Review: Unbroken


By Laura Hillenbrand
(Random House, Hardcover, 9781400064168, November 2010, 496pp.)

The Short of It:

A remarkable, true story of survival and endurance but the execution of the story itself didn’t impress me.

The Rest of It:

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.

Louis Zamperini’s story is remarkable. Definitely not your average man. He competed in the Olympics in track and field and although he never won a medal, he defeated the odds, competing with injuries and finishing 8th in the 1936 Summer Olympics. Later, putting his Olympic career aside, he joined the Army and became a bombardier.

However, when his bomber crashes, he is forced to survive on a raft for 47 days on the open ocean. This is when I really got to know Louis and it’s also my favorite part of the story. No fresh water to drink, limited food, and the endless sun beating down upon them. Such conditions would break any man, but not Louis Zamperini.

This is truly an amazing story. However, I found that the story was bogged down by Zamperini’s childhood antics. A great deal of time was spent on his childhood and I just didn’t think it was needed. I slogged through this part of his life and it actually caused me to not like him for the first quarter of the book. Hillenbrand’s style was very matter-of-fact. This happened, and then this happened and then two years later…this happened. I was bored to tears.

It’s true that Zamperini was a challenging youth, but really, the way it was described, he just seemed like a spoiled little shit. I didn’t need to hear about that part of his life. He would have been just as wonderful come the end of the story had it not been included.

I will say this though, his time on the raft and his years as a POW more than made-up for the quibble I mentioned above. Those parts were riveting and at times, heartbreaking. I felt that Hillenbrand took great care with the telling of those events.  

When I was doing some research on Zamperini, I came across his memoir, Devil at my Heels. I think I’d like it better hearing it straight from him, instead of Hillenbrand’s re-telling of what he went through.

Overall, World War II buffs will enjoy the book. It’s a page-turner and his story is amazing.

Source: Borrowed

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29 thoughts on “Review: Unbroken”

  1. I am reading this one for book club, and I am late with it! The meeting is soon, and I haven’t even started it yet! Blame the hectic pace of life. I have heard that it is very engrossing and a quick read, but your comments about Zamperini’s childhood have me curious, and I will have to see what I think. Thanks for the candid and thoughtful review today, Ti!

  2. I really enjoyed this book! I thought the Olympics/running parts were fun and they really set the tone that this is someone who is strong and fit, which turned out to be a huge asset on the raft and in the POW camps. I mean, bopping sharks on the nose?! Amazing.

    1. He certainly did some amazing things. I loved how he became a leader and took charge of a very dire situation. I would never have thought to catch a bird on a raft.

  3. This was a great audio, too – I just couldn’t stop listening. At times, it got pretty intense though. A few members of my book club were too disturbed to finish. Will look into Zamperini’s memoir… thanks for mentioning it.

    1. Watanabe (aka The Bird) sure was an arse wasn’t he? Those parts were difficult to read because you were suddenly reminded that this actually happened. Those POWs endured so much. And the starvation! Oh!

  4. I agree he was obnoxious when he was a youth, but I think that just added to the overall story…that he started out a little twerp, and ended up being one of America’s greatest heroes, who had the optimism and mental strength to survive. This book completely blew me away. It will be one of my favorites of the year.

  5. Ti, loved your honesty. Don’t think I’ll be picking it up as it doesn’t really sounds like my kind of read. However, the parts you mention liking are the only parts that actually sound interesting. Albeit, the surviving on a raft reminds of Life of Pi -a book I didn’t like at all – of course that was fiction and this one is real. Eh. Still don’t think I’d read it. Oh well. Great post!

    1. I read it for book club. Had they not chosen it, I probably would have skipped it. That said, I am glad I read it though even though they had to twist my arm to get me to do it!

  6. I’m reading this one for book club at the end of the month, so I’m glad to know the beginning may require slogging. I’m not a huge fan of childhood memoirs/biographies, so I may be prepared to skim. Thanks!

  7. I read this and wrote my review and, like you, I found his story impressive but the telling of the story was very no frills and straightforward and felt a little clinical. I didn’t know he wrote a memoir too … I’m surprised I didn’t hear of that before since this book has been such a big hit. Thanks for your honesty!

    1. Clinical. That’s a good way of putting it. I felt as if she didn’t really know Louis. I don’t think I could even attempt a biography without knowing the person at least through conversations with others. Wikipedia says he is still alive at 94! Unbelievable.

  8. I agree that the beginning was very slow and dry, but the rest of the book more than made up for it, and this was one of my favorite reads of the year. The info about his childhood could have been trimmed quite a little bit, but after reading the later parts of his story I understood more about how she was showing his inner strength and how that played out later as a POW. It’s too bad that it is so dry in that beginning section though, because I’m sure it will scare some people off.

  9. So nice to get a different take on this one. It’s one I’ve been meaning to pick up for months but I’m going to have to think about this one a bit more before I fork out money for it. At least I’ll know to skim over the parts that might “bore me to tears” and look forward to the parts that are riveting.

  10. “Spoiled little shit” is sort of what I was thinking just from the reviews I’ve read, and I have a feeling that I would start to dislike this just from having the bad taste in my mouth from the start. It’s probably not true, but I doubt I’ll get to this for a while!

  11. I read this book in two days flat and I know that, had I had the time, I would have read it in one sitting. This is a book that grips you, draws you in and leaves you feeling a slightly better person for having read it.

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