Reviewed in the United States on January 6, 2015
First off, I must say that I am very encouraged to see the THOUSANDS of positive reviews of this book. The bravery, unbelievable sacrifices, devotion, patriotism, and tenacity of "The Greatest Generation" should never be forgotten. I am heartened to see that even in this day and age of Political Correctness, many share my feelings on the matter.
Please bear with me for a moment, while I provide a little personal background before launching into my review. I feel it is relevant.
I can very proudly say that my parents (I am 51) were members of that generation to whom we all owe an immeasurable amount of gratitude. At the time of World War II, My father was a very young Marine (one of my pet peeves is seeing "Marine" spelled with a lowercase "m") who joined the USMC shortly after the war broke out. As so many in the US military did, he fought the Japanese in the Pacific from one hell hole island to another. Thankfully, he made it home safely, and went on to lead a very distinguished career in the United States Marine Corps. Sadly, he died when I was only 17 (he was a much too young 59), and many is the time I have wished I could have talked to him about his war experiences, especially since I have grown to become an avid student of history for the past 25 years. Note; if there are any members or past members of the US military in your family or circle of friends, LISTEN TO THEM ABOUT THEIR EXPERIENCES! I was young and stupid, and my opportunity is lost.
Now for the book. POSSIBLE SPOILERS.....
This book is Odyssean in its vast tapestry of one epic struggle after another. The name of Louis Zamperini is one that, hopefully now, thanks to Laura Hillenbrand, will become a household name in the pantheon of great Americans. From the time of his youth, to the rigors of the Olympics, to the gripping fear of aerial combat, she traces his remarkable life through a seemingly never ending ordeal of survival while being lost at sea for a record 47 days, only to be captured by the Japanese to endure a withering, seemingly ceaseless nightmare of thirst, starvation, torture, sickness, humiliation, loss and loneliness, eventually becoming a fixed recipient of unbelievable brutality by a sick and twisted sadist who is relentless in his devotion to break Mr. Zamperini's spirit.
Frequently, when thinking about WWII vets, I have often wondered out loud to my wife; "how in the world did these guys, after seeing what they saw and experiencing what they experienced, get on with 'normal' life?" Indeed, one could argue that Louis Zamperini's greatest challenges came AFTER he experienced a multitude of challenges that would have utterly destroyed most people in body, mind and soul. Thankfully for Louis and his family (and his family is VERY much a part of the story), he eventually found a way. Regarding his family, this book should appeal to many people across a wide spectrum, as Laura Hillenbrand takes us into the thoughts and emotions of those who loved him most, and we share in their seemingly interminable hours of agony, spent in the uncertainty of any knowledge of the well being of one they held so dear.
The book is very well researched, and one can tell that Laura Hillenbrand certainly put a Herculean amount of effort into putting it together. My only negative critique would be that I occasionally found some of the sentence structure to be a bit choppy. However, that being said, she does a wonderful job of allowing us, as much as possible within a book, to see, hear, smell, feel, and taste the details of a story that stagger the imagination. It is emotionally riveting.
This book will inspire you, make you angry, make you cry, and make you immeasurably proud to be an American. Ultimately, it will reveal in a very raw, graphic, (this book is not for the squeamish), heartbreaking and heartwarming way, the indomitable spirit of mankind, and how one man, after living through seven kinds of hell, remained, UNBROKEN.
Please allow me to close by expressing a deeply heartfelt THANK YOU to all the brave and wonderful men and women, past, present, and future, who wear the uniform, be it Army, Navy, Air Force, United States Marine Corps, Coast Guard, or National Guard. We live free because you serve.