Saturday, April 2, 2011

Unbroken -- Laura Hillenbrand ------------- 4 Stars

When picking out a gift for another person, it's always an added bonus when that gift can also be a gift to yourself (i.e. giving someone two tickets to a game they will take you to or an household appliance that everyone gets to use). So it is with Unbroken, a Christmas gift to my wife, who after finishing the book, passed it on to me. (Side note: my wife enjoyed it far more than me and quickly told me that it must be 'at least' 4 stars after I contemplated out loud giving it a 3.5 star rating...which it probably should be). Unbroken has been the #1 non-fiction book on the New York Times for the last few weeks so one must assume it is good, and I suppose it is good, just not great.

I was drawn to the book because: a) my wife raved about it and kept telling me how incredible it was and b) Hillendbrand's last book (a while ago) Seabiscuit, was awesome...Seabiscuit this is not. The book is the true story of a WWII POW Louie Zamperini. It basically is the story of his life from birth, to world class runner, to fighter in the Pacific, to eventual Japanese POW.

The story is without a doubt unbelievable. No, literally, I sometimes wonder if all of what is described actually happened. Much of the story can only be substantiated by 2 people, but if it is true, it's one of the most incredible stories of survival and perseverance ever told.

Other good things: Hillenbrand crafts a very nice story and does a superb job of only including the most pertinent and useful information. Using crisp, easy to follow language, the tale is remarkable and she pointedly creates a 'good' vs. 'bad' mentality. Also included are some nice pictures in the book. Normally, not something that is included or important in adult level books, these photographs make the story come to life even more and vividly show the characters told in the book at different parts of their life thus making the story even more full and real.

The story didn't receive a higher rating simply because the entertainment value was not there. Although it was a good read, I never felt like I couldn't put it down and I didn't think that the reader's interest was held at the end of each chapter. I also didn't like how the actual story worked out. Obviously, as it was non-fiction, there was not much that could be done about that, but it still took away from the overall book for me. Also bothersome, and again there is nothing that can be changed about it, the story is quite sad and depressing. If you didn't already know, living in a POW camp is pretty much awful and good chunk of the book is describing and retelling that experience. Obviously critical to the plot and story, I nonetheless found this difficult reading.

In the end, even though I didn't love the book, I would highly recommend it. I believe the story would interest most readers, and it must have some sort of mass appeal if it's number 1 on the New York Times bestseller list as many weeks as it has been. There is no doubt that Louie is an American hero, and there may be no better time to read and remember this greatest generation as right now as this generation of heroes will be all but gone by the end of the decade. Unbroken will assure that Louie and others never fade away.

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