As Kirkus said 47 years ago: “For that Reader’s Digest reader who finds this type of personal examination and regeneration...

A 1936 Olympic runner and WWII bombardier recalls his troubled youth, his horrifying wartime experiences, his postwar decline, and his conversion to Christianity at a 1949 Billy Graham crusade.

Zamperini was a skinny, gawky kid who suffered the derision of his classmates and compensated by fighting, stealing, hopping trains, and flouting authorities. But his older brother, a talented long-distance runner, coaxed Bill into trying track. He did so, and found his gift. Practicing relentlessly, he became a great long-distance runner in high school and college (USC), then one day found himself performing with Jesse Owens on the Olympic track in Berlin—and exchanging a few words with the Führer himself. (No medals, though.) He was among a handful of runners approaching the four-minute mile, but nothing came easily. When war broke out, Zamperini trained as a bombardier and flew a few dangerous missions in the South Pacific. During an attempt to rescue some other downed fliers, his plane was shot down; he and fellow crewmembers survived for 47 days in an open rubber raft by catching rainwater and fish. (They also survived an attack by a great white shark.) The Japanese eventually picked them up, and Zamperini moved from one unsavory site to another, enduring two years of poor diet and physical and psychological abuse. His family back in America presumed he was dead. When the war ended, he became a temporary celebrity, then slipped into a slough of alcoholic despond from which he did not emerge until his wife convinced him to go hear Billy Graham. A conversion to Christianity ensued, and Zamperini thereafter lived an exemplary life, delivering countless testimonies at gatherings of the faithful. He has published his story once before in 1955 (same title, different ghost writer, foreword by Graham) and here deviates little from the I-was-a-no-good-backsliding-slob-until-I-found-Jesus tale so common in the Christian conversion genre.

As Kirkus said 47 years ago: “For that Reader’s Digest reader who finds this type of personal examination and regeneration rewarding.” (1 map, b&w photos)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-06-018860-X

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2002


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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