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.
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
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
What a fascinating account of Louis Zamperini's life Laura Hillenbrand has shared with us. We follow Louis through all stages of his life. When he was a young boy, we trailed behind him as he raced from neighbors after stealing their pies, we prayed with him while floating on a life raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and then couldn't help but feel frustrated when we felt Louis' emotional struggles upon his return from the war. Hillenbrand brought us up close and personal into Zamperini's triumphs and struggles.
Everyone in my book club agreed that the book seemed to start out slow. Hillenbrand took her time, allowing us us to get to know everyone in Louis' life. Louis spends his childhood running as he runs from the police, kids who want to beat him up, and from anyone else that may wish harm upon him. His older brother is the first one to become involved in running during school years, but when Louis is helping his brother with his timing one day, it's his brother that first sees something special in Louis' running abilities. These abilities will set Louis on a course that will eventually lead him to the Olympic games in Berlin.
It isn't long after those first Olympic games that Louis will be drafted into the war, bringing an end to any future Olympics. A familial bond develops among the flight crew that Louis has been assigned to. Through every mission you are left gripping the book until their plane touches the ground again. I've seen several movies depicting the planes used during WWII, but until reading Unbroken, I truly did not realize how poorly constructed these planes were made. I learned that during WWII there were more casualties from plane crashes that happened stateside during training, than those that were actually completing missions.
One mission ends as Louis has always feared, crashing in the Pacific Ocean with man-eating sharks looking for their next meal. This was probably the most intense part of the book for me since the surviving men are floating in a leaking life raft with sharks circling for most of the time. This is just the beginning of Louis' journey that will require him to summon every ounce of stamina, faith, and strength.
I'm not going to give away any more of this inspiring story. It is truly amazing what the human body and spirit can endure when pushed to the limits. This is one of those stories that I think everyone should read, because it's men like Zamperini, who have endured unthinkable cruelties that allow us the freedoms we have today. I am grateful to every single one of these men! With themes of faith, endurance, and war, I really think this book has something to offer for everyone. I highly recommend this book for either book clubs or personal leisure.
My Rating: 5/5
Disclosure: This book is from of my personal collection and I read it for my own entertainment.