Inspirational or motivational books often put their promises in their title: Think and Grow Rich, The Magic of Big Thinking, The Power of Positive Thinking, What it Takes to be #1. Why not judge these books by how well they deliver on their promise? For Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In: Lessons From an Extraordinary Life, Louis Zamperini’s last book (co-authored by David Rensin), the question is: does Zamperini have any worthwhile lessons to impart? While some of the lessons outlined in the titles of each chapter are hackneyed, the stories are interesting, and the reader can learn lessons simply by listening to Zamperini tell of both his successes and failures.
That Zamperini’s life was extraordinary is beyond doubt. An Olympic-level runner who was widely thought to be likely to be the first athlete to run a 4 minute mile, Zamperini’s life took a different turn when the U.S. joined World War II and he became a member of a B-24 flight crew that was eventually shot down in the Pacific. But instead of dying, Zamperini, along with Captain Russell Phillips, survived on a raft for over a month with nothing more than a flare gun, some candy bars, and some other basic survival gear. Captured by the Japanese and imprisoned, Zamperini survived and eventually returned home, to the great surprise of everyone. But the most significant changes took place in Zamperini’s life after his rescue: following an onset of PTSD and a growing dependency on alcohol, Zamperini’s wife convinced him to attend a Billy Graham crusade, and he eventually committed his life to the Lord. He never drank again, and he devoted his life from then on to helping at-risk children find purpose—and adventure.
Some of the “lessons” in Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In, have a cheesy ring to them—chapter titles such as “You Need a Cloud to Have a Silver Lining,” “Don’t Ask Why, Ask What’s Next,” give an idea of some of the trite lessons drawn from what would otherwise just be an interesting story. Other chapters, such as one that includes a story of getting a kiss from Angelina Jolie (one of his friends), seem more like opportunities for Zamperini to reminisce, but that’s a forgivable flaw in someone who lived such a colorful and interesting life.
Other vignettes, however, are moving. One story in particular stands out—where Zamperini begins training to run again, and works hard at it for over six weeks. At the end of the month, he has his wife time his laps, and discovers that he is much slower than before. This forces him to accept that he will never recover his running ability—it’s time for him to find another path. Several other stories stood out to me from his post-war life as well: a giant boat trip, business ventures, and other escapades as he tried to find a calling.
Overall, this was a really quick, interesting book that gave some solid, if not revolutionary or cohesive, advice on how to live well. Living actively to the age of 97 and packing a second book with more tales, Zamperini certainly knew how to live well.