Summary and book reviews of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken

A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2010, 496 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2014, 528 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

Rated The Best Book of 2011 by BookBrowse Members

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.

Chapter One
The One-Boy Insurgency

In the predawn darkness of August 26, 1929, in the back bedroom of a small house in Torrance, 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.

The sky had disappeared. An object that he could see only in silhouette, reaching across a massive arc of space, was suspended low in the air over the house. It was longer than two and a half football fields and as tall as a city. It was putting out the stars.

What he saw was the German dirigible Graf Zeppelin. At nearly 800 feet long and ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Book Club Discussion Questions for Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

  1. Did you like the book?  Would you add it to your permanent book collection?  What do you like or not like about this book?  The story is told from the standpoint of a narrator. Why did the author choose this style to tell this story?
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  2.  Laura Hillenbrand also wrote the book: Seabiscuit: An American LegendThis book told a very different type of story.  Were you surprised at how different they are? 

  3. When Louie was young he was famous for stealing things.  He mostly took things to eat. Do you think he was hungry or was he doing ...

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    BookBrowse Awards
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    2011

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

When a book generates as much pre-publication buzz as Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken, I tend to be a bit prejudiced against it from the start. I've found that rarely do books live up to the expectations I've developed for them based on the press they've generated. I was delighted to find, though, that Unbroken not only lives up to its hype, but far surpasses it. I can honestly say that I can't remember the last time a non-fiction book held my attention as well as this one did, from start to finish. It's the first book I've read in a very long time that I've wanted to force on all my friends. Yes, it's that good.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review Members Only (808 words).

Media Reviews

The New York Times - Janet Maslin

And if some of it sounds too much like pulp fiction to be true, Ms. Hillenbrand has also done a bang-up research job…[Unbroken]manages to be as exultant as Seabiscuit as it tells a much more harrowing, less heart-warming story.

Library Journal

Because of the author's popularity, libraries will want this book both for general readers who like a good story and for World War II history buffs; however, it's not essential reading for those who read Zamperini's autobiography, Devil at My Heels.

Booklist

[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.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Hillenbrand's 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

Kirkus Reviews

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

Reader Reviews

ahmed

Unbroken
A very good book.

Margaret Dropek

personal
The book gave me a better understanding what my husband went through in the 8th A.F. serving on a B-24 in the E.T.O. in 1943 as S.Sgt. and Chief Eng. and top turret gunner. It was a wonderfully discriptive and interesting.

Gladys

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
Our lIbrary chose Unbroken for us to read in our Book group. I thought I would not be alble to read this book because my father went to WW2 & to the Korean war & I did not want to re-visit what happened during that war. I was glad that I ...   Read More

Louise J

Incredible Story!
This isn’t normally the type of book I would choose to read but something about the synopsis on the cover propelled me into buying it and I’m glad I did. This is the incredible and true story of Louis Zamperini’s survival, and redemption and the ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Japanese Prisoners of War

Much of Unbroken relays Louis Zamperini's experiences as a Japanese prisoner of war. Hillenbrand cites staggering statistics. Zamperini was but one of approximately 132,000 POWs from the United States, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Holland and Australia. More than a quarter of these prisoners died, including 12,935 Americans (more than 37 percent of Americans captured by the Japanese). These numbers don't include the thousands of Chinese who were murdered, nor those prisoners killed after surrender but before reaching the POW camps (for example, those who perished along the sixty-mile Bataan Death March in the Philippines). By comparison, only 1 percent of Americans held by the Nazis and Italians died during WWII.

While there ...

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