Unbroken – Laura Hillenbrand

Posted 17 November, 2011 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 19 Comments

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Title: Unbroken

Author: Laura Hillenbrand
Published: 2010; Pages 473
Duration: 13 hours, 56 minutes
Narrator: Edward Herrmann
Genre: Non-Fiction/History
Rating: 4.5/5

Does anyone else hate paying bills? Urg!! Sorry-I usually open book posts with a little tangent but I don’t have one today.

Unbroken in short: Laura Hillenbrand tells the harrowing story of Louis Zamperini, a one-time Olympic runner, and his fight and survival during the Pacific Theater of World War II first as he was lost at sea and later as he was held as a Prisoner of War in Japan.

Why I listened to Unbroken: I kept hearing bloggers mention how much they loved this book and non-fiction works very well for me in audiobook format.

So, remember a few several weeks ago when I asked you guys for questions on a few books I’d read/listened to? Using that format here. Yay!!

Lisa asks: I am interested in Unbroken, but it seems so heavy! is it?

YES. Unbroken is incredibly heavy. And heartbreaking. And tough to listen to. It’s a story that will continue to stick with me for a long time. I highly recommend it, but make sure you’re in the mood. Though I do have to say that the story is so remarkable that it’s hard to put it down (or turn it off…)

JoAnn wondered: I found parts of Unbroken almost too painful to listen to, yet was enthralled with the story. Did you have a strong reaction to the POW sections?

I know just what you mean about feeling this book was too painful but too listen to but just so…incredible. I don’t even know the correct word to describe this book. Unbelievable. Incomprehensible. I know that I will never think about a POW in the same light again. But even though the POW parts of the story were often the most difficult or emotional bits to read, I found myself at the edge of my seat when Louie and his crewmates were stranded at sea. My goodness!!

JoAnn also asks: Do you think it would have been less emotional to read rather than listen?

I remember having a twittersation with you about listening to Unbroken versus reading the book. In many ways I feel like I don’t know if I could have continued if I was reading the events on paper. On the other hand, listening to Louie’s story had quite the impact. There was one moment when Hillenbrand describes the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and I was literally so engrossed in the story that it took me a minute to realize I was drive 10 miles under the speed limit in my neighborhood.  I’m certainly glad that I listened to this book rather than read it.

Vasilly: I see that you read Unbroken. Have you read the author’s first book, Seabiscuit? How do they compare? I love Seabiscuit but haven’t felt the need to pick up Unbroken yet? What’s your favorite thing about Unbroken?

I did read Seabiscuit several years ago and really enjoyed it. The subject matter in each book is completely different from the other, so I can understand your lack of interest in Unbroken. Although the stories of the two books are so different, Hillenbrand’s writing is excellent in both books. She certainly does her research and not only provides the necessary details to the story but also the historical details surrounding the events of the story. I learned so much about various aspects of World War II in reading Unbroken and I really appreciate that about Hillenbrand’s books.

Hard to think of a favorite thing about the book. Unbroken is a very intense and emotional reading experience, but Hillenbrand takes care to draw her characters fully which allowed me to become deeply invested in the story.

Laura: I’m currently reading Unbroken (oh my goodness-hard to put down!). We you surprised at the details Louie remembers about the all the things he experienced? I know he kept a diary for some of it, but Wow! What an amazing memory! I can’t wait to finish this book!

Honestly I’m not sure that I ever really stopped to think about all of the details that were remembered in the story, but you’re absolutely right that it is quite amazing. What I was surprised about was how open Louie was about what happened to him. I know many men who refuse to talk about their war experiences because of the pain it brings them (some I have no idea why they don’t talk about it). I know I forget that these men were so young when they fought in the war–it’s so difficult for me to imagine going through these trials at such a young age.

A special note about the audio: Edward Herrmann does a fantastic job of narrating Unbroken. His voice and tone had a way of drawing me into the story and he added dramatic effect in all of the right places. I’ve already added another of his narrations to my wishlist solely because I enjoyed listening to him so much. I cannot imagine reading this book rather than listening and highly recommend the audiobook version. The only drawback is that the hardcopy book does contain photographs. Luckily I was able to flip through my mom’s copy of the book.

The Bottom Line: If you’re a history buff I’d certainly recommend this book. But don’t be put off by the “history/non-fiction” labels as Unbroken is a book that is difficult to put down. Though it’s a page turner, there are many many moments when the subject matter seems too unbearable to continue. Just when you think it can’t get any worse for Louie, it does. But I promise that it is well worth finishing.

Have you read Unbroken? What did you think? If not, do you plan to read it?

19 Responses to “Unbroken – Laura Hillenbrand”

  1. Love the format! I saw my father-in-law reading this when I went to visit this summer and he said he liked it too. I’ll definitely try to work it into my reading for next year.

  2. There are photos in the book?? That’s the one drawback with audio. When I listened to Julia Child’s My Life in France, I had to get a copy from the library to look at the pictures… guess I’ll do the same with Unbroken. Or it could be my excuse to browse the book store this weekend ;-)

  3. I was just discussing this one with a co-worker this morning. He’s thinking of buying it. Sounds like a great read, but I would also have to be in the right mood.

  4. I loved this book – this is exactly the kind of nonfiction I tend to read … good history, but feels like a novel.

  5. I think the great thing about Hillenbrand is that she’s able to get readers to care about the subject she’s writing about. Great review.

  6. I read the story about a year ago and really loved it. It was one of those stories that you just fell in love with and I loved how Laura gradually drew you into the story before getting into the meat of the story. While it was heart rendering, it was certainly one of the most powerful.

    Interesting note, she did this book all at home; did all of her interviews on the phone due to the fact that she suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome.

  7. *Diane – Certainly shows such strength of character for Louie to overcome everything he experienced. So amazing!

    *Kristi – If you like audiobooks, I’d definitely recommend that format. Very easy to get into and keep listening. Hope you like it!

    *JoAnn – Yes, definitely browse for a copy of the book! Lots of great pictures—including Superman and the Bird! And of course Louie and his crewmates. Pictures and quotes is definitely a downside to audio.

    *Andi – Unbroken is definitely one to read when you’re in the mood for something a little more serious. Tough reading for sure, but worth the time.

    *Rhapsody – Listening to Unbroken had me wanting to listen to Seabiscuit! It’s been so long since I’ve read it that I’m sure it would be like reading it again for the first time. I hope you listen to this one soon, Jill. Think you’d like it.

    *Wendy – Yes, I love this kind of nonfiction as well. Nonfiction doesn’t have to be boring!! ;-)

    *Reviewsbylola – Oh, if you haven’t read Seabiscuit you definitely should! Hillenbrand puts so much extra information in her books about the time period—makes her books extra fascinating.

    *Vasilly – Hillenbrand does such a wonderful job of bringing the reader into the story! I’ll definitely read more of her books as they come out.

    *bermudaonion – It’s an interesting question whether this one is better in print or audio. I hope you enjoy it!

    *Melissa – wow! I had no idea about Hillenbrand’s writing process. Though someone did tell me the other day that this book took her seven years to research and write!

  8. I can’t wait to read this one. I thought of Aunt Frans first husband Glen when the story is of him lost at sea. I love anything WWII. I think I will read rather than listen to. I feel I get much more lost in the story that way.

  9. I had recently read a couple of reviews that were not as glowing about this one and really had me rethinking my desire to read it. You’ve convinced me to add it back to the wish list!

  10. I’ve read several nonfiction that read as fiction, and they are the books that always stick with me. Thanks for the review and recommendation.

  11. *Kim – Unfortunately for the Q&A to work, people need to ask questions! I have a couple books where the only questions I received were “did you like the book?” Not much to work from. ;) Anyway, have you listened to anything else by Edward Herrmann?

    *Michelle – This one really is fantastic for listening to!! I’d definitely recommend. And I thought of Glen as well as I was reading this one. I just can’t even imagine.

    *Kailana – Yes! I hope you can get to it soon!!

    *Lisa – You know, there were a few times when negative things were noted about Louie and it made me think a bit, but this book is also about redemption and I think it’s important to keep that in mind. Definitely try it, Lisa.

    *Jenny Girl – Yes, I love non-fiction that reads like fiction as well. This one is heavy on the details, but they’re really interesting so it’s all good.

  12. Love the Q&A format! You’ve convinced me that I must read this book! Will link to your post on war Through the Generations.

  13. I thought Hermann was the perfect choice for this narration. I don’t think the book would have stuck with me as well if I had read the physical book instead of listening to it. At times, it’s Hermann’s voice that comes back to me and I can almost remember the entire story in his voice. But Louis’ story is amazing. What struck me about it is I sometimes completely forget that WWII also took place in the Pacific because so much media and history telling time is spent focusing on the war in Europe. I had no clue that the Japanese treated their prisoners so bad. Truth be told, I forgot the war even occurred on Japanese soil. But, now, Louis’ story is one of the first things I remember so it helps me to remember those soldiers also.