Talk about compelling. I scarfed this book up, basically reading the last half (of a fairly lengthy book) in one weekend. While I overall was wholly enthralled by this story of a WWII survivor - and what unbelievable situations he survived! - I do have some small issues.
a) It wasn't as great as Seabiscuit. The writing was just as phenomenal, but there was something about how spread out the story was that diluted it just the tiniest bit. Seabiscuit basically had one (okay, three) pivotal events the story was gearing us for. In this book, it's one surprise after another, and because of that it almost felt rushed in places - as if Hillenbrand wanted to get us to a particular point in the narrative sooner, just in case we were getting bored by gory (and I do mean gory) details.
b) Which is my next point - you could make the argument that this is disaster porn. Such unbelievable odds, such strength of purpose, such absolute horror - it's like watching an accident on the side of the road. You simply can't stop looking - or reading. It seems that a lot of non-fiction is just that these days. Are we all just looking for anything that will stir our blood?
c) I wonder if there were instances where more research, or at least more description of her research would have benefited the reader. There were scenes or situations where I wanted to hear more about the other side. Yes, the Japanese in wartime were some of the scariest enemies the world has ever seen. Were they the only ones? Yes, we lost a lot of good men to accidents and the like. Were we the only ones? It felt actually one-sided at times.
Also, I'll repeat what I wrote on my Goodreads review as I was still reading the book, since it's still a main reason I enjoyed this story: "Holy
crap. If I'd known that the story of the USS Indianapolis was only one
of so, so, so many heartbreaking stories of loss of life during wartime -
I mean nearly 36,000 air corps personnel died in NON battle situations
in wartime, much less how many died in combat - it's possible I would
have been less horrified and awestruck by that story. Rescue of war personnel from water was horribly
problematic until mid-1944, and even until the end of the war there was
only a 30% chance of success. And sharks? Yes, they were horrible on the
USS Indianapolis. They were horrible everywhere else, too."