Unbroken by Laura HillenbrandBook Review and Afterthoughts

Unbroken:  A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

Author: Laura Hillenbrand

This is a story of Louie Zamperini, and what a story it is. It is a life story which unfolds unexpectedly and almost unbelievably at times. Good luck, bad luck… both are evident in the life of Louie Zamperini.

The author writes this story well and deserves credit for bringing his story to life again. While it reads almost like a novel, the only shortcoming is that the redemption part of Louie’s story seems to be covered quickly. How he turns his life around and what he does after that night with Billy Graham could have been developed a little further.

Having said all this, it is a book which I would want my sons to read this summer. It shows how one’s story can unfold in unplanned ways as well as how people can intervene and give you an opportunity to get on the right path.

Louie’s life, at times, almost seems Forrest Gump-like. He falls into opportunities with his running which seems like an improbable whirlwind. Louie’s running success was not purely happenstance though; it was through his efforts and determination. Yet, luck seemed to be with him in challenging times. “Luck” may be an inappropriate term to describe several years of his life, given what he had to suffer.

Throughout Louie’s life, there were choices he made while others were made for him. He did the best he could with many of his situations.

After reading the book, the thought of how one can endure such torture for so long is amazing. Inner strength and spirit are at the core. As the story moves to his return home, the same inner strength seemingly disappears, succumbing to day-to-day temptations.

There are two interesting passages from the book about dignity. They are:

“Without dignity, identity is erased. In its absence, men are defined not by themselves, but by their captors and the circumstances in which they are forced to live.”


“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 it.”

Dignity supports our individual identity, and it is a critical element which protects our soul. Dignity enables us to move forward, intact, through various life stages.

Dignity is not often talked about today, but it has been an important element in our history in facilitating societal changes. Restoring dignity drives changes. At an individual level, dignity comes up more frequently as people reach the mid-points of their lives. Keeping dignity gives us a reason to move forward, to do our best.

Having said all of this, the thought remains after reading this book. How can dignity preserve someone through torture yet not prevent the same individual from resisting temptations of alcohol or other negative choices? Do we get worn out at some point and become completely vulnerable?

Louie survives being a POW in Japan yet falls into bad habits which off-track his life at home. Then, one evening at a Billy Graham revival, he regains his dignity, refreshes his life, and gets back on-track.

Two keys seem to be relevant. Faith is one. Good friends are another. While faith helped him more later on in his life, friends helped him both early and later on in his life. During high school, his brother was the first to nudge him to literally get on the track and run, and his wife was the second to rescue his life by re-igniting his faith.

Maybe that is the point. With faith, we are given the ability to have or restore our dignity. Sometimes, we experience a hearing loss in listening to our soul, so we need friends to guide us back, re-awaken our faith.

Unbroken is a story of choices, dignity, faith, friendships, and survival. It is a story we can grasp and learn from today.