A Masterful Epic: Unbroken

It’s been awhile, friends!

Between moving, job searching, and getting settled in an awesome new job: life has been full in the first half of 2016. Luckily, there’s nothing like sweet summertime to put readerly wind back in a Hungry Heroine’s sails. Boston’s beautiful weather the last few weekends has found me engrossed in a few new titles, relaxing with the Hungry Hero on our back porch, and savoring warm weather eats (guys, you must try these burgers. They are worth the fuss).

So, what have you been reading lately?

This weekend, I’ve barely been able to drag myself away from Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. It’s no secret that I have an affinity for epic historical tales (see here), and true to form, I practically devoured this World War II survival epic in a single weekend. After realizing at the train station that I forgot my copy at work on Friday, I trudged back to the office to retrieve it, adding close to an hour to my travel time and making myself distinctly late for my dinner plans.

It was worth it.


Louis Zamperini’s story is hair-raising, maddening, dangerous, and above all, triumphant. A defiant young man turned famed Olympic runner turned WWII airman, Louis channeled his steel will through a nearly unbelievable series of trials during WWII. I know I’m late to the Unbroken bandwagon (it’s already been made into a film and won several awards), but I’m so happy I picked it up after it’s 15 minutes of fame has passed.


There is so much to love about this book. Most especially, I loved the brief snapshots of beautiful humanity, illuminating a dark, brutal war. One such beauty was the trust between Louis and his pilot and fellow castaway, Phil:

“If there was one thing left, he’d a given it to me,” Phil once said of Louis.

Another was the brave kindness of the POW camp’s Japanese interpreter, Private Yukichi Kano, who put his own livelihood at risk to help the POWs:

In winter, he hung blankets along the infirmary walls and scrounged up charcoal to heat the rooms. He snuck sick men away from the sadistic Japanese doctor and into the hands of a POW who was a physician. “There was a far braver man than I,” wrote POW Pappy Boyington, winner of the Medal of Honor.”

Just as heartwarming was the the unyielding belief of Louis’ family that he was alive (despite his legal declaration of death by the War Department). Louis’ mother deposited his $10,000 life insurance policy in a bank account for safekeeping, thinking that her beloved son could use it when he returned home.

Before he left Hamilton field, Louie dropped a little package in the mail, addressed to his mother. When Louise opened it, she found inside a pair of airman’s wings. Every morning, through all that lay ahead for her, Louise would pin the wings to her dress. Every night, before she went to bed, she’d take them off her dress and pin them to her nightgown.

Hillenbrand’s talent shines in weaving together a thrilling, epic tale from POW interviews, statistics, squadron histories, diaries, prisoner affidavits, newspaper articles, and (spoiler alert) Louis himself.

A key theme throughout this book is the idea of belief, and how our own belief shapes the path we have in front of us. At times, it seems that Louis simply won’t accept the fact that he is doomed. Stuck on a hole-riddled raft in the Pacific with no provisions, and swarmed by sharks with evolving hunting tactics? Louis refuses to accept defeat. He calculates how long until they reach land: 47 days.

Guess what happened 47 days later?

Read this one if:

  • You’re ready for a thrilling, epic (and true!) survival story. This is one autobiography that will keep you reaching for a third, fourth, fifth cup of coffee as you yearn to reach the end, and learn what happens to Louis, Phil, and friends.
  • You’re interested in a deep dive into World War II and Pacific war history. I was shocked to learn just how dangerous the job of a WWII airman was (and not just because of combat). 15,000 men died in aircraft accidents on American soil just while training for the war.
  • You can handle some bone-chilling ideas. Especially disturbing to me was the Japanese “kill-all-order;” their policy of mass-murdering all POWs just as signs of liberation neared.

Skip this one if:

  • You don’t have a particularly strong stomach. Enough said. In-depth accounts of torture and hellish circumstances (each worse than the last) punctuate this story. Maybe not the best beach read for the faint of heart.

What’s been your favorite summer read so far?

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