Book Review


An Olympian’s Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive


Laura Hillenbrand
Delacorte Press
307 p.



This book tells the amazing story of Louis Zamperini who started life as a thief, and turned into a track star, Olympian, airman, castaway and prisoner of war. Born to Italian immigrants in 1917, Zamperini was heading down a path of crime (stealing, fighting) until his older brother Pete stepped in and encouraged him to join the track team. It wasn’t long before Zamperini was winning every race, eventually going on to the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

When the 1940 Olympics were canceled due to World War II, Zamperini was drafted into the U.S. Air Force. Tragically, Zamperini’s plane was shot down and he and two other men spent 47 days in a life boat in the Pacific Ocean, fighting sharks, starvation, and dehydration, before being captured by the Japanese Navy as prisoners of war.  Remarkably, Zamperini survived the prison camp and returned to the US after the war.  He married and became an inspirational speaker.  This captivating book emphasizes the importance of determination, the will to survive and support from family and friends.

The Young Adult version is by the same author, Laura Hillenbrand, and softens some of the harsh details of prisoner of war life found depicted in the Adult version. The vocabulary is on the level with young adult readers and the book is shorter by about a third.  It contains pictures from Zamperini’s life, historical pictures of airplanes, the Olympics, prisoners of war and other authentic pictures.

Unbroken was made into a movie directed by Angelina Jolie and was released in December of 2015.

~ “Every young person should have the chance to read this book. It’s easy to think, growing up, that bravery is for other people, who are simply born heroic. But nothing about Louis marked him out for greatness. He started out as a misfit and troublemaker, but became a great man because of his choices. His story shows that everyone has the potential to rise above obstacles. It is not where you start out in life that counts the most, it is how you choose to face it.”—Angelina Jolie

Lisa Thurston
Education Resource Center
University of Delaware