Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand is shaping up as a truly inspiring book. Louis Zamperini’s story of survival against all odds is so extraordinary that some readers may find it implausible. Every page of Unbroken is filled with small details and facts that are often not mentioned in fiction novels, adding to the verisimilitude of the novel. Another unique point of the book is that often times, a story is told from the perspective of one of the central characters. Unbroken is told through the voices of many people whom Hillenbrand interviewed, making it unique in that it doesn’t have a real narrator, which allows for multiple scenes to be described at one time. For example, the thoughts of all of Super Man’s crew are described, rather than just Louie’s accounts of the war. This style of storytelling also able to foreshadow some events in the novel by jumping through time.

The first quarter of Unbroken strongly illustrates how war can result in so much lost human capital. In the case of Louie, an Olympian runner was sent off to war with a low chance of survival. Imagine all of the young American men who were sent off to fight thousands of miles from their homes in the European and Pacific theaters. Many bright students and hard workers never came back. This is why Louie’s story is such an amazing one. Not only did Louie survive the war, but he survived a plane crash, weeks at sea, and (spoiler alert) time in a brutal Japanese POW camp.

I really enjoyed first quarter of Unbroken. Although the beginning of the novel was somewhat slowed down with Louie’s pre-war life. It served as a decent but lengthy lead-in to the rest of the story, but now the plot has picked up. The conclusion of the first quarter left me with a cliffhanger, with Louie’s plane shot down and his real struggle for survival just beginning.

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15 Comments

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15 responses to “Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

  1. Hi Jon,

    I agree that the author does a very good job at making the novel realistic. The content of story is rather foreign to me, especially Louis Zamperini, so that it should seem surreal. However, detail and footnotes included in the book counter this without making the story as tedious to read as other nonfiction novels. Because of this, I have enjoyed the book a lot and have read ahead.

    Louie’s story truly amazing and he has had to go through many hardships before being drafted for the army. Starting from childhood, Louie has faced discrimination and struggled to find a place in society. And his drive to become an Olympian is so inspiring. It was so sad when his dreams were crushed after the Olympics were postponed. Louie also took a beating physically and mentally when the college runners conspired against him.

    Much more heartbreaking was when he found out that he had to return to the Air Force after leaving. He simply didn’t pay any attention to his washout papers and had “agreed” to return to the Air Force at a later date. At the Air Force, Louie survived many near-death experiences, and I was simply in shock when Louie’s plane had stranded him in the ocean for a search and rescue mission. The first quarter left me with so many questions in my head that I continued reading. Louie’s story is truly amazing I wish to talk about his strong will in future blog posts.

  2. Hi everybody!

    Even though Unbroken is a nonfiction book, it uses a narrative approach along with eloquence to make this book an engaging read for the audience. So for the most part I agree with Kaiyo and Jon that this book has a very organized and thoughtful structure. I love the back part of the book which has all of the primary records listed and included. It brings a sense of truth to me personally and helps me judge that this book goal is to become unbiased. The pictures are also a unique addition to the non-fiction book.

    What I also liked about Unbroken was the way it incorporated literary elements in a way to make the book more engaging. During Louie’s rebel years he, “imagined himself on a train, rolling into country he couldn’t see, growing smaller and more distant until he disappeared,” (12). This quote can describe Louie’s longing to be away from the judgement of the racist eugenics of California. The country and trains give a feeling of isolation, compared to the urban city life. However this quote contrasts what he soon believes once he becomes an elite runner. Once Louie is recognized for his athletic ability he starts running for president and getting girls to fall for him. His entire personality changed because of how well he did in track. This form of character growth was well written and it made the book more enjoyable for me.

  3. alexvlaisavich

    Hey everyone,
    So far, Unbroken has been my favorite book in a long time. Although the plot is factual, the whole story seems like a Broadway movie. It is unbelievable to think about how eventful, inspirational, emotional, and miraculous Louis Zamperini’s life was. I would have never thought in a million years that Louis would have been a role model based on his early years of life. Drinking, smoking, stealing, and running away doesn’t exactly lead down a good path. What Louis was missing was someone to push him and believe in him. His brother eventually filled that role and completely turned Louis’ life around. Once there was a goal and a coach in Louis’ life, there was no stopping him. One of the most inspirational quotes that I have heard comes from this book when Louis’ brother explains to him that, “A lifetime of glory is worth a moment of pain.” From knowing what eventually happens, this quote is pretty much Louis’ World War Two experience, and that quote is exactly what helped him fight through the agony and brutality of all the challenges he faced.
    Like Kaiyo mentioned, it was sad to see Louis’ dreams of becoming an Olympic medalist get washed away, but I believe that this happened because Louis was meant to be stranded and held as a POW. Although what happened to him was awful, those painful moments have earned him glory that will last forever. Also like Peter mentioned, the illustrations are a nice touch. It has been interesting to see his life through pictures and they display so many emotions that can only be captured through images. The pictures tell a story of his journey through sports, and the military, and they make everything else seem believable. I look forward to continuing this blog and I am excited to see all of the examples about how pain leads to glory.

  4. Jon Meinhardt

    Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, Post Two

    As I read the second quarter of Unbroken, I realized how fitting the title of the novel is. I mentioned in my first blog post how inspiring the story is, and I can only say that Zamperini’s story continues to amaze me. 47 days adrift at sea was not enough to break Zamperini’s will to survive. He and his surviving crew members could have easily given up all hope of being rescued, hundreds of miles from land in a tiny, leaky life raft, but they didn’t. They did what little they could to survive, solving their problems, and most importantly, believing that help would eventually come and they would pull through.
    This trend of having an “Unbroken” spirit continued when Zamperini was imprisoned a Japanese POW camp. Amidst all of their sufferings, he and his fellow inmates devised elaborate plans to retaliate against the camp staff. Such plans often resulted in small but highly sought-after gains. The prisoners felt more satisfaction in stealing a newspaper and secretly circulating it than actually translating it. So far, the most meaningful act of defiance in the whole novel took place when the starved Zamperini was forced to run a race against a Japanese man. The whole time, Zamperini knew that he would be punished if he won, but he still gave it his all and won the race. “Louie didn’t see the club coming at his skull. He just felt the world tip and go away. His eyes opened to the sight of the sky, ringed with the faces of captives. It had been worth it.” (216) The fact that Louie was able to show so much courage under those circumstances is absolutely inspiring. Moments like that are what make me keep reading this amazing story of strength and resilience.

  5. Hey Jon,

    The title, Unbroken, definitely stands out in the second quarter of the book versus the first quarter. This is mainly due to the many struggles the characters in the novel had to face in this section. These struggles are not only physical, but mental.

    On the lifeboat, the three men had to face a future filled with unknowns. They would not know their fate until many days later while facing dire conditions. In this experience, their mental wills were constantly being tested. They could see no end result when they were on the lifeboat. They knew nothing. But they continued on, knowing their hard work could instantly go to waste. Knowing that they could possibly only be prolonging their suffering.

    Although physically exhausting like the lifeboat experience, the POW camps tested another kind of mental strength. Numerous examples of their fate surrounded them. The prisoners fully knew what could become of them in the very near future. They had to face the hard truth instead of the unknown.

    Testing the men’s will to continue on the most was that these awful experiences were not fair. The three men stranded on the lifeboat were there because they were forced by a superior to fly a faulty plane for what was supposedly a simple search for lost men. The treatment of the prisoners in the Japanese POW camps was not allowed, but obviously accepted. At the moment, Louis is still in a POW camp and clinging on to hope of rescue. It is an unbroken mental strength Louis has that has allowed him and many others to still be alive. I can not do anything but continue reading to find out the fate of Louis Zamperini.

  6. alexvlaisavich

    “Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen. The stubborn retention of it, even in the face of extreme physical hardship, can hold a man’s soul in his body long past the point at which the body should have surrendered it” (Hillenbrand). Hey everyone. I think this quote right here is the only explanation to how Louis Zamperini survived. As he was faced with starvation, thirst, enemy aircraft, storms, and isolation, it was his stubborn dignity that pushed him past the breaking point. Pain and suffering is part of a mental game. During uncomfortable situations the mind tells the body to give up, or to conform. In Louis’ situation, his mental state would determine life or death. While everything inside of him was probably screaming to let go of life, it was his dignity, and strong will that overcame all of the other voices in his head. I recently just watched “American Sniper” and once again, it was the character’s strong dignity that kept him pushing forward even when death was so near. Obviously, Louis Zamperini and Chris Kyle from “American Sniper” are not normal humans. Probably 99% of us would give up in situations like theirs’, and even less of us would risk our lives for our dignity. Zamperini is such an inspiring figure, and he truly had the heart of a warrior. Jon and Kaiyo’s examples of the small acts of defiance against the Japanese point to how Louis’ dignity pushed him to risk everything. “Unbroken” is a thriller that reassures me that there will always be the few and elite people out there who will refuse to give in to evil, and fight to the death until there is good.

  7. The second quarter of the book really shows how a person’s life is amplified in value when they try to find meaning. This book is very similar to Man’s Search for Meaning, because both books try to explore how one should go about finding a meaning of life. Louie, “willed a happy ending onto their ordeal and made it their expectation. With these talks, they created something to live for,” (146). Like MSM, Unbroken shows the meaning of life can only be achieved when you have a goal to look up to. Although for Louie this happy goal might be impossible for him to obtain, he still strives to be a survivor. This mentality of a survivor is very heartwarming, and I hope Louie survives his time as a POW.

    Many of the second blog posts have to do with the title “Unbroken”, and I agree this title accurately conveys the message of the book. Louie was enslaved under the oppressive control of the Japanese along with being starved. Louie also lost all of his fame and prestige, which he valued to great values. This spiritual growth that Louie goes through shows one how hard times can truly make someone stronger. The cover of the book shows a ray of sun hitting the sea, and that ray is symbolic to Louie’s will to fight on and survive. The race Louie had with the Japanese official showed how he still was imagining a brighter future for himself, a future in which he could become an Olympian athlete again. Even if Louie won it wouldn’t matter, but for his pride it was incredibly important. Humans cannot be treated as mindless creatures, because their ability to retaliate and search for meaning is iconic.

  8. Jon Meinhardt

    Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, Post Three

    So as the remarkable story that is Unbroken continues, I must say that Zamperini has only continued to impress me. Not just Zamperini, but all of his fellow inmates possessed character that would never allow them to succumb to the cruelty of their captors. I found the third quarter of the novel to be almost a complete continuation of the second quarter, only with more examples of perseverance and more examples of suffering.

    As Zamperini became weaker and weaker, mental strength was proven to be just as important as physical strength. As the war in the pacific drew closer to victory, the prisoners had all the more reason to survive. The prisoners must have been thinking: “one more day, one more day, one more day.” Perhaps one of the most amazing moments for the prisoners was when the lone B-29 circled over Tokyo. The plane served as a beacon of hope, motivating the POWs to keep fighting to survive. In the following days, more and more planes rumbled overhead, convincing the men that their homeland was winning. Each massive B-29 Superfortress only encouraged the belief that the war would be over soon.

    This theme of hope was not only present in the POWs, but also in the hearts of their loved ones back home. The Zamperini family still believed that Louie was still alive, ignoring all the reports and condolences about his believed death. Just like Louie could have, his family could have been overwhelmed by sorrow and despair, but they held fast, never giving up hope that Louie was still alive somewhere.

    I have said this many times before, but this story is just so incredible and touching. I cannot wait for the end of the novel, and at this point, I know that Zamperini will never be defeated.

  9. Hey Jon,

    The Third Quarter of the novel definitely contained more examples of perseverance and mental strength. I also agree that it was a great continuation of the second quarter. There are so many examples in the novel that truly amaze me and just like you, I am truly in awe of Zamperini and his comrades. However, I must disagree with you about the symbolic meaning of the B-29 Superfortress. While it may signal the end of the war, it also means the end of POW prisoners’ lives. Over their head was the kill-all policy in which all of them would be killed if the Japanese were to lose the war. Rather than being a beacon of hope, the B-29 to me was a warning to the POW prisoners. At the very end of the third quarter, the date of the killing of all the POWs was set. Rather than waiting for the end of the war, it seems to me that the men must take action to save themselves.

    Testing the mental strength of Louie and even his family the most was the roller coaster in which their hopes rode on. For the family, the drops were the lack of news and the official announcement of Louie’s death. The uphill climbs were the radio broadcasts and the promise of Louie’s safety in a POW camp. For Louie, the whole raft journey had many pitfalls and the personalities of his captors were erratic. With so many events happening at the same time, I am desperately reading on in order to see the author tie all the loose ends together.

  10. alexvlaisavich

    As I continue to read further into the novel, I have come to have a new perspective on life. Louie along with so many others had to suffer for endless periods of time, yet they never gave up. Today, millions of people across the globe suffer daily, and are forced to live each day like it might be their last. As a teenager growing up in Lake Oswego, I hate to say that I don’t know what real suffering is, and I may never have to go through any brutality like Louie and the other POW’s went through during the war in my lifetime. The one thing I can do is to never forget all those who suffered and paid the ultimate sacrifice so that I could live in the bubble called Lake Oswego. Whenever I am faced with a situation that might be uncomfortable, I will know now that there is nothing compared to being lost at sea for countless weeks, and living the life as a POW in a Japanese camp.
    Like mentioned by Jon, I think that hope is a major theme that drives the characters in the book beyond the limits. Hope is the one and only thing that will push a human to endure so much physical and mental pain. Like in “Man’s Search for Meaning” the men had a reason to live because there was the small possibility of getting through the horrors of World War Two. As seen in the book, hope is what defeats evil. Although Louie is not necessarily free from the Japanese, he has defeated them because he refuses to let them break his soul. Earlier in the book, it was mentioned that humiliation was the ultimate defeat for the Japanese. Although they tried to strip Louie of his identity and humiliate him, he refused to conform, therefore defeating the Japanese’s goal because of his hope to survive. What an amazing story this is, and ultimately, it motivates me to stand up against cruelty and fight for good.

  11. The third part of this book was probably one of the happiest moments I have ever read. After so much hardship and cruel oppression the POWs were finally saved. An interesting contrast I found with “Unbroken” was that the stage after Zamperini’s prison life was not disillusionment, unlike the themes in “Man’s Search for Meaning”. After the war, Zamperini becomes famous as a POW survivor in Japan, receiving multiple interviews and even getting to run in a race solely for the purpose of honoring himself. Zamperini gave himself an illusion of being able to competitively run again during his life as a POW, but he still got to partially complete this goal after the war. His family was waiting for him, happy for him to be home. “Man’s Search for Meaning” explains that prisoners really had nothing to return to, but Zamperini proved him wrong. The reason for the contrasting themes were probably because Frankl lived in the battlefield of World War Two itself, Europe, while Zamperini lived in the U.S., where no civilians died. The two contrasting ideas explores the stages of the freed prisoner, one side claiming the freed prisoner is disillusioned, while the other claiming the freed prisoner is given a life of prosperity.

    Like everyone else in the discussion, this concept of hope clearly shows how one can face the hardest circumstances if they have faith and hope. This hope that many of the surviving POW prisoners believed in was their way of survival. This concept of hope illustrates how mental perseverance and strength far surpass physical strength or perseverance.

  12. Jon Meinhardt

    Unbroken Review; 9/10

    So you’ve probably heard me say this enough in my previous posts, but Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken is an incredibly inspirational story. Louis Zamperini is an extraordinarily courageous and resilient man. There were so many instances of his incredible mental and physical strength, that the book almost sounded fictitious at times. But the uniqueness of this story comes from the fact that everything in the novel was, in fact, comprised of real accounts of World War II; making the story all the more incredible.

    Whenever Zamperini’s solution became direr, he did his best to never give into the many abuses he suffered. He could have easily lost all hope for survival, or he could have not wanted to suffer another day. Every challenge thrown at him he met with courage, and each of his adversities he met with strength, even with mild humor. Each of Zamperini’s triumphs in WWII Japanese POW camps made me want to keep reading to discover the end of Zamperini’s heroic story.

    In the midst of his sufferings, Zamperini did his best to boost his own spirits. He was forced to be resourceful, and was not afraid to risk punishment in attempts to steal food or supplies. His captors made sure to crush the spirits of the inmates and put them through painful and strenuous labor. So not only did Zamperini fight a mental battle, but he also endured physical torment. The brutal realities of the war made the book hard to read at times, but these realities made Zamperini all the more heroic.

    Unbroken is a story that is very touching and inspirational. I developed great sympathy for Zamperini and his inmates as I read, but I also was greatly inspired by their strength and refusal to be defeated. This is an incredible book filled with horrible accounts of suffering, brutality, and despair; and valiant stories of hope, perseverance, and triumph.

  13. alexvlaisavich

    “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand 10/10

    Louis Zamperini’s story of enduring both physical and mental hardships beyond the imagination was enough to amaze me. His whole journey from being a juvenile delinquent, to an Olympic track star, to surviving brutal conditions on the sea and in the POW camps seemed like a fairy tale. None of this was as impressive as the resolution of the story though. Years after the war, Louis and his wife attended a Billy Graham service, and after committing his life to Christ, Louis had finished his journey. Louis realized that no matter what, he would be a sinner and fall short of the glory of God. In result, he went back to Japan, and personally forgave each and every one of the Japanese guards that beat him, tortured him, and tried to break him. There was one exception. “The Bird” refused to meet with Zamperini because he could not deny that Louis was the one who broke the oppressor, and that Louis was the stronger man. No matter what, it is truly unbelievable that Louis was able to forgive the very men who tried to kill him, and he did so face to face. The natural human response is to seek revenge, but instead, Louis did the opposite, and set out to make peace with his enemies. I think when it comes down to it, this part is ultimately the climax and resolution of the story. If you look at Louis’ journey from the point where he entered the war to when he was liberated, you could argue that every event was part of a test to see where his heart and soul would be after the epic journey was over. Louis absolutely aced that test. Not only did he remain unbroken, but he also became a purified man with a new perspective on life.

    I loved “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. The book seemed like a fairy tale, but what is incredible is that everything about it was historically accurate. Louis fought against hardships like a gladiator, and had the heart of lion. Although the sheer brutality was difficult to comprehend at times, all of that was masked by the way that Louis accepted his torture, and even came out of the refining fires that ultimately shaped him into becoming a hero, and a role model for all.

  14. “Unbroken” By Laura Hillenbrand 9/10

    For being a true story, I found the plot of “Unbroken” very entertaining and complex. Zamperini’s entire life is thoughtfully recorded, and this journey of maturation was very compelling to read. This book also had a large amount of historical evidence and accounting, which I enjoyed. The historical details in this book were also talked about in our Freshman World History Class, specifically regarding the totalitarian rule in Japan and Germany, along with the Pacific World War Two war front. We spent minimal time in class learning about the oppressive rule of the guards, so this book helped increase my understanding for world history.

    One device I enjoyed in the ending of the book was the image of Zamperini running the torch down in the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. During his life as a POW, Zamperini dreamed to run in the Olympics with working legs again. This ending with him accomplishing his goal of running the Olympics was more or less completed. This event shows the possibilities Zamperini opened up with his own life just from the act of perseverance.

    In the very end, I give this book a 9/10. I loved the plot, enjoyed the rich character development of a variety of different characters, and appreciated it’s unbiased, well-based historical evidence. The only reason I give it a 9/10 is because the pacing of this book was rather infrequent. In some parts there would be a torrent of plot-heavy or intense scenes, but other chapters just spent entire pages writing about the mechanical components of an airplane. I did not like the mix of both informational and emotional scenes. I feel like the book should have just continued with one narrative tone throughout the entire book. However, this is me being picky as there are so many great aspects of this book. I would definitely recommend this book to any reader, especially if they want to learn more about the intricate facts of World War Two.

  15. Unbroken Review; 10/10

    The book starts off with Louis Zamperini in his wild childhood days and his rise to becoming an accomplished runner. As a result, the war was a dark time for Louis. Even with cheerful moments with comrades in training and combat; the nights before a raid, the danger of being raided, and the constant death surrounding Louis is already enough mental strain on anyone. However, times grew even darker when Louis became a Prisoner Of War (POW). Constantly Louis and other POWs endured extreme physical and mental pressure. Hard labor, the constant drag of a multitude of illnesses, lack of sufficient nutrition, and many other hard pressing factors contributed to the terrible experience of being a POW.

    I know that this has be reiterated multiple times, but the story is truly a wondrous compilation of events that demonstrate the persistence man can have. The will to live. If it were not for the mental strength of these men to get up every morning in order to survive; POWs would have gone “extinct” long before the war ended. In addition, if the men did not actively work and keep themselves busy, their mental state would have deteriorated exponentially. It was a combination of both physical and mental strength to make it through the war.

    One of the greatest things of the novel was how it came to life. Although the story is already so interesting and emotionally moving, Hillenbrand still had the challenge of incorporating the facts that all nonfiction novels should include. She managed adding a lot of factual information by adding in footnotes, which were conspicuous, but not interrupting the flow of reading. Many may be deterred by the nonfiction genre just like I was in the past. However, this novel included so many rich details necessary to building up the setting of each “scene” while making it flow and exciting enough for those fiction-only readers. Because of the rich details that add so much to the novel and amazing flow, I gave this novel a 10/10; a well deserved score.

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