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A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

Written by Laura HillenbrandAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Laura Hillenbrand



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On Sale: November 16, 2010
Pages: 528 | ISBN: 978-0-679-60375-7
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Synopsis

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE • Look for special features inside. Join the Random House Reader’s Circle for author chats and more.

In boyhood, Louis Zamperini was an incorrigible delinquent. As a teenager, he channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics. But when World War II began, the athlete became an airman, embarking on a journey that led to a doomed flight on a May afternoon in 1943. When his Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean, against all odds, Zamperini survived, adrift on a foundering life raft. Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion. His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.
 
Unbroken is an unforgettable testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit, brought vividly to life by Seabiscuit author Laura Hillenbrand.

Hailed as the top nonfiction book of the year by Time magazine • Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for biography and the Indies Choice Adult Nonfiction Book of the Year award
 
“Extraordinarily moving . . . a powerfully drawn survival epic.”The Wall Street Journal
 
“[A] one-in-a-billion story . . . designed to wrench from self-respecting critics all the blurby adjectives we normally try to avoid: It is amazing, unforgettable, gripping, harrowing, chilling, and inspiring.”—New York
 
“Staggering . . . mesmerizing . . . Hillenbrand’s writing is so ferociously cinematic, the events she describes so incredible, you don’t dare take your eyes off the page.”People
 
“A meticulous, soaring and beautifully written account of an extraordinary life.”—The Washington Post
 
“Ambitious and powerful . . . a startling narrative and an inspirational book.”—The New York Times Book Review
 
“Magnificent . . . incredible . . . [Hillenbrand] has crafted another masterful blend of sports, history and overcoming terrific odds; this is biography taken to the nth degree, a chronicle of a remarkable life lived through extraordinary times.”—The Dallas Morning News
 
“An astonishing testament to the superhuman power of tenacity.”Entertainment Weekly
 
“A tale of triumph and redemption . . . astonishingly detailed.”O: The Oprah Magazine
 
“[A] masterfully told true story . . . nothing less than a marvel.”Washingtonian
 
“[Hillenbrand tells this] story with cool elegance but at a thrilling sprinter’s pace.”—Time
 
“Hillenbrand [is] one of our best writers of narrative history. You don’t have to be a sports fan or a war-history buff to devour this book—you just have to love great storytelling.”—Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Excerpt

Chapter One
The One-Boy Insurgency

In the predawn darkness of August 26, 1929, in the back bedroom of a small house inTorrance, California, a twelve-year-old boy sat up in bed, listening. There was a sound coming from outside, growing ever louder. It was a huge, heavy rush, suggesting immensity, a great parting of air. It was coming from directly above the house. The boy swung his legs off his bed, raced down the stairs, slapped open the back door, and loped onto the grass. The yard was otherworldly, smothered in unnatural darkness, shivering with sound. The boy stood on the lawn beside his older brother, head thrown back, spellbound.

The sky had disappeared. An object that he could see only in silhouette, reaching across a massive arc of space, was suspended low in theair over the house. It was longer than two and a half football fields and as tall as a city. It was putting out the stars.

What he saw was the German dirigible Graf Zeppelin. At nearly 800 feet long and 110 feet high, it was the largest flying machine evercrafted. More luxurious than the finest airplane, gliding effortlessly over huge distances, built on a scale that left spectators gasping, it was, in the summer of '29, the wonder of the world.

The airship was three days from completing a sensational feat of aeronautics, circumnavigation of the globe. The journey had begun onAugust 7, when the Zeppelin had slipped its tethers in Lakehurst, New Jersey, lifted up with a long, slow sigh, and headed for Manhattan. On Fifth Avenue that summer, demolition was soon to begin on the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, clearing the way for a skyscraper of unprecedented proportions, the Empire State Building. At Yankee Stadium, in the Bronx, players were debuting numbered uniforms: Lou Gehrig wore No. 4; Babe Ruth, about to hit his five hundredth home run, wore No. 3. On Wall Street, stock prices were racing toward an all-time high.

After a slow glide around the Statue of Liberty, the Zeppelin banked north, then turned out over the Atlantic. In time, land came below again: France, Switzerland, Germany. The ship passed over Nuremberg, where fringe politician Adolf Hitler, whose Nazi Party had been trounced in the 1928 elections, had just delivered a speech touting selective infanticide. Then it flew east of Frankfurt, where a Jewish woman named Edith Frank was caring for her newborn, a girl named Anne. Sailing northeast, the Zeppelin crossed over Russia. Siberian villagers, so isolated that they'd never even seen a train, fell to their knees at the sight of it.

On August 19, as some four million Japanese waved handkerchiefs and shouted "Banzai!" the Zeppelin circled Tokyo and sank onto a landing field. Four days later, as the German and Japanese anthems played, the ship rose into the grasp of a typhoon that whisked it over the Pacific at breathtaking speed, toward America. Passengers gazing from the windows saw only the ship's shadow, following it along the clouds "like a huge shark swimming alongside." When the clouds parted, the passengers glimpsed giant creatures, turning in the sea, that looked like monsters.

On August 25, the Zeppelin reached San Francisco. After being cheered down the California coast, it slid through sunset, into darkness and silence, and across midnight. As slow as the drifting wind, it passed over Torrance, where its only audience was a scattering of drowsy souls, among them the boy in his pajamas behind the house on Gramercy Avenue.

Standing under the airship, his feet bare in the grass, he was transfixed. It was, he would say, "fearfully beautiful." He could feel the rumble of the craft's engines tilling the air but couldn't make out the silver skin, the sweeping ribs, the finned tail. He could see only the blackness of the space it inhabited. It was not a great presence but a great absence, a geometric ocean of darkness that seemed to swallow heaven itself.

The boy's name was Louis Silvie Zamperini. The son of Italian immigrants, he had come into the world in Olean, New York, on January 26, 1917, eleven and a half pounds of baby under black hair as coarse as barbed wire. His father, Anthony, had been living on his own since age fourteen, first as a coal miner and boxer, then as a construction worker. His mother, Louise, was a petite, playful beauty, sixteen at marriage and eighteen when Louie was born. In their apartment, where only Italian was spoken, Louise and Anthony called their boy Toots.

From the moment he could walk, Louie couldn't bear to be corralled. His siblings would recall him careening about, hurdling flora, fauna, and furniture. The instant Louise thumped him into a chair and told him to be still, he vanished. If she didn't have her squirming boy clutched in her hands, she usually had no idea where he was.

In 1919, when two-year-old Louie was down with pneumonia, he climbed out his bedroom window, descended one story, and went on a naked tear down the street with a policeman chasing him and a crowd watching in amazement. Soon after, on a pediatrician's advice, Louise and Anthony decided to move their children to the warmer climes of California. Sometime after their train pulled out of Grand Central Station, Louie bolted, ran the length of the train, and leapt from the caboose. Standing with his frantic mother as the train rolled backward in search of the lost boy, Louie's older brother, Pete, spotted Louie strolling up the track in perfect serenity. Swept up in his mother's arms, Louie smiled. "I knew you'd come back," he said in Italian.

In California, Anthony landed a job as a railway electrician and bought a half-acre field on the edge of Torrance, population 1,800. He and Louise hammered up a one-room shack with no running water, an outhouse behind, and a roof that leaked so badly that they had to keep buckets on the beds. With only hook latches for locks, Louise took to sitting by the front door on an apple box with a rolling pin in her hand, ready to brain any prowlers who might threaten her children.

There, and at the Gramercy Avenue house where they settled a year later, Louise kept prowlers out, but couldn't keep Louie in hand. Contesting a footrace across a busy highway, he just missed getting broadsided by a jalopy. At five, he started smoking, picking up discarded cigarette butts while walking to kindergarten. He began drinking one night when he was eight; he hid under the dinner table, snatched glasses of wine, drank them all dry, staggered outside, and fell into a rosebush.

On one day, Louise discovered that Louie had impaled his leg on a bamboo beam; on another, she had to ask a neighbor to sew Louie's severed toe back on. When Louie came home drenched in oil after scaling an oil rig, diving into a sump well, and nearly drowning, it took a gallon of turpentine and a lot of scrubbing before Anthony recognized his son again. Thrilled by the crashing of boundaries, Louie was untamable. As he grew into his uncommonly clever mind, mere feats of daring were no longer satisfying. In Torrance, a one-boy insurgency was born.

If it was edible, Louie stole it. He skulked down alleys, a roll of lock-picking wire in his pocket. Housewives who stepped from their kitchens would return to find that their suppers had disappeared. Residents looking out their back windows might catch a glimpse of a long-legged boy dashing down the alley, a whole cake balanced on his hands. When a local family left Louie off their dinner-party guest list, he broke into their house, bribed their Great Dane with a bone, and cleaned out their icebox. At another party,he absconded with an entire keg of beer. When he discovered that the cooling tables at Meinzer's Bakery stood within an arm's length of the back door, he began picking the lock, snatching pies, eating until he was full, and reserving the rest as ammunition for ambushes. When rival thieves took up the racket, he suspended the stealing until the culprits were caught and the bakery owners dropped their guard. Then he ordered his friends to rob Meinzer's again.

It is a testament to the content of Louie's childhood that his stories about it usually ended with "...and then I ran like mad." He was often chased by people he had robbed, and at least two people threatened to shoot him. To minimize the evidence found on him when the police habitually came his way, he set up loot-stashing sites around town, including a three-seater cave that he dug in a nearby forest. Under the Torrance High bleachers, Pete once found a stolen wine jug that Louie had hidden there. It was teeming with inebriated ants. In the lobby of the Torrance theater, Louie stopped up the pay telephone's coin slots with toilet paper. He returned regularly to feedwire behind the coins stacked up inside, hook the paper, and fill his palms with change. A metal dealer never guessed that the grinning Italian kid who often came by to sell him armfuls of copper scrap had stolen the same scrap from his lot the night before. Discovering, while scuffling with an enemy at a circus, that adults would give quarters to fighting kids to pacify them, Louie declared a truce with the enemy and they cruised around staging brawls before strangers.

To get even with a railcar conductor who wouldn't stop for him, Louie greased the rails. When a teacher made him stand in a corner for spitballing, he deflated her car tires with toothpicks. After setting a legitimate Boy Scout state record in friction-fire ignition, he broke his record by soaking his tinder in gasoline and mixing it with match heads, causing a small explosion. He stole a neighbor's coffee percolator tube, set up a sniper's nest in a tree, crammed pepper-tree berries into his mouth, spat them through the tube, and sent the neighborhood girls running.

His magnum opus became legend. Late one night, Louie climbed the steeple of a Baptist church, rigged the bell with piano wire, strung the wire into a nearby tree, and roused the police, the fire department, and all of Torrance with apparently spontaneous pealing. The more credulous townsfolk called it a sign from God.

Only one thing scared him. When Louie was in late boyhood, a pilot landed a plane near Torrance and took Louie up for a flight. One might have expected such an intrepid child to be ecstatic, but the speed and altitude frightened him. From that day on, he wanted nothing to do with airplanes.

In a childhood of artful dodging, Louie made more than just mischief. He shaped who he would be in manhood. Confident that he was clever, resourceful, and bold enough to escape any predicament, he was almost incapable of discouragement. When history carried him into war, this resilient optimism would define him.

Louie was twenty months younger than his brother, who was everything he was not. Pete Zamperini was handsome, popular, impeccably groomed, polite to elders and avuncular to juniors, silky smooth with girls, and blessed with such sound judgment that even when he was a child, his parents consulted him on difficult decisions. He ushered his mother into her seat at dinner, turned in at seven, and tucked his alarm clock under his pillow so as not to wake Louie, with whom he shared a bed. He rose at two-thirty to run a three-hour paper route, and deposited all his earnings in the bank, which would swallow every penny when the Depression hit. He had a lovely singing voice and a gallant habit of carrying pins in his pant cuffs, in case his dance partner's dress strap failed. He once saved a girl from drowning. Pete radiated a gentle but impressive authority that led everyone he met, even adults, to be swayed by his opinion. Even Louie, who made a religion out of heeding no one, did as Pete said.

Louie idolized Pete, who watched over him and their younger sisters, Sylvia and Virginia, with paternal protectiveness. But Louie was eclipsed, and he never heard the end of it. Sylvia would recall her mother tearfully telling Louie how she wished he could be more like Pete. What made it more galling was that Pete's reputation was part myth. Though Pete earned grades little better than Louie's failing ones, his principal assumed that he was a straight-A student. On the night of Torrance's church bell miracle, a well-directed flashlight would have revealed Pete's legs dangling from the tree alongside Louie's. And Louie wasn't always the only Zamperini boy who could be seen sprinting down the alley with food that had lately belonged to the neighbors. But it never occurred to anyone to suspect Pete of anything. "Pete never got caught," said Sylvia. "Louie always got caught."

Nothing about Louie fit with other kids. He was a puny boy, and in his first years in Torrance, his lungs were still compromised enough from the pneumonia that in picnic footraces, every girl in town could dust him. His features, which would later settle into pleasant collaboration, were growing at different rates, giving him a curious face that seemed designed by committee. His ears leaned sidelong off his head like holstered pistols, and above them waved a calamity of black hair that mortified him. He attacked it with his aunt Margie's hot iron, hobbled it in a silk stocking every night, and slathered it with so much olive oil that flies trailed him to school. It did no good.

And then there was his ethnicity. In Torrance in the early 1920s, Italians were held in such disdain that when the Zamperinis arrived, the neighbors petitioned the city council to keep them out. Louie, who knew only a smattering of English until he was in grade school, couldn't hide his pedigree. He survived kindergarten by keeping mum, but in first grade, when he blurted out "Brutte bastarde!" at another kid, his teachers caught on. They compounded his misery by holding him back a grade.

He was a marked boy. Bullies, drawn by his oddity and hoping to goad him into uttering Italian curses, pelted him with rocks, taunted him, punched him, and kicked him. He tried buying their mercy with his lunch, but they pummeled him anyway, leaving him bloody. He could have ended the beatings by running away or succumbing to tears, but he refused to do either. "You could beat him to death," said Sylvia, "and he wouldn't say 'ouch' or cry." He just put his hands in front of his face and took it. As Louie neared his teens, he took a hard turn. Aloof and bristling, he lurked around the edges of Torrance, his only friendships forged loosely with rough boys who followed his lead. He became so germophobic that he wouldn't tolerate anyone coming near his food. Though he could be a sweet boy, he was often short-tempered and obstreperous. He feigned toughness, but was secretly tormented. Kids passing into parties would see him lingering outside, unable to work up the courage to walk in.

Laura Hillenbrand

About Laura Hillenbrand

Laura Hillenbrand - Unbroken

Photo © H. Darr Beiser/ USA

Laura Hillenbrand is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption and Seabiscuit: An American Legend, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, won the Book Sense Nonfiction Book of the Year award and the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award, landed on more than fifteen best-of-the-year lists, and inspired the film Seabiscuit, which was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.  She is serving as a consultant on the Universal Pictures feature film based on Unbroken. Hillenbrand’s New Yorker article, “A Sudden Illness,” won the National Magazine Award. Her work has also appeared in such publications as the New York Times, Vanity Fair, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times. She and actor Gary Sinise were cofounders of Operation International Children, a charity that provided school supplies to children through American troops. 

Praise | Awards

Praise

“Extraordinarily moving . . . a powerfully drawn survival epic.”The Wall Street Journal
 
“[A] one-in-a-billion story . . . designed to wrench from self-respecting critics all the blurby adjectives we normally try to avoid: It is amazing, unforgettable, gripping, harrowing, chilling, and inspiring.”—New York
 
“Staggering . . . mesmerizing . . . Hillenbrand’s writing is so ferociously cinematic, the events she describes so incredible, you don’t dare take your eyes off the page.”People

“A meticulous, soaring and beautifully written account of an extraordinary life.”—The Washington Post
 
“Ambitious and powerful . . . a startling narrative and an inspirational book.”—The New York Times Book Review
 
“Marvelous . . . Unbroken is wonderful twice over, for the tale it tells and for the way it’s told. . . . It manages maximum velocity with no loss of subtlety.”Newsweek
 
“Moving and, yes, inspirational . . . [Laura] Hillenbrand’s unforgettable book . . . deserve[s] pride of place alongside the best works of literature that chart the complications and the hard-won triumphs of so-called ordinary Americans and their extraordinary time.”—Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air
 
“Hillenbrand . . . tells [this] story with cool elegance but at a thrilling sprinter’s pace.”Time
 
Unbroken is too much book to hope for: a hellride of a story in the grip of the one writer who can handle it. . . . When it comes to courage, charisma, and impossible adventure, few will ever match ‘the boy terror of Torrance,’ and few but the author of Seabiscuit could tell his tale with such humanity and dexterity. Hillenbrand has given us a new national treasure.”—Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run
 
“Riveting . . . an exceptional portrait . . . So haunting and so beautifully written, those who fall under its spell will never again feel the same way about World War II and one of its previously unsung heroes.”—The Columbus Dispatch
 
“Magnificent . . . incredible . . . [Hillenbrand] has crafted another masterful blend of sports, history and overcoming terrific odds; this is biography taken to the nth degree, a chronicle of a remarkable life lived through extraordinary times.”—The Dallas Morning News
 
“No other author of narrative nonfiction chooses her subjects with greater discrimination or renders them with more discipline and commitment. If storytelling were an Olympic event, [Hillenbrand would] medal for sure.”Salon

“A celebration of gargantuan fortitude . . . full of unforgettable characters, multi-hanky moments and wild turns . . . Hillenbrand is a muscular, dynamic storyteller.”The New York Times

“[A] masterfully told true story . . . nothing less than a marvel.”Washingtonian

“Zamperini’s story is certainly one of the most remarkable survival tales ever recorded. What happened after that is equally remarkable.”—Graydon Carter, Vanity Fair

“Irresistible . . . Hillenbrand demonstrates a dazzling ability—one Seabiscuit only hinted at—to make the tale leap off the page.”Elle

“A tale of triumph and redemption . . . astonishingly detailed.”O: The Oprah Magazine

“An astonishing testament to the superhuman power of tenacity.”Entertainment Weekly

“Intense . . . You better hold onto the reins.”The Boston Globe

“Incredible . . . Zamperini’s life is one of courage, heroism, humility and unflagging endurance.”St. Louis Post Dispatch

“Hillenbrand has once again brought to life the true story of a forgotten hero, and reminded us how lucky we are to have her, one of our best writers of narrative history. You don’t have to be a sports fan or a war-history buff to devour this book—you just have to love great storytelling.”—Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Awards

SELECTION 2012 ALA Notable Book
NOMINEE 2012 Audie Awards
Reader's Guide|Discussion Questions|Teachers Guide

About the Book

A Conversation with Laura Hillenbrand

Random House Reader's Circle: Louie Zamperini is a larger-than-life figure. He enjoyed a measure of fame in his youth—both during his running career and after surviving the POW camps—but was relatively unknown in the second half of the twentieth century. How did you first learn about Louie? When did you realize there was a book in his story?

Laura Hillenbrand: My first book was about the Depression-era racehorse Seabiscuit. While working on it, I pored over 1930s newspapers. One day I was reading a 1938 clipping about the horse when I happened to turn the paper over and find a profile of a young running phenomenon named Louie Zamperini. I started reading. Louie had not yet gone to war, but his story was already so interesting that I jotted his name down in my Seabiscuit research notebook.

Later, I came across Louie’s name again, and this time I learned a little about his wartime odyssey. I was very intrigued, and when I finished writing Seabiscuit: An American Legend, I did some searching, found an address for Louie, and wrote him a letter. He wrote back, I called him, and I found myself in the most fascinating conversation of my life. He told me his story, and I was captivated.

So many elements of Louie’s saga were enthralling, but one in particular hooked me. He told of having experienced almost unimaginable abuse at the hands of his captors, yet spoke without self-pity or bitterness. In fact, he was cheerful, speaking with perfect equanimity. When he finished his story, I had one question: How can you tell of being victimized by such monstrous men, yet not express rage? His response was simple: Because I forgave them.

It was this, more than anything, that hooked me. How could this man forgive the unforgivable? In setting out to write Louie’s biography, I set out to find the answer.

RHRC: You’ve written about two exceptional, unlikely running sensations of the first half of the twentieth century, weaving deeply moving, inspirational narratives around them. What, to you, is a good subject—what do you look for?

LH: In times of extremity, ordinary individuals must reach into the depths of themselves, and there they find the true content of their character. Some find emptiness, frailty, even dark impulses. But others find wondrous virtues—courage, resourcefulness, self-sacrifice, daring, ingenuity, the will to soldier on when will is all they have left. These are the virtues that turn history, and these are the virtues that enable individuals to prevail in the supreme trials of their lives. It is in times of superlative hardship that individuals live their epic adventures, stories that thrill, fascinate, inspire, and illuminate. Theirs are the stories I’m drawn to.

I also think the best subjects offer the opportunity to use a small story to tell a much larger one. One could approach Seabiscuit as simply a rags-to-riches racehorse who lived seventy-five years ago. By itself, it’s a marvelous tale. But in his remarkable life, and in the lives of his automobile magnate owner, his frontiersman trainer, and his former prizefighting jockey, lies the far larger story of America in the Great Depression. I gathered as much detail as I could about the intimate lives of my subjects, but also backed up to show their context, the era of tremendous upheaval in which they were living, and the way in which they embodied the spirit and struggle of that era.

Louie, like Seabiscuit, is just one individual. But his odyssey carried him into the greatest cataclysm in history, giving me the chance to tell a tale vastly broader in scope than that of any single athlete or soldier, one encompassing Hitler’s Olympics, the Pacific war, and the experience of American military airmen, Japanese POW camp guards, prisoners of war, and veterans. You can’t truly understand an individual unless you understand the world he or she inhabits, and in illustrating that individual’s world, you will, hopefully, capture history in the accessible, tactile, authentic way in which the times were actually experienced. In Unbroken as in Seabiscuit, I tried to paint portraits not just of individuals, but of their times.

RHRC: After the publication of Unbroken, you received a number of letters from readers with family or friends—particularly fathers and grandfathers—who served in World War II. These readers frequently credited your book with giving them a new window into loved ones’ experience and suffering. Were you surprised? How did these letters change your perspective on Unbroken?

LH: Many, if not most, veterans and former POWs came home with overwhelming emotional wounds, and many never recovered. Among Pacific POWs, post-traumatic stress disorder was almost ubiquitous. A quarter of them became alcoholics, and some drank themselves to death. Many suffered from rage, anxiety, and depression; others isolated themselves. Some committed suicide. Louie, lost in alcoholism, rage, anxiety, nightmares, and flashbacks, was sadly typical.

For many men, the horrors they had experienced were too painful to articulate. Quite a few of the veterans I interviewed said they’d never before told their stories, even to those closest to them. Some wept as they shared memories that were, even after more than seventy years, still searingly painful. The wife of one former POW told me that memories of the war were such a torment to her husband that after he discussed it with anyone he needed three weeks to regain his emotional equilibrium.
The residual pain of the war took an enormous toll not only on the veterans, but on their loved ones. The manifestations of the veterans’ trauma was often destructive to their relationships, and because the veterans were so often unable to speak of what had happened to them, they were mysteries to those who needed them, and wanted to help and heal them. As Louie’s wife discovered, they were often unreachable.

Since Unbroken was released, I’ve been deluged with correspondence from family members of POWs, airmen, and other men who served in World War II. Many have spent their lives trying to understand the troubled minds of these men. Many suffered terribly from the damage the war did to their relationships—a husband who was distant and brooding, an uncle prone to violent outbursts, a father who drank, a grandfather who was irretrievably sad. But because many veterans were silent about the war, their loved ones never knew what they’d gone through. For these family members, Louie’s story was a revelation, a window into the pain their loved one carried out of that war. Over and over, their messages express compassion, newfound understanding, and, often, forgiveness. Reading these notes, which sometimes leave me in tears, is deeply gratifying.

________________

All of my life I wondered why my father loved alcohol more than he loved me. I loved him so much and tried so hard to save him but I could not. His disease killed him 36 years ago.

I have seen all the war movies and all the documentaries but until I read your book I had no idea what my father must have endured. For sixty years I have had a love/hate relationship with him. It is taking me a long time to write this because the waves of grief and loss are washing over me now and the tears won’t stop. Maybe now I can finally forgive him and myself for what I could never begin to understand.
—Rev. Cheryl Hubbard (daughter of Irvin “Bill” Hime, Army Air Forces staff sergeant)

I feel like I discovered things about my Dad and why he did things he did. You see, he was a paratrooper in WWII, in the Philippines. He never wanted to talk about it. I feel that through Mr. Zamperini, he finally opened up and I am in awe. To say thank you just doesn’t seem enough, but it’s all I can say.
—Monica Meehan Berg (daughter of James L. Meehan, Army PFC)

I am the namesake of my uncle. . . who was captured in the Philippines, made the ‘Death March’, survived that and imprisonment there. . . . As with most of the Greatest Generation he would not speak of his captivity. . . . Your book conveyed an incredible, almost unbelievable experience; about half--way through I simply broke down in tears and began to really understand. I thank you so much for the legacy you have given to my family and the world.
—C. Ray Jones (nephew of Charlie R. Jones, Army sergeant)

Thank you to Louie and to Laura for bringing this story to light for those of us who have never heard it from our fathers. It shook me to my soul and will stay with me for a very long time.
—Lindi Clark (daughter of Richard Allen Marshall, Army sergeant)

Discussion Guides

1. Louie’s experiences are singular: It’s unlikely that one person will ever again be in a plane crash, strafed by a bomber, attacked by sharks, cast away on a raft, and held as a POW. And yet the word most often used to describe him is “inspiring.” What does Louie’s experience demonstrate that makes him so inspirational to people who will never endure what he did? What are the lessons that his life offers to all of us?

2. Is Louie a hero? How do you define heroism?

3. In Louie’s boyhood, he was severely bullied, then became a delinquent and hell-raiser. In these experiences, did he already display attributes that would help him survive his wartime ordeal? Did he also show weaknesses or tendencies that foreshadowed the struggles he would face postwar?

4. Do you think Louie’s athletic career helped prepare him for what he would face in war?

5. Louie was especially close to his brother, Pete, who devoted himself to him. If Pete hadn’t been there, what do you think would have become of Louie? Does Pete deserve credit for shaping Louie into a man who could endure and survive his Odyssean ordeal?

6. Hillenbrand explores the extraordinary risks faced by America’s World War II airmen: 52,000 men killed in combat, 36,000 killed in noncombat aircraft accidents, and a stunning 15,000 killed in stateside training—at times, an average of 19 per day. Men faced a 50 percent chance of being killed during combat tours of only 30 to 40 missions. Were you aware of the dangers faced by airmen in the Pacific war? What facts and stories were most surprising to you?

7. What are your feelings about Mac? Do you feel sympathy for him? Anger? If you endured the trauma of a plane crash and were placed in a situation that you knew very few men survived, might you have reacted as he did? In the end, do you think he redeemed himself?

8. When Louie, Phil, and Mac were on the raft, a key factor in their survival was optimism. All three men were young and able-bodied, veterans of the same training, experiencing the same hardships and traumas, yet Louie and Phil remained optimistic while Mac was hopeless, seemingly doomed by his pessimism. Why are some people hopeful and others not? How important are attitude and mind-set in determining one’s ability to overcome hardship?

9. What did you find most remarkable about the things Louie and Phil did to survive on the raft?

10. After more than forty-seven days on the raft, the men lost half their body weight and were rendered mere skeletons. Yet they refused to consider cannibalism, which had not been uncommon among castaways before them. Would you, in the same situation, ever consider cannibalism? If it could ensure that two men survived, when otherwise all three would almost certainly perish, would it be a moral decision?

11. Louie believed he was the beneficiary of several miracles, among them his escape from the wreckage of his plane, the fact that he and the other men were not hit with bullets when their rafts were strafed, and the appearance of the singers in the clouds. What is your interpretation of those experiences?

12. The POWs took enormous risks to carry out thefts, sabotage, and other acts of defiance. Men would risk their lives to steal items as trivial as pencil boxes. What benefit did they derive from defiance that was worth risking death, or severe beatings?

13. In the 1930s and 1940s, Germany and Japan carried out what are arguably among the worst acts of mass atrocity in history. What leads individuals, and even whole societies, to descend to such a level? What motivated the notoriously sadistic POW camp guards in Japan, particularly the Bird? Do you think we all carry the capacity for cruelty?

14. After the war, Louie would say that of all the horrors he witnessed and experienced in the war, the death of the little duck, Gaga, was the worst. Why was this event especially wrenching for him and the other POWs?

15. Louie, Frank Tinker, and William Harris planned to escape from Ofuna, walk across Japan, steal a boat, and make a run for China. It was a plan that very likely would have ended in their deaths. Was it foolish, or did it offer a psychological benefit that was worth the enormous risk?

16. Louie joined a plot to kill the Bird. Was he justified in doing so? Would it have been a moral act? Do you think Louie could have found peace after the war had he killed the Bird?

17. Unbroken reveals that, under the “kill-all order,” the Japanese planned to murder all POWs, a plan that was never carried out because of the dropping of the atomic bombs. The book also explores the lengths to which the Japanese were prepared to go to avoid surrender. How did the book make you feel about America’s use of the atomic bomb on Japan?

18. “Anger is a justifiable and understandable reaction to being wronged, and as the soul’s first effort to reassert its worth and power, it may initially be healing,” Laura Hillenbrand wrote in an article for Guideposts magazine. “But in time, anger becomes corrosive. To live in bitterness is to be chained to the person who wounded you, your emotions and actions arising not independently, but in reaction to your abuser. Louie became so obsessed with vengeance that his life was consumed by the quest for it. In bitterness, he was as much a captive as he’d been when barbed wire had surrounded him.” Do you agree?

19. Many of us struggle to forgive those who have wronged us, especially since forgiveness is often so difficult to find. What makes it so hard to let resentment go?

20. “What the Bird took from Louie was his dignity; what he left behind was a pervasive sense of helplessness and worthlessness,” Hillenbrand continued in her Guideposts article. “As I researched Louie’s life, interviewing his fellow POWs and studying their memoirs and diaries, I discovered that this loss of dignity was nearly ubiquitous, leaving the men feeling defenseless and frightened in a world that had become menacing. The postwar nightmares, flashbacks, alcoholism and anxiety that were endemic among them spoke of souls in desperate fear. Watching these men struggle to overcome their trauma, I came to believe that a loss of self-worth is central to the experience of being victimized, and may be what makes its pain particularly devastating.” Do you agree?

21. Hillenbrand wrote that among the former POWs she interviewed, forgiveness became possible once each POW had found a way to restore his sense of dignity. Was this what Billy Graham gave to Louie? If so, what was it about that experience, and that sermon, that gave Louie back his self-worth?

22. Do Louie Zamperini’s wartime and postwar experiences give you a different perspective on a loved one who was, or is, a veteran?

23. Why do you think most World War II literature has focused on the European war, with so little attention paid to the Pacific war?

Teacher's Guide



NOTE TO TEACHERS

Please click on the PDF link at the bottom of this page to download the Teacher's Guide.

ABOUT THIS BOOK 

Unbroken is a true account of one man’s prodigious journey from juvenile delinquency, to the 1936 Berlin Olympics as a world-class runner, to participating in World War II bombing missions on Japanese-held territory. While on a search-and-rescue mission, Louis (Louie) Zamperini’s B-24 bomber crashes in the Pacific Ocean. Of eleven men aboard, only Louie and two other men survive, climbing into life rafts. One man eventually dies, and Louie and his pilot float on. On the forty-seventh day, they are captured by the Japanese. Sadistic guards at Japanese prison camps, attempting to erase all traces of dignity from their captives, physically torture, starve, enslave, and mentally abuse Louie and other fellow prisoners of war. After the war, Louie stumbles through addiction, failed business ventures, and a strained marriage before finding redemption.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 
Laura Hillenbrand, born on May 15, 1967, in Fairfax, Virginia, attended Kenyon College in Ohio. After college she began writing articles and essays for The New YorkerVanity FairThe New York Times and other publications. Her article “A Sudden Illness,” written for The New Yorker, won the National Magazine Award in 2004. Unbroken is her second work of nonfiction. The book was hailed by Time magazine as the number one nonfiction book of the year in 2010. It also won, among other awards, the Los Angeles Times Book of the Year Award. Both Unbroken and her first nonfiction work, Seabiscuit, spent weeks at number one on the New York Times bestseller list. Hillenbrand has received the Book Sense Book of the Year Award for Nonfiction and was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction for Seabiscuit. In addition, Seabiscuit inspired the 2003, Academy Award-nominated movie of the same name. On December 25, 2014, Universal Pictures is scheduled to release a film adaptation of Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie.


NOTE TO TEACHERS


Hillenbrand’s account of one man’s monumental highs and colossal lows provide a vivid portrait of life as a soldier and prisoner of war (POW) during World War II. The book focuses on the role of family, the bonds of friendship, and the power of hope as important coping mechanisms in dire situations.  The author also explores the role of physical and mental conditioning in human resilience and in human depravity.
 
Beyond this, Unbroken is also a powerful informational text, as it tells Louie’s story against the backdrop of major world events of the twentieth century. Louie, the younger son of a poor family, grows up during the Great Depression. Just before its onset, Louie scrambles outside predawn to witness the German Graf Zeppelin fly over their California home on its 1929 trip around the world. He participates on the US Olympic track team (with sprinter Jesse Owens) in Hitler's 1936 Berlin Olympics. Louie's military experience is determined by the fallout of December 7, 1941 (the attack on Pearl Harbor), horrific Japanese POW camps, and the atomic bombing of Japan. He and other former prisoners of war struggle through physical and mental postwar torments as the 1951 Treaty of Peace between Japan and the Allied nations, which absolve Japanese war criminals, is signed. Evangelist Billy Graham plays an integral role in Louie's redemption. Louie’s return to the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, as the torchbearer, brings his storied life full circle.
 
Supporting the national Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in reading informational text for high school curriculums, Unbroken is an appropriate selection for grades eleven and twelve in Language Arts or US History classes. At the college level, the book is appropriate for US History and Military History courses, and is also ideal for first-year/common reading programs.
 
In the following "Examining Content Using Common Core State Standards" section of this guide, the prompts provide for a critical analysis of Unbroken using the Common Core State Standards for Informational Text for grades eleven and twelve and are organized according to the standard they primarily support. In addition, at the end of each standard and the corresponding prompts, a classroom activity is provided that will enhance analysis of the text.
 
For a complete listing of the Standards, go to: www.corestandards.org/the-standards.


EXAMINING CONTENT USING COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS

 
The author;s Notes section, beginning on page 417, is an excellent resource for further examination of many of the following prompts.


CCSS: KEY IDEAS AND DETAILS

 
CCSS ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain:
 
1. How did the Graf Zeppelin's passengers describe the shadow? What inferences can be drawn from the shadow’s description and Louie Zamperini’s life? How does this description foreshadow events leading up to the inception of World War II as well as events in Louie’s life? A time line of World War II events can be reviewed at http://tiny.cc/qwlykx. 
 
2. Compare and contrast Louie’s view of running as “one more constraint” (Chapter Two, p. 15) with his self-encouragement, “let go” (Chapter Three, p. 35), while running in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. What had constrained Louie? 
 
3. As the Green Hornet spiraled downward, Phil thought, “There’s nothing more I can do,” which left him “strangely devoid of fear.” (Chapter Eleven, p. 124) Louie felt “intensely alive,” even though he knew the plane was doomed. (Chapter Eleven, p. 125) Analyze these feelings. What is the author’s purpose for including them? Compare Phil’s and Louie’s thoughts and actions with those of McNamara. 
 
4. In Chapter Twenty-Three, the reader is introduced to Corporal Mutsuhiro Watanabe, who embraces the philosophy of nihilism. Research nihilism and examine the Corporal’s application of its tenets. A website source can be found at http://tiny.cc/kylykx. 
 
5. John Falconer described bombed-out Hiroshima as a beautiful sight. (Chapter Thirty-Three, p. 327) Examine why Falconer, in the immediate aftermath of his hellish POW experience, would feel this way. Video of the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki can be viewed at http://tiny.cc/2zlykx.


CLASSROOM ACTIVITY

 
After studying the positions of each soldier aboard the Superman and the Green Hornet, have students watch a video clip of a World War II air battle. As students experience the sights and sounds of World War II air combat, ask them to write stream-of-consciousness poems describing their feelings and actions as if aboard a combat plane that is spiraling out of control. What impromptu measures would they take to stay alive/prepare for death?


CCSS ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.2 Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis: provide an objective summary of the text:

 
1. The Preface to Unbroken recounts an encounter with a Japanese war plane strafing World War II Army Air Force Bombardier Louis Zamperini and his two crewmates, who are adrift in life rafts in the Pacific Ocean. As the Japanese Zero targets the drifters on yet another pass, machine guns blazing, Louie dives for cover under his raft only to notice the presence of sharks coiling upward from the depths. As you read Unbroken, examine how this crisis and its resolution symbolize most of Louie’s life, especially in terms of the role of physical and mental conditioning in human resilience. 
 
2. Compare/contrast the personalities of Louie and Pete. In addition, examine the role Louie’s family plays in Louie’s ability to maintain hope against seemingly insurmountable odds. 
 
3. As Louie ran the 5,000-meter final in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, he recalled a comment Pete once made: “A lifetime of glory is worth a moment of pain.” (Chapter Three, p. 35) Then, in Louie’s words, he “let go.” (p. 35) In many ways Unbroken is about the experience of letting go. For some, like Francis McNamara (Mac), letting go meant succumbing to death. (Chapter 16, p. 171) Develop a position paper, citing further examples from the book that addresses what human qualities and conditions are essential to remain resilient against the odds. 
 
4. Consider the qualities of exceptional leaders. Did Louie demonstrate good leadership in Unbroken, especially while lost at sea? Support your position using examples from the book and other reputable resources. 
 
5. Analyze the role the mothers of Louie Zamperini and Mutsuhiro Watanabe play in the lives of their sons. Cite examples from the text that support their dedication to their sons. In what ways were their actions similar and in what ways were they different?


CLASSROOM ACTIVITY

 
Some say that survival is 80% mental (keeping a positive attitude), 10% skill (knowledge), and 10% equipment (specialized resources). (See the Montclair College website below.) While adrift in the Pacific, Louie takes stock of the rafts’ survival provisions. (p. 133) He improvises the use of these items to save Phil, Mac, and himself. (p. 164) Conduct a problem-solving survival scenario using groups of four or five. Adapt the sea/wilderness survival experiential learning activities from the websites below to meet the developmental needs of students engaged in the reading of Unbroken:
 
Lost at Sea Lesson Plans (COSEE): http://tiny.cc/t1lykx
(The above site provides for a time line for written analysis—a Common Core State Standards requirement.)
 
Survival Lesson Plan (Monclair State University): http://tiny.cc/45lykx

The Survival Game (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Education Place): http://tiny.cc/p6lykx
 
Basic Survival Skills (Alderleaf Wilderness College): http://tiny.cc/r7lykx
 
Three Things Required for Survival in Any Situation (PreppingToSurvive.com): http://tiny.cc/c8lykx


CCSS ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.3 Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequence of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact and develop over the course of the text:

 
1. While reading Unbroken, create a character chart on Louie and on Mutsuhiro Watanabe. Log their thoughts, plans, words, feelings, deeds, actions, strengths, and weaknesses. Then, analyze the relationships and events that cause them to change over time. In what ways do they remain unchanged? Janet Allen’s Yellow Brick Roads (Portland, MA: Stenhouse Publishers, 2000) provides comprehensive character chart graphic organizers. 
 
2. In Chapter Nineteen, the author quotes from the 1941 Japanese Military Field Code that soldiers should die, rather than live with the shame of imprisonment. Read more excerpts from the Japanese Military Field Code at http://tiny.cc/aqmykx. Analyze the ideal Japanese soldier based on the contents of this code, including how he was to treat captives. Compare and contrast the ideal with the Japanese soldiers described in Unbroken
 
3. In Chapter Twenty-Four, the reader is introduced to Japanese Private Yukichi Kano. Kano aids as many POWs in Omori as he can, risking his own life. Medal of Honor recipient Pappy Boyington wrote, “’[His] heart was being torn out most of the time, a combination of pity for the ignorance and brutality of some of his own countrymen and a complete understanding of the suffering of the prisoners.” (p. 251) In his own way, Kano resisted the regime. Develop a position as to why there was little organized resistance to the Japanese World War II regime as compared to the European regimes. For a brief overview of Japan’s reason for entering the war, go to http://tiny.cc/crmykx. Also, Leaves from the Autumn of Emergencies: Selections from the Wartime Diaries of Ordinary Japanese, by Samuel Yamashita, andHiroshima, by John Hersey provide human perspectives on the daily lives of ordinary Japanese citizens during the war. 
 
4. Throughout Unbroken, the author describes the brutality of Japanese prison personnel toward their captives. Compare this treatment with the Nazi treatment of prisoners of war. Develop a position as to which Axis power was crueler. Support your conclusions using examples from the book and other reputable sources. Hillenbrand cites a number of references on page 448 of the Notes section of Unbroken. In addition, ask students to search online for World War II prisoners of war data.


CLASSROOM ACTIVITY

 
Debate Option One: American POWs in Japanese prison camps were subjected to waterboarding as a means of obtaining classified enemy information. Research the technique of waterboarding, including its use by United States intelligence agencies. Conduct a classroom debate concerning whether or not waterboarding is an interrogation tool or a form of torture. This debate activity can be extended to introduce and discuss interrogation methods in other countries. The following websites (including a United Nations debate simulation) will help facilitate/enhance this activity:
 
Flow of Debate (Model UN Preparation): http://tiny.cc/u8mykx
 
The World Factbook (CIA): http://tiny.cc/7anykx
 
Debate Option Two: In the Epilogue, the author delineates the reasons the United States lifted the retribution of Japanese war criminals. Discuss those reasons, and then support or refute the lift using examples from the book and other reputable sources.
 

CCSS: CRAFT AND STRUCTURE

 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI. 11-12.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings: analyze how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term or terms over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10):
 
1. According to Hillenbrand, “The same attributes that had made him the boy terror of Torrance were keeping him alive in the greatest struggle of his life.” (Chapter Fourteen, p. 155) Do you agree? Explain your position citing examples from Unbroken
 
2. As Hillenbrand describes Louie’s prison life, she explores the concept of dignity as a basic need. (Chapter Eighteen, p. 188) Critique the role of dignity as an essential element to life. 
 
3. Evaluate the phrase, “. . . They remained sovereign over their own souls.” (Chapter Twenty-Two, p. 233) Support its relevance to the human condition using events from Louie’s life as well as other people described in Unbroken
 
4. At Naoetsu, Louie hauled charcoal in a basket strapped to his back while Tom Wade recited poetry and speeches. (Chapter Twenty-Eight, p. 287) Compare the recitations to the conversations Louie held with his raft mates, Phil and Mac. What purpose, if any, did the recitations serve? 
 
5. Hillenbrand writes, “. . . the Japanese commander slogged back up the mountain . . . He walked into the barracks and approached the ranking American, Lieutenant Colonel Marion Unruh.” The commander said, “The emperor has brought peace to the world.” (Chapter Thirty-Two, p. 315) This is how Japanese citizens learn of the war’s end. Ask students to research how the governments and citizens of Germany and Japan have regarded their nations’ conduct during the war. Are their attitudes accepting? Are certain subjects taboo?
 
6. Evaluate Louie’s statement, “This, this little home . . . was worth all of it.” (Chapter Thirty-Four, p. 341) 
 
7. Compare and contrast Louie’s actions upon meeting his captors in Sugamo Prison (Chapter Thirty-Nine) with him being reunited with his mother after he jumped off the California-bound train. (Chapter One, p. 5)


CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.5 Analyze and evaluate the effectiveness of the structure an author uses in his or her exposition or argument, including whether the structure makes points clear, convincing, and engaging:

 
1. Unbroken is composed of a short preface, five parts, and an epilogue. Each section foreshadows the one that follows. Discuss the structure of this book—how one section’s cliff-hanger leads to the next’s resolution or subsequent conflict. Discuss the author’s purpose for sectioning the book as she does. What effect does it have on the reading experience? 
 
2. The book opens with an excerpt from Walt Whitman’s “The Wound-Dresser.” Read the whole poem at http://tiny.cc/odnykx and draw parallels between the wound-dresser’s changing attitude with Louie’s transformations in Unbroken. Examine the author’s reason for selecting the excerpt as her epigraph to Unbroken.
 
3. Hillenbrand makes ample use of figurative language in this book. For example: “In Torrance, a one-boy insurgency was born” (p. 6); “Stricken bombers began slipping behind, and the Zeros pounced” (p. 100); “The sky broke all at once. . . . The ocean began heaving and thrashing. The wind slapped the raft. . . . ” (p. 177); “With the bombers sweeping overhead, the Bird stormed into the barracks and shouted for all Americans to get out. . . . The Bird and Kono picked up their kendo sticks . . . and began smashing them [the Americans] over their heads. . . . Woozy, Louie lay there as the Bird and the sirens screamed” (p. 302); and “Louie walked upstairs and lay down on his old bed. When he finally drifted off, the Bird followed him into his dreams.” (p. 342) Discuss why the author might have chosen to use such figurative language in a biography. Does it help or hinder the understanding of the themes presented in this book? Explain. 
 
4. Both Louie and brutal prison guard Mutsuhiro Watanabe survive into old age. After describing the Japanese World War II POWs’ liberation in Unbroken, Hillenbrand provides a detailed account of prison guard Watanabe’s survival. As you critique the survival of both Zamperini and Watanabe, consider the author’s purpose in including Watanabe’s survival account.


CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness or beauty of the text:

 
1. Hillenbrand considers the Japanese ideal of the superior race. (Chapter Nineteen, p. 201) Compare her findings with research on Hitler’s ideologies. Which doctrine led to more violent tendencies toward prisoners of war? Support your answer with valid research.
 
2. Hillenbrand writes, “Perhaps some guards forced their prisoners to live in maximally dehumanizing conditions so that they could reassure themselves that they were merely giving loathsome beasts their due. . . . Some of the worst abuses . . . may have arisen from guards’ discomfort with being abusive.” (Chapter Nineteen, p. 202) Support or refute this observation using examples from Unbroken as well as examples from other valid research. 
 
3. Hillenbrand describes Louie’s breakup with his beloved Cynthia in terms of Holocaust survivor Jean Améry’s account, “All he had left was his alcohol and his resentment, the emotion that Jean Améry would write, ‘nails every one of us onto the cross of his ruined past.’” (Chapter Thirty-Seven, p. 374) Read excerpts from Jean Améry’s book, At the Mind’s Limits, at http://tiny.cc/4bm5kx. Does Hillenbrand ultimately support or refute Améry’s conclusions? Explain using examples from Unbroken
 
4. Hillenbrand writes that Japanese POW accounts of abuses “pushed the bounds of believability.” (Chapter Thirty-Four, p. 343) Analyze Louie’s life story. Does it push those bounds too? What importance does Hillenbrand place on the role of providence in Louie’s survival? Consider Louie’s contemplations and experiences during days thirty-nine and forty on the raft (Chapter Sixteen, p. 174), and his recall of other past experiences under a Billy Graham rival tent. (Chapter Thirty-Eight, p. 382) Use additional examples from Unbroken.
 

CLASSROOM ACTIVITY

 
Have students compose and share “Six Word Memoirs” (explanation below) based on Louie’s experiences at each stage of his life. In addition, have students create and share “Six Word Memoirs” based on themes addressed in Unbroken. Culminate by having students expand their memoirs into formal essay format using textual support and other reliable resources. For a guide on implementing “Six Word Memoirs,” consult http://tiny.cc/pynykx.
 

CCSS: INTEGRATION OF KNOWLEDGE AND IDEAS

 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem:
 
1. Chapter One begins with Louie watching, awestruck, as the Graf Zeppelin passes over his California home on the last leg of its around-the-world journey. Examine the author’s purpose for juxtaposing the vessel’s passage with the events that occurred in the countries it passed over. Further analyze the author’s purpose for including this event at the outset of her account of Louie’s life. A documentary on theGraf Zeppelin’s journey can be found at http://tiny.cc/5znykx. In addition, access the materials Hillenbrand used to document the Graf Zeppelin—especially Douglas Botting’s work, Dr. Eckener’s Dream Machine. A map of the Graf Zeppelin’s 1929 journey can be found at http://tiny.cc/r0nykx.
 
2. Analyze how Louie’s brush with eugenics affected him. Go to http://tiny.cc/s1nykx and read an article by Edwin Black, “Eugenics and the Nazis—the California Connection,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 9, 2003. Develop a position on the embrace of eugenics in some parts of the United States. For further reference, a brief description of the inception of Nazi Germany’s euthanasia program can be viewed in a clip of director Peter Cohen’s documentary Architecture of Doom Nazi Eugenics at http://tiny.cc/x2nykx. 
 
3. Study a map of the World War II Pacific Theater and describe the extent of Japanese-controlled territory in 1942. What specific obstacles, if any, would military strategists face in gaining control of the occupied lands? A map can be found on the West Point education website at http://tiny.cc/p3nykx. Refer to this map as you read through Unbroken.
 
4. On Friday, June 4, 1943, Phil’s mother received a telegram announcing that Phil was missing in action. (Chapter Thirteen, p. 144) Research the Army’s present-day policy procedures for notifying the next of kin for those missing in action or killed. How different is this new policy from the one used in 1943?
 
5. Compare/contrast the Rickenbacker account of being lost at sea with the castaways of the Green Hornet. The Historynet.com article at http://tiny.cc/s4nykx recounts Rickenbacker’s experience. 
 
6. Both Phil and Louie recognized the seriousness of their predicament at sea, yet neither man succumbed to hopelessness. Defend the power of the mind to hope in hopeless situations using examples from Unbroken and other sources. The following articles will help develop this theme: 

“The Brain: The Power of Hope” by Scott Haig, MD: http://tiny.cc/0km5kx
“Intense Emotions and Strong Feelings: A Language Everyone Should Understand” by Mary C. Lamia, PhD: http://tiny.cc/bmm5kx 
 
7. Read the poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Compare and contrast the plight of the mariner with Louie’s plight. Coleridge’s poem can be found at http://tiny.cc/pom5kx. 
 
8. Research the sex slave industry run by the Japanese during World War II. Research modern-day sex slave industries. Has an intolerance of such practices evolved today? Explain. Some websites to begin the research are http://tiny.cc/rpm5kx (Japan’s response to the comfort women of World War II), http://tiny.cc/6qm5kx (a comfort woman for the Japanese describes her ordeal), and http://tiny.cc/ism5kx (various data on human trafficking in the United States). Also research the 1937 Nanking massacre at the hands of the Japanese.
 

CLASSROOM ACTIVITY

 
At the beginning of Chapter Thirty-One, “Naked Stampede,” the war prisoners heard and read different accounts of what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since World War II, subsequent generations have understood the ramifications of the dropping of the atomic bomb. In order for students to understand how language and culture are in constant flux, make a list of terms and mindsets that may not be known to the students using the following Beloit College Mindset website: http://www.beloit.edu/mindset/. In groups, have the students brainstorm, and then share their conclusions as to what the terms or mindsets mean. After revealing true meanings, have students make up their own lists of terms and mindsets that are a part of their vernacular and that may not be known to older generations. Ask them to share their results with older family members and poll the results. In addition, have the students create a list of terms and mindsets that older family members use/used that the students might not know or use. Students should be prepared to share their results.
 
For a more thorough explanation (and for further extension activities), consult the Mindset Guide at http://www.beloit.edu/mindset/guides/.
 

OTHER WORKS OF INTEREST

 
At the Mind’s Limits by Jean Améry
Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard
The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam by Ninh Bao
The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Hiroshima by John Hersey
Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler
Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder
We Band of Angels by Elizabeth Norman
In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick
Leaves from the Autumn of Emergencies: Selections from the Wartime Diaries of Ordinary Japanese by Samuel Yamashita
Devil at My Heels by Louis Zamperini and David Rensin
 

ABOUT THIS GUIDE'S WRITER

 
JUDITH TURNER is a longtime educator at Terrace Community Middle School in Tampa, Florida. She has held Subject Area Leader positions in language arts and social studies. She has also served the school as an assistant principal. Ms. Turner received her BA in Literature and Language from the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay and her MA in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from the University of South Florida–Tampa.

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