*Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (2010)

I was mesmerized by this story, reading most of it in a day on our way back from Colorado where I kept staring out the window of the airplane  trying to imagine Louie and the rest of the crew flying over the Pacific in their B-24 bomber.  Just as she did with Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand once again found a captivating subject and brought it to life after years of exhaustive research (filling 50 single spaced pages of end notes).  This time, instead of a race horse, it’s Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner in the mid 1930’s whose career was sidetracked by WWII where he became a hero in a new endeavor, one much harder than Olympic running: first as a B-24 bombardier and then as a record-setter surviving 46 days at sea in a raft (after a brutal crash), and finally as a POW under the most brutal Japanese prison commander.  This was a shocking, depressing, triumphant story, one that had me reeling from the opening page where Louie’s in a deflating raft, surrounded by sharks and diving into the water each time a Japanese bomber flies overhead strafing them with machine gun fire.  And it only gets much worse from that point on.  This is one of those stories where the events become so unbelievable that his story truly is stranger than fiction.  From the number of planes that went down in the Pacific (more bombers were lost on training exercises than in actual combat) to the number of POWs massacred in the “kill all” directive to the conditions of the POW camps, I just continued to stare at the book in disbelief.  And having recently read In Love and War about Jim Stockdale’s many years as a POW in Vietnam, I was amazed by the similarities: disease, starvation, solitary confinement, propaganda, and severe torture (in both cases, the Geneva Convention rules were absolutely ignored).  How these men maintained the strength—both mentally and physically—to survive is beyond comprehension.  Both knew that they had to hold onto one thing: their dignity.  And somehow, they did.  Thus, the title Unbroken.  (non-fiction)

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