Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand: Book Review

Unbroken by Lara Hillenbrand Book Cover

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Cover of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

4 Stars

Louie Zamperini was a little bit of a punk as a young teen, staying in trouble all the time. But then he discovered running and pretty much turned his life around. People were taking notice of his times and the Olympics were in his future. He made it to the Berlin Olympics in a distance that was not his specialty. He didn’t medal but at least he gained some experience. He started training in earnest for the next Olympics but then WWII broke out. He was soon flying in bombers over the Pacific Ocean. And then his plane went down.

Wow. I am in awe Louie’s survival instincts. I read this on vacation in Jamaica and I have to say that I was not paying attention to the beautiful beach around me; I was fully present with Louie in his life boat. I periodically read bits from the book to my husband and at one point I looked up and said, “If I’m ever in a life boat in the middle of the ocean, I want this man to be with me. You won’t believe what he just did!” and launched into that story. I won’t spoil it for you but I remember it vividly.

I was thinking that this would make a good gift for my dad but by the time I finished, I wasn’t so sure. Louie just goes through so stinking much. I got so frustated! “Why can’t this guy get a break?!?!” was on a constant repeat in my head. It was one thing after the other and just when I thought he was going to be okay, things actually got worse. And worse. And worse. I’m not so sure that my dad would handle it all that well.

I thought I would like this because I so enjoyed Seabiscuit, Hillenbrand’s first book. She is an excellent narrative nonfiction writer. She is able to put me right there in the middle of her story and make me care about things that aren’t normally on my radar. I don’t care about horse racing and I was manically cheering for a little knock-kneed underdog. I do like WWII books, but I tend to stick more with the Holocaust end of things rather than the actual fighting and have only rarely, if ever, ventured into the Pacific Theater. I definitely felt my ignorance here. I was a little embarrassed at myself. Pearl Harbor…atomic bomb. A whole lot of fighting in between. That sums up what I know. I got a little crash course here.

Hillenbrand also knows when to stop writing. That feels like a rare gift sometimes. She goes into some of the “afterward” and just when I was starting to get worried that she was going to lose me by going too far, she wrapped things up. Her story is about WWII so there’s no great need to go past that in my opinion. Thankfully, she seems to agree. I’m sure that Louie’s life has always been interesting (he’s a rare man, how could it be otherwise?) but let’s stick to one story. She did.

There are parts of the book that will upset some people, I’m sure. There’s one scene in particular that Louie described as the worst thing he saw in the war (I’m 99% sure on this) that has kind of haunted me. It’s a little event in the big scheme of things that shows a lot about the man who did it and what kind of men Louie found himself surrounded by. It still bothers me, just thinking about it now. People sensitive to degradation and utterly meaningless violence should probably steer clear.

Hillenbrand is a heckuva writer and she found a fascinating man to write about. I feel honored to have read his story and encourage anyone who is even slightly interested to read it too. You won’t be disappointed.

Read an excerpt.

Find author Laura Hillenbrand on her website and Facebook.

Buy Unbroken at

I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop’s, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site.

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  1. Oh I've loved both Hillenbrand's books! At first I wasn't sure if I would like Unbroken but she pulled me in early on. A fantastic read.

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