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Our “Unbroken Summary” recaps the life of an athlete, who later became a survivor. The legend of Louis Zamperini will continue to echo through time; a story about a man who despite all the odds managed to conquer the hearts of many throughout the world.
A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
How much do you think a man can take? How much pain and suffering, how much torture and anguish? And how capable do you think is one of forgiving his tormentor?
Who Should Read “Unbroken”? And Why?
Well, few people have fallen down more times – and harder – than Louis Zamperini. First, it was quite literally: his plane crashed in the Pacific Ocean.
Then, he had to survive for a month and a half drifting at sea. And when he thought he finally made it – he was captured by the Japanese and brutally tortured in a prisoner-of-war camp for almost nine hundred days.
Zamperini didn’t just get back up again. He got back up a stronger and a better person. He even forgave his tormentors.
Heartbreaking and inspiring, “Unbroken” is one of those stories so profoundly emotional it will undoubtedly stay with you for a while.
No matter who you are or where you are – it cannot leave you indifferent. In fact, we nominate this book as one of the ultimate human-testers: if it doesn’t move you, then you’re probably a robot.
Things are moving fast out there, so we may just need this kind of things.
About Laura Hillenbrand
Laura Hillenbrand is a bestselling American author.
After falling ill at 19 – with the controversial and still not well understood chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) – she had to drop out of college. Confined to her home, she dedicated herself to writing.
“Unbroken” was published in 2010 to widespread acclaim and rave reviews. In 2014, Angelina Jolie directed its movie adaptation, which was also a success, grossing over $163 million at the box office.
Find out more at http://laurahillenbrandbooks.com/.
Raised in a strict Catholic household, the young Louis “Louie” Zamperini is often picked on by other kids in his neighborhood in Torrance, California, for being an Italian-American unable to speak English well. Soon enough, his father teaches him how to box in self-defense.
And, before you know it, Zamperini fights back and turns from a troubled boy into a troublemaker.
Unhappy, he often dreams of running away for good. But, for the time being, he has to run away from the police first, since he often steals cigarettes, food, and beer.
Fortunately for Louie, his beloved older brother Pete – already a star in the school track team – is capable of translating this capability into something useful.
Pete takes Louis to the training runs with him, and soon, at his advice, Louis quits smoking and drinking and starts dedicating his time to exercising and running.
He is undefeated during the last three years of his high school, breaking all of his brother’s records, and setting a world interscholastic one for the mile in 1934.
Two years later, at 19 years of age, he tries out for the Olympics. He doesn’t get into the team for his discipline – the 1,500 meters – but he does for the 5,000 meters.
To this day, no U.S. athlete younger than him has ever qualified for the Olympics for the 5000-meter run.
At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Zamperini finished eighth. However, his final lap was so fast that Adolf Hitler himself asked a personal meeting. “Ah, you’re the boy with the fast finish,” said the Fuhrer after shaking Zamperini’s hand.
Nicknamed the “Torrance Tornado,” most probably Louis Zamperini would have had a chance of winning an Olympic medal already at the next Games. However, his running career was cut short when the Pacific War broke out.
Zamperini enlisted in the army and became a bombardier. He flew a B-24 called the “Super Man.” However, in April 1943, during a bombing mission over Nauru, Zamperini and his crew – including pilot Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips – found themselves in the middle of an apocalyptic air battle. Thanks to Phil’s piloting skills and Louie’s cleverness, “Super Man” was landed – but bullet-riddled and incapacitated.
Here is Zamperini himself checking the bullet holes on the “Super Man” in 1943:
So, the crew is given a new plane, the “Green Hornet,” a notoriously defective lemon. Unsurprisingly, the plane crashes just a month later, killing all but three members of its crew: Louis, Phil, and Francis “Mac” McNamara.
Now, come the ordeals.
The three survivors had little food and basically no water. So, the only way for them to survive was to capture rainwater and use it sparingly, while eating small fish and birds landing on their raft.
To make matters worse, Mac goes a bit mad and eats all their available chocolate.
And did we mention that they are in the middle of the ocean?
Of course, there are sharks!
And they have to fight them using nothing but their bare hands and the oars. Surprisingly, they manage to fend off few shark attacks, with Louie even eating the liver of one. Yes, that really happened!
And as if it wasn’t enough, they also had to survive through a storm which all but capsized their raft. On the 27th day, destiny had another surprise for them: a Japanese bomber strafed them, damaging their raft! Six days later, Mac died.
Sounds too movie-like? That doesn’t make it untrue. But it does make it worthy of an adaptation. Even the trailer will give you goosebumps:
If you watched the trailer carefully, you’ve noticed that we’re far from finished.
Louie and Phil survive for 46 days. However, when on the 47th day, they reach land in the Marshall Islands, they are immediately captured by the Japanese Navy.
First, they are put in the Ōfuna POW camp, but afterward transferred a couple of times. Louie would eventually end up in the Naoetsu POW camp in northern Japan.
For the purposes of this summary, we don’t need to describe too much the 200 times Zamperini is punched in the face or the fact that he was forced to clean a pigsty with his bare hands.
Suffice to say that there’s a reason why the Bird is ranked that high.
Miraculously, Zamperini survives. Back at home, he marries Cynthia Applewhite. They have a daughter, but Louie is incapable of being happy. He is tormented by his memories and becomes an alcoholic in an attempt to forget.
Once, Cynthia catches Louie uncontrollably shaking their baby. So, she files for divorce.
Fortunately for the newlyweds, Billy Graham comes to town. In one final attempt to help her husband, Cynthia convinces Louie to attend one of Graham’s preaching sessions.
The experience transforms him: Louie finds faith, quits drinking, and becomes a motivational speaker.
But the story isn’t over yet.
With faith comes forgiveness, and Louie does precisely that: he forgives his tormentors from the war.
And he wants to do one better: upon hearing that Watanabe is still alive, he wants to go and forgive him in person. The Bird refuses, so Louie sends him a letter.
The same year, Louie is one of the Olympic torch-carriers for the 1998 Nagano Olympics. As such, he runs past Naoetsu, the POW camp where he was once imprisoned.
As he leaves the sight of the camp behind him, it seems as if symbolically he leaves the past behind him as well.
Key Lessons from “Unbroken”
1. Humans Are Capable of Enduring So Much Suffering
2. No Matter What Happens, You Can Always Get Out
3. Forgiveness Is the Best Way to Free Yourself from Your Past
Humans Are Capable of Enduring So Much Suffering
Louie Zamperini’s story is a story of perseverance.
Its moral? Well, we guess: humans are made of sterner stuff.
Zamperini went through hell, from air fights to having his plane crashed, from surviving a month and a half in a raft to fending off sharks, from being tortured as a war prisoner to beating alcoholism.
And, as Maya Angelou said once, during all this period, he allowed to be changed but never reduced.
He was the Great Zamperini all throughout.
No Matter What Happens, You Can Always Get Out
In a way, Zamperini’s life was a long list of prison escapes.
First, thanks to the help of his brother and his passion for running, he escaped the prison of juvenile delinquency. Then, he escaped death in an air fight. Afterward, he escaped being lost at sea. Then, he was put in a literal prison – he escaped from there too when the Americans liberated it.
Back to spiritual imprisonment, he has to find a way to escape the prison of the past experiences right after the war. To top that, alcoholism sneaks at the back door – and he has to escape from it too.
Forgiveness Is the Best Way to Free Yourself from Your Past
There’s a painful aftermath of being a victim of any kind of violence. Because, even after the ordeal is over, you can’t let it go.
How can you?
Your whole body will probably be protesting against it. “The paradox of vengefulness,” writes Hillenbrand, “is that it makes men dependent upon those who have harmed them, believing that their release from pain will come only when their tormentors suffer.”
Zamperini chose a better way: he forgave them.
And that made him a free man once again.
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Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen. The stubborn retention of it, even in the face of extreme physical hardship, can hold a man's soul in his body long past the point at which the body should have surrendered… Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
Really. It doesn’t get much more uplifting or heartwarming than this.