Louis Zamperini is an incredible man with an incredible story: one of the world’s best mile runners in the 1930s, he competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics while still a teenager. When World War II began, he went to the Pacific as a bombardier. In May 1943, his plane crashed. He floated on a life raft for 47 days until he was taken to Japan as a POW, where he lived in brutal conditions until the end of the war. Following the war, he became a Christian at Billy Graham’s 1949 Los Angeles crusade, and worked for many years as an inspirational speaker.
Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit: An American Legend, has taken this narrative and told it beautifully. She has used archival research and hours of interviews to take her readers back in time to places like Torrance, CA, Hawaii, and Naoetsu, Japan. Even readers who know the broad outlines of the story will be pulled along by her skillful storytelling and attention to detail. The pace of the book never slackens, even when Zamperini is floating on the ocean or waiting out the war in a series of POW camps.
This is an important book, especially as the generation that fought World War II continues to fade from the scene. Their stories are so often inspiring, educational, and edifying. I wish all their living memories were captured in such a vibrantly written way as Zamperini’s has been.
Note: Thanks to the publisher for a review copy of this book. I was not asked to give a positive review.