I have a new person on my "favorite speakers" list: Louis Zamperini.
Wow. I think Louis qualifies as both the luckiest, and the unluckiest, person on the planet. His life is an amazing combination of incredibly lucky saves, amazing personal strength, and remarkable occurances and coincidences, both good and bad.
Reasons he's the unluckiest:
Survived near death, and near destruction of airplane, after attack by enemy planes, while an airman in the Pacific theater during WWII.
One of only three survivors from a plane shot down by enemy forces over the Pacific Ocean. Actually sank with the plane, with his clothing hooked onto the plane itself, but miraculously managed to regain the surface.
Survived 47 days in an open rubber raft in the Pacific Ocean, with no food or water on hand except the occasional rain shower, unlucky seabird, or particularly gullible fish.
Raft experience also included having to fight off sharks, (including one great white shark) which followed his raft relentlessly for most of those 47 days. He and his two raftmates even had to prevent sharks from breaching and grabbing them out of the raft.
Raft experience included being spotted, not by friendly rescue plane, but by enemy plane, and having to hide under the raft (with the aforementioned sharks still trying to eat him) while enemy pilots strafed the raft. Twice. Resulted in raft deflating. This is not good.
Was finally recued, again not by friendly ship or plane, but by enemy forces, which resulted in becoming a POW in Japanese camps for over two years.
Was discovered to be an American Olympic athlete of note, resulting in"special treatment" in POW camps. And not the good kind of "special treatment". The kind that makes you wish you were just a regular, no-name, nothing-special POW.
Reasons he's the luckiest:
He survived. See above.
Not only is this story already extraordinary, there is more. A lot more. Louis Zamperini is also an incredibly gifted athlete. He was discovered, after humble beginnings (as a juvenile delinquent, actually) to be a terrific long distance runner.
Louis competed in the last Olympics prior to World War II, held in Berlin. This should have been the beginning of a fantastic career as a world-class record-setting miler, but instead, war erupted; Louis joined the front lines as a bombardier. See above plane-shot-down-sharks-coming-two-years-of-POW-camp story.
After being given up for dead by the US military, Louis was discovered alive at the close of the war, was returned to the US, and....well, I'll let you read the rest of the story for yourself.
Read what story? Oh, yes. Remember the phenomenal bestseller and later movie Seabiscuit? Written by Laura Hillenbrand? Well, that was her first book.
Louis Zamperini's story, Unbroken, is her second. Released on November 16th, 2010, it's already a bestseller.
Incredibly well researched and detailed, it's an amazing book. Laura Hillenbrand has an uncanny talent for uncovering details about people's lives that they themselves didn't even know about. Her research techniques include such efforts as sending deep sea divers down to a sunken ship to recover records and manifests, convincing a military officer to come to her house and demonstrate the secret workings of a WWII-era Norden bombsight, and conducting hours and hours of telephone conversations with not only Louis Zamperini himself, but the friends, relatives, and acquaintances of all the other individuals who appear in the book.
Virtue and sin, survival and redemption, aching loss and incredible suffering and starvation and pain, and ultimately, forgiveness: it's all in there.
Hillenbrand's life itself is amazing. The victim of the chronic, severe, mysterious, and debilitating Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, she does not leave her home. That she can undertake such a monumental effort as writing a book, and such a long and detailed one to boot, is nothing short of astonishing.
Louis Zamperini, as described by Laura Hillenbrand. And incredibly action-packed, detailed, and gripping story, and all the more amazing because it's all true. As political comedian Will Durst says, "you can't make up stuff like this."
The reviews keep piling in: from the Wall Street Journal to Vanity Fair, People Magazine, Newsweek, even the Today Show. A phenomenon in the making. Can't wait to see who gets to make a movie about this.