Review: ‘Unbroken’

Louis Zamperini was called home to glory on July 2, 2014

Zamperini’s story of survival and resilience will grab most readers’ attention. But it’s his testimony of redemption that makes Unbroken perhaps the most exciting and encouraging book published in 2010. You won’t feel even a tinge of worry when sharing the book with unbelievers. It should provoke fascinating conversations. Unbroken memorably illustrates both the depths of human depravity and the strength of the human will. In the end, it exposes our desperate need for a Savior.


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

Louis Zamperini merits no more than one paragraph in Billy Graham’s star-studded, 776-page autobiography, Just As I Am. Zamperini makes his appearance as Graham fights exhaustion and preps for the eighth week of his 1949 Los Angeles evangelistic crusade:

[Zamperini] was the U.S. track start who had pulled a flag bearing the Nazi swastika down from the Reichstag during the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. Later, in the Second World War, he was shot down in the Pacific and drifted on a liferaft for forty-seven days. He survived attacks by Japanese pilots who swopped down on him for target practice. Finally, the Japanese captures him and put him in prison for two years. Although he was a famous athlete and war hero, he came home feeling unhappy, disillusioned, and broken in spirit. One night he wandered into our tent in Los Angeles with his wife and accepted Christ, and his life was transformed.

So there you have it: Zamperini’s life summarized in six sentences. Olympian. Survivor. Prisoner. Hero. Alcoholic. Christian. But there is so much more to Zamperini’s story that nearly 500 pages by bestselling author Laura Hillenbrand (Seabiscuit) cannot even do him justice. Not that Hillenbrand could be faulted for lack of effort. She devoted seven years to researching and writing about the “apparently immortal” Zamperini. (Now 93, he lives in Hollywood, California. Rumor has it Nicholas Cage will play him in the movie. Jake Gyllenhaal would be a dead ringer, if you ask me.) Zamperini sat down for 75 interviews with Hillenbrand. These events have been so seared into his memory that recalls nearly every detail today. Whatever Zamperini couldn’t remember or didn’t know about life in Depression-era America or the war in the Pacific Hillenbrand supplements with consulting a whole cast of experts, including staff at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Gifted and dedicated writers like Hillenbrand can make even ordinary stories interesting. So you can imagine what she does with one of the most remarkable and unlikely stories of the twentieth century. If Hillenbrand weren’t so credible and Zamperini’s life weren’t so thoroughly documented, you’d liken the book to Forrest Gump. He impressed Adolf Hitler and briefly met the notorious dictator.

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