Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

War is hell, and perhaps there is no more fiendish quality to armed conflict than the loss of humanity that comes with being a wartime soldier.

Life is simultaneously priceless and cheap. There are a million ways to die during a war and Louis Zamparini manages to avoid all of them in Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand.

Hillenbrand is a long way from the bucolic meadows and stinky stables she brought to life in her bestselling book, Seabiscuit. Here the backdrop is World War II, and her impeccably researched book spans the world from the California homefront, to the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, to the POW camps of Japan.

Hillenbrand’s deepest travels are into the mind and spirit of Louis Zamparini, a California bad-boy-turned-track-star who went from shaking Hitler’s hand at the 1936 Olympics to seeing some of WWII’s harshest fighting.

Zamparini’s plane crashed while searching for another downed crew, and he survived in a raft for 47 days, and then endured another two years in a Japanese POW camp under the harshest conditions imaginable. Unbroken is a tale of the resilience of the human spirit, and the ability to maintain hope in the face of hopelessness.

Hillenbrand’s prose is lean and clean, and she paints word pictures with a reporter’s eye and a poet’s tongue. She writes about Zamparini’s time lost at sea:

   “It was not a great presence but a great absence, a geometric ocean of darkness that seemed to swallow heaven itself.”

Perhaps Zamparini’s biggest obstacle is overcoming the posttraumatic stress of his POW camp ordeal, and learning the healing power of forgiveness.

   “This self-respect and sense of self-worth, the innermost armament of the soul, lies at the heart of humanness; to be deprived of it is to be dehumanized, to be cleaved from, and cast below, mankind.”

Zamparini’s example is inspiring and nearly superhuman.

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