Unbroken: A World War Ii Story Of Survival, Resilience, And Redemption

Unbroken: A World War Ii Story Of Survival, Resilience, And Redemption

Hardcover | November 16, 2010

byLaura Hillenbrand

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#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE • Hailed as the top nonfiction book of the year by Time magazine • Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for biography and the Indies Choice Adult Nonfiction Book of the Year award

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.

Praise for Unbroken
“Extraordinarily moving . . . a powerfully drawn survival epic.”The Wall Street Journal
“[A] one-in-a-billion story . . . designed to wrench from self-respecting critics all the blurby adjectives we normally try to avoid: It is amazing, unforgettable, gripping, harrowing, chilling, and inspiring.”—New York
“Staggering . . . mesmerizing . . . Hillenbrand’s writing is so ferociously cinematic, the events she describes so incredible, you don’t dare take your eyes off the page.”People
“A meticulous, soaring and beautifully written account of an extraordinary life.”—The Washington Post
“Ambitious and powerful . . . a startling narrative and an inspirational book.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Marvelous . . . Unbroken is wonderful twice over, for the tale it tells and for the way it’s told. . . . It manages maximum velocity with no loss of subtlety.”Newsweek
“Moving and, yes, inspirational . . . [Laura] Hillenbrand’s unforgettable book . . . deserve[s] pride of place alongside the best works of literature that chart the complications and the hard-won triumphs of so-called ordinary Americans and their extraordinary time.”—Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air
“Hillenbrand . . . tells [this] story with cool elegance but at a thrilling sprinter’s pace.”Time

Unbroken is too much book to hope for: a hellride of a story in the grip of the one writer who can handle it.”—Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run

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Unbroken: A World War Ii Story Of Survival, Resilience, And Redemption

Hardcover | November 16, 2010
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From Our Editors

INDIGO RECOMMENDS: Readers love an underdog story. So does Laura Hillenbrand. With her wildly successful first book Seabiscuit she thrilled readers with the story of an unlikely race horse. Her new book Unbroken recounts the almost unbelievable story of one of World War II's forgotten heroes. Louis Zamperini's life began in suburban California and through a combination of grit and the conseque...

From the Publisher

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE • Hailed as the top nonfiction book of the year by Time magazine • Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for biography and the Indies Choice Adult Nonfiction Book of the Year awardOn 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, gaso...

Laura Hillenbrand is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Seabiscuit: An American Legend, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, won the Book Sense Book of the Year Award and the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award, landed on more than fifteen best-of-the-year lists, and inspired the film Seabiscuit, which was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Hille...

other books by Laura Hillenbrand

Seabiscuit: An American Legend
Seabiscuit: An American Legend

Paperback|Mar 26 2002

$13.33 online$22.00list price(save 39%)

Paperback|Nov 19 2012

$14.97 online$29.95list price(save 50%)
see all books by Laura Hillenbrand
Format:HardcoverDimensions:496 pages, 9.49 × 6.4 × 1.32 inPublished:November 16, 2010Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1400064163

ISBN - 13:9781400064168

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Cryer here... This has got to be the biography that I actually cried reading it. Its amazing what some of us as human beings have been through and survived.
Date published: 2016-03-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing Book!!! This book is such an eye-opener, it really made me look at life a different way. I couldn't put it down until I was done with it. I feel awful for Louis Zamperini, but he is such an amazing person, I knew he would live! Zamperini is now my here-idol I will never forget this true story! Best book ever!!!!!!!
Date published: 2015-10-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Unbroken This book is one of the most raw and emotional books you could ever read. It captured a dark past that many young men endured. Life before, during, and after WWII for Louis Zampernini will leave you absolutely in awe.
Date published: 2015-09-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent story Well written story and account of the horrors of WWII and the experiences of POWS. Utterly emotional
Date published: 2015-08-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Couldn't put it down! If you thought the movie was horrific, it's got nothing on the book! A well-written, engaging book on a man's amazing life.
Date published: 2015-06-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good but.... Too dragged out in places, specifically in the raft and in pow camps. Otherwise a very interesting story, one that I was totally unaware of
Date published: 2015-05-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Unbroken Excellent read. This was fascinating st0ry that was very well researched and written ab0ut the atrocities of ww II.
Date published: 2015-04-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent story of never giving up I really felt what Louie was feeling during all the trials he went through. The loss, triumph, and utter loathing for his captures. Laura Hillenbrand weaves an amazing story and brings it all together brilliantly.
Date published: 2015-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Moving This is the truth of a Prisoner of War in Japan. His story will give you some insight into what War can do to a person and how this man overcame it and moved on
Date published: 2015-03-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Zamparini Gripping. I found the events, the inhumanity, the brutality shocking. The real facts are horrible. Seeing godless brutality at this level is shocking. But redemption is always possible.
Date published: 2015-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great read Riveting story. An incredible story of overcoming adversity and forgiveness. A highly recommended read.
Date published: 2015-03-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Unbroken Holy cow what a book! What a life! Absolutely amazing and inspiring. A must read for all of us who enjoy breathing free air.
Date published: 2015-02-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Unbroken Facinating, troubling and heartbreaking. Unbroken teaches us that maybe man, can someday live in peace. I would not go to see the movie.5
Date published: 2015-02-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly recommend I could not put this book down. One of the best books I have ever read. The story was a real eye opener for me.
Date published: 2015-02-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Unbroken This book flowed well and was interesting the whole way through. Learned a lot of things I didn't know. The book is an eye opener. I can't wait to see the movie!
Date published: 2015-01-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Well written, hard to put down. The story sweeps you in highs and lows just like the ocean that the characters had to endure. Sharing the lives of both the main persons but also of the ones dear to them was extremely well done.
Date published: 2015-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Unbroken. A WWII Story Very moving and remarkable that anyone can survive this much trauma. Excellent research and compostion
Date published: 2015-01-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic read! Opens your eyes to the realities of war and the heroics that were taken for granted. How people survived is beyond belief.
Date published: 2015-01-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Unbroken Wow! I cannot believe how much POW's indured during the war. Their strength, both physical and mental is truly inspirational. As the daughter of a WWII veteran I am always amazed at how my father survived the atrocities he faced at the hands of the nazis. It is important to have these stories told, Lest We Forget...
Date published: 2015-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Unbroken Well told and put together. The story paints a oil ture of a rebellious boy challenging himself and his peers. A young many how found his calling in both running and as a bombardier. A man who returned from war damaged but not totally lost. The route to find himself took him to the bottom of a pit so deep it almost destroyed him. He rediscovered himself in faith and and rebuilt himself with the love of his wife Cynthia. Once I started I read it (over two days) I found it hard to put down. Ww
Date published: 2014-12-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Hard to put down. From the first chapter this is an inspiring, thought provoking read.
Date published: 2014-09-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Stays with you forever! I loved this book, it is one of my top 20 books ever. And I read a lot. It is testament of how the human spirit and our will to survive under unthinkable odds. If you want to learn more about WWii and how Japan treated it's POWS then this is the book to do it with out getting bored. The author sucks you in and these people and I say people not characters because it's a true story stay with you forever. Read It! 
Date published: 2014-01-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Unbroken: A world war ii story of survival, resilience, and redemption I absolutely loved this book. It's one of my top 20 favorite books of all time, and I read a lot. It is a testament to the human spirit and our will as humans to survive under unthinkable odds. I have and will continue to recommend it. If you want to learn about the war based on fact and learn more about Japan's treatment of POWS, then read this book. The writing is so fantastic that you won't be able to put it down. 
Date published: 2014-01-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Favorite I read a lot, and this book is on my shelf of 'Top 10 ever'. Absolutely love it. Amazing and inspiring story- and its true!
Date published: 2013-05-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from You don't read it...you feel it An unbelievable account of an unbelieveable man. It has the ability to change your view on life and all it has to offer. Makes it very difficult to let trivial daily occurrances affect you the way they did before.
Date published: 2013-03-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing true story Simply must read it. I have recommended this to friends and they have thanked me for it.
Date published: 2013-02-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from UNBELIEVABLE! I really don't like to read, but this story is so incredible, I just couldn't stop reading. You need to read this book!
Date published: 2013-01-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from a horrific survival story This is an account of Louis Zamperini's life. Louis started out as an Olympian in track. However, WWII intervened and he trained as a bombardier and was stationed in the Pacific ocean war theater. Zamperini was downed and spend 47 days in a life raft fighting off starvation, exposure, thirst and sharks. He and his pilot drifted into Japanese held territory and were interned for the rest of the war. While interned Louis along with the other POWs underwent severe conditions and brutal treatment. Such brutal treatment that several of the guards were indicted as war criminals. It is stated that the dropping of the nuclear bombs probably saved the POWs as the Japanese were all set to kill the lot so that they would not be held accountable for all their atrocities. This account is not for those who have a weak stomach. It is brutal and gut-wrenching. One wonders at man's capacity for cruelty and depravity. I found the story a little too long-winded but it was still a fascinating story. A bit unbelievable was Louis' redemption at the end. A few hours of listening to Billy Graham and the PTSD is fixed. I think this marginalizes those who truly suffer from this affliction.
Date published: 2012-09-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from moving to tears This novel is truly moving and at one point brought a tear to my eyes. I felt anger, frustration, pain and glory. It makes dropping the atomic bomb a reasonable solution. This book is worth reading for a hundred reasons if not to remind us of the brutality and waste war creates with no winners.
Date published: 2012-09-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The best book I have read in a long while I couldn't put it down. From start to finish this book is well written, well researched and compelling. On the down side, I had a very long week at work as I was reading well into the night, only putting the book down when I could physically no longer keep my eyes open. This is one of those books that will stay on my bookshelf for a long time.
Date published: 2012-08-06
Rated out of 5 by from This is an amazing story that is both heart breaking and inspiring. It was eye-opening for me to learn of the atrocities that POW's went through at the hands of the Japanese in WW2. The personal survival story of not only Louis, but his many brilliant comrades, is beyond my imagination. I've read a number of survival stories, and this one comes out on top. I could not put it down - reading late into the night many times. Highly recommend it.
Date published: 2012-07-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This epic odyssey left me speechless— Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken begins by recounting the childhood of Louis Zamperini, a clever delinquent with an aptitude for stealing, fighting and sneaking out of his California home. The son of Italian immigrants, Louis channeled his audacity into running, discovering an astonishing talent that would lead him to the Berlin Olympics at the age of nineteen. This in itself would be a page-turner, but then the Second World War intervenes, adding another dimension to the already compelling true story. Louis becomes a bombardier in the American Air Force while he’s training for the upcoming 1940 Tokyo Olympics (that will be cancelled due to the war). After a plane crash leaves him and his crew stranded in the Pacific Ocean—for a record-breaking 47 days—they survive against all odds before being “rescued” by the wrong side. Then begins the most traumatic and testing part of his journey: life in a succession of Japanese POW camps. His survival in these hellish conditions is directly dependent on his resilience, defiance, and refusal to give up. I probably would never have read this book; the idea of war is not something I usually gravitate towards; however, I was handed Louis’ biography as a topic for a school project. Unlike most books of this genre or purpose, it was anything but tedious. Instead, it hooked me in during the first few pages and didn’t loosen its grip until I’d finished the epilogue. I was initially captivated by Louis’ success on the running track, being a runner myself, but this book has something for everyone. If the track doesn’t interest you (which it will, because of Hillenbrand’s cinematic style of storytelling) then the drama of warfare, survival in the ocean, and triumph of the human spirit will draw you in. I am grateful to Laura Hillenbrand for the opportunity to learn Louis’ story and I commend her for the 7 years she spent researching to make her book authentic and thorough. Having learned much in school about the Second World War in Europe, I’m glad this best seller focuses on an often neglected piece of history: the Pacific side of WWII. Hillenbrand’s writing style is always to the point, providing the reader with the information of a textbook and the entertainment of a thriller. This book is not for the faint of heart. In fact, your heart will probably be wrenched from your chest as you take in the brutality, violence and dehumanization Louis and his fellow soldiers faced during their stay in Japan. The story is almost unbelievable; Louis has enough experiences to fill 3 or 4 lifetimes. It would seem extremely far-fetched as a made-up story, proving that fact trumps fiction when it comes to enthralling readers. Throughout the book I was constantly filled with conflicting emotions; it managed to be uplifting and depressing at the same time. Unbroken leaves you horrified and inspired, crying for Louis and cheering for him; questioning human nature, resilience, evil in the world and your own ability to cope. This epic odyssey left me speechless—yet inspired.
Date published: 2012-05-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE READ!! Story 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. My Review: This isn’t normally the type of book I would choose to read but something about the synopsis on the cover propelled me into buying it and I’m glad I did. This is the incredible and true story of Louis Zamperini. Louis Zamperini was a young child when his parents moved to Grammercy Street in Torrance, California. As a toddler he was inquisitive and incorrigible, as a youth he became a delinquent causing trouble, fighting, and stealing his way through each day. Louis was high strung and needed a positive outlet for his destructive and abhorrent behaviour and took up running. Little did he realize when he first began that he would be heading to the 1936 Olympics held in Berlin, Germany chasing the 4-minute mile record! Louis trained hard and more than earned every win and every trophy. He constantly broke records set by previous runners and became quite a sensation. Louis joined the air force in the Second World War and became the squadron’s bombardier, a job he took seriously. One bright morning in May of 1943 his team flew out over the Pacific on a mission only to crash into the ocean. Only Louis and two other airmen from his flight survived. They floated in a raft over miles and miles and miles of ocean for 47 days and struggled with extreme heat, salt sores, swollen lips that grew grotesquely up to their noses, hunger and starvation, extreme thirst and large sharks that attempted to jump into their quickly shredding life raft. On the 47th day they were rescued by the enemy Japanese and sent off to POW camps. There Louis faced the toughest days of his life. One particular sadistic guard had a penchant for Louis and sought him out daily to apply beatings so severe that you wouldn’t believe any human being could survive. He was tortured, punched repeatedly, had buckle belts swung and smashed into his head, and was demoralized and dehumanized. Unbroken is the unforgettable story of Louis’s survival, and redemption and the resilience of his mind, body, and spirit.
Date published: 2012-01-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely Amazing This would not be the usual story that would capture my attention but it was featured in a magazine article that I recently read and I decided to give it a try. What an amazing story! I could not put this book down. It was not only an incredible story of pure human survival, but was written in such a captivating way that you are swept into this man's life. What an excellent read, highly recommend it to everyone.
Date published: 2011-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Incredible! A real page turner.
Date published: 2011-07-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Unbelievable!!!! I can't stop telling everyone about this book. What an absolutely incredible life this man has lived. Starting in his youth as a neighborhood thief and trouble maker to eventually qualify for the 1936 Olympics and meet Hitler is amazing enough but only the beginning of this remarkable story. To then join the Airforce, crash in the Pacific Ocean, drift for 47 days only to be rescued by the Japanese and thrown into a POW camp to be tortured to near death for 1 1/2 years only adds to the drama. I didn't know a lot about battle the US fought in the Pacific before reading this and have gained a whole new respect for the US and what they went thru. Makes you want to find a soldier/veteran and hug them.
Date published: 2011-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great story of survival I love survival stories and this did not disappoint. It is an easy read and flows nicely. Be aware that there is quite a bit of violence described, but it is a war story.
Date published: 2011-06-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A real eye opener I thought this was a novel until I started to read through and realized it was real. It gave me another insight to the treatment of prisoners of war by the Japanese and why vetrans refused to buy anything Japan built. It is a reminder to future generations as well as today's youth that should not be forgotten. i could hardly put my Kobo down and have bought a paper copy for a relative.
Date published: 2011-06-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing I really, really, really liked it and it really lived up to the hype that I have heard about this book. It was also a book that was very much an emotional journey and the emotions that I experienced were very much unexpected. While there were times that the book felt a little dry, like the description of a B-24 bomber, the story always had a point and it was building to something that was going to be written later on in the book. I am not going to spoil the book for those of you who are planning are reading the book, but I will say its an amazing journey, especially emotionally.
Date published: 2011-06-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Captivating! it's one of my top five books. A very poignant true story. I went through all the human emotions, from laughter to tears. I highly recommend it.
Date published: 2011-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from one of the most horrific survival stories you will ever hear Reason for Reading: This book dealt with many topics that interest me: World War II, especially the war with Japan, the Japanese war atrocities and survival stories, especially those at sea. What an amazing book! I would give it 10/10 if I could and two thumbs up if it were a movie. I'd be very surprised if it wasn't made into a movie either, unless telling about the relatively unknown Japanese atrocities is too much for Hollywood to handle. Louis Zamperini was a boy with humble beginnings, who grew up to have a shot at Olympic stardom, which was torn away from him by WWII and instead replaced by one of the most horrific survival stories you will ever hear. Seven years in the writing Hillenbrand has brought a book and a story that will not be forgotten by time. This is a story that everyone need read to see what despicable, horrific things human beings are capable of doing to others and how the spirit of other human beings are capable of surviving even the most degrading and self-demeaning tasks placed on top of daily torture of the most extreme kind. This book is hard to read in many places, but is also full of many moments of pathos. The POWs managed to find little ways to brighten their days at the expense of their prison keepers to help keep their morale up. Louis started life as a thief and a thug, until his older brother took his energy and placed it into something more constructive. Track. Louis was a natural, but didn't take to it kindly at first, since he easily won without trying, until he saw that with real effort he could actually break efforts and his dream for the Olympics took over and he became a changed youth, participating in the Berlin Olympics. The War came along, and the draft changed Louis's life forever. As a bombardier of a B-29 he survived a crash into the Pacific Ocean and floating aboard a life raft for a record breaking 47 days with two other crew members only to be "rescued" in the end by the Japanese. Where he then spent the rest of the war with Japan as a POW in their Geneva Convention breaking camps. As one officer is quoted as saying "This is not Geneva. This is Japan." The rags to riches story of Louis' childhood truly endears him to the reader as a character one really cares for. He is a sharp, intelligent man-youth, witty and with a sense of fun, that one cannot help but fall for him. Making his life story all that more horrific. Hillenbrand has done a good job of bringing Zamperini to life as a human being with his character strengths, quirks and flaws. The survival in the Pacific makes for absolutely riveting, unbearable and compelling reading. Hillenbrand, while writing of the POW experience, also manages to reveal some information on why the Japanese atrocities are so little known today and why their war criminals were given amnesty, while German war criminals are still hunted down to this day. (Though I believe what they presume to be the last living war criminal was extradited in just the recent past.) It certainly had nothing to do with the Japanese being any less inhumane during the war. In Hillenbrand's "Acknowledgements" she notes that the war is still a controversial topic in Japan and some of her Japanese sources asked not to be named. A MUST READ BOOK!!!
Date published: 2011-02-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Book....Wow! This is a biography that reads like the best of novels. Great read by a very good author. Read this page turner and be wowed. I will not reveal the story but to say you will love this true to life hero.
Date published: 2010-12-17

Extra Content

Read from the Book

Chapter One The One-Boy Insurgency In the predawn darkness of August 26, 1929, in the back bedroom of a small house inTorrance, California, a twelve-year-old boy sat up in bed, listening. There was a sound coming from outside, growing ever louder. It was a huge, heavy rush, suggesting immensity, a great parting of air. It was coming from directly above the house. The boy swung his legs off his bed, raced down the stairs, slapped open the back door, and loped onto the grass. The yard was otherworldly, smothered in unnatural darkness, shivering with sound. The boy stood on the lawn beside his older brother, head thrown back, spellbound. The sky had disappeared. An object that he could see only in silhouette, reaching across a massive arc of space, was suspended low in theair over the house. It was longer than two and a half football fields and as tall as a city. It was putting out the stars. What he saw was the German dirigible Graf Zeppelin. At nearly 800 feet long and 110 feet high, it was the largest flying machine evercrafted. More luxurious than the finest airplane, gliding effortlessly over huge distances, built on a scale that left spectators gasping, it was, in the summer of '29, the wonder of the world. The airship was three days from completing a sensational feat of aeronautics, circumnavigation of the globe. The journey had begun onAugust 7, when the Zeppelin had slipped its tethers in Lakehurst, New Jersey, lifted up with a long, slow sigh, and headed for Manhattan. On Fifth Avenue that summer, demolition was soon to begin on the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, clearing the way for a skyscraper of unprecedented proportions, the Empire State Building. At Yankee Stadium, in the Bronx, players were debuting numbered uniforms: Lou Gehrig wore No. 4; Babe Ruth, about to hit his five hundredth home run, wore No. 3. On Wall Street, stock prices were racing toward an all-time high. After a slow glide around the Statue of Liberty, the Zeppelin banked north, then turned out over the Atlantic. In time, land came below again: France, Switzerland, Germany. The ship passed over Nuremberg, where fringe politician Adolf Hitler, whose Nazi Party had been trounced in the 1928 elections, had just delivered a speech touting selective infanticide. Then it flew east of Frankfurt, where a Jewish woman named Edith Frank was caring for her newborn, a girl named Anne. Sailing northeast, the Zeppelin crossed over Russia. Siberian villagers, so isolated that they'd never even seen a train, fell to their knees at the sight of it. On August 19, as some four million Japanese waved handkerchiefs and shouted "Banzai!" the Zeppelin circled Tokyo and sank onto a landing field. Four days later, as the German and Japanese anthems played, the ship rose into the grasp of a typhoon that whisked it over the Pacific at breathtaking speed, toward America. Passengers gazing from the windows saw only the ship's shadow, following it along the clouds "like a huge shark swimming alongside." When the clouds parted, the passengers glimpsed giant creatures, turning in the sea, that looked like monsters. On August 25, the Zeppelin reached San Francisco. After being cheered down the California coast, it slid through sunset, into darkness and silence, and across midnight. As slow as the drifting wind, it passed over Torrance, where its only audience was a scattering of drowsy souls, among them the boy in his pajamas behind the house on Gramercy Avenue. Standing under the airship, his feet bare in the grass, he was transfixed. It was, he would say, "fearfully beautiful." He could feel the rumble of the craft's engines tilling the air but couldn't make out the silver skin, the sweeping ribs, the finned tail. He could see only the blackness of the space it inhabited. It was not a great presence but a great absence, a geometric ocean of darkness that seemed to swallow heaven itself. The boy's name was Louis Silvie Zamperini. The son of Italian immigrants, he had come into the world in Olean, New York, on January 26, 1917, eleven and a half pounds of baby under black hair as coarse as barbed wire. His father, Anthony, had been living on his own since age fourteen, first as a coal miner and boxer, then as a construction worker. His mother, Louise, was a petite, playful beauty, sixteen at marriage and eighteen when Louie was born. In their apartment, where only Italian was spoken, Louise and Anthony called their boy Toots. From the moment he could walk, Louie couldn't bear to be corralled. His siblings would recall him careening about, hurdling flora, fauna, and furniture. The instant Louise thumped him into a chair and told him to be still, he vanished. If she didn't have her squirming boy clutched in her hands, she usually had no idea where he was. In 1919, when two-year-old Louie was down with pneumonia, he climbed out his bedroom window, descended one story, and went on a naked tear down the street with a policeman chasing him and a crowd watching in amazement. Soon after, on a pediatrician's advice, Louise and Anthony decided to move their children to the warmer climes of California. Sometime after their train pulled out of Grand Central Station, Louie bolted, ran the length of the train, and leapt from the caboose. Standing with his frantic mother as the train rolled backward in search of the lost boy, Louie's older brother, Pete, spotted Louie strolling up the track in perfect serenity. Swept up in his mother's arms, Louie smiled. "I knew you'd come back," he said in Italian. In California, Anthony landed a job as a railway electrician and bought a half-acre field on the edge of Torrance, population 1,800. He and Louise hammered up a one-room shack with no running water, an outhouse behind, and a roof that leaked so badly that they had to keep buckets on the beds. With only hook latches for locks, Louise took to sitting by the front door on an apple box with a rolling pin in her hand, ready to brain any prowlers who might threaten her children. There, and at the Gramercy Avenue house where they settled a year later, Louise kept prowlers out, but couldn't keep Louie in hand. Contesting a footrace across a busy highway, he just missed getting broadsided by a jalopy. At five, he started smoking, picking up discarded cigarette butts while walking to kindergarten. He began drinking one night when he was eight; he hid under the dinner table, snatched glasses of wine, drank them all dry, staggered outside, and fell into a rosebush. On one day, Louise discovered that Louie had impaled his leg on a bamboo beam; on another, she had to ask a neighbor to sew Louie's severed toe back on. When Louie came home drenched in oil after scaling an oil rig, diving into a sump well, and nearly drowning, it took a gallon of turpentine and a lot of scrubbing before Anthony recognized his son again. Thrilled by the crashing of boundaries, Louie was untamable. As he grew into his uncommonly clever mind, mere feats of daring were no longer satisfying. In Torrance, a one-boy insurgency was born. If it was edible, Louie stole it. He skulked down alleys, a roll of lock-picking wire in his pocket. Housewives who stepped from their kitchens would return to find that their suppers had disappeared. Residents looking out their back windows might catch a glimpse of a long-legged boy dashing down the alley, a whole cake balanced on his hands. When a local family left Louie off their dinner-party guest list, he broke into their house, bribed their Great Dane with a bone, and cleaned out their icebox. At another party,he absconded with an entire keg of beer. When he discovered that the cooling tables at Meinzer's Bakery stood within an arm's length of the back door, he began picking the lock, snatching pies, eating until he was full, and reserving the rest as ammunition for ambushes. When rival thieves took up the racket, he suspended the stealing until the culprits were caught and the bakery owners dropped their guard. Then he ordered his friends to rob Meinzer's again.It is a testament to the content of Louie's childhood that his stories about it usually ended with "...and then I ran like mad." He was often chased by people he had robbed, and at least two people threatened to shoot him. To minimize the evidence found on him when the police habitually came his way, he set up loot-stashing sites around town, including a three-seater cave that he dug in a nearby forest. Under the Torrance High bleachers, Pete once found a stolen wine jug that Louie had hidden there. It was teeming with inebriated ants. In the lobby of the Torrance theater, Louie stopped up the pay telephone's coin slots with toilet paper. He returned regularly to feedwire behind the coins stacked up inside, hook the paper, and fill his palms with change. A metal dealer never guessed that the grinning Italian kid who often came by to sell him armfuls of copper scrap had stolen the same scrap from his lot the night before. Discovering, while scuffling with an enemy at a circus, that adults would give quarters to fighting kids to pacify them, Louie declared a truce with the enemy and they cruised around staging brawls before strangers. To get even with a railcar conductor who wouldn't stop for him, Louie greased the rails. When a teacher made him stand in a corner for spitballing, he deflated her car tires with toothpicks. After setting a legitimate Boy Scout state record in friction-fire ignition, he broke his record by soaking his tinder in gasoline and mixing it with match heads, causing a small explosion. He stole a neighbor's coffee percolator tube, set up a sniper's nest in a tree, crammed pepper-tree berries into his mouth, spat them through the tube, and sent the neighborhood girls running. His magnum opus became legend. Late one night, Louie climbed the steeple of a Baptist church, rigged the bell with piano wire, strung the wire into a nearby tree, and roused the police, the fire department, and all of Torrance with apparently spontaneous pealing. The more credulous townsfolk called it a sign from God. Only one thing scared him. When Louie was in late boyhood, a pilot landed a plane near Torrance and took Louie up for a flight. One might have expected such an intrepid child to be ecstatic, but the speed and altitude frightened him. From that day on, he wanted nothing to do with airplanes. In a childhood of artful dodging, Louie made more than just mischief. He shaped who he would be in manhood. Confident that he was clever, resourceful, and bold enough to escape any predicament, he was almost incapable of discouragement. When history carried him into war, this resilient optimism would define him. Louie was twenty months younger than his brother, who was everything he was not. Pete Zamperini was handsome, popular, impeccably groomed, polite to elders and avuncular to juniors, silky smooth with girls, and blessed with such sound judgment that even when he was a child, his parents consulted him on difficult decisions. He ushered his mother into her seat at dinner, turned in at seven, and tucked his alarm clock under his pillow so as not to wake Louie, with whom he shared a bed. He rose at two-thirty to run a three-hour paper route, and deposited all his earnings in the bank, which would swallow every penny when the Depression hit. He had a lovely singing voice and a gallant habit of carrying pins in his pant cuffs, in case his dance partner's dress strap failed. He once saved a girl from drowning. Pete radiated a gentle but impressive authority that led everyone he met, even adults, to be swayed by his opinion. Even Louie, who made a religion out of heeding no one, did as Pete said. Louie idolized Pete, who watched over him and their younger sisters, Sylvia and Virginia, with paternal protectiveness. But Louie was eclipsed, and he never heard the end of it. Sylvia would recall her mother tearfully telling Louie how she wished he could be more like Pete. What made it more galling was that Pete's reputation was part myth. Though Pete earned grades little better than Louie's failing ones, his principal assumed that he was a straight-A student. On the night of Torrance's church bell miracle, a well-directed flashlight would have revealed Pete's legs dangling from the tree alongside Louie's. And Louie wasn't always the only Zamperini boy who could be seen sprinting down the alley with food that had lately belonged to the neighbors. But it never occurred to anyone to suspect Pete of anything. "Pete never got caught," said Sylvia. "Louie always got caught." Nothing about Louie fit with other kids. He was a puny boy, and in his first years in Torrance, his lungs were still compromised enough from the pneumonia that in picnic footraces, every girl in town could dust him. His features, which would later settle into pleasant collaboration, were growing at different rates, giving him a curious face that seemed designed by committee. His ears leaned sidelong off his head like holstered pistols, and above them waved a calamity of black hair that mortified him. He attacked it with his aunt Margie's hot iron, hobbled it in a silk stocking every night, and slathered it with so much olive oil that flies trailed him to school. It did no good. And then there was his ethnicity. In Torrance in the early 1920s, Italians were held in such disdain that when the Zamperinis arrived, the neighbors petitioned the city council to keep them out. Louie, who knew only a smattering of English until he was in grade school, couldn't hide his pedigree. He survived kindergarten by keeping mum, but in first grade, when he blurted out "Brutte bastarde!" at another kid, his teachers caught on. They compounded his misery by holding him back a grade. He was a marked boy. Bullies, drawn by his oddity and hoping to goad him into uttering Italian curses, pelted him with rocks, taunted him, punched him, and kicked him. He tried buying their mercy with his lunch, but they pummeled him anyway, leaving him bloody. He could have ended the beatings by running away or succumbing to tears, but he refused to do either. "You could beat him to death," said Sylvia, "and he wouldn't say 'ouch' or cry." He just put his hands in front of his face and took it. As Louie neared his teens, he took a hard turn. Aloof and bristling, he lurked around the edges of Torrance, his only friendships forged loosely with rough boys who followed his lead. He became so germophobic that he wouldn't tolerate anyone coming near his food. Though he could be a sweet boy, he was often short-tempered and obstreperous. He feigned toughness, but was secretly tormented. Kids passing into parties would see him lingering outside, unable to work up the courage to walk in.

Bookclub Guide

US1. Louie’s experiences are singular: None of us is going to be in a plane crash, strafed by a bomber, attacked by sharks, cast away on a raft, or held as a POW. And yet the word most often used to describe him is “inspiring.” What does Louie’s experience demonstrate that makes him so inspirational to people who will never endure what he did? What are the lessons that his life offers to all of us? 2. Is Louie a hero? How do you define heroism? 3. In Louie’s boyhood, he was severely bullied, then became a delinquent and hellraiser. In these experiences, did he already display attributes that would help him survive his wartime ordeal? Did he also show weaknesses or tendencies that foreshadowed the struggles he would face postwar?4. Did Louie’s athletic career help prepare him for what he would face in war?5. Louie was especially close to his brother Pete, who devoted himself to him. If Pete hadn’t been there, what would have become of Louie? Does Pete deserve credit for shaping Louie into a man who could endure and survive his Odyssean ordeal? 6. Hillenbrand explores the extraordinary risks faced by America’s WWII airmen: 54,000 men killed in combat, 36,000 killed in noncombat aircraft accidents, and a stunning 15,000 men killed in stateside training—at times, an average of 19 per day. Men faced a 50% chance of being killed during combat tours of only 30-40 missions. Were you aware of the dangers faced by airmen in the Pacific war? What facts and stories were most surprising to you?7. What are your feelings about Mac? Do you feel sympathy for him? Anger? If you endured the trauma of a plane crash, and were placed in a situation that you knew very few men survived, might you have reacted as he did? In the end, did he redeem himself? 8. When Louie, Phil and Mac were on the raft, a key factor in their survival was optimism. All three men were young and able-bodied, veterans of the same training, experiencing the same hardships and traumas, yet Louie and Phil remained optimistic while Mac was hopeless, seemingly doomed by his pessimism. Why are some people hopeful, and others not? How important is attitude and mindset in determining one’s ability to overcome hardship? 9. What did you find most remarkable about the things Louie and Phil did to survive on the raft? 10. Over 47 days on the raft, the men lost half their body weight, and were rendered mere skeletons. Yet they refused to consider cannibalism, which had not been uncommon among castaways before them. Would you, in the same situation, ever consider cannibalism? If it could ensure that two men survived, when otherwise all three would almost certainly perish, would it be a moral decision?11. Louie believed he was the beneficiary of several miracles, among them his escape from the wreckage of his plane, the fact that he and the other men were not hit with bullets when their rafts were strafed, and the appearance of the singers in the clouds. What is your interpretation of those experiences?12. The POWs took enormous risks to carry out thefts, sabotage, and other acts of defiance. Men would risk their lives to steal items as trivial as pencil boxes. What benefit did they derive from defiance that was worth risking death, or severe beatings?13. In the 1930s and 1940s, Germany and Japan carried out what are arguably the worst acts of mass atrocity in history. What leads individuals, and even whole societies, to descend to such a level? What motivated the notoriously sadistic POW camp guards in Japan, particularly the Bird? Do we all carry the capacity for cruelty?   14. After the war, Louie would say that of all the horrors he witnessed and experienced in the war, the death of the little duck, Gaga, was the worst. Why was this event especially wrenching for him and the other POWs? 15. Louie, Frank Tinker, and William Harris planned to escape from Ofuna, walk across Japan, steal a boat and make a run for China. It was an attempt that very likely would have ended in their deaths. Was it foolish, or did it offer a psychological benefit that was worth the enormous risk?16. Louie joined a plot to kill the Bird. Was he justified in doing so? Would it have been a moral act? Do you think Louie could have found peace after the war, had he killed the Bird? 17. Unbroken reveals that, under the “kill-all order,” the Japanese planned to murder all POWs, a plan that was never carried out because of the dropping of the atomic bombs. The book also explores the lengths to which the Japanese were prepared to go to avoid surrender. How did the book make you feel about America’s use of the atomic bomb on Japan?18. “Anger is a justifiable and understandable reaction to being wronged, and as the soul’s first effort to reassert its worth and power, it may initially be healing,” Laura Hillenbrand wrote in an article for Guideposts magazine. “But in time, anger becomes corrosive. To live in bitterness is to be chained to the person who wounded you, your emotions and actions arising not independently, but in reaction to your abuser. Louie became so obsessed with vengeance that his life was consumed by the quest for it. In bitterness, he was as much a captive as he’d been when barbed wire had surrounded him.” Do you agree?19. Many of us struggle to forgive those who have wronged us, but forgiveness is often so difficult to find. What makes it so hard to let resentment go?20. “What the Bird took from Louie was his dignity; what he left behind was a pervasive sense of helplessness and worthlessness,” Hillenbrand continued in her Guideposts article. “As I researched Louie’s life, interviewing his fellow POWs and studying their memoirs and diaries, I discovered that this loss of dignity was nearly ubiquitous, leaving the men feeling defenseless and frightened in a world that had become menacing. The postwar nightmares, flashbacks, alcoholism and anxiety that were endemic among them spoke of souls in desperate fear. Watching these men struggle to overcome their trauma, I came to believe that a loss of self-worth is central to the experience of being victimized, and may be what makes its pain particularly devastating.” Do you agree? 21. Hillenbrand wrote that among the former POWs she interviewed, forgiveness became possible once the POW had found a way to restore his sense of dignity. Was this what Billy Graham gave to Louie? If so, what was it about that experience, and that sermon, gave Louie back his self-worth? 22. Do Louie Zamperini’s wartime and postwar experiences give you a different perspective on a loved one who was, or is, a veteran?23. Why has most WWII literature focused on the European war, with so little attention paid to the Pacific war?