Best Seller – Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Popularity of the book

Laura Hillenbrand, author of New York Times best seller, Seabiscuit, penned Unbroken, yet another non-fiction best seller that spent more than four years on the New York Times best seller list selling more than 4 million copies according to its publisher, Random House (Minzesheimer). In the book, Laura tells the story of Louie Zamperini in a five-part series covering 39 chapters in correspondence its title where survival, resilience and redemption are the main themes explored.

Louie Zamperini grows up in poverty and occasionally, gets caught in different acts of mischief ranging from thievery, scams and vandalism, from which he escapes through running away. His older brother, Pete, observes his talent in running and forces him to join the track and field team at school leading him to abandon his delinquent behavior. Over time, he hones his skill and eventually manages to participate in the 1936 Olympics in Germany with plans to participate in the highly anticipated 1940 Tokyo Olympics. However, the World War II taking place at the time eventually forced him to join the U.S.A army where he trained as a bombardier.

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Stationed at Hawaii, he flew the powerful B-24 bombardier planes across the Pacific Ocean. However, through an unfortunate turn of events, Louie and his colleagues get into an accident in the ocean. They struggle to survive for 47 days in the ocean facing harsh weather conditions, starvation and health problems leading to the death of one of their colleagues. Eventually, when they reach ashore, they are captured by Japanese troops who take them captive in their island.

It is during this period that they are tortured, beaten and routinely humiliated, being deprived of food, water and medical attention. Louie is assigned a personal sadistic tormentor; Sergeant Watanabe Mutsuhiro, whose aim is to break him down completely. The period was so challenging for him that even after the war ended, Louie faced post traumatic stress disorder and struggled with bouts of alcoholism and spite for his Japanese tormentors. He eventually married and his wife, Cynthia Applewhite, convinced him to attend crusades by Evangelist Billy Graham. His life changed completely afterwards once he accepted Jesus into his life as he stopped drinking, forgave his tormentors and dedicated his life to helping others as a motivational speaker.

The book’s popularity is not only seen by its long stay at best seller position (Minzesheimer), but as well, by the fact that numerous theatres and playhouses reproduced the story, some without consent, owing to its deep teachings. Kit postulates that Universal Pictures studio eventually bought rights to reproduce the book into a film owing to its popularity. Further, the book was seen to scoop several awards such as New York Times best seller, Times Magazine top 10 non fiction books etc.

Influence on larger culture

Despite the numerous lessons offered by the biographical account, one clear teaching regards the influence of religious faith in dealing with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Johnson postulates that most army officers have been killing themselves at an alarming rate following PTSD and their inability to deal with the depression that’s associated with the disorder. However, she is also quick to note that numerous research studies have shown that people with a religious faith have lower incidences of succumbing to PTSD than their counterparts who do not profess any religious faith.

By highlighting how Louie overcame his depression through Christian faith and meeting with evangelist Graham, Laura on the one hand influences a culture of embracing religion in dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As Johnson notes, despite the presence of numerous mental health medical personnel assigned by the government to assist the military to overcome such post-war disorders, the progress was not as high as that when the military began Christian ministry for the troops. As such, more military institutions began developing religious centres to offer much needed help to the troops.

Second, the biography is an account of resilience and how people can eventually overcome the challenges they go through by embracing a resilient spirit. Shakespeare postulates that while on the raft, Louie and his colleague had to engage their minds in imaginary activities such as making melodies and cooking imaginary meals in order to survive. Further, Louie was seen to quote his previous instructor who taught him that man’s mind was akin to a muscle which when left idle, would waste away. As a result, most of the readers of the book have changed their approach towards handling challenges by adopting resilience which often sees them overcome them. Most notably is the author’s condition of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome which she struggles with (Ping). As Ping interviewed the author, she noted that Laura closely identified with individuals who suffered disparate conditions and were finding a way to overcome extreme hardship through resilience.

Third, the book explores extremity and how it enables individuals to discover different attributes that they often struggled with. As Ping highlights, Louie by training was an excellent athlete who earned international acclaim in the Olympics. However, when he found himself in a raft without any form of sustenance, he did not give up despite never having gone through such a harrowing experience before. As a result, most readers are now more confident in handling extreme situations despite their previous circumstances failing to provide sufficient evidence to help them go through the situations they find themselves in. Most individuals who find out later in life that they have terminal illnesses or that they grapple with medical conditions face such a predicament given that they were in no way anticipating their circumstance. Therefore, the book as displayed by its title “unbroken” has enabled more people to embrace an unbroken mental attitude and spirit where they handle the different challenges that they find themselves in.

Finally, Louie’s story is inspirational and one that enables individuals to hold on to hope that circumstances will get better. As a result, the story has been seen as one among many inspirational stories that have enabled people going through problems to hold on to hope that things eventually do get better. Despite the fact that very few individuals will find themselves in plane crashes similar to Louie, the book still offers hope to individuals that in the most challenging of circumstances, light shines at the end of the tunnel. Laura meticulously describes how Louie was able to find redemption from depression, alcohol abuse and eventually managed to forgive his Japanese tormentors who had aimed to break every inch of his person down. As a result, individuals have learnt how to embrace forgiveness and fight against negative addictions such as alcohol and depression.



Johnson, Lorie. “PTSD: Conquering Military Suicides With Hope – Health & Science – CBN News – Christian News 24-7 – CBN.Com.” N.p., 2011. Web. 19 Sept. 2017.

Kit, Borys. “Universal Picks Up Laura Hillenbrand’s WWII Bestseller ‘Unbroken’.” The Hollywood Reporter. N.p., 2011. Web. 19 Sept. 2017.

Minzesheimer, Bob. “Book Buzz: ‘Unbroken’ Climbs Best-Seller List Again.” USA TODAY. N.p., 2014. Web. 19 Sept. 2017.

Ping, Trisha. “Laura Hillenbrand – Interview.” N.p., 2010. Web. 19 Sept. 2017.

Shakespeare, Nicholas. “Unbroken By Laura Hillenbrand: Review.” N.p., 2011. Web. 19 Sept. 2017.