“Unbroken” – a book review about the great Louis Zamperini

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“Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand

A book review by Patrick Reed

I had just finished my second screening of my daughters’ favorite new movie – “Frozen” – when a friend held up the book I had asked about, having noticed it in his hand.

It was Eric’s wife’s comments that piqued my interest: “This book is probably the best description of perseverance I have ever read. The story is nearly perfect,” said Jenny. And her next words hooked me: “It is written by Laura Hillenbrand, who also wrote ‘Sea Biscuit.’ This book, ‘Unbroken’, tells the story of running legend Louis Zamperini – and how he learned the truest meaning of foregiveness.”

“Louis who…?” I responded, rolling out Z-a-m-perini– in my mind. I had been researching running books, running movies, blogs, podcasts, running quotes, great runners and more for months now – in preparation of releasing my forthcoming ebook “The Runner’s Connection.” And yet, somehow, in all of my research, I had overlooked Zamperini.

Was it because Zamperini’s promising career had been cut short? By war? Was it his 8th place finish in the 1936 Berlin Olympic 5000? Was it because Zamperini had dedicated his improbable existence after the war to serving God in smaller elementary school venues. Did Zamperini’s story elude me because he had chosen the modest path of giving back praise to the One who had saved him?

Regardless, he had my attention now. And less than a week after Jenny had recommended the book with highest regard, I had digested it all – all 400 pages of it.

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In case, like me, you have been hiding out in a cave somewhere and haven’t heard of this epic tale of one of the greatest runners to have graced mother earth, let me whet your appetite and then encourage you to read the book asap.

“Unbroken” is the masterful biography of a running icon and America hero. Louis Zamperini, a bombardier flying in the Eastern theater of the US WWII effort, was one of 3 survivors of his bomber’s crash in the Pacific. And so the adventure begins. Or rather continues… The beginning of the book crescendoes with Zamperini’s closing 56-second final quarter mile in the ’36 Olympic 5000 meter final. Louis passed a half-dozen runners in the final 400 meters to garner his 8th place finish. That 56 was some 5 seconds faster than the closing quarter of the world’s fastest mile to date. Even the 3rd Reich’s devilish helmsman took notice. At 19 years old, the youngest in the field, Zamperini’s track career lay all before him — most assuredly lined with gold.

Yet only 5 years later, there lay Zamperini in a jaundiced life-raft, about to eclipse a different record – that for longest survival at sea.

And so goes this unbelievable tale of perseverance which defies almost greatness itself. Zamperini and his pilot finally wash up on shore 2000 miles from their crash site, only to find themselves prisoners of war in the most hellish of Japanese gulags. Haunted by ‘the Bird’ – a horrific, hate-filled guard – Zamperini relentlessly endures and exhibits the truest character of the greatest of distance runners. And men.

And it is only 2.5 years after his release back to freedom, and a spirit-grabbing sermon by the great Billy Graham, that Louis Zamperini remembers the promise he made to the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God of the universe — and gives his life back and thus gains it truly for the first time.

In a word “Unbroken” is marvelous.

Get your copy today — and consider heading over to Audible.com so that you can listen to the book. As you run!


~Coach Patrick

photo credits: book cover image –  npr.org ; portrait – wsjonline