Earlier this month, I did a radio interview to talk about good books to read over the July 4th weekend. Even though the summer is traditionally a big beach reading time, I let my patriotism get the best of me and picked a handful of history books to talk about. Two of the books I recommended were Unbroken and Lost in Shangri-La, both harrowing, real-life adventure/survival stories about World War II American GIs. You might call them the greatest of the Greatest Generation.
Both books are as riveting as stories get, and the fact that these are true stories only adds to the intensity of the reading experience. I'm not giving anything away when I tell you that after Louis Zamporini, the protagonist of Unbroken, crashes into the sea with the rest of his B-24 bomber crew he climbs into a raft and nearly starves to death, dies of thirst, bakes in the hot sun, drowns, barely escapes being eaten by numerous sharks, is shot at by Japanese planes, and survives a typhoon"”all before being picked up and sent to a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp. Which is when things get really bad.
Laura Hillenbrand, the author of Unbroken, estimates that Zamporini survived longer at sea than anyone before or after. And yet there's a spirit that he maintains throughout the book that's absolutely infectious. He truly seems to be from a different time, a more optimistic and positive time. And the same goes for the survivors of Lost in Shangri-La, who never quite reach the level of danger that Zamporini faced, but nonetheless keep their heads up through great tragedy, pain, and peril (one of the survivors loses her good friend in the crash, and another loses his twin brother.)
I've been thinking about both these books a lot since I read them. Both came out some time ago and are still listed among the top-selling books on Amazon, so I'm clearly not the only one who's thinking about them. When I think about how these men and women dealt with the adversity of another time, I can't help but consider how I deal with trouble in my own life. And I'm especially appreciative that such talented authors are dedicating themselves to telling the stories of what is essentially a dwindling resource: the generation that fought in WWII. Every day more than 700 World War II veterans pass away, and with them go their stories. I feel very lucky to have had these two.