I just finished Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. I wanted to give a quick review of the book, since I found reading it to be such a profound experience.
Unbroken is the story of Louis “Louie” Zamperini. He’s led an incredible life, and the book follows it from the beginning to present day. It starts off with Louie’s childhood, and how he was a mischievous boy. As he got older, running became his escape. It got him on the right path, plus Zamperini had an innate skill for it. He took to it like a fish to water, eventually even making the US team in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
The real focus of the book, however, is Louie’s experience in World War II. He joined the Army Air Force and was a bombardier in the Pacific portion of the war. One day, when participating in a search party, the plane Louie’s flying in, The Green Hornet, went down in the middle of the ocean. Louie and two other crewman, Phil and Mac, survived the crash. The three of them were stuck in a life raft, in the middle of the ocean, for weeks. Mac eventually succumbed to starvation, dehydration and the rigors of floating in a life raft in the middle of the ocean after 33 days. Louie and Phil kept going, lasting 47 days, before reaching the Marshall Islands.
Upon reaching the islands, Louie and Phil are immediately captured by the Japanese. This starts the next chapter of his war experience, where Louie is a POW until the conclusion of WWII in 1945. He endured unimaginable conditions, meager nutrition and, most noteworthy, severe treatment from the Japanese, in particular Mutsuhiro Watanabe, whom the prisoners called “The Bird.”
After the war, Louie and the rest of the POWS returned to a hero’s welcome. But assimilating back into society wasn’t easy. In fact, it was very difficult. Louie really struggled with his demons for years, often having flashbacks and his dreams invaded by images of The Bird inflicting unthinkable punishment. This, in turn, caused him to turn to alcohol, which almost ruined his life and his marriage.
Yet, one day, while evangelist Billy Graham was hosting a convention in Los Angeles, where Louie lived, his wife, Cynthia, talked him into attending. The first day there, Louie left in shame, but he was coaxed into returning the next day. That day’s sermon hit home for Zamperini. He saw the proverbial light, and with it came peace and forgiveness for what had been done to him. In fact, Louie returned to Japan to face his captors and to let them know that he’d forgiven them.
From there, the book delves a bit into the rest of his life. He’s received countless awards, ran a camp for troubled boys, carried the torch in numerous Olympics and done countless other things I’m not mentioning. In fact, this is obviously a real general rundown of the book.
The main reason I wanted to write this wasn’t to summarize the book. I couldn’t do that justice, as Hillenbrand is an amazing writer. How she was able to do all the research and interviews to put something like this together is remarkable. Perhaps more amazing is her ability to convey that information in an entertaining and meaningful way. So much so, that you don’t need to enjoy history to enjoy the book.
While this book is certainly centered around a historical event, that wasn’t what I took away from it. Don’t get me wrong, as a history major in college, I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect of Unbroken. But what I’ll remember most are the lessons on the human spirit and its ability to overcome incredible adversity. The physical survival of Zamperini is amazing, but I enjoyed his spiritual survival more.
Admittedly, I’m not a religious person, at least not in the traditional sense, so I can’t relate to that aspect of the book. Yet his ability to find peace after such an unthinkable ordeal is unfathomable. The fact he was able to put his flashbacks and atrocities behind him is one thing; that he was able to completely forgive his captors for what they’d done is what really stood out. Although, I suppose he wouldn’t have put it all behind him without forgiveness. But that’s only a supposition. I’ve obviously never experienced anything close to Zamperini, and therefore cannot relate to him.
In order to like this book, all you really have to like is reading. It’s that good. There’s something in here for everyone. History buffs will take away that aspect of the book. Virtually everyone will enjoy the stories of the human spirit. I’m not big on recommending books to people, as I believe there’s a subjective quality to them. Everyone can appreciate good writing, but that doesn’t mean you’ll like the book. Kind of like music. Anybody with any sense of objectivity can identify a talented musician when they hear them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll like the music. This book is different. Not only will you be able to enjoy the brilliance of Hillenbrand’s writing, but you’ll also enjoy reading the book. I’m quite sure of that, which is why I absolutely recommend it.
Read Unbreakable. You won’t regret it.