Book Review - September 2014

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, Laura Hillenbrand, 2010, Random House, New York, ISBN 9781400064168, 473 pages, $28.00, hardcover.

All our content in Disciple is here to encourage you to grow in Christ-likeness through growing understanding of His Word, and the books we choose to review reflect that. Most are theological or devotional in nature, hailing from reputable Christian publishing houses. We almost never review mainstream books from secular publishers, but this incredible story demands that we stand up and take notice. It is, in fact, even an explicitly Christian story that put Christ's transforming power on display at the top of the New York Times Bestseller list.

Unbroken relates the life of Louis Zamperini (1917-2014), following him from his troubled childhood as the son of Italian immigrants and juvenile delinquency, to athletic achievement and recognition at the Olympic Games, to service in World War II and nearly three years as a Prisoner of War, to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and alcoholism, to his encounter with Christ that gave him peace and made sense of all the rest. Many of his generation knew Zamperini's incredible tale from news reports and his later career as an inspirational speaker, but Hillenbrand's masterful book brings it to life for a new generation.

It would do you a disservice to explain the full details of this story rather than letting you discover it through your own reading, but here's a taste. Zamperini survived multiple experiences that could have (you get the sense from the flow of narrative in Unbroken that they perhaps should have) killed him-a firefight during a bombing run that resulted in nearly 600 holes in his B-24; an air raid on a small island with almost no shelter; an uncontrolled high-speed plane crash in the Pacific; a journey across thousands of miles of shark-infested ocean with almost no supplies; and brutal beatings, starvation, and forced labor at the hands of his Japanese captors.

In spite of these often unfathomable hardships, Louis made it home safely at war's end, reunited with his loving family. Many writers would have left it at that, a harrowing yet somehow hollow survival account. Hillenbrand, however, doesn't stop there, telling the sour details of rest of his story-how Louis could not make peace with life back in the U.S., how his spirit was consumed by hatred and a desire for revenge, and how his anger and alcoholism threatened to destroy his young family. Moreover, she doesn't shy away from showing the only thing that made him whole: the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which pierced his heart through the preaching of a young Billy Graham. This comes through, not as a footnote, but as the key to Louis' understanding of how and why he had been preserved. The Lord took his heart of bitter resentment, replacing it with a heart of forgiveness and launching him on a new life of touching others with the love of Christ.

A dust jacket festooned with glowing accolades and a good deal of media hype surrounding its publication made me skeptical of the book. After enough recommendations from trusted friends I came around to it, finding every drop of that praise to be wholly accurate. Zamperini passed away in late July of this year, and a film adaptation of Unbroken is due out this December; both events are giving his story a new boost of publicity. Do yourself a favor and be challenged and encouraged by this excellent work. 

*One word of caution--descriptions of violence, injury, sickness, etc. in the book are graphic (though very pertinent to the story), and many aspects of Louis' pre-salvation life are rendered faithfully as well (though not gratuitously). Hillenbrand is not endorsing ungodly practices, but the work of Christ in Louis' life is magnified by the earlier depiction of sin and suffering, 

Justin Lonas

Target: All
Type: Biography
Take: Highly Recommended (with cautions)

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