Jun 12, 2019 in Book Report


The book entitled Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption authored by Laura Hillenbrand highlights an inspirational and true story of a man that survived a series of deadly catastrophes throughout his life (Hillenbrand, 2014). It is an action-packed story that narrates about the combative missions undertaken by Louie Zamperini during his stint as a bombardier in the American Army Air Forces. Hillenbrand elucidates the story of Louie, formerly a juvenile delinquent during the late 1920’s. He was regarded as a hell-raiser, and it is exemplified by the cunning acts he involved himself in as he grew up. For instance, he could steal food, engage in fistfights with his peers, stage elaborate pranks bedevil the local police and exhibit other unwanted behaviors (Hillenbrand, 2014).

After his troubled teenage life, Louie rises to become an Olympic hero whereby he represents the American nation at the 1936 Olympic Athletic Championships. However, Louie decides to join the Army Air Forces at the onset of World War II, where he ascends to the position of a bombardier. It is during one of his bombardier missions that he is abducted by Japanese navy warships and sentenced to the punishment for a period of almost three years. His capture marks the beginning of a rough life in the hands of his abductors (Hillenbrand, 2014).

Plot Summary

The plot of the book is based on the life adventures of Louie Zamperini both as a teenager and as an adult. His way of life defines the plot line of the story. In the light of this, the story begins in the city of New York, the birthplace of Louie. He was born to Italian immigrants, but later, they relocate to Torrance, California.

As he matures, Louie is faced with numerous challenges both socially and personally exemplified by his delinquent acts. However, his mother and brother manage to guide him and eventually help him to transform his life for the better. Blessed with athletic talents, Louie trains hard and even represents his country at the 1936 World Athletic Olympic Championships held in Berlin, Germany (Hillenbrand, 2014).

At the onset of World War II, Louie is forced to put his athletic ambitions aside and concentrate on saving his country from the destruction of the war. For that reason, he enrolls himself in the USA Army Air Forces, and later, emerges as a professional bombardier. Together with its crew, the plane drowns in the Pacific Ocean, leading to weeks of torture and pain.

Soon after that, they are captured by the Japanese navy soldiers and subjected to physical punishments. Led by a sadistic guard named The Bird, Louie and his crew are compelled to undergo untold torment. Louie manages to survive the ordeal, whereas the majority of his colleagues succumb to such torment. After the end of the war, Louie and other prisoners are released. He returns home and marries his longtime partner, Cynthia, with whom they raise two children.

The Themes

Throughout the book, the author highlighted several themes. The central theme that runs throughout the book revolves around the decline and subsequent redemption of Louie Zamperini. Most importantly, he displays character traits of unending endurance and the spirit of never giving up throughout his struggles. Right from the beginning, Hillenbrand outlines the numerous undesirable fates that Louie encounters in his life but eventually rises above the travesties. To emphasize the theme of decline, it should be mentioned that Louie was on the verge of being expelled from school due to cases of indiscipline and rebellious character. Additionally, Louie was on the verge of being engrossed in the life of crime. However, his family is a guiding hand for him since it encourages Louie to develop his athletic talents. Gradually but surely, he climbs up the athletics radar and eventually becomes an Olympian hero. His story is a living testament that idle characters can be successfully transformed into agents of change in the society (Hillenbrand, 2014).

In addition, the theme of endurance and persistence is captured in Louie’s life history. For example, risky and daring missions punctuate his entire military life. The military missions he undertakes are dangerous and life threatening. Many times, Louie escapes from the jaws of death. For example, during the battle for the control of the Island of Nauru, Louie almost loses his life, but luckily, his combative tactics help him. Besides, he miraculously survives a bombing raid that happens thereafter. Furthermore, he is among the three survivors of the Pacific Ocean plane crash, which further justifies how lucky the young man is. He is later captured by the Japanese navy and further tormented and humiliated. In spite of this, he impressively maintains his selfhood amid the sufferings. All these fatal experiences define the daring and resilient character that mark Louie’s life as a bombardier (Hillenbrand, 2014).

Moreover, Louie’s incredible character trait of endurance is captured in the title of the book: unbroken highlights the enduring character and unrivaled zeal to succeed that he had. For example, he successfully completes an irksome training period, in which a large number of his colleagues lose their lives. Incredibly, Louie manages to retain his sense of selfhood and humanity in the face of intensive training and sufferings he endures.

Another theme that is easily noticeable in the book regards the issue of loyalty. The Japanese navy soldiers put Louie’s loyalty to his country under severe test. Led by a guard named The Bird, the navy soldiers force Louie to make a pro-Japanese declaration to the American public. Nonetheless, he remains steadfast and does not surrender to the demands of the Japanese militants. He proudly remains loyal to the flag of the American nation in spite of the intense amount of physical pain he is subjected to (Hillenbrand, 2014). As a prisoner of war, he is subjected to both physical and psychological suffering. However, Louie finally rises above all the injustices in the Japanese prison camps over a period of almost three years.

The Setting

The story of Louie Zamperini begins in California, and then continues in the other parts of the world because of the combative missions that the protagonist undertakes. Louie is born in New York to Italian immigrants before they move to the town of Torrance in California. His athletic talents take him to Berlin where he represents his country and becomes an Olympic champion. Nonetheless, he puts his running ambitions aside owing to the start of World War II. He successfully enrolls in the US Army Air Forces and trains to become a bombardier. His military duties take him and his crew to various places on the globe before he eventually returns home.

The Characters

The main characters outlined in the book include Louie Zamperini, Pete, Philips, The Bird, Cynthia and Mac among others. Louie is the main character, and all the events in the book revolve around him. From the book, readers learn that Louie is perceived to be a person who is rebellious and defiant in nature. For example, Louie involves himself in dangerous activities, such as stealing and playing pranks on the local police officers as a grown-up. Nevertheless, he quits the harmful habits and concentrates on building his career and appropriate way of life, which is exemplified when he participates in the World Olympic Championships. He later joins the US Army Air Forces as bombardier. It is on the military field that Louie displays his immense positive character traits of endurance, resilience, defiance and unblemished loyalty (Hillenbrand, 2014).

The main antagonist in the story is referred to a sadistic guard nicknamed The Bird who maliciously pursues Louie and subjects him to brutal treatment. According to the author, he is the man who hinders the progressive efforts that Louie tries to make. Throughout his stint in the camp, The Bird makes sure that Louie’s life is a living hell. The unsavory human nature of The Bird is showcased when he mercilessly punches Louie for almost two hundred times. Besides, he is the man who forces Louie to clean a pigsty with his bare hands.

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Another prominent character in the story is Louie’s wife, Cynthia. She is the girl with whom Louie falls in love at first sight. When Louie returns home, he gets married to Cynthia, and together, they raise a daughter. However, their marriage is troubled due to the psychological traumas that Louie experienced. Cynthia later files for a divorce when she finds Louie shaking their daughter furiously, which is an action that endangers the daughter’s life. However, they get reunited and lead peaceful lives after Billy Graham intervenes (Hillenbrand, 2014).

Philips is part of the bombardier crew, and he is pilot by profession. He shares harrowing experiences with Louie and Mac in the course of their military operations. Together, they survive a testing period of 46 days following the crash of their plane in the Pacific Ocean. As if the sufferings they endure are not enough, the Japanese Navy later captures them. Philip loses his life as the Japanese soldiers take them from one camp to another (Hillenbrand, 2014).

Another character in the story is known as Pete, Louie’s brother. His role in the story is to help the main protagonist steady his rocky life. For example, Pete is accredited for having a positive impact on the life of Louie by encouraging him to make use of his athletic talents.


Hillenbrand’s book embodies such important character traits as decline, redemption, endurance, resilience and thirsty for success. Thus, this report highlights the life adventures of Louie Zamperini, who was a gifted Olympic runner during his teenage years. When he was a teenager, his life was blighted by juvenile delinquent behaviors as he proved to be a nuisance to the community. He could be accused of stealing foodstuffs or bedeviling the local police force. He later fulfills his athletics potential and even represents his country at the 1936 Olympics Championships held in Berlin. However, his life takes a dramatic turn owing to the beginning of World War II. As a result, he is compelled to forget about his athletic dreams in order to join the USA Army Air Forces (Hillenbrand, 2014). During one of his flight missions, his plane is intercepted by the Japanese navy. This is how Louie’s long journey of total anguish and agony begins. Louie and his colleagues are captured and transferred to a nearby prison camp, where they are subjected to unbearable pain and torture. Due to his fame in the world of athletics, Louie is recognized by a guard named The Bird. He is repeatedly subjected to brutal punishment, especially when he refuses to bow to the demands of the Japanese. They want him to read pro-Japanese slogans to the Americans, but he blatantly refuses, which leads to more pain and sufferings. With this, he strongly signifies his unrivalled character traits of defiance, ingenuity and persistence. The author captures these characteristics in the title of the book: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (Hillenbrand, 2014).

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