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  New York Times Review

I STILL REMEMBER reading books to my own kids, teenagers now, but I don't remember the last time someone read me a book, or even a paragraph, other than my husband barking out a snippet of the day's outrageous news. Yet I've never forgotten how different the experience of listening to prose is from reading or watching it transformed into film. It requires time and a mental stillness, the kind one has these days mainly in cars or other modes of transit. And so I set out to listen to the audio of young readers' versions of best-selling nonfiction in the car on trips upstate, often with my 13-year-old along to test their Y.A. appeal. We began with Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma," read by the actor Macleod Andrews in a vaguely Midwestern, boyish cadence. I was one of those people who had avoided Pollan's book when it came out a decade back, certain that if I read it, I'd wake up not just rejecting high-fructose corn syrup but also unable to find sustenance anywhere in my country, or worse, morphed into an organic-baby-food-producing, vegan scold. Listening to the nightmarish story of American industrial farming - the tragedy of ghost towns in Iowa and the Midwest all given over to "America's 80-million-acre field of corn," a plant that Pollan compares to an alien invasion - was indeed disturbing. When he buys a steer to chart its journey to becoming meat, you know it won't end well, but what happens is even worse than you think. At one point, listening to the unfolding litany of disaster that is America's food system, the kid in the car opined that my generation "let this happen." I denied it, of course, but as a native Illinoisan who spent a few summers on chain gangs of teenage corn "de-tassellers" toiling in Cargill's cross-pollination fields, I suppose I am personally implicated in the fiasco. Tip: You might want to listen to this seven-and-a-half-hour book (the adult audio clocks in at nearly 16 hours) while on a long drive with your family, but you won't be able to stop and eat at the fast-food outlets serving the disgusting things Pollan calls "EFLS" - edible foodlike substances constructed with corn and sickly factory-farmed cow or chicken. So pack a picnic basket of organic goodies from the farmers market before setting off. After Pollan, we popped the marvelous work of Laura Hillenbrand into the CD player. The actor Edward Herrmann (who died in 2014) reads a shorter, Y.A.-friendly version of "Unbroken," the true story of the Olympic runner and P.O.W. Louis Zamperini. Hillenbrand begins with our hero, his plane having gone down in the Pacific, floating on a life raft encircled by sharks. She leaves him there and drifts back to the delinquent boy discovering he was the fastest runner in Torrance, Calif. Before long he is racing the 5,000-meter in the 1936 Olympics and meeting Hitler, then enlisting in the Army Air Corps, crashing, spending a record 47 days on that shark-encircled raft and entering a hellish Japanese P.O.W. camp. Hillenbrand is a true master of the English language (planes "etch" the sky, sharks "bristle" beneath the raft), and her writerly skill is delivered with a feel for the eras in which the book unfolds by Herrmann's orotund, World War II radio announcer voice, his accent just slightly out of time. I was so into this story that when I reached home as Zamperini was being shot at by the Japanese, I brought the CD out of the car and hurried it inside with me, to finish listening. Our third and fourth audiobooks didn't grip us like the first two. "The Boys in the Boat," by Daniel James Brown, is about the Depression-era Olympic gold-medal-winning United States rowing team. The five-and-a-half-hour audio of the version adapted for younger readers, read by the actor Mark Bramhall, is heavily veiled by fog and endlessly dripping cold rain as the author paints the Pacific Northwest setting. Marketed as a sort of natural companion to Hillenbrand's book, it lacks her sharp ear for language, and although it was a best seller, it's not clear why the world needed another book about how the Americans triumphed over Nazi Germany in the 1936 Olympics. The book is, however, evocative of the incredible hardship Americans endured during the Depression, and it strikes deep emotional chords: Before the first third of the story is over, the hero, Joe Rantz, has been abandoned by his family three times. We learn that he and the other rowers, working-class boys all, formed a "mystical bond" in the boat that they never forgot. Unfortunately, "Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts," by Susan Cain with Gregory Mone and Erica Moroz, didn't capture us either. We do have introverts in our household, and Cain explains that "a quiet temperament is a superpower," which is a nice way to look at it. But there's a gooey dose of psychobabble here, even presumably simplified for young people in this reworking of the adult book, along with a protest-too-much degree of reassurance that introverts are just as smart and worthy as extroverts. Perhaps there are people out there who don't already believe that, but we're not among them. There is a 24-question test by which the listener can determine what sort of "vert" he or she is, which might not be immediately obvious. I took it and found myself exactly in the middle - a so-called androvert, sort of surprising because I was a shy and bookish teenager. The book is full of tips for more introverted teenagers on how to navigate the noisy world, including finding a few close friends and accepting that "you might not get up in front of a stadium like Taylor Swift." The most interesting anecdote the self-described introvert Cain shares is that she came to realize that being quiet means people often listen more closely when she speaks. But the book, at least, isn't helped by its reader, the actress Kathe Mazur. My 13-year-old test-listener observed, "She has a voice that makes me want to go to sleep. You should write that." And so I have. NINA BURLEIGH is the national politics correspondent at Newsweek magazine and the author of five nonfiction books.

  Library Journal Review

Hillenbrand (www.laurahillenbrandbooks.com), author of Seabiscuit (2003)-also available from Books on Tape/Random Audio-presents another extensively researched and compellingly written tale of steadfastness. At the centerpiece of this historical biography set during World War II is Louis Zamperini, a one-time U.S. Olympics distance runner-turned-Army Air Force bombardier whose plane goes down over the Pacific. Emmy Award-winning actor Edward Herrmann, who frequently does voice-over work for the History Channel, uses his rich voice to infuse Hillenbrand's tale with a palpable dramatic flavor, casting Zamperini as a symbol of the American ethos. Recommended for those interested in World War II and American history and for anyone liking Seabiscuit. [The LJ and New York Times best-selling Random hc was recommended "for general readers who like a good story and for World War II history buffs," LJ 10/1/10.-Ed.]-Christopher Rager, Pasadena, CA (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

  Booklist Review

A second book by the author of Seabiscuit (2001) would get noticed, even if it weren't the enthralling and often grim story of Louie Zamperini. An Olympic runner during the 1930s, he flew B-24s during WWII. Taken prisoner by the Japanese, he endured a captivity harsh even by Japanese standards and was a physical and mental wreck at the end of the war. He was saved by the influence of Billy Graham, who inspired him to turn his life around, and afterward devoted himself to evangelical speeches and founding boys' camps. Still alive at 93, Zamperini now works with those Japanese individuals and groups who accept responsibility for Japanese mistreatment of POWs and wish to see Japan and the U.S. reconciled. He submitted to 75 interviews with the author as well as contributing a large mass of personal records. Fortunately, the author's skills are as polished as ever, and like its predecessor, this book has an impossible-to-put-down quality that one commonly associates with good thrillers. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: This departure from the author's previous best-seller will nevertheless be promoted as necessary reading for the many folks who enjoyed the first one or its movie version.--Green, Roland Copyright 2010 Booklist

  Kirkus Review

The author of Seabiscuit (2001) returns with another dynamic, well-researched story of guts overcoming odds.Hillenbrand examines the life of Louis Zamperini, an American airman who, after his bomber crashed in the Pacific during World War II, survived 47 days on a life raft only to be captured by Japanese soldiers and subjected to inhuman treatment for the next two years at a series of POW camps. That his life spiraled out of control when he returned home to the United States is understandable. However, he was able to turn it around after meeting Billy Graham, and he became a Christian speaker and traveled to Japan to forgive his tormentors. The author reconstructs Zamperini's wild youth, when his hot temper, insubordination, and bold pranks seemed to foretell a future life of crime. His talents as a runner, however, changed all that, getting him to the 1936 Olympics and to the University of Southern California, where he was a star of the track team. When the story turns to World War II, Hillenbrand expands her narrative to include men who served with him in the Air Corps in the Pacific. Through letters and interviews, she brings to life not just the men who were with Zamperini on the life raft and in the Japanese camps, but the families they left behind. The suffering of the men is often difficult to read, for the details of starvation, thirst and shark attacks are followed by the specifics of the brutalities inflicted by the Japanese, particularly the sadistic Mutsuhiro Watanabe, who seemed dedicated to making Zamperini's life unbearable. Hillenbrand follows Watanabe's life after the Japanese surrender, providing the perfect foil to Zamperini's. When Zamperini wrote to his former tormentor to forgive him and attempted to meet him in person, Watanabe rejected him. Throughout are photographs of World War II bombers, POW camps, Zamperini and his fellow GIs and their families and sweethearts, providing a glimpse into a bygone era. Zamperini is still thriving at age 93.Alternately stomach-wrenching, anger-arousing and spirit-liftingand always gripping.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Summary
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE * Look for special features inside. Join the Random House Reader's Circle for author chats and more.<br> <br> In boyhood, Louis Zamperini was an incorrigible delinquent. As a teenager, he channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics. But when World War II began, the athlete became an airman, embarking on a journey that led to a doomed flight on a May afternoon in 1943. When his Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean, against all odds, Zamperini survived, adrift on a foundering life raft. Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and hum∨ brutality with rebellion. His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.<br>  <br> Appearing in paperback for the first time--with twenty arresting new photos and an extensive Q&A with the author-- Unbroken is an unforgettable testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit, brought vividly to life by Seabiscuit author Laura Hillenbrand.<br> <br> Hailed as the top nonfiction book of the year by Time magazine * Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for biography and the Indies Choice Adult Nonfiction Book of the Year award<br>  <br> "Extraordinarily moving . . . a powerfully drawn survival epic." -- The Wall Street Journal <br>   <br> "[A] one-in-a-billion story . . . designed to wrench from self-respecting critics all the blurby adjectives we normally try to avoid: It is amazing, unforgettable, gripping, harrowing, chilling, and inspiring." --New York <br>  <br> "Staggering . . . mesmerizing . . . Hillenbrand's writing is so ferociously cinematic, the events she describes so incredible, you don't dare take your eyes off the page." -- People <br>   <br> "A meticulous, soaring and beautifully written account of an extraordinary life." --The Washington Post <br>   <br> "Ambitious and powerful . . . a startling narrative and an inspirational book." --The New York Times Book Review <br>   <br> "Magnificent . . . incredible . . . [Hillenbrand] has crafted another masterful blend of sports, history and overcoming terrific odds; this is biography taken to the nth degree, a chronicle of a remarkable life lived through extraordinary times." --The Dallas Morning News <br>  <br> "An astonishing testament to the superhuman power of tenacity." -- Entertainment Weekly <br>   <br> "A tale of triumph and redemption . . . astonishingly detailed." -- O: The Oprah Magazine <br>   <br> "[A] masterfully told true story . . . nothing less than a marvel." -- Washingtonian <br>   <br> "[Hillenbrand tells this] story with cool elegance but at a thrilling sprinter's pace." --Time <br>   <br> "Hillenbrand [is] one of our best writers of narrative history. You don't have to be a sports fan or a war-history buff to devour this book--you just have to love great storytelling." --Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks <br>
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