Book Club"by skinnyatlas (see profile) 04/15/14

I thought i had read a fair amount in this genre, but Unbroken is in a class by itself. Brilliant and haunting, a true testament to human spirit and will

 
by martamcc1 (see profile) 04/11/14

 
  "Unbroken"by janelucken (see profile) 03/20/14

Well written and beautifully told story that is true and so very tragic at times. Inspiring to know that there is an individual among us that endured and overcame. Our book club loved it!!!!

 
  "Powerful!"by elysed (see profile) 03/10/14

This book is amazing! Very heavy (in size and subject matter) but well worth the read. It is hard to complain about anything in your life after you read this book.

 
  "Unbroken"by USAGAIN2011 (see profile) 03/05/14

Absolutely everyone in our group felt this was an important book, and we were all glad we read it. Typically, this group does not care for non-fiction, but all of us were captivated by this read.

 
  "Unbroken"by Pinkpaintergirl (see profile) 02/27/14

Wow. Could not put this down. I want to meet Louis.

 
  "Unbroken"by Lirpa (see profile) 02/23/14

We all said it was a really well written book. The subject matter is hard to read, however, it gave us insight into these POWs lives during the war. We'd always heard so much about Germany concentration... (read more)

 
  "Unbroken: A difficult tale"by suzeyoung (see profile) 02/21/14

Our group had difficulty reading about the torture, were amazed at the clarity of description of the days spent in the life raft and wondered at what made this such a page turner. Several members had... (read more)

 
  "Inspiring and Moving"by cfh666 (see profile) 02/03/14

Real life is definitely more compelling than fiction! Such an amazing story of courage and perseverance. So well written.

 
  "Liked it. Didn't love it "by tiernanogg (see profile) 02/02/14

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