Laura Hillenbrand

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Laura Hillenbrand
Born (1967-05-15) May 15, 1967 (age 51)
Fairfax, Virginia
Notable works
SpouseBorden Flanagan (m. 2006)

Laura Hillenbrand (born May 15, 1967) is an American author of books and magazine articles. Her two bestselling nonfiction books, Seabiscuit: An American Legend (2001) and Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (2010), have sold over 13 million copies, and each was adapted for film. Her writing style is distinct from New Journalism, dropping "verbal pyrotechnics" in favor of a stronger focus on the story itself.

New Journalism is a style of news writing and journalism, developed in the 1960s and 1970s, which uses literary techniques deemed unconventional at the time. It is characterized by a subjective perspective, a literary style reminiscent of long-form non-fiction and emphasizing "truth" over "facts", and intensive reportage in which reporters immersed themselves in the stories as they reported and wrote them. This was in contrast to traditional journalism where the journalist was typically "invisible" and facts are reported as objectively as possible. The phenomenon of New Journalism is generally considered to have ended by the early 1980s.


Hillenbrand fell ill in college and was unable to complete her degree. She shared that experience in an award-winning essay, A Sudden Illness, published in The New Yorker in 2003. Her books were written while she was disabled by that illness. In a 2014 interview, Bob Schieffer said to Laura Hillenbrand: "To me your story – battling your disease... is as compelling as his (Louis Zamperini's) story." [1]

<i>The New Yorker</i> Magazine on politics, social issues, art, humor, and culture, based in New York City

The New Yorker is an American magazine featuring journalism, commentary, criticism, essays, fiction, satire, cartoons, and poetry. It is published by Condé Nast. Started as a weekly in 1925, the magazine is now published 47 times annually, with five of these issues covering two-week spans.

Bob Schieffer Journalist, Anchor for CBS News

Bob Lloyd Schieffer is an American television journalist. He is known for his moderation of presidential debates, where he has been praised for his capability. Schieffer is one of the few journalists to have covered all four of the major Washington national assignments: the White House, the Pentagon, United States Department of State, and United States Congress. His career with CBS has almost exclusively dealt with national politics. He has interviewed every United States President since Richard Nixon, as well as most of those who sought the office.


Hillenbrand's first book was the acclaimed Seabiscuit: An American Legend (2001), a nonfiction account of the career of the great racehorse Seabiscuit, for which she won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year in 2001. She says she was compelled to tell the story because she "found fascinating people living a story that was improbable, breathtaking and ultimately more satisfying than any story [she'd] ever come across." [2] She first told the story through an essay, "Four Good Legs Between Us", that was published in American Heritage magazine, [3] and the feedback was positive, so she decided to proceed with a full-length book. [2] The book received positive reviews for the storytelling and research. [4] [5] It was made into the film Seabiscuit , nominated for Best Picture of 2003 at the 76th Academy Awards.

<i>Seabiscuit: An American Legend</i> book by Laura Hillenbrand

Seabiscuit: An American Legend is a non-fiction book written by Laura Hillenbrand, published on June 30, 1999. The book is a biography of the Thoroughbred racehorse Seabiscuit. It won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year and was adapted as a feature film in 2003. It has also been published under the title: Seabiscuit: The True Story of Three Men and a Racehorse. The author has been praised for her ability to convey a sense of historical times. The 2003 film Seabiscuit was adapted from the book.

William Hill Sports Book of the Year award

The William Hill Sports Book of the Year is an annual British sports literary award sponsored by bookmaker William Hill. The award is dedicated to rewarding excellence in sports writing and was first awarded in 1989. As of 2016, the prize for winning the award is £28,000.

American Heritage is a magazine dedicated to covering the history of the United States of America for a mainstream readership. Until 2007, the magazine was published by Forbes. Since that time, Edwin S. Grosvenor has been its publisher. Print publication was suspended early in 2013, but the magazine relaunched in digital format with the Summer 2017 issue after a Kickstarter campaign raised $31,203 from 587 backers. The publisher stated it also intended to relaunch the magazine's sister publication Invention & Technology, which ceased print publication in 2011.

Hillenbrand's second book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (2010), was a biography of World War II hero Louis Zamperini. [6] The book's film adaptation is called Unbroken (2014).

<i>Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption</i> Biography of Louis Zamperini by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption is a 2010 non-fiction book by Laura Hillenbrand, author of the best-selling book Seabiscuit: An American Legend (2001). Unbroken is a biography of World War II hero Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic track star who survived a plane crash in the Pacific theater, spent 47 days drifting on a raft, and then survived more than two and a half years as a prisoner of war in three brutal Japanese prisoner-of-war camps.

Louis Zamperini American middle distance runner

Louis Silvie Zamperini was an American World War II veteran, a Christian evangelist and an Olympic distance runner, best known for being a Japanese prisoner of war survivor.

<i>Unbroken</i> (film) 2014 American war film by Angelina Jolie

Unbroken is a 2014 American war film produced and directed by Angelina Jolie, written by the Coen brothers, Richard LaGravenese, and William Nicholson, based on the 2010 non-fiction book by Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. The film stars Jack O'Connell as USA Olympian and army officer Louis "Louie" Zamperini, who survived in a raft for 47 days after his bomber crash-landed in the ocean during the Second World War, then was sent to a series of prisoner of war camps.

These two books have dominated the best seller lists in both hardback and paperback. Combined, they have sold more than 10 million copies, [7] which was reported in 2016 to have increased to over 13 million copies. [8]

Hillenbrand's essays have appeared in The New Yorker , Equus magazine, American Heritage , The Blood-Horse, Thoroughbred Times, The Backstretch, Turf and Sport Digest, and other publications. Her 1998 American Heritage article on the horse Seabiscuit won the Eclipse Award for Magazine Writing. [9] [10]

Equus is a quarterly magazine for horse owners that was first published in November 1977.

Hillenbrand is a co-founder of Operation International Children. [11] [12]

Writing style

Her writing style belongs to a new school of nonfiction writers, who come after the new journalism, focusing more on the story than a literary prose style:

Hillenbrand belongs to a generation of writers who emerged in response to the stylistic explosion of the 1960s. Pioneers of New Journalism like Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer wanted to blur the line between literature and reportage by infusing true stories with verbal pyrotechnics and eccentric narrative voice. But many of the writers who began to appear in the 1990s ... approached the craft of narrative journalism in a quieter way. They still built stories around characters and scenes, with dialogue and interior perspective, but they cast aside the linguistic showmanship that drew attention to the writing itself. [7]

Personal life

Hillenbrand was born in Fairfax, Virginia, the daughter and youngest of four children of Elizabeth Marie Dwyer, a child psychologist, and Bernard Francis Hillenbrand, a lobbyist who became a minister. [13] [14] [15] Hillenbrand spent much of her childhood riding bareback "screaming over the hills" of her father's Sharpsburg, Maryland, farm. [16] A favorite childhood book of hers was Come On Seabiscuit . [16] "I read it to death, my little paperback copy," she says. [16] She studied at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, but was forced to leave before graduation when she contracted chronic fatigue syndrome, with which she has struggled ever since. [17] Until late 2015, she lived in Washington, D.C., and rarely left her house because of the condition. [17] Hillenbrand married Borden Flanagan, a professor of government at American University and her college sweetheart, in 2006. [17] In 2014, they separated after 28 years as a couple, living in separate homes. [7]

In fall 2015, Hillenbrand made a trip by road to Oregon, her first time out of Washington D. C. since 1990 not resulting in totally debilitating vertigo. [8] She lives in Oregon since that trip. She traveled across the US with her new boyfriend, making many stops along the way to see the country. She reports that taking the trip to "see America" was risky, but her preparations resulted in a successful trip and much joy from adding activities long absent from her life. This was made possible by a disciplined scheme over two years to increase her tolerance to travel without evoking the vertigo. The disease is not cured but her capacity is increased. [8]

Chronic fatigue syndrome

Hillenbrand experienced the sudden onset of a then unknown sickness at 19. She was a sophomore at Kenyon College. Up until the symptoms struck, she was an avid tennis player, cycled in the nearby country and played football on the quad. [7] One day driving back to school from spring break, she became violently ill. Three days later, she could hardly sit up in bed and she could not make the walk to classes. [18] "Terrified, confused, she dropped out of school" and her sister drove her home. [7] She shuttled from doctor to doctor for a year before being diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome at Johns Hopkins. [18] She said it was the most hellish year of her life. [18] Because the name of her illness does not represent the extent of the disease, in 2011 Hillenbrand said of her diagnosis:

This is why I talk about it. You can’t look at me and say I’m lazy or that this is someone who wants to avoid working. The average person who has this disease, before they got it, we were not lazy people; it’s very typical that people were Type A and hard, hard workers. I was that kind of person. I was working my tail off in college and loving it. It’s exasperating because of the name, which is condescending and so grossly misleading. Fatigue is what we experience, but it is what a match is to an atomic bomb. [18]

Hillenbrand's family and friends did not understand her sickness and pulled away, leaving Hillenbrand to battle an unknown disease on her own. [7] She was met with ridicule and told she was lazy during the first ten years of her sickness. In 2014, she said, "'I was not taken seriously, and that was disastrous. If I’d gotten decent medical care to start out with — or at least emotional support, because I didn’t get that either — could I have gotten better? Would I not be sick 27 years later?'” [7]

She described the onset and early years of her illness in an award-winning [19] [20] [21] essay, A Sudden Illness in 2003. [22] [23] The disease structured her life as a writer, keeping her mainly confined to her home. She read old newspaper articles by buying the old newspapers or borrowing them from libraries, rather than using microfilm or other forms of archived news articles, and did all her live interviews by telephone. [7] [12]

On the irony of writing about physical paragons while being so incapacitated herself, Hillenbrand says, "I'm looking for a way out of here. I can't have it physically, so I'm going to have it intellectually. It was a beautiful thing to ride Seabiscuit in my imagination. And it's just fantastic to be there alongside Louie as he's breaking the NCAA mile record. People at these vigorous moments in their lives - it's my way of living vicariously." [17]

In a 2014 interview, Bob Schieffer said to Laura Hillenbrand: To me your story – battling your disease ….is as compelling as his (Louis Zamperini’s) story. [1]

In 2015-2016, she reported changes in her health status in an interview with Paul Costello for Stanford Medicine: "Recently, Hillenbrand has made a lot of changes in her medical treatments and in her life. There’s optimism in her voice and a sense of wonderment at new beginnings." [8] Vertigo has been a serious problem for her, so that she had not left Washington D. C. since 1990 because of it. After a disciplined effort to tolerate riding in a car, starting at five minutes and increasing to two hours over two years, she was able to drive out of Washington D. C. after 25 years. She is not cured, "I was not well. I am not well. I am always dealing with symptoms," [emphasis in original]. [8] The changes in her health allowed her to make a cross-country trip to Oregon. [8] She has also begun horseback riding and bicycle riding, two activities she had not done since the disease struck her in 1987. [8]

Related Research Articles

Myalgia, or muscle pain, is a symptom of many diseases and disorders. The most common causes are the overuse or over-stretching of a muscle or group of muscles. Myalgia without a traumatic history is often due to viral infections. Longer-term myalgias may be indicative of a metabolic myopathy, some nutritional deficiencies or chronic fatigue syndrome.

Operation International Children was a charitable program created in 2004 to send school supplies to Iraqi children. In March 2004, actor Gary Sinise and author Laura Hillenbrand announced the launch of Operation Iraqi Children, a program that will enable Americans to send School Supply Kits to Iraqi children. OIC is a program administered by People to People International (PTPI), an NGO with a U.S., not-for-profit [501(c)(3)] tax rating. The executive committee consists of Sinise, Hillenbrand and PTPI's President and CEO, Mary Jean Eisenhower.

Meghan ORourke American writer

Meghan O'Rourke is an American nonfiction writer, poet and critic.

Mutsuhiro Watanabe Japanese war criminal

Mutsuhiro Watanabe – nicknamed "the Bird" by his prisoners – was an Imperial Japanese Army corporal in World War II who served at POW camps in Omori, Naoetsu, Niigata, Mitsushima and at the Civilian POW Camp at Yamakita. After Japan's defeat, the US Occupation authorities classified Watanabe as a war criminal for his mistreatment of prisoners of war (POWs), but he managed to evade arrest and was never tried in court. Watanabe ordered one man to report to him to be punched in the face every night for two weeks, and practiced judo on an appendectomy patient. One of his prisoners was American track star and Olympian Louis Zamperini, who tells his story in the book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, later adapted into a feature film directed by Angelina Jolie and also Devil at My Heels by Ali Sen.

I Remember Me (2000) is a biographical documentary about chronic fatigue syndrome, filmed in the United States by Kim A. Snyder. The film attempts to show just how devastating the illness can be to persons afflicted with the illness.

History of chronic fatigue syndrome

The history of chronic fatigue syndrome is thought to date back to the 19th century and before.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is an illness with a long history of controversy. For years, many professionals within the medical community did not recognize CFS as a true condition, nor was there agreement on its prevalence. There has been much disagreement over the pathophysiology of chronic fatigue syndrome, how it should be diagnosed, and how to treat it.

The Lightning Process (LP) is a three-day personal training programme developed by British osteopath Phil Parker. It claims to be beneficial for various conditions, including chronic fatigue syndrome, depression and chronic pain. The Lightning Process is not recommended by the NHS for the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome.

Patricia A. Fennell created the Fennell Four Phase Model for understanding and treating chronic medical and mental health conditions, trauma, and the effects of crime. Jeffrey Turner, in his book American Families in Crisis: A Reference Handbook, considers her a nationally recognized expert in the care of chronic illnesses, trauma, forensics, and hospice care. Fennell has written several books and articles published in the media and professional press, and is CEO of Albany Health Management Associates, Inc., in Albany, New York. Her company offers counseling, case management, and training based on her model. She also lectures on these topics at professional conferences, and community meetings.

Judy Anne Mikovits is an American researcher. She was involved in controversies regarding her research in the area of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also referred to as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), is a medical condition characterized by long-term fatigue and other persistent symptoms that limit a person's ability to carry out ordinary daily activities.

Rona Moss-Morris

Rona Moss-Morris is Head of Health Psychology and Chair in Psychology as Applied to Medicine at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London. Her research investigates long-term, medically unexplained disorders such as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). She joined the IoP in 2011 and presented an inaugural lecture entitled "Trials and tribulations: A journey towards integrated care for long term conditions."

Jennifer Brea is an American documentary filmmaker and activist. Her debut feature, Unrest, premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and received the US Documentary Special Jury Award For Editing. Brea also co-created a virtual reality film which premiered at Tribeca Film Festival.

<i>Unbroken: Path to Redemption</i> 2018 film directed by Harold Cronk

Unbroken: Path to Redemption is a 2018 American Christian drama film directed by Harold Cronk, and acts as a sequel to the 2014 film Unbroken, although none of the original cast or crew returns except the producer Matthew Baer. The film chronicles Louis Zamperini following his return from World War II, his personal struggles to adjust back to civilian life and his eventual conversion to evangelical Christianity after attending one of Billy Graham's church revivals.


  1. 1 2 Schieffer, Bob (December 28, 2014). "Unbroken author opens up about her own personal struggle". Face the Nation. CBS News. Retrieved December 30, 2014.
  2. 1 2 Andriani, Lynn (January 1, 2001). "PW Talks with Laura Hillenbrand". 248 (1). Publishers Weekly: 75.
  3. Hillenbrand, Laura. "Four Good Legs Between Us" (July–August 1998 ed.). American Heritage. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  4. N. A. (December 18, 2003). "Beyond the top 50: Sports". USA Today.
  5. Sanders, Erica (May 14, 2001). "Seabiscuit (Book Review)". 55 (19). People: 54.
  6. "The Defiant Ones". Wall Street Journal. November 12, 2010.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Hylton, Wil S. (December 18, 2014). "The Unbreakable Laura Hillenbrand". New York Times. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Costello, Paul (Summer 2016). "Leaving frailty behind: A conversation with Laura Hillenbrand". Stanford Medicine. Retrieved September 4, 2016.
  9. "Winners, 1971-2012: Outstanding Magazine Writing". Daily Racing Form. Retrieved November 8, 2014.
  10. "Eclipse Award Winners: Print and Internet: Magazine Writing". National Turf Writers and Broadcasters. 2011. Archived from the original on November 8, 2014. Retrieved November 8, 2014.
  11. "Operation International Children". April 1, 2013. Archived from the original on June 1, 2014. Retrieved June 25, 2014.
  12. 1 2 Gell, Aaron (December 2, 2010). "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Celebrated Author's Untold Tale". Elle. Retrieved December 30, 2014.
  13. "Mount Holyoke Alumnae Quarterly" (Winter 2012 ed.). Retrieved November 8, 2014.
  14. Jaffe, Jody. "Brave Hearts: Bethesda native Laura Hillenbrand, the author of Seabiscuit and the new Unbroken, has overcome incredible hardships" (March–April 2006 ed.). Bethesda, Maryland: Bethesda Magazine. Retrieved November 8, 2014.
  15. Syracuse Herald-American. "E. M. Dwyer, B. F. Hillenbrand Are Married" (July 10, 1955 ed.). Syracuse, New York. Retrieved November 9, 2014. Miss Elizabeth Marie Dwyer, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John T. Dwyer of Cortland, became the bride of Bernard Francis Hillenbrand, son of Mrs. Anne Hillenbrand... and the late Leonard Hillenbrand..
  16. 1 2 3 Kulman, Linda (March 19, 2001). "There's no holding this horse". 130 (11). U.S. News & World Report: 62.
  17. 1 2 3 4 Hesse, Monica (November 28, 2010). "Laura Hillenbrand releases new book while fighting chronic fatigue syndrome". Washington Post. Retrieved November 8, 2014.
  18. 1 2 3 4 Parker-Pope, Tara (February 4, 2011). "An Author Escapes From Chronic Fatigue Syndrome". New York Times. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  19. Donahue, Deirdre (November 10, 2010). "'Seabiscuit' author Hillenbrand back with true tale 'Unbroken'". USA Today. Retrieved June 22, 2013.
  20. "The New Yorker magazine honored for CFIDS story". Archived from the original on January 5, 2011. Retrieved June 22, 2013.
  21. "Winners & Finalists of National Magazine Awards". American Society of Magazine Editors. Retrieved June 22, 2013.
  22. Hillenbrand, Laura (July 7, 2003). "A Sudden Illness". The New Yorker in CFIDS Association archive. Archived from the original on May 29, 2013. Retrieved June 21, 2013.
  23. Hillenbrand, Laura (July 7, 2003). "A Sudden Illness". The New Yorker. p. 56. Retrieved June 22, 2013.
Preceded by
Lance Armstrong
William Hill Sports Book of the Year winner
Succeeded by
Donald McRae