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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Reason Read: Interested in topic
Method Read: (don't laugh)Nook app on my iPhone
Genre: Biography

**Starred Review** (when librarians read book reviews, particularly excellent books are considered "starred reviews" -- so with apologies to School Library Journal...)

There are several genres I love to read, one is mystery, one is historical, and one is biographical. Unbroken combines historical and biographical so I couldn't wait to read it.

This is the true story of a man named Louis Zamperini who was and is an extraordinary human being. He began life as a juvenile delinquent and was able, with the help of his older brother, to channel all the energy and mischievousness in the right manner and become a champion runner who competed in the 1936 Olympics, set records at University of Southern California and later survived World War II.

This book chronicles the life of and adventures of Louis Zamperini starting from birth until the present day. (He is still alive at the age of 94!) The author tells us about his early life to set the stage for how this extraordinary man meets and deals with challenges in his life.

As a youngster, Zamperini was incorrigible frequently running away from home, stealing from neighbors, friends and stores and just generally running amok. His older brother, Pete, whom he idolized began to worry as Louis got older and continued to pursue his wanton ways. So he encouraged Louis to take up running track. Louis had always been fast (he had to be to outrun the people he stole from) so agreed to give it a try and was very successful. Running became a life long outlet for Louis to use as a form of physical as well as a mental workout.

After competing in the Olympics and breaking records at USC, he joined the Air Force and was made a bombadier. (My father was in World War II and served on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific, so I am always fascinated with any story that includes facts about WWII -- especially in the Pacific theater.)

His life took a dramatic turn after being shot down by the Japanese -- a turn that he almost didn't survive.

In later life he met Billy Graham and was changed in a fashion that he never would have expected. It had been a long and windy road from juvenile delinquent to upstanding Christian man.

Laura Hillenbrand (who also wrote Seabiscuit) does an outstanding job relating to the reader a real sense of who Louis Zamperini was and what motivated him. Since Truman Capote wrote In Cold Blood, authors have been using real events and people to create books that read like novels instead of dry fact driven tomes, and indeed Hillenbrand has a true gift for this type of writing. What makes her writing that much more notable is that Hillenbrand has a debilitating form of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome which caused her to spend 2 years confined to her bed during the research and writing of the book which took her a total of 7 years to complete. When interviewed after the publication of the book, Louis Zamperini states that he did not even realize that she was disabled because, even though they never met in person, there was never any indication that she was ill.

I highly recommend this book to everyone.  It was such a compelling read that I could not put it (my iPhone) down!

Grade: A++
Recommend? Yes, yes, yes.

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