Surprisingly, this is one of those books that you just can't put down. I really didn't anticipate liking it - the library discussion group chose it, and I'm just not a big war fan. But I got truly sucked in from the start.
Louis Zamperini was a troubled kid who made good by learning to run "for" something, instead of "away" from things. His Olympic dreams seem inevitable - and then he enlists for the war effort. Hillenbrand (who also wrote Seabiscuit) does an excellent job of quickly drawing you into Louis' story - he's a very personable guy, and you're cheering for him and laughing at his antics right away. Who wouldn't love this guy?
But the answer to that question, we learn, is a horrifying Japanese prison leader nicknamed The Bird. Zamperini's story takes a tragic, almost unbelievable turn after his enlistment; the fact that it's true doesn't make it any easier to understand.