Laura Hillenbrand is shaping up to be the Woody Guthrie of contemporary narrative historians. It's not just that she has an affinity for singing the ballads of dark horses, who through tenacity, luck and a lot of heart turn themselves into folk legends. It's also that Hillenbrand has a gift for recovering the spirit of mid-20th century America — its despair, sure, but also its humor and its graceful refusal to put on airs. Seabiscuit, of course, was an almost impossible act to follow, but as Hillenbrand says in the acknowledgements to her new book, Unbroken, she knew she had found her next subject when she spoke to a then-octogenarian Louis Zamperini on the phone and the wisecracking spirit of that bygone age came through loud and clear: "I'll be an easier subject than Seabiscuit," Zamperini said, "because I can talk."
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