Unbroken

by Laura Hillenbrand |

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REVIEWED BY CAROLINE LEAVITT

People PICK

NON-FICTION

Any one of the threads in Hillenbrand's monumental new book could be a page-turner all its own. There's the staggering story of Olympic runner and Air Force bombardier Louis Zamperini, terrifyingly stranded in 1943 on a life raft for 47 days, battling sharks, a typhoon and enemy gunfire. Then there's the story of his two years in a brutal Japanese POW camp run by the sadistic Mutsuhiro Watanabe, who beats, starves and humiliates the prisoners beyond endurance. And finally there's the aftermath, when the haunted, broken Zamperini tries to make sense of his life after the war. Zamperini's story, which Hillenbrand first came across in the sports pages while researching her previous book Seabiscuit, is as mesmerizing as it is gut-wrenching. And Hillenbrand's writing is so ferociously cinematic, the events she describes so incredible, you don't dare take your eyes off the page. Though the book centers on Zamperini, we meet other WWII heroes as well: POWs who risked their lives and then battled post-traumatic shock. Unbroken is a devastating story of the unforgivable, and of one extraordinary man who forgave.

"Louis' story is about finding light in the midst of darkness. That's what drew me to it"

The Mind's Eye

by Oliver Sacks |

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REVIEWED BY JUDITH NEWMAN

NON-FICTION

Is there anyone who's done more to elucidate the ability in disability than Oliver Sacks? Here the neurologist is at it again, with a collection of pieces about the strange diseases that can befall the brain. There is the pianist who loses her ability to read music and to name common objects by sight, though not her musicality or capacity to recognize by touch. There are the aphasics who can no longer express or understand speech but whose intellects remain intact. Most memorably there's Sacks himself, who loses part of his field of vision and depth perception due to melanoma of the eye, yet retains his scientist's sense of wonder. "I hate the flatness of everything," he writes, "yet I occasionally have a sense of appreciation for my two-dimensional world ... a new pleasure in looking at paintings or photographs, now that I am more conscious of the art of composition." In Sacks' world, even with great loss there are fascinating compensations.

Full Dark, No Stars

Stephen King |

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REVIEWED BY JOSH EMMONS

FICTION

Here's how King describes his latest offering: "The stories in this book are harsh." Believe him. The unifying theory is that we're all capable of horrific acts-like the farmer in "1922" who murders his wife to protect his property's value-and that we deny this grim reality at our peril. Whether or not you agree, Full Dark is gripping storytelling.

Cleopatra: A Life

by Stacy Schiff |

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REVIEWED BY MEREDITH MARAN

BIOGRAPHY

In her vivid portrait of Egypt's most powerful pharaoh-and single mom of four-Schiff offers an equally colorful history of Egypt, ca. 30 B.C.: "Alexandria echoed with the sounds of horses' hooves, the cries of porridge sellers ..." Although Schiff's narrative voice is disturbingly distant at times, she reveals a Cleopatra we've not yet seen: a fierce, sensuous and complicated queen who ruled in a time and place as fascinating as she was.

HILLENBRAND ON

WRITING AND ILLNESS

HOW'S YOUR HEALTH?

I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and I had a terrible relapse in '07. It was two years before I could leave the house. I'm clawing my way back.

WHAT ARE YOUR SYMPTOMS?

You feel as if you are trapped in a bad flu: fever, chills, mind fog.

HOW DO YOU WRITE?

Sometimes in bed. Since I have vertigo, I can't look down, so I have my computer up on a platform.

WHAT'S YOUR PROGNOSIS?

Getting well isn't something I invest myself in after 23 years with this. I hope for a cure; I can't live for that.

WHAT KEEPS YOU GOING?

A wonderful husband. And I escape into my imagination. Writing's my salvation.

KAT VON D's

TATTOO TALES

The tattoo artist turned reality star (and Jesse James' girlfriend) is back with a second book, The Tattoo Chronicles.

WHAT'S THE BOOK ABOUT?

It's reflections on life lessons I learned from clients. Tattooing people, you hear so many heartfelt things.

PLUS THERE ARE PHOTOS ...

I took every one, from soccer moms to Denise Richards.

NIKKI SIXX PLAYS A BIG PART

We were dating. He's my best friend.

WANT TO GET MARRIED AND HAVE KIDS?

Some people are made to be mothers. I'm the really cool buddy.

SO ... THIS PAST YEAR WITH JESSE?

That will probably be The Tattoo Chronicles II. But if you want to ask me about my personal life, you're going to hear crickets.