The Life of Louis Zamperini in Unbroken, a Book by Lauren Hillenbrand

The book Unbroken recounts and celebrates the life of Louis Zamperini, a second-generation Italian immigrant, world record holder, Olympic athlete, US Air Corps bombardier, and prisoner of wars. The book begins with Louis’ childhood (which, given Louis was a teenager during the depression era, was interesting to see a first-person account of,) and segways into his career as a distance runner, showing how he channeled his negative energy from his childhood into running. He became (and still is) the youngest athlete to qualify for the 5,000 meter, and finished 8th in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Afterward, when the 1940 Olympics were canceled, Louis saw no choice but to enlist he ended up becoming 3 Lieutenant in the US Air Corps During his tour, he was commissioned on a damaged 8-24 to search for a lost aircraft in the Pacific, and went down— he was one of three survivors.

After 47 days with limited food and water, he and Phil, the two survivors, were captured by the Japanese Navyi Louis was interned in several Japanese Prisoner of War camps, and endured over two years of forced labor, cruel punishment, and abuse.

  The book portrays Louis as an American hero, to put it plainly being an Olympic athlete made him a constant target for abuse from “The Bird,“ who was notorious for his treatment of POWs and was #23 on MacArthur’s 40 most wanted war criminals from Japan. This unending abuse and Louis‘ ability to endure all of it, “unbroken,” became a bastion of morale for him and his fellow internees.

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The way Laura Hillenbrand describes how Louis would recount his mother’s homemade Italian cuisine to his fellow Prisoners of War really showed his courage and selflessness while keeping the story afloat with her many literal analogies; it was one thing from the book that really stood out for me.

Laura Hillenbrand is very good at creating convincing, lifelike stories, and during that part, it felt as if the reader was in the barracks as well, listening to Louis describing his mother’s recipes. We can feel their hunger, their pain and suffering, and most importantly, we look at Louis for what he is; a beacon of hope. One concept the book constantly addresses is the question of religion Phil, one of the three survivors of the Green Hornet, is constantly singing hymns and praying. Louis promises he will live in God’s name if he were to save him and his comrades from imprisonment, after his release, Louis is only able to overcome his Post-Traumatic-Stress—Disorder, alcoholism, and the immense burden he has been carrying for a lifetime through one thing religion.

Hillenbrand makes the theme very clear throughout the book “The Bird” is described with devilish characteristics— crossing over into Japanese waters is likened to entering helli Many times, Louis is saved by what is seemingly a “hail mary” from God, whether it is in the form of an. Albatross landing on his head, or finding the inner strength to hold a heavy beam over his head for 37 minutes, Louis faces the “devil“ and overcomes him, not just through the power of God, but through his own inner strength. It is very clear that Louis is God‘s Messiah of the story all in all, the story makes a great narrative and first-hand account of several events, we get to see the daily life of an immigrant in the early years of the Great Depression in a small town in California. We get to see what it’s like to be in the US Air Corps how Louis prepares for bombing missions (emotionally and even physically,) how a B-24 was run (such as the jobs of all eleven people on the plane,) life as a castaway and prisoner of War (the physical and mental effects these things had, and how he was able to muster the perseverance to endure it,) and subsequently, how to live with the burden of it all— even how to forgive people like “The Bird,” who beat him incessantly for no reason.

Make no mistake, this book truly is a biography it may have dramatized events and characterizations, but much of it can be factually backed up by both Louis and other witnesses, such as other internees at the three camps Louis was imprisoned in. Because of this, the information obtained from reading is much more memorable and relatable than attending a lecture about the same subject. It’s one thing to understand what caused the Great Depression or a brief synopsis of the Pacific theatre, but another thing entirely to show a narrator who lives through both of these events and how it shapes them throughout a story. It helps the reader not only understand the events that transpired, but also gives a name and face to them, and understand what it was like to live through or during them.

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The Life of Louis Zamperini in Unbroken, a Book by Lauren Hillenbrand. (2023, Jan 11). Retrieved from

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