June 26, 2011


Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
2010 Random House Audio; Unabridged Edition
Reader: Edward Herrmann
Finished 5/17/11
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Product Description

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.

I tend to read more fiction than nonfiction, but after hearing such high praise for Hillenbrand’s latest book, I decided to give it a try. Listening to the audio version worked out well, since I tend to read history books with a highlighter in hand, studying the book rather than simply reading for enjoyment. I have no complaints about the reader (Edward Herrmann), but there were several instances in which I felt the story was beginning to sound repetitious and drawn out. I began to get impatient for Zamperini’s rescue from the POW camps and, had I been reading the book rather than listening to the audio version, I’m not sure if I would have bothered to finish. And yet one sentence has remained with me since I finished listening to the book. After relating his entire saga to a journalist, Louie said, “If I knew I had to go through those experiences again” he finally said, “I’d kill myself.” And who could blame him? War alone must be the most terrifying for those fighting for their countries. But then to be lost at sea for 47 days, fighting off sharks and watching as the enemy approaches, strafing the raft with gunfire, followed by capture and a horrific experience in a Japanese POW camp, in which starvation, beatings and torture (under the watch of the sadistic Corp. Mutsuhiro Watanabe) were routine experiences, it’s a wonder he and his fellow POWs didn’t commit suicide. I’m pretty sure at that point, I would’ve been beyond broken!

I read Seabiscuit back in 2002 and while I enjoyed parts of it, I wasn’t terribly impressed, giving it a somewhat average rating of 6/10. Judging from the reviews for both Seabiscuit and Unbroken, I’m in the minority.


  1. This sounds interesting. Even though you didn't love it, I may still have to give it a try...

  2. I gave this a 3.75/5 (good +), so we are pretty close on our feelings about this one. The first thought that comes to mind is that I thought it was too unbelievable at times. The torture was too much for anybody to endure physically and/or mentally without sustaining profound damage.

  3. I was totally hooked by this book--just fascinating. Sorry it wasn't a home run for you.

  4. I want to read this one based on Diane's review but I will read it...audio is just not my thing.

  5. I got this book for Tom and for his parents for Christmas. His stepfather liked it. Tom hasn't read it yet. I probably won't ever read it - not my thing, the sea. :<) But, as for Seabiscuit, I've often said it is the best book I've ever read - that it had everything, and that if it were fiction, readers would say, impossible, couldn't ever happen. Like the guy who was largely responsible for getting cars popular -his son died in a vehicle accident.

  6. You wouldn't be in the minority with me, or in other words, I'd be right there with you! I really have no desire to read this book, along with that horror which is so well received Room. I just can't deal with so much distress in what is supposed to be my pleasure: reading. I get as anxious as if I'm there, and POW camps, sharks, war are just too 'worrisome' for me. But, I admire you reading this, Lesley, and reminding me why I shouldn't. xoxo

    p.s. Loved the line about you reading historical fiction/nonfiction with a highlighter in your hand. See what I mean about taking things so seriously?! We don't have to do that with fiction. ;)

  7. Kailana - It was an interesting story, to say the least. If you wind up listening to the audio, be sure to take a look at the photographs in the actual book.

    Joy - Yep, looks like we had a similar experience with this book. Overall, I liked the first part of the book, but like you, felt the narrative became a bit tedious and unbelievable. And the post-war stuff (the drinking and religious aspects) didn't really appeal to me.

    Diane - I wonder if I would've liked the printed version better. The audio felt a bit tedious once Louie was captured and moved about in the POW camps.

    Staci - Good choice. See my comment to Diane about the audio.

    Nan - I let Rod read the ARC when I first got it and he quit after a couple of chapters. He didn't think the writing was very good. I then gave the ARC to my stepdad and he loved it! I think he read most of it over the course of a weekend while we were all together for a family wedding. So who knows if Tom will like it or not. :) I do remember how much you loved Seabiscuit.

    Bellezza - I don't blame you one bit. It's not at all a happy book. But then again, Before I Go To Sleep is fiction and it's quite distressing! I have to force myself to stop reading and turn off the light and go to sleep. I can't wait to see how it ends. I keep thinking I know what's going on, but then I change my mind and think something completely opposite. What a great thriller!

  8. Thanks for the review.

  9. Kay Guest5:02 AM

    It's difficult for me to be objective about this book and I think that the same can be said about Laura Hillenbrand. As she was researching Seabiscuit, she kept coming across Louis Zamperini's name. Intrigued by his story, she phoned him. After speaking with him, she knew she had the subject for her next book.
    While I really appreciated Unbroken, it is hard for me to be objective since I loved Devil At My Heels (the book that Mr. Zamperini wrote). In Unbroken, I was able to read in much greater detail about all his family, his friends from track and all his war buddies. I think that his story is an amazing one. When I read Devil At My Heels, I was so moved that I wrote a letter to the publisher to say so. I have never done that in my whole reading life. Imagine my delight when I received a letter from Louie himself! What a great guy...everyone should know his story.
    Kay Guest

  10. I may be wrong about this, but I do wonder about ARCs. Kay gave me one once, and it was so poorly written, I dropped a whole series because of it. You may recall me telling you there was one word that was used so many times I couldn't believe it - not a swear. I don't want to say the title or author here, but I think you know what I'm referring to. I don't think I believe in ARCs. It seems that proofreading is in a terrible state with finished books and I can't imagine why an author would let out a version of a book that wasn't quite the finished product where, presumably the proofreading is even worse. But clearly, that's just me because I see lots of people read them.:<)

  11. Oh, and I love Kay Guest's story!!

  12. Cozy in Texas - Glad you enjoyed it.

    Kay Guest - Like Nan, I really enjoyed reading your comment/story. How wonderful to receive a letter from Louie Zamperini! And I'll have to see about finding a copy of Devil At My Heels. I think it be interesting to read more about Louie's life.

    Nan - I don't think the ARC was the issue for Rod. He just doesn't care for Hillenbrand's writing style. The ARC is very close to a finished work. There may have been an occasional typo, but as you said, we see that a lot in completed books, too. But I do understand your reasons to not read ARCs. :)

    And, like you, I loved Kay Guest's story!


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