As a reader, I am not easily impressed. I have read more than 500 books and wouldn’t consider more than 30 great works of literature. Every now and then, however, I read — or listen to — a book that makes me shake my head in awe.
Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, is one such book. Subtitled “A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption,” it is a triumph of storytelling, one I would recommend to anyone who is drawn to celebrations of the human spirit.
The story of Olympic runner and prisoner of war Louis "Louie" Zamperini, Unbroken is a mix of history, drama, and inspiration. Like many, I was vaguely familiar with Zamperini’s story. I had read reviews of the 2014 movie based on the book, but nothing quite prepared me for the book itself. It was, in a word, an experience.
Three things stood out for me.
The first was Hillenbrand’s prose. Lean, direct, and yet sufficiently descriptive, it brought Zamperini’s story to life. Hillenbrand exceeded even her effort with Seabiscuit: An American Legend, another non-fiction work that made its way to the big screen.
I also enjoyed Edward Herrmann’s narration. Herrmann, the late American actor, director, writer, and comedian, brought gravitas and sensitivity to a story that demanded both.
Both author and narrator did justice to a man whose life was just flat out amazing. Zamperini, who died last year at age 97, deserved a book for his athletic career alone. An aimless, troublemaking teen in the 1930s, he made a nearly seamless transition from the streets of Torrance, California, to the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin.
But it is Zamperini, the U.S. Army airman, crash survivor, and POW, who shines in this book. He quickly becomes larger than life as he fights a multitude of battles, both large and small, just to stay alive.
When listening to this book, I was constantly reminded of the saying that “cats have nine lives.” In Unbroken, Louie Zamperini has no fewer than twenty. He is the dictionary definition of “survivor.”
I plan to see the movie, starring Jack O'Connell and directed by Angelina Jolie, at the earliest opportunity. Until then, I will savor one of the best stories I’ve ever consumed. Unbroken should be recommended reading in every American classroom. Rating: 5/5.