To Write A Good Book, Pick A Great Subject

I was late to the party with this book, partly because I know Hillenbrand was so damn good that she was going to suck me in deep. Of course, she does.

What’s left to say, after all that has been said about Unbroken? Hillenbrand is a legend in her own time, a writer confined by illness to her own home who nevertheless produces extraordinarily researched nonfiction. Her M.O. reminds me of the famed journalist I.F. “Izzy” Stone, who lived in Washington and did most of his work by reading and reporting on the Congressional Record and other published documents that most journalists overlooked.

Hillenbrand has the benefit of choosing extraordinary subjects for her books—note to aspiring authors—and then of relentlessly pursuing all the knowledge she can find about them. Yet she does not do a notebook dump; she crafts a story with a real eye toward character development and pacing. Like other books I’ve written about recently, she is a biographer, but one who finds the hidden gem and brings it to light. I think of her as a treasure hunter, willing to comb the archives for a Seabiscuit or a Zamperini, rather than attempt to revisit a familiar subject, as so many (very good) biographers do. We are lucky to have her in our midst.