Laura Hillenbrand

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Unbroken Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Laura Hillenbrand

The youngest of four children, Laura Hillenbrand grew up in a suburb north of Washington D.C.. As a child, she loved writing stories and riding horses on her father’s farm. While studying at Kenyon College, she developed an incurable illness called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome that forced her to drop out of school and move back in with her family. In the late 1980s, Hillenbrand felt well enough to move to Chicago with her future husband. Still confined to her home, she began a writing career in sports journalism and, drawing from her love of horses, she wrote the 2001 best-selling nonfiction book Seabiscuit about the unlikely achievements of an undersized race horse. Almost a decade later still battling the illness, and largely house-bound, she finished work on Unbroken. Hillenbrand says that since her illness prevents her from leaving her house, she writes books about incredible physical feats so that she can live vicariously through the stories she tells. Hillenbrand currently lives in Washington D.C.
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Historical Context of Unbroken

Unbroken lives and breathes the Pacific theater of World War II. From the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor that began the war to the dropping of the atomic bombs that concluded it, Unbroken not only tells Louie’s tale of survival but also gives a broad perspective on the toll the war took on American soldiers. Louie’s exceptional story is a lens through which we see the triumphs as well as the tragedies that marked the lives of the millions of enlisted men. The 1936 Berlin Olympics also plays a significant role in the novel. At the Games, the African-American runner Jesse Owens won four gold medals, defying the Nazis’ racist belief in the inferiority of people of African descent.

Other Books Related to Unbroken

While nonfiction books on the European theater of World War II have consistently garnered widespread popularity, historical nonfiction about the Pacific front has only in last two decades emerged as a popular genre. An early forerunner of the genre includes James Bradley and Ron Powers’s 2000 Flags of Our Fathers, which explores the heroism and tragic postwar lives of the six soldiers who famously raised the American flag at Iwo Jima. Hillenbrand also draws on a recent tradition of narrative journalism that builds stories around characters, scenes, and dialogue rather than on the stylistic abilities of the author. Some well-known examples of this trend include Susan Orlean’s 1998 The Orchid Thief and Erik Larson’s 2003 The Devil in the White City, but Hillenbrand’s own 2001 Seabiscuit set a high standard for this kind of storytelling.
Key Facts about Unbroken
  • Full Title: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
  • When Written: 2003-2010
  • Where Written: Washington D.C.
  • When Published: 2010
  • Literary Period: Contemporary Narrative Journalism
  • Genre: Historical nonfiction
  • Setting: The United States and Japan; before, during, and after World War II
  • Climax: When Louie Zamperini finds redemption at a Christian revival meeting
  • Antagonist: Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe
  • Point of View: Limited third-person

Extra Credit for Unbroken

Success on the Silver Screen: Angelina Jolie produced and directed the 2014 film adaptation of Unbroken. Grossing over 160 million dollars, Unbroken had the fourth highest box-office debut among WWII themed movie.

eBay and Adversity: Unable to leave her house because of her medical condition, Laura Hillenbrand conducted all the reporting and research for the novel from her home. This made even the simplest tasks a challenge. For example, instead of going to library to look at microfilms of old newspapers, Hillenbrand had to find and procure vintage newspapers on eBay.