The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Review: “Unbroken”

with 5 comments


Laura Hillenbrand

Random House/Fourth Estate, 2010/2011, 496pp., hardback, $27/£20

ISBN 978-1400064168/978-0007378012

This is a hard book to read. It is not the occasional profanity that makes it so, so much as the searing – sometimes very ugly – honesty and gripping profundity. The author, as far as I know not herself a believer, tells the story of Louis Zamperini, a wild kid with an unbroken spirit and a knack for finding trouble, to a teenager discovering a gift for distance running that carried him to the Olympics (he seemed destined to be the first man to break the four minute mile until WWII intervened), to a highly-skilled bombardier in a B-24 Liberator over the Pacific in the war against Japan, to a castaway adrift on a raft in a shark-infested ocean for 47 days, to a brutalised POW in a series of Japanese concentration camps, to an apparently free man chained to his hatred, to an alcoholic who could not break free of his guilt and anger. Zamperini was finally broken, but it was grace that broke him, and made him truly whole. He heard – very unwillingly at first – Billy Graham preach, and Christ broke in upon his untamed spirit and emptied him of self before granting him a strength that he had never had before. Very skilfully and engagingly written, you will find your pulse rising and falling with the twists and turns of the story; you might suck in your breath, hold your head in your hands, clench your fists, and weep tears as you read. The book showcases the heights and depths of the human spirit, prompting us both to consider that we are fearfully and wonderfully made and that we are fearfully and deeply depraved. For those with eyes to see, the story is a stunning study in providence. That superintending wisdom and power preserves a gifted, vigorous, self-reliant rebel, guiding him slowly but surely to the cross of Jesus Christ, and changes him into a gifted, vigorous, Christ-reliant servant who preaches the gospel to his once-torturers and sets out to find others who, like himself, need the best of friends and a true Saviour. A treat especially for those who appreciate stirring biography and (perhaps mainly military) history, elements of this telling might take it outside the orbit of some. Nevertheless, read and recommended with that awareness, I believe that this is a story worth reading, for it ultimately reveals a God worth praising.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 18 March 2011 at 08:42

5 Responses

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  1. Jez,
    I read the book a couple of months ago…good fodder for ilustrations. I found the end profoundly moving (I had read his own autobiography years ago)…but I did wonder if Laura H understood what she had written. His story is not so much one of reslience and the human spirit, as grace and mercy from the Holy Spirit. I told someone that even the title is misleading–he was shattered and only the grace of God brought healing.


    Friday 18 March 2011 at 12:45

    • Hello, Jim –

      Yes, I am looking forward to receiving the autobiography myself now. Apparently it will fill in the end of his life with a more distinctive vision.

      With regard to authorial perspective and the choice of title, I agree with your questions/concerns.

      Thanks for the insights.

      Jeremy Walker

      Friday 18 March 2011 at 13:09

      • Jez,
        I found the book by Hilderbrand a much better read…but getting both is good. Have you seen the interviews from the Nagano Olympics done by CBS? They are available on youtube…It was from that profile that I first heard his story.
        Trust you are feeling in fine fettle!


        Friday 18 March 2011 at 15:54

  2. Glad you enjoyed it!

    Mark Loughridge

    Monday 21 March 2011 at 23:44

  3. I just finished this book last week too. I have always enjoyed WWII history so I was already inclined to like the book, but I really thought it was an amazing story. I think Jim is right…the title should be “Broken”. Nearly every individual in the book was broken – Zamperini came home broken, the Bird was broken by his depravity, Col Harris was broken, etc. The amazing part of the book is the stories of those God made whole again. The character I wish we knew more about is the Christian Japanese guard who is highlighted for giving him candy. It would neat to know how he was saved in such a dominantly pagan country. Sad he was prosecuted for war crimes, but glad Gen MacArther had him acquitted.


    Tuesday 22 March 2011 at 15:03

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