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Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand: A Review and Analysis of the Bestselling Biography

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand: A Book Summary


Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand is a nonfiction biography that tells the remarkable life story of Louis "Louie" Zamperini, an Italian-American who rose from a troubled childhood to become an Olympic runner, a World War II hero, a prisoner of war survivor, a Christian convert, and a humanitarian. The book spans from Zamperini's birth in 1917 to his death in 2014, covering his incredible feats of endurance, resilience, and redemption. Unbroken is based on extensive research and interviews with Zamperini and other veterans, as well as historical documents and records. It is a captivating and inspiring tale of courage, faith, and forgiveness that has touched millions of readers around the world.

summary of the book unbroken by laura hillenbrand

Louie Zamperini's Early Life and Olympic Career

Louie Zamperini was born on January 26, 1917 in Olean, New York to Italian immigrant parents. He moved with his family to Torrance, California when he was two years old. As a boy, he was rebellious, mischievous, and often got into trouble with the law. He stole food, ran away from home, fought with other kids, and vandalized property. He was also bullied for his ethnicity and accent. He found an outlet for his energy and anger in running. His older brother Pete, who was a track star himself, encouraged Louie to join the school team and trained him to become a fast and disciplined runner. Louie soon discovered his natural talent and passion for running. He broke several records and became the fastest high school runner in recorded American history. He earned the nickname "Torrance Tornado" and attracted national attention.

Louie's running career took him to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where he competed in the 5,000-meter race. He did not win a medal, but he impressed the crowd and the media with his astonishing final lap, which he ran in 56 seconds, setting a world record. He also caught the eye of Adolf Hitler, who shook his hand and called him "the boy with the fast finish". Louie hoped to compete again in the 1940 Tokyo Olympics, but his dreams were shattered by the outbreak of World War II.

Louie Zamperini's Military Service and Plane Crash

With the Olympic Games cancelled, Louie enlisted in the US Army Air Forces in 1941. He became a bombardier, flying on B-24 bombers over the Pacific Ocean. He was stationed at Hickam Field in Hawaii, where he met his best friend Russell Allen "Phil" Phillips, who was a pilot. Together, they flew on several bombing missions against Japanese targets, facing enemy fire, mechanical failures, and harsh weather conditions. One of their most dangerous missions was on the Super Man plane, which was badly damaged by Japanese fighters and barely made it back to base. Louie and Phil were hailed as heroes for their bravery and skill.

After the Super Man plane was repaired, Louie and Phil were assigned to a new crew and a new plane called the Green Hornet. On May 27, 1943, they were sent on a search-and-rescue mission to look for another missing plane. However, their own plane malfunctioned and crashed into the ocean, killing eight of the eleven men on board. Only Louie, Phil, and their tail gunner Francis "Mac" McNamara survived. They managed to climb onto two inflatable life rafts that were attached to the plane.

Louie Zamperini's Ordeal on the Raft

Louie, Phil, and Mac faced a harrowing ordeal on the raft. They had few supplies: some chocolate bars, some water tablets, some fishing hooks and lines, some flares, and a patch kit. They had no food, no water, no shelter, no radio, no map, no compass, and no hope of rescue. They drifted aimlessly in the vast ocean, surrounded by sharks, storms, starvation, thirst, and enemy planes. They endured hunger, pain, sunburns, sores, infections, hallucinations, and despair. They tried to catch fish and birds to eat and drink their blood. They collected rainwater when it rained. They fought off sharks with their oars and fists. They shot flares at passing planes but were ignored or strafed. They prayed to God for deliverance.

Mac was the weakest of the three men. He panicked and ate all the chocolate bars on the first night. He suffered from dehydration and delirium. He died on the thirty-third day after drifting into a coma. Louie and Phil buried him at sea with a prayer. Louie and Phil continued to survive against all odds. They encouraged each other with stories of their families and friends. They made plans for their future. They celebrated their birthdays on the raft. They kept track of the days by carving notches on an oar.

After forty-seven days on the raft, Louie and Phil spotted land in the distance. It was an island in the Marshall Islands chain that was occupied by the Japanese. As they approached the shore, they were captured by a Japanese patrol boat. They were taken prisoner by their enemy.

Louie Zamperini's Imprisonment and Torture in Japan

Louie and Phil were transferred to various prisoner-of-war camps in Japan over the next two years. They endured brutal treatment by their captors, who considered them as subhuman and dishonorable for surrendering. They were beaten, starved, humiliated, enslaved, experimented on, and threatened with death. They suffered from diseases, injuries, infections, malnutrition, and frostbite. They witnessed the deaths of many of their fellow prisoners from illness, violence, or execution.

Louie's most vicious tormentor was Mutsuhiro Watanabe, also known as The Bird. He was a psychopathic camp leader who had a personal vendetta against Louie. He singled out Louie for abuse because he recognized him as an Olympian and wanted to break his spirit. He beat him with fists, clubs, belts, buck Continuing the article. Louie Zamperini's Liberation and Return Home

On August 15, 1945, Japan surrendered to the Allies and the war was over. Louie and Phil were among the thousands of POWs who were liberated from their camps. They were taken to hospitals to receive medical care and food. They were also given new clothes, cigarettes, and chocolate bars. They were overjoyed to be free and alive. They contacted their families, who had been notified of their deaths by the US army two years earlier. Louie's parents had refused to believe that he was dead and had kept his room intact. They were ecstatic to hear his voice on the radio and to see his picture in the newspaper.

Louie returned home to a hero's welcome. He was greeted by crowds of cheering people, reporters, and photographers. He was invited to parades, banquets, and parties. He was awarded medals and honors for his service and bravery. He was reunited with his family and friends, including Pete, who had also served in the war as a Navy instructor. He was also offered lucrative deals to endorse products, write books, or star in movies. He was one of the most famous and admired men in America.

Louie Zamperini's Postwar Struggles and Recovery

Despite his fame and fortune, Louie was not happy. He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition that caused him to have nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, and anger. He could not forget the horrors he had endured in Japan, especially the torture inflicted by The Bird. He became obsessed with revenge and planned to return to Japan to kill him. He also became addicted to alcohol and gambling, which drained his money and strained his relationships. He married a beautiful woman named Cynthia Applewhite in 1946, but their marriage was rocky and unhappy. They had a son named Luke in 1947, but Louie was not a good father or husband.

Louie's life changed when he attended a Billy Graham crusade in Los Angeles in 1949. Cynthia had persuaded him to go with her after she had become a Christian herself. Louie was skeptical at first, but he was moved by Graham's preaching and his message of forgiveness. He remembered how he had prayed to God on the raft and how God had answered his prayers. He realized that he needed God's grace and mercy to heal his wounds and restore his peace. He gave his life to Christ and experienced a spiritual rebirth. He stopped drinking and gambling. He became a loving and faithful husband and father. He forgave his former captors and let go of his hatred for The Bird.

Louie Zamperini's Later Life and Legacy

Louie dedicated his later life to sharing his story and spreading his faith. He wrote a memoir titled Devil at My Heels in 1956, which became a bestseller. He founded a nonprofit organization called Victory Boys Camp, which helped troubled youth find purpose and direction through sports and religion. He traveled around the world as an evangelist and a motivational speaker. He also participated in various humanitarian and athletic endeavors.

Louie returned to Japan several times to visit some of the POW camps where he had been held. He met with some of his former guards and offered them forgiveness and friendship. He even appeared on a Japanese television show with one of them. However, he never got to meet The Bird again. Watanabe had escaped prosecution as a war criminal after the war and had become an insurance salesman. He refused to see Louie or apologize for his actions.

Louie also returned to the Olympics as a torchbearer in 1984, 1988, 1998, and 2005. In 1998, he carried the torch near Naoetsu, where he had been imprisoned by The Bird. He ran with a smile on his face, showing no bitterness or resentment.

Louie died on July 2, 2014 at the age of 97 from pneumonia. He was survived by his wife Cynthia, who died in 2001; his son Luke; his daughter Cynthia; five grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. His life story inspired millions of people around the world with its message of hope, courage, perseverance, forgiveness, and redemption.


Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand is a powerful and compelling biography of Louie Zamperini, a man who faced unimaginable challenges and triumphs in his life. The book chronicles his journey from a rebellious boy to an Olympic runner, from a war hero to a POW, from a broken man to a redeemed one. The book also provides a vivid and detailed account of the history of World War II in the Pacific, the culture and psychology of Japan, and the aftermath of the war on both sides. Unbroken is a testament to the human spirit and its ability to overcome adversity, suffering, and evil. It is a book that will inspire, educate, and entertain readers of all ages and backgrounds.

For readers who are interested in learning more about Louie Zamperini or Laura Hillenbrand, here are some recommended resources:

  • Devil at My Heels: A Heroic Olympian's Astonishing Story of Survival as a Japanese POW in World War II by Louis Zamperini and David Rensin (2003) Louie's own memoir, updated and revised with new material.

  • Don't Give Up, Don't Give In: Lessons from an Extraordinary Life by Louis Zamperini and David Rensin (2014) Louie's final book, published posthumously, which offers his wisdom and advice on how to live a fulfilling and meaningful life.

  • Unbroken: Path to Redemption (2018) A film sequel to Unbroken (2014), directed by Harold Cronk, which focuses on Louie's postwar struggles and recovery.

  • Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand (2001) Laura's first book, which tells the story of Seabiscuit, a racehorse who became a national sensation during the Great Depression.


  • Q: How did Louie Zamperini die?

  • A: Louie Zamperini died on July 2, 2014 from pneumonia at the age of 97.

  • Q: Did Louie Zamperini ever meet The Bird again?

  • A: No, Louie Zamperini never met The Bird again. He tried to contact him several times, but The Bird refused to see him or apologize for his actions.

  • Q: What was the name of the plane that Louie Zamperini crashed in?

  • A: The name of the plane that Louie Zamperini crashed in was the Green Hornet.

  • Q: How long did Louie Zamperini spend on the raft?

  • A: Louie Zamperini spent 47 days on the raft with Phil and Mac before they were captured by the Japanese.

  • Q: What was the name of Louie Zamperini's wife?

  • A: The name of Louie Zamperini's wife was Cynthia Applewhite.



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