Is Unbroken a True Story? The Life of Louis Zamperini

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Is Unbroken a true story? Who is it about?

Unbroken is a true story and discusses the life of Louis Zamperini. Zamperini was an Olympic runner who became a POW during World War II. Read to find out how Unbroken is true story and about the extraordinary life of Louis Zamperini.

Is Unbroken True?

After reading about Louis Zamperini’s life in Unbroken, many were prompted to ask if Unbroken is based on a true story. Unbroken the book is entirely true, and tells Louis Zamperini’s life story.

The first thing to know in order to answer the question “is unbroken a true story?” is about Louis Zamperini’s childhood? As a young boy, Louis was known as the town terror in Torrance, California, a neighborhood south of Los Angeles, where his family moved in 1919 when he was two. Louis was a notorious thief and prankster and had trouble fitting in at school. He was often the victim of bullying, but he never cowered in the face of danger. 

As a teenager, Louis was restless and sick of living a life of rules and restrictions. When his antics got him suspended from school, he was banned from participating in athletic activities. His older brother, Pete, a model student and athlete, knew Louis needed direction. He convinced the principal to let him join the track team and took responsibility for Louis’s training. Still, he couldn’t get Louis to engage. Louis left home at the age of sixteen.

After only a few days on the road, Louis realized he was wasting his life. He returned home, agreed to let Pete train him, and found he had a tremendous talent for running. Louis started competing in the mile and two-mile races, quickly making a name for himself with his impressive speed. Soon, he was beating college runners as a high school senior, and he received a scholarship to run at USC. 

Louis had set his sights on another target. He wanted to run in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. All of Louis’s training was focused on getting him to the Olympics, and his dream became a reality when he came in second at the trials. Although Louis didn’t medal at the games, he drew attention by clocking the fastest final lap in history up to that point. Even Hitler was impressed. Louis’s showing at the Berlin Olympics is one part of how you know Unbroken is a true story.

Becoming Human

After a plane crash that left him stranded at sea, Louis spent time in several POW camps, where he endured starvation, torture, and abuse. This is one part where you might yourself asking: is Unbroken a true story? It is, and many other soldiers suffered the same fate in camps as Louis Zamperini.

The nation was captivated by Louis’s story of survival. He became an instant celebrity and gave many speeches about his experiences. But inside, Louis suffered from crippling PTSD. He experienced night terrors, flashbacks, and aggressive behavior. Every night he dreamed that the Bird was abusing him, and every night he dreamed of strangling him. 

When Louis first came home, he met and married a young woman named Cynthia Applewhite. He loved her from the moment he saw her and wanted to give her a good life. But with his running career over because of injuries sustained in the prison camp and no job prospects, he began to falter. Louis drank heavily to keep his demons away and became obsessed with a revenge plot to travel to Japan and murder the Bird. 

For four years, Louis spun out of control. Even the birth of his daughter couldn’t stop his drinking or murderous thoughts. It wasn’t until he went to a Billy Graham sermon that he was able to find relief. At the sermon, he was reminded of the promise he made to God on the raft. Louis realized he hadn’t fulfilled his end of the deal. He quit drinking and smoking and started preaching the word of God, telling his story around the world, now through the lens of gratitude and faith. 

Happily Ever After

Louis dedicated the rest of his life to helping others in need. He continued to speak at events, opened a therapeutic retreat for troubled teens, and volunteered with seniors. He traveled back to Japan and was able to find forgiveness for those who tormented him. But he never saw the Bird again. 

After leaving the camp, the Bird went on the run from authorities for seven years. When the hunt for war criminals ended, he came out of hiding and became a successful businessman in Tokyo. In the late 1990s, Watanabe gave an interview, in which he waffled between remorse and self-righteousness. He maintained that he was just doing his job and was a victim of wartime hysteria. He was offered an opportunity to meet with Louis, both close to 80 years old, but he declined. He died in 2003. 

For Louis, life moved on, and he never again lost his zeal for living. He started running again and continued to through his sixties. In his 70s, he took up skateboarding. In his 90s, he was still skiing and climbing trees. He received numerous awards and honors, and his childhood home was declared a historic monument. Louis carried the torch at five Olympic opening ceremonies, including the 1998 Winter Games in Japan. As he carried the torch past the location of his former prison camp in Naoetsu, Louis felt nothing but peace and love for life. Unbroken is a true story about one man who overcame the odds to have a great life.

So is Unbroken based on a true story? Undoubtedly, yes. Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken is based on a true story, and tells the story of the extraordinary life of a man who wouldn’t give up.

Is Unbroken a True Story? The Life of Louis Zamperini

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Unbroken summary:

  • How Louie Zamperini was on track to become an Olympic athlete until the war started
  • The unbelievable story of his capture as a prisoner of war
  • The ultimate fate of Louie and his captors

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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