Laura Hillenbrand: A master at making a true story sing

Laura Hillenbrand, author of "Seabiscuit" and "Unbroken."

It is inspiring to watch a master at work. Here is sentence one in chapter one of Laura Hillenbrand’s wonderful rendering of the story of a horse, Seabiscuit: An American Legend.

Charles Howard had the feel of a gigantic onrushing machine: You had to either climb on or leap out of the way.

Boom. You’re hooked. One carefully crafted sentence leads you seamlessly into another. The end of one chapter has you at the end of a swing on a trapeze, your whole being eagerly reaching out for the beginning of the next chapter. Hillenbrand’s latest book is Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption, and her style is just as vivid and compelling.

In the predawn darkness of August 26, 1929, in the back bedroom of a small house in Torrance, California, a twelve-year-old boy sat up in bed, listening.

The boy is Louis Zamperini, a mischievous child who becomes a world-class runner, an airman in World War II, and ultimately a survivor against incredible odds. Zamperini’s life story stands as a testament to courage and grit. But in Hillenbrand’s capable hands it becomes as well a work of art. This is what literary non-fiction is all about: the truth told beautifully.

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