The Unbreakable Laura Hillenbrand

Racked for years by a mysterious illness, the author of “Seabiscuit” and “Unbroken” has defied the odds to write indelible works of history.

Comments: 191

  1. I have read both of her books and they are both as remarkable as Wyl Hylton tries to tell us in this article. I did not know the handicaps Laura faces, and now that I do, I am completely amazed at what can only be the supernatural effort and persistence needed to produce such wonderful well written stories. I hope she writes another one and I urge everyone to read both Seabiscuit and Unbroken. It's reality based writing of the kind seldom seen, let alone, equaled.

  2. Man, i get it. I'm a writer and survivor of CFS. it's in remission. I had it for six months in 1999 and suicide looked mighty inviting. My friends and family didn't believe me or at least know how to process what I was saying. I had the sudden onset variety, the type where you feel a switch triggered in you immune system. I am a journalist and screenwriter who also got into old newspapers and Life magazines as source material. I've had shorter bouts over the years. Once in Florence, but it left quickly when I took my concoction of vitamins, and some meds I found worked through trial and error. I had joined a CFS group and was receiving their newsletter. For many years I followed the politics closely. Good book: Osler's Web explains the history in the US. Many diseases are ahead of the test for them. This is one. What an amazing woman. Looking forward to seeing the movie. Great article.

  3. That's not how illness works, and it is definitely not how CFS is alleged to work. More likely, you suffered a bout of depression and it lifted.

  4. You're wrong. That's exactly how it works. I've had ME since 1985 and have had both short remissions and exacerbations. Some people are helped by a regimen of nutritional supplements, some are not. Depression is not uncommon when you've got a chronic illness. But the depression is the result, not the cause. Unless you've walked in our shoes, be careful of making such sweeping pronouncements.

  5. Ugh, yes it can. It can lift, after a period of time - sometimes years. It does require treatment. But there are things that can mitigate it. Depression can be treated and also ruled out. MRI's of depressed brains are different from brains of those with CFS. While chronic illness of any kind causes emotional distress, it is certainly not the basis for this disease.

  6. She is a brilliant writer. As a lover of great non-fiction books, I think she is at the top of her craft. Her story is inspiring as is her writing. Thank you for this article.

  7. I first became aware of Louis Zamperini after watching the 1998 CBS documentary about his life narrated by Bob Simon. It was shown in conjunction with the 1998 Winter Olympics. It is one of the most fascinating documentaries I have ever seen and Bob Simon did a beautiful job telling Louis' story with actual interviews with Louis himself. I believe it can be found on Youtube in three parts. I was wondering if Laura Hillenbrand had seen it?

  8. A thoroughly enjoyable article about one of my favorite contemporary authors of two of my recent favorite books, Seabiscuit and Unbroken. I was saddened and surprised to learn about her illness. I do hope she continues her writing, which is direct and gloriously descriptive.

  9. I would like to express deep appreciation for Hillenbrand's extraordinary work. Unbroken was easily the best book I read in the last decade. It was so precisely crafted and gripping to the last page. In addition I was stunned by the unexpected turn of events in the last chapters. I have recommended it to all my friends and have heard nothing but praise for it.
    It is clear now that completing the book was both a labour of love and challenging on a scale few can appreciate. But the outcome of that hard work was not only a profoundly memorable reading experience but many of us thinking about our hardships through a new lens. In addition we are thinking about people in our lives who have perpetrated the suffering with a new will to extend mercy. Much good is resulting from this exceptional book written by an exceptional woman. Thank you!

  10. Thanks for this insightful article about a wonderful writer. I've had the pleasure of reading both Sea Biscuit and Unbroken. I greatly admire Ms. Hillenbrand's ability to overcome her illness to produce such gripping, fascinating and terrific books.

  11. A beautifully written interview of an extraordinary writer. Thank you....

  12. I loved this article -- an excellent writer's appreciation of an exemplary writer. A great story with quotable insights and observations throughout.

  13. Loved reading this article, I always wondered how Laura wrote a book like unbroken with CFS or as I prefer to call it M.E. now I know. I to suffer from a severe case of ME, since 94 I can so relate to her illness and her vertigo.
    Yes thats the way, I described it like walking on a boat and the room would spin so fast a few times I fell out of bed this went on for years , I got better with it but still have bouts of vertigo.
    I to was bedbound for years with M.E and yes I know how it feels to feel like you are alone losing touch with most everyone DRS not believing in the CFS and some people not believing you, its a very tough thing to go through.
    Laura I did not know you were separated from your husband so sorry.

    Mine left a year into my illness I was left bedridden to raise my two sons then 13 and 15.
    God made a way were there was not a way for me,as he did I believe for you to write your brilliant books. a gift you have there indeed .I have your book Unbroken you have a style of writing that seems to put you right there, seems so real.
    I shall be looking forward to your next book,cant wait to learn what it will be about.I am sure another best seller. Wishing you all the best Laura

  14. I hope her next story will be on Martin and Osa Johnson.

  15. I was thrilled to see that the amazingly gifted Laura Hillenbrand loves to listen to audiobooks. It's true: they give you a new appreciation of style, a new insight to rhythm and music of sentences. Lincoln, our finest writer-president, read everything aloud, even the newspaper. It was a key to understanding how the peculiar "Lincoln music" developed. The written word is the spoken word and writers who realize this produce something marvelous. And Laura Hillenbrand's marvelous prose is a marvelous gift to us.

  16. Hillenbrand is a remarkable writer. She paints a world with words that I enter and don't want to leave. I loved Seabiscuit. First, I saw the movie, then read the book - read it a few times. When I learned she had written another book, before even knowing what it was, I knew it would be first on my-next-book-to-read list. I would eagerly read anything she has written. Haven't seen the movie version of Unbroken yet. If it is half as good as the book, that would be a great movie.

    And what an inspiring person she is to find the way for her great talent to shine through her suffering.

  17. I'm reading "Unbroken" during my commute, and I'm thinking of leaving work early just so I can ride the train and keep reading. Reading it is like watching a movie, effortless and captivating. I loved learning about the author in this article because I haven't really thought much about her - I can't feel her presence in the book, and I forgot she was even "there"!

  18. "Unbroken" was written so beautifully that I have no desire to see the movie. Instead, I will protect and honor the memory of Laura Hillenbrand's written word in my mind through my reading experience. Why taint that which is so pure and so profound?

  19. The DVD of "Seabiscuit" features Laura Hillenbrand talking about the movie. She certainly didn't think her book was "tainted". Quite the contrary.

  20. Wil,

    Thank you for sharing such an amazing story! My heart breaks daily as I hear and read about the inhumanity of mankind and the isolation of illness. We are all in this human race together. We really need to live and act like we truly care. We need to BELIEVE!

    Laura captures the true essence of suffering in Unbroken and Seabiscuit because as you aptly recognized, she lives with it daily. May those living daily with illness, pain and disability be Unbroken and Invisible No More.

    Wayne Connell
    Founder & President
    Invisible Disabilities Association

  21. Written with admirable texture and insight--an inspiring essay about L. Hillenbrand.
    Thank you, Mr. Hylton.

  22. I am grateful for this article. I had heard of Hillenbrand's plight many years ago and thought "This is definiative proof of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome---no one can accuse her of being lazy. the description of the symptoms are harrowing. No other word for it.

  23. Brilliant and fascinating. This is the New York Times at its best.

  24. Thank you so much for this terrific article--Reportage rendered as compelling storytelling. Mr. Hylton, I think Ms. Hillenbrand will be very happy with this, and you proud.

  25. Sign of progress: using the syndrome name preferred by the patients who have it.

    Sign of respect: noting how Laura Hillenbrand's limitations have honed her skills. She is an exceptional person, emblematic of the fierce tribe of people living with debilitating conditions who demand to be listened to -- and treated, if possible.

    In my interviews of people living with rare disease, I found example after example of those who emerged with incredible new skills, perspective, and faith. They turn to each other for strength, insights, and technical advice regarding how to live well within their limitations (while still relying on clinicians who can focus on their areas of expertise and operate at the top of their licenses). People living with rare disease are the lead users of a new way to pursue health. As one said, "Don't pity me. Envy me."

    Thank you, Ms. Hillenbrand, for shining a light on the path.

  26. Most people I know who suffer from rare diseases seek neither pity nor envy.
    I am one of those people.Yes,I have found an online support group for a disease so rare that not only hadn’t I heard of it,but some doctors have not.We support each other in our common struggle,as we grapple for answers,see doctor after doctor seeking relief, suffer from side effects of medications that can cause cancer and other ill effects, etc. I have NEVER encountered an individual in this or other groups
    for my rare condition who expressed an attitude of “envy me”. One woman, in her agony and despair posted “Either kill me or cure me.” It sounds to me as if you
    are romanticizing rare illness. What you have posted is not borne out by those with whom I have come into contact.

  27. There were brilliant descriptive moments in Seabiscuit that took my breath away. I had to stop reading. A fantastic lyrical read. A top 10 all time favorite.

  28. This article is excellent in telling the story of the amazing Laura Hillenbrand. It is good to know that other successful writers are looking to her for tips on style and structure. That she writes at all amazes m. I like that her writing of nonfiction is so completely engrossing and reliable

  29. Beautiful, poignant article. Well-written and exhibits all of Hillenbrand's skill and grace. Thank you both.

  30. Just thank you.

  31. I don't know why so many of our greatest artists seem to suffer so much. It is one on the most inscrutable mysteries of humanity to me. All we can do is say "thank you" to authors like Hildebrand, who quietly channel brilliance and pathos and humor and sorrow into things that the rest of us can appreciate. I have no doubt that her literary efforts would be every bit as compelling were she in the peak of health, and so I will both thank her for her triumphs and wish her better health, notwithstanding.

  32. Hillenbrand. It's written in huge letters right at the top of the page: Hillenbrand.

  33. I think because, as her latest title suggests, suffering either breaks you or makes you stronger.

  34. "I don't know why so many of our greatest artists seem to suffer so much."

    To a degree, you have put the cart before the horse. In fact, with many great artists, their suffering becomes the inspiring condition for their art. I only need to name a few...Beethoven and his deafness, Van Gogh and his madness, Kafka and his existential crisis, Judy Garland and addiction, the list goes on and on.

    Of course, it goes without saying these people had genius to begin with, but without their suffering, they may not have been able to reach their full potential.

    And yes, there are also many great artists who had happy lives.

  35. I first took note of the remarkable Laura Hillenbrand's journalistic skills in her book, "Unbroken," about Louis Zamerini, because of my own interest in this Olympian and WWII survivor's fascinating life story. If I could be so bold as to suggest a future project -- this one about a public school teacher and girls' basketball coach who waged a lonely battle all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court -- I offer a little teaser here.

  36. Thank you for the link to the story about Roderick Jackson. It would indeed make an excellent book and movie.

  37. This story of her triumph is as good as the novels Laura Hillenbrand writes. It is so satisfying to read the work of someone who understands what readers search for. The Times seems able to find these people where others cannot. Congratulations!

  38. I love her books and am so inspired by her own personal story. This is a wonderful piece and as someone who has written one non-fiction book and is struggling with another right now, I so appreciated the time spent on the craft of writing non-fiction. This is a piece I will turn to again and again. I agree with the writer in this piece who said no one writes narrative non-fiction that's more compelling than Hillenbrand's two books. Helps, of course, that she chose two mind-boggling stories to tell. Thank you for this!

  39. Hillenbrand's books resonate in your heart as much as in your mind. Maybe it is because of her physical limitations--she creates worlds on her pages that carry you there, and make you a part of it.

  40. To Laura Hillenbrand. I read Unbroken shortly after it first appeared on the NY Times best seller list. In every conversation about books since then I have told people Unbroken is among the best 3 books I've read in my whole life. Lou Zamperini's story is more than remarkable. And the fact that we were also able to see a little of this man before he passed makes the story even more real. I suspect I will see the movie at some point but I a sure it will disappoint me because of how much the book touched me. My father is an 88 year old 1st generation Italian who fought in WW II. Louie reminds me of him. I am privileged to have been given the gift of reading Unbroken. You too are a hero!

  41. What are your other two favorite books (out of curiosity)? I am always looking for another good read!

  42. What an inspiration..we forget how many challenges each of us has on our paths to achieve our dreams. I thought I had a battle..she makes my own appear trivial..beautiful article.

  43. Thank you for this article. I can't get enough of info about Hillenbrand. Unbroken and Seabiscuit were thrilling to read. I got my book club to read Unbroken and we had a lively discussion. I wish Hillenbrand better health. Looking forward to her next book and the movie of Unbroken.

  44. Thank you for his sensitively written and observed article about a remarkable artist. Hillenbrand's lack of self pity of any kind is much like the subjects she writes about. Her approach to her craft is complex and delicate. Her talent has allowed millions lose themselves in new worlds and treasure their time there.
    I hope a doctor of rare disease reads this article and can solve a piece of her health puzzle. I have suffered from illness ever since I had mono at 9 years of age and again at 15. I also have nystagmus that which when activated makes work impossible. I am the youngest in a very messed up family. The youngest always have it the worst as the early years in a family's life are usually higher functioning than the final years when depression, alcoholism and marital strife have done their true damage. I believe the developing immune system of a child and teen can no doubt be permanently lowered by chronic stress. I have found a somewhat satisfying and career as a screenwriter. I never meet my subjects and rarely travel because I get too sick.
    Hillenbrand's enormous gift for story telling has let us know her better than any book tour or talk show appearance. Her legacy's a great one and like so many others I cant wait for her next book.

  45. We have some brilliant American writers, and some stand out more than others when it comes to their own life story. Laura Hillenbrand is one of these in her original work and voice.

    In 1999 I happened to be employed by the elderly toothless lion at a banking firm, once powerful and now entrenched in his office, shuffling papers and trying to invent ideas to keep busy. He placed a copy of 'Sea Biscuit' on my desk, adding 'this is a book for everyone even if one is not interested in horse racing'. He was right and recently I used it as my best speech for an international workshop.

    While thinking of the courage of the people in this true story, I never forget the author standing tall behind them. I remember that she was ill when writing this outstanding book of hers and have wondered how she is feeling today.

    One often hears that a person is a source of inspiration, but Hillenbrand meets the epitome of the term. Brilliant, of course, but more, she gives hope to many of us who are struggling and trailing behind, and it was wonderful that Wil Hylton wrote this article of her unbreakable spirit.

    Sending her my warm appreciation for giving this person hope, and wishing her much comfort and warmth because she does in reality make this world a better place for many of us who find it difficult at times to pursue their goals, pulling us through obstacles that one encounters even at the best of times. Roses and Hats Off to Hillenbrand!

  46. I miss reading the good articles she used to write for EQUUS magazine.

  47. M.L. farmer,
    We have a love for our horses and when little, I wanted to be one. Whether Laura, you or I will ride again is always a possibility. 'Sea Biscuit' which I read after going to Belmont to watch the ponies run, and a favorite jockey Patrick Day would usually bring in his horse, taught me a lot after reading Hillenbrand's masterpiece. It made me understand much better what a difficult and courageous sport it entails, and the endurance of both man and horse it takes to go down the track together at a fast clip.

    One of the darkest stories ever written of a racehorse, in his own words, is that of 'Sweet William' by John Hawkes. Ms. Hillenbrand and you may wish to check the reviews first if you haven't read it, and thanks for bringing to my attention Laura's articles for EQUUS Magazine which I plan to go in search now.

  48. Thank you for this wonderful article about one of my favorite authors. I have been longing for her to write another book and the mere promise of a new book is exciting news.

  49. Bravo, Mr. Hylton, what an excellent piece on a beautiful writer. Thank you!

  50. Laura's CFS sounds like it could be undiagnosed Lyme Disease. I wonder if she has been tested or read about fellow author, Amy Tan's, experience with Lyme. If anyone reading has access to Laura, I would urge her to be tested by a Lyme Literate Medical Doctor (LLMD).

    Many of the symptoms described in the article are also symptoms of Lyme Disease. Just something to consider and an avenue to explore on the road to better health.

    Thanks for writing, Laura. Was just telling some friends yesterday that Seabiscuit is one of my all-time favorite books!

  51. Lyme occurred to me, too.
    A fantastic article and I hope Ms. Hillenbrand achieves good health. Her writing is spectacular.

  52. exactly my thought - Lyme Disease.

  53. @JasonG609
    The LAST thing that any CFS patient needs is another well-intended ignorant suggestion. Ms Hillenbrand has been sick for 27 years: do you really think that she never heard of Lyme Disease?
    I urge all commenters to refrain from medical advice on something they cannot comprehend unless they, or a close family member, suffer from CFS.

  54. Good story. I have been interested in L Hillenbrand after reading Seabiscuit and learning of her health problem. My thought's questions have been answered. Thank you NYT and Wil.

  55. Every time I read about CFS (or M.E.), I wonder what happens to patients who lack the financial resources to keep paying for life's necessities when they can't work or even care for themselves. Hillenbrand must have a housekeeper, someone to buy her groceries, someone to help wash her hair. Someone must have bought her computer and shown her how to use it. Granted, she has a formidable talent and that shines through admirably. I just can't help thinking of people lacking her advantages who somehow must manage to live with CFS / M.E.

  56. What the hell does that have to do with this article? In case you missed the point, its about a talented writer who has an illness.

  57. Yes, I do the same. Much of the everyday of life is left out in most magazine and newspaper writing. I freelanced for national magazines in the 1990s, but could only afford to do so by managing an apartment complex in Berkeley. Freelance writing rarely pays the bills. Yet that is almost never brought up when freelance writers are talked about. Consider Sabrina Ederley, the Rolling Stone contributor in hot water about the University of Virginia rape story that has shown to have many factual errors. Her bio shows she publishes maybe three magazine features a year. But, ah, she's married to a lawyer. So that is how it is possible. I have written these same types of stories where the reality details of how a person finances their bliss, as it were, are left out. But I do always wonder -- how can they make a living at it, or how do they afford that house and so on. I would have liked to know more how Hillenbrand is able to live her life.

  58. Kathy, there's no need to be angry. There's nothing wrong with expressing compassion to those in similar situations, and that is relevant.

  59. Thanks for this article.
    I can't wait to read her next book.

  60. I know her books have had great success, but I wish even more people would read them. They are a just a joy to immerse oneself in and envelop you in the world of the people whom which she writes. They are so few, which is understandable with her illness, and I am in awe that she can manage such deep storytelling based on the restrictions she has.
    I have seen the screen adaptations of "Seabiscuit" and "Unbroken." While I appreciate the efforts, they still fall short of the books. I hope the movies and this piece may stir people to read the books in which they are based.

  61. Sometimes beings like Seabiscuit, Mr. Zamparelli and even Ms. Hillenbrand are blessed with towering Olympic-sized talents. Then, life drops them an equal amount of overwhelming barriers and obstacles. All seems lost. Thankfully, some souls are so remarkable, they can fashion themselves around utterly bleak circumstances. Thankfully for all of us, Ms. Hillenbrand is a remarkable storyteller, and one of her superpowers is rescuing the stories of those kindred spirits.

  62. Her words seem powerful and sparse. Her disease appears to put a brake on any verbosity and make her maintain close focus on her story. I have noticed a similar speaking tendency in people with COPD, etc.

    Very fascinating article and I immediately recommended it to my wife.

  63. A year ago, in the midst of one of the most challenging years of my life, vertigo crept up and for only a brief period mercifully, seemed to take over. My work was physical, requiring me to drive, operate an unfamiliar machine in tight quarters, climb ladders and work overhead. It is impossible to convey with words the sense of disorientation, the helplessness and anxiety. I had to work. My wife and I were putting everything on the line, failure would have been complete and devastating. I took ill advised and foolish risks in hindsight, never knowing when my depth perception would disappear, replace by overwhelming double vision and a spinning world. As a lover of the written word and those whole craft it well it is nothing less than a miracle that Ms. Hillenbrand can author a shopping list let alone 2 literary master works. The work alone is awe inspiring, the way it came into being is beyond words.

  64. Once, in the '70's, I had the fortunate experience of meeting Zamperini in Los Angeles. I was taking a class, and one of my professors aranged the meeting for myself and a few other classmates. I didn't realize then how much of a gift the meeting was, likely it seems, due to Zamperini's genuine humility.
    I look forward to reading the book and watching the movie!

  65. I have read Seabiscuit and Unbroken and wow those are books one wants to read slowly to savor the contents. Ms. Hillenbrand has a talent readers like myself really savor - I now have 4 books on my reading desk.

    I know Ms. Hillenbrand has had the best medical care available but let me suggest something. She is obviously an outdoor person and I have had several friends who had precisely the same symptoms and one for one woman it took 18 years to diagnose her CFS as Lyme's disease. Another good friend literally went to specalists all over the USA and was finally diagnosed.

    Please Ms. Hillenbrand - I hope your physicians have tested for Lyme disease. From a very good friend - David, here is what he suggests:

    Get a Borrelia Culture which is a long blood culture test provided by Advanced Labs and they will send a kit to your physician and he/she will draw blood and overnight it to Advanced Labs and they are located in Philadelphia.

    David was infected on a beach directly across from where the USDA was testing Lyme's disease in cattle and wild deer swam to the island, got infected and now literally thousands of people have had to contend with Lyme's disease. David lived in Old Lyme CT and now lives in Atlanta.

    If you would like to talk to David directly, have the NYT contact me through my email which they have.

    Best wishes - we want you to continue to write and write and I will see the movie, Unbroken.


  66. You mean well, I am sure -- but Ms. Hillenbrand is a very wealthy, successful author and has sold two bestsellers to the movies. She doesn't lack for medical care and expertise, I feel very certain.

  67. I have been in healthcare for over 30 years and am only offering Lyme's disease as a possibility. I have known many people who have suffered for years from Lyme's and only diagnosed after many years of suffering. One of those friends is also very wealthy and he literally traveled all over the US before being correctly diagnosed.

    This is just a possibility and I would not be able to sleep well if I did not offer this option.

    One thing I have learned in my 30+ years in healthcare, you and you alone and close friends are the people who must take responsibility for your healthcare.


  68. Good advice. But it's "Lyme" disease, not "Lyme's". Sorry, but that always bugs me (no pun intended).

  69. I have no interest in horses or racing, but Seabiscuit has been one of the most compelling and best-written books I've ever read. I almost couldn't put it down. Ms. Hill entrant is a genius and my heart goes out to her as she lives with such a debilitating illness. Despite this, she has given us all so much, and I say "thank you!".

  70. Interesting that no mention is made of the 28-year-long marriage that surely impacted Ms. Hillenbrand and her writing. For me, this story fails on account of its absence. If the story is about her emotional resilience and the affect of her illness on her ability to create her wonderful books, surely her marriage must have challenged and changed her during these same years of writing.

  71. I am sure she doesn't wish to talk about it publicly. I do know from previous articles about her, that her husband cared for her very extensively over a very long period of time, even before they married.

    I was divorced almost 25 years ago, and I can still barely manage to talk about it, even very brief technical terms -- and thats after a very happy remarriage and children. Divorce is one of the most painful things a human being can endure.

  72. Seems to me that the passing mention of her recently dissolved marriage was mention enough. My thought is that she might have specifically called that part of her life off limits for this interview/article.

    Bravo to all for this extraordinary account of an extraordinary person.

  73. I still think it's a great article, but I was puzzled by that as well. It may well be that it's too painful for her to talk about, but the author could have just said that. Still, maybe Hillenbrand asked her not to, either because even that fact feels to private or to not inflict guilt on her ex- or worry friends or family.

  74. Thank you for this poignant and inspiring story. My wonderfully talented granddaughter was struck down with a mysterious illness, evidently triggered by Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease). Like Ms. Hillenbrand, she had a sudden feverish illness during her first semester at college, and routine tests revealed the presence of Lyne disease. The acute infection passed, but she has been basically bedridden ever since.

    For years the medical profession, including the CDC refused to fund research into ME, having concluded that the symptoms of chronic fatigue were mostly psychological. Thankfully, that changed a few years ago so that research can go forward on this devastating illness.

    Ms. Hillenbrand is a wonderful role model for those devastated by this terrible chronic illness.

  75. The CDC used research funds that were supposed to be used for CFS for other illnesses. One was acne! It took a whistleblower to expose this heinous crime. The CDC didn't believe it was a real illness. Years were lost while people suffered. Again, more women than men, making this a less important disease.

    Living with CFS is a constant challenge. Little by little you lose your life as you knew it. Work is impossible; relationships crumble. Money is a constant source of worry. When friends who say, "I get fatigue too, " you know they don't have a clue what you're experiencing.

    It's impossible to explain that the fatigue one has with CFS is not normal fatigue. One is too wired and tired to sleep. When sleep eventually comes it's non refreshing sleep. Pain can be a constant; different organ systems are affected.

    I can't imagine what Laura Hillenbrand could accomplish if she were healthy. I hope someday we'll know.

  76. I'm thrilled to see this article on Hillebrand's challenges as a writer with CFS because it gives more credence to an illness that afflicts millions but is often dismissed as psychosomatic. I've managed over the past 20 years to write several well-received books while dealing with a similarly mysterious ailment, multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS), also known as environmental illness, which renders me intolerant of small amounts of environmental toxins and likewise affects my cognitive abilities. As with Hillebrand my devotion, to the creative process has prevailed thus far, but I never know when my wits will fail me, and I make the best use I can of those periods of lucidity that are available to me. I salute her dedication to her work.

  77. Nice comment, but I want to pick on the word "mysterious." The world is replete with chemicals that are human-made or used by humans in unprecedented ways and amounts without being adequately tested. I don't think it's mysterious at all that some people are more reactive to or badly affected by this massive stew of substances. What is called CFS is somewhat more mysterious, but many people suspicious of CFS start with the ridiculous premise that medical science is advanced enough to detect the causes of all illnesses. Even when I had a famous neurologist tell me that "we have adults in the hospital in diapers and don't have a diagnosis." If what passes for civilization manages to hang on for another 50 years, the current medical views of CFS, MCS, etc. will surely be regarded as primitive and laughable.

  78. You may want to look into Mast Cell Activation Disorder. It's a relatively new diagnosis that provides a clinical foundation for MCS.

  79. This ailment is only "mysterious" because it is in many people's interests -- pecuniary, egomaniacal, corrupt and other -- to make it seem so. Ditto problems with modern chemicals, molds and fungi, and more.

    Ms. Hillenbrand's disease was identified as one with severe immune system dysfunction in 1987 -- nearly 30 years ago -- by a Harvard-led group of physicians. The research was published in a peer-reviewed medical journal. Interested parties at the National Institutes of Health drowned that and other significant scientific data with outpourings of psychobabble for the next quarter centrury, even re-naming the obviously neuro-immune disease -- from the accurately descriptive "Myalgic Encephalomyeliti to the misleading and dismissive "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome." There is no mystery here, no controversy, as often stated by scantily informed observers. Rather, there have been ill deeds aimed at protecting a variety of pecuniary interests to the great harm of Ms. Hillenbrand and one million other American citizens.

  80. Thanks for this wonderful article, this is why I subscribe to the NYT. I have three friends with chronic illnesses. Two treat it as a blessing and one fights it so hard she relapses constantly by overdoing. One who is doing well told me it was the best thing that ever happened to her because she no longer does anything which is not deeply meaningful to her. She dropped clients she did not enjoy working with. The healthier ones very carefully budget their energy as Laura clearly does. Unbroken could be a title to a book about Laura as well.

  81. This was a sensitive exploration of the interior workings of a brilliant writer, but moreover, of a self. While Ms. Hillenbrand must spend her life struggling with the simplest tasks we all take for granted, rather than lying in bed and becoming a shut in, she brings her readers into her interior space with such grace, and without a trace of the struggle she undoubtably must undergo, just to get up everyday and take care of her body.

    When reading "Seabiscuit" I was so aware of the parallel lives of Ms. Hillenbrand and the jockey Red. As he lay in the hospital bed, crippled from a near fatal fall, he must listen to the race of a lifetime between his horse and the gigantic, War Admiral, run with another jockey on his horse. He cannot bear witness to the race in person, and has only the radio to bring the world to him in his hospital room.

    Certainly, in these works we are hearing some of Ms. Hillenbrand's own internal experience of confinement. She mirrors her own identification with both characters as they navigate their small patch of earth. In spite of the deck they have been dealt, they are survivors, as is she. We the readers, are all made richer for it.

  82. War Admiral was depicted as being 18 hands (gigantic) in the Seabiscuit movive. In fact he was only 15.3 hands (one hand = 4 inches). The average Thoroughbred is 16 hands. Seabiscuit was 15.2 hands.

  83. Re: ".... he must listen to the race of a lifetime between his horse and the "gigantic", War Admiral, run with another jockey on his horse." Wonderfully expressed comment paula shatsky! But, I wasn't sure how you meant gigantic when describing War Admiral; he was a giant, as in legendary, but he was a smallish race horse/thoroughbred.

    "Contrary to his portrayal in the most recent movie about Seabiscuit, based on Laura Hillenbrand’s wonderful book of the same name, War Admiral was a small, brown colt who at 3 yrs. stood slightly over 15.2 hands. Clearly, the decision in the movie to depict him as a Titan was a kind of figurative gesture, calculated to add suspense, while indicating to those movie-goers unfamiliar with thoroughbred racing history that “The Admiral” was a champion of giant-esque proportions.
    And that he was." excerpted from:

  84. i loved both of her books and she is really a remarkable writer (and researcher). Since I read Unbroken, I can't count how many people I have recommended it to. It is not only an amazing story, but a piece of history that everyone should know. I look forward to whatever she comes out next. Though since she hasn't started it yet, I am disappointed to learn that I will have to wait a while!

  85. Thank you Mr. Hylton for this article - all the personal information on each of individuals was very enjoyable.

  86. The problem with this article is that it suggests that if a disorder has a psychological basis it means that it isn't "real." In fact, there is far more evidence that major depression and schizophrenia result from changes in the brain than does the disorder from which Ms. Hillenbrand suffers. How can it be that they aren't real but what she has is? And the physician who says it was all considered hysterical when he went to medical school must have gone to a pretty lousy school if that was how illnesses were viewed.

  87. Steve, the point is that this condition is a real bodily illness, in the sense that activity and exertion actually make you very ill, they don't just make you "think" that you are ill because of a psychological disorder. If it were the latter, then psychological treatments or medicines that affect emotion and cognition should help. But they don't, because the extreme physical disability is very real. We don't know the precise source of the disability, but there is clear research evidence of immunological and mitochondrial abnormalities. It matters a great deal how illnesses are categorized and understood. If we call it psychological, even with the greatest respect for that category of illness, and it isn't, we can't find treatments or a cure. One of the greatest cruelties of this illness is that misapprehension, which patients perceive is caused largely by its ridiculous name. The virulent prejudice against the sufferers (happily relatively absent in the comments here) would probably have never arisen if the name "chronic fatigue syndrome" had never been attached to it. It's a brutal illness even without the stigma.

  88. The problem with labelling diseases as psychological when they are not is because it impacts research and treatment. It's not that psychiatric or psychological diseases are any less "real". For example, for decades, stomach ulcers were thought to be due to "stress" so patients were treated with relaxation, antacids, etc. yet many continued to be plagued by symptoms. Finally, Dr. Barry Marshall showed that many cases were due to a bacteria; nowadays, instead of telling people to "just relax", we can treat them with 2 weeks of antibiotics and a H2 blocker and they're cured. However, it took Dr. Marshall more than a decade, a move to the US, being ostracized by other clinicians/ scientists, and self-experimentation (he swollowed a vial of bacteria) to finally recognize this. He won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his efforts. Think about the millions of people who had to suffer for decades, some being labelled as Type A personalities erroneosly and subjected to psychological treatments, before we finally found out we were wrong.

  89. We must not separate body and mind from each other.
    Its all one package.
    It appears all dis-eases have both emotional and physical components operating on many levels.
    The body mind is complicated and no two people are exactly the same.

  90. Excellent! All of you out there whose parents, teachers, doctors and other authority figures tell you that there is nothing wrong with you (you would really rather sleep than be awake, you just feel sorry for yourself, that pain can't be real, etc.) -REMEMBER LAURA. And Laura, thank you for your books and for your example.

  91. The theme that unites Unbroken and Seabiscuit is the power of the American dream -- work hard enough and you can overcome all obstacles to success. I just saw a poll that suggested that the Dream is dead. Only a small percent of Americans today believe that those born poor can get to the top. Apparently, we have great nostalgia for a time when the Dream was alive and well. Ms. Hillenbrand's books are not only highly readable, they also remind us of a time we sorely miss.

  92. I've always been surprised that "Unbroken" gets so much acclaim. The prose is clunky and forced. And the actual events are so obviously embellished. I don't think you can call it "literary non-fiction." "Fictionalized non-fiction" would be more accurate. I guess the whole evangelical Christian thing goes a long, long way in this country, and combine that with a hopeful, patriotic story and you've got a bestseller plus a movie.

  93. You are certainly entitled to dislike the book, but claiming that "actual events are so obviously embellished" is an outrageous claim to make, unless you can substantiate it with specific examples and your proof. If not, I daresay your dislike of the book is masking some other agenda you aren't admitting to. Or, from the balance of your comment, perhaps you are.

  94. Excellent piece, very well written about a fabulous author. Thank you. This is a perfect example of why the NYT remains my only source of news.

  95. I've read both Seabiscuit and Unbroken several times each for the sheer pleasure of Hillenbrand's gorgeous style and her ability to articulate so many amazing and almost eerily synchronistic metaphors that make these stories almost a spiritual experience. And thank you, Will S. Hylton, for writing this great article. A particular paragraph brought tears to my eyes, about Hillenbrand's social rejection during the initial stages of her illness. I hope all families think twice about abandoning or ridiculing or holding a struggling family member in contempt because they don't understand what's going on. This is the paragraph that moved me so:
    "Even her mother wasn’t sure what to believe. “She was not supportive, and that was the hardest thing of all,” Hillenbrand told me. “When almost everyone in your world is looking down on you and condemning you for bad behavior, it’s very hard not to let that point of view envelop you, until you start to feel terrible about yourself. I just began to feel such deep shame, because I was the target of so much contempt.”

    But maybe that personal suffering helped Hillenbrand empathize so deeply with the underdog/come back stories of a little horse with a big heart and a POW who refused to give up.

  96. After I read Unbroken I went out and bought Seabiscuit, even though I had seen the movie three times. If someone can write that well I don't care if I already know the story, I want another journey with her leading the the way.

  97. I read Seabiscuit before it was made into a movie, and watched the famous match race on Youtube. That was it -- no need to see the movie, which couldn't possibly show me anything I hadn't seen in Hillenbrand's book. Her writing is better than a movie, and it lasts longer.

  98. And you know the movie couldn't possible show you anything you hadn't seen is because . . . ???

    Why not watch the movie. Then you can say it didn't show you anything you hadn't seen. With a tad more credibility.

  99. I agree with the other commentators. I have been trying for four years to get people to read Unbroken. I just wanted to add kudos to Erik Madigan Heck for the great portrait he did of Hillenbrand for the New York Times!

  100. Very interesting article. Laura has made lemonade from the lemon of her affliction. We are so fortunate. It's interesting to note that the story of Luis Zamporini was on the back side of a news article on Seabiscuit... and that initially piqued Laura's interest. But I gather from the article that it was also about understanding her own father that also interested Laura in Luis Zamporini.

    I hope there's a cure for Laura and all others who suffer from this disease.

    It's because of articles such as this and the Opinion columns and commenters that I continue to subscribe to the NYTimes.

  101. If everyone had Hillenbrand's sheer will power to conquer the tests of living, think what this world could be.

    Thank you, Laura Hillenbrand, for being nothing less than inspiring.

  102. Wonderful, beautifully written article. I have also read both books as well as articles about Laura Hillenbrand. The subject matter of her books as well as the author are truly remarkable.

  103. Other authors must marvel at this wonderful storyteller. Two books, two classic pieces of history. What a talent.

  104. By the time I got to the end of this article, the name of one other great writer popped in my mind...Franz Kafka. He was another writer to whom life dealt a difficult hand, and for him writing was an enormous difficulty, so much so that towards death, he ordered his trusted friend, Max Brod, to burn all his unpublished work, because he could not stand the idea of their being published. Fortunately for us, Max Brod disobeyed him.

    So, like Kafka, Ms. Hillenbrand belongs to that small fraternity of writers who were so devoted to their craft that none of their personal difficulties could stop them from writing what they needed to write.

    Please compare that to the whole army of trash writers today who grind out book after book for cash and fame, but leave nothing to posterity.

  105. Wonderful to read an intelligent article which touches, peripherally, on the mental and psychologic impact of chronic disease. This type of mental illness obviously impacts many people in many ways, and it is cheering to see someone achieve so much despite the attendant challenges.

  106. I will refer commenter MD to the NY Times article last month which rebuts characterization of CFS as a "mental illness." The article below is only one of many recent studies firmly establishing CFS as a medical, not mental condition. Yes, like all serious chronic medical illnesses, CFS sufferers can have mental illness as a secondary condition. Who wouldn't seeing their lives ruined by the ravages of daily painful debilitating disease?

    "In the most recent study, published by the journal Radiology, researchers at Stanford University compared brain images of 15 patients with the condition to those of 14 healthy people. The scientists found differences in both the white matter, the long, cablelike nerve structures that transmit signals between parts of the brain, and the gray matter, the regions where these signals are processed and interpreted.

    "The most striking finding was that in people with the disorder, one neural tract in the white matter of the right hemisphere appeared to be abnormally shaped, as if the cablelike nerve structures had crisscrossed or changed in some other way. Furthermore, the most seriously ill patients exhibited the greatest levels of this abnormality."

  107. Of course, I wasn't characterizing CFS as mental illness per se, but clearly Ms. Hillenbrand has suffered mental consequences from her chronic symptoms. As the Radiology study cited in the above comment, there are neurologic changes documented in some of these patients; it is unsurprising that mental problems may result, primarily or secondarily.

  108. Scamper, scamper MD! You did indeed say, ..."this type of mental illness..." When referring to her illness. Have the courage of your convictions! And then apologize if you truly think you are wrong, or defend your scientific understandings.

  109. Miss Hillenbrand paints the most vivid and beautiful pictures with her words. Thank you for writing about this brilliantly talented writer, and giving us a picture of the woman behind the words.

  110. Well if this is not nominated for a Pulitzer there is no justice in the World. What a great way to start my day. Thank you.

  111. Unfortunately, there is very little justice in the World.

  112. Hillenbrand is a truly exceptional writer & I've loved her books. She has an extraordinary talent; it's even more remarkable given that she's a shut in.

    That being said: it is painfully clear to me that CFS (or ME) are not real diseases. That they are now treated as anything more than psychological or depression, is because of media and the pleas of patients -- who require things like SSDI to get money to sustain themselves. It is part of their illness to require victimhood and affirmation.

    This is a similar to Jenny McCarthy, claiming that vaccines cause autism. Unproven, unchallenged yet media just laps it up. It makes for asympathetic story -- the problem is that it's not true. It fails every scientific standard.

    Does Hillenbrand feel ill? No doubt. She's been in BED for 30 years. Have you ever had an awful bout of flu or bronchitis? After a few weeks, you're disoriented & weak, and have vertigo. Now imagine staying in bed for YEARS on end.

    It is notable with such illnesses, that the patients can always manage to do the things they like (or are good at) on "their good days", which come and go at their own discretion. That would never occur with a REAL illness; it could not be managed like that.

    As fine a writer as I find Lauren Hillenbrand, I cannot help but wonder what amazing books she will never write, due to her illness. (Note: a mental illness is a real as a physical one, but they should not be confused.)

  113. Great article. I read both books and loved every sentence of them. Laura's ailment has its own mystery, challenges and despair. Whatever this illness is it would be nice to find coping that would allow her to continue writing. Perhaps talking with a professional person by phone would help her explore her own feelings. It seems from this article that she may be mirroring her dads emotional valence which, in my opinion, might be keeping her a hostage to the feelings associated with chronic illness. All that being said my hat is off to her accomplishments and riveting stories.

  114. I'm sure she has frequently been advised to explore her feelings, particularly by those who don't believe in this as a physical illness.

  115. Julia: it does indeed require "belief"

  116. Jake,
    In search of belief, one could begin by praying. This reminds me of an elderly Iraqi friend who invited me over today, and asked is 'Christianity dead?'. No, was my reply, but perhaps we have lost some of our Humanity in this age we live in, and we both agreed that it is a comfort at times to sit quietly in a small church somewhere. She didn't know why it gave her solace and yet it has helped many people that we knew, when working together in the international community.

  117. Hylton does for Hillenbrand what she did for a horse and a POW. They come alive in vivid prose. I always wondered what Hillenbrand's story was, since reading her books. Now I know. Please, Laura, hurry with he next.

  118. I say, she is the personification of her book's title, "Unbroken".
    Bravo, and a very deep bow, with a great sense of gratitude, for her not surrendering such a gigantic talent to illness. Can't begin to imagine what a battle she must wage daily. I wish her the best.

  119. Hoping, praying and - dare I say - begging for Hollywood to have done justice to Laura's excellent narrative of Louie's incredible and storied life. We will find out next week upon the movie's release.

  120. Fascinating to hear about the way Hillenbrand's limitations, because of her disease, become strengths, as a researcher. I think this shows that there can be an indirect but significant element of the author's experiences even in a work that is ostensibly focused on the story rather than style or voice.

    Still, for her sake, I hope that she somehow recovers... This sounds like a terrible illness.

  121. I have read both Seabiscuit and Unbroken and loved them. As for the illness that has plagued her since her early 20's might be a form a depression unfortunately. She is such a great writer and thankful she has been able to share her talent with the world.

  122. It is not a form of depression.

  123. CFS is not depression. Depression can be screened out. Brains of depressed people look different from those suffering from CFS, an organic, devastating disease. Symptoms vary in individuals. Some have more body fatigue but the mind works well. Others have more cognitive complaints but can manage physically pretty well. Laura is a treasure and a hero.

  124. The two have some symptoms in common, mainly fatigue--but fatigue is a symptom of a thousand diseases and disorders so that doesn't say much. And honestly her symptoms on the whole sound very different from depression as most people I know (including myself) have experienced it.

  125. This is a superb and moving tribute to a truly talented author. As one who never went to a horse race, I nevertheless read SEABISCUIT and am still raving about it and recommending it to people. I recently reserved UNBROKEN at the library but when I obtained it wondered whether, considering the movie, I should take the time to read it. How wrong I was! You are drawn immediately into the life of Zamperini. The author continues to cast her magical literary spell. What is so additionally moving is her ability to write so brilliantly considering her medical problems. I hope one day someone will write The Laura Hillenbrand Story!

    Thank you again. This article is one to be kept and re-savored over the years.

  126. This remarkable story of Laura Hillenbrand working while house bound, reminds me of Francis Parkman, another famous historian, who wrote books like the Oregon Trail as a blind man in a garret in Massachusetts.

  127. I found the Hillenbrand's use of remote phone interviews and listening to audio books to be insightful. My assistant reads books for the center for the blind. I have listened to several of the books in their library, old titles, and many were outstanding. Listening to the written word definitely has had an effect on my appreciation of language and writing.

    I wish Wil S. Hylton would have told us more about Hillenbrand's quotidian life and process. I'd like to know if Hillenbrand uses a special diet, supplements or coffee to improve her creativity or productivity. I'm a creative guy, and when I feel enervated I am worthless.

  128. What an amazing story. Thank you Hylton and NY Times.

    I wonder what Hillenbrand would say if some one asked her if she would give up the never ending illnesses insulting her body in exchange for brilliant stories. She reminds me of Stephen Hawing in that regard. It took a deadly illness to make him sit down and use his mind. I suppose only Hillenbrand and Hawking can answer that question.

  129. So you think Hawking's and Hillenbrand's geniuses are due to their illnesses?

    Hawking was a real promising scientist at Cambridge before he became wheel chair bound.

  130. Hillenbrand wrote a haunting article in the New Yorker about 10 years ago entitled, "A Sudden Illness". It is about the onset of her CFS. I still think about aspects of that article today, like I do with aspects of her excellent books. Something about her storytelling sticks with you.

  131. I also read the New Yorker Magazine article in October 2004. I clipped it and put the article in front of the hardback edition of SEABIUSCUIT my husband bought me the next day. It is the best book I've ever read. I've shared it with book clubs and avid readers. Hillenbrand is a gift to us - as are her books. Her illness may not be understood, but her writing can't be misdiagnosed by any of us who have read her books and become lost in the narrative. She is a treasure.

  132. There is something here that does not quite match up with the characterization of Hillenbrand as a vertigo-affected, wan, pathologically weak, homebound invalid. She is described as muscular and fit, with excellent posture, as a result of yoga and physical therapy. But a physical yoga practice requires strength, balance and endurance. I suffer bouts of vertigo (related to migraine), and neuralgia and chronic pain (spinal injuries), and when all that is going full blast I have to suspend my yoga practice. So that small but important detail rang false.

    Now, I admit that I came to this article with some prejudice. I have known many people (all women, which is interesting), over many years, who claim to be CFS sufferers. My experience with these women has made me dubious about whether the "syndrome" is physical or psychological. Some of the behavior patterns, psychological and emotional baggage, and personality details of the women I know are very similar to those of Hillenbrand. I have my doubts about whether CFS is a physical disease. After reading this profile, I wonder whether the reporter had those doubts as well.

  133. Like too many others, your comments reveal your ignorance about CFS. First educate yourself, then you can comment about this horrible, biologically based disease. Maybe if there were more than token research funding, real progress could be made toward effective treatment.

  134. Why would a young lady who was overjoyed to be
    in college -playing tennis and being happy suddenly trump up a psychological reason to retire from health ? Sounds genuine enough to me...and writing of such scrupulosity and mastery would not evolve in a con artist...

  135. Oh come on! What a nasty and uncalled for attack on people suffering from a debilitating illness. I note particularly that you attack women. Nice.

  136. Isn't breathtaking how far the mind can go despite bodily limitations? She reminds me a bit of Jean Dominique Bauby and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. What a complete inspiration!

  137. I read both of her books and she really is a terrific writer. Simply unique.

    In Unbroken, she thanked her researchers in Japan but did not print their names. She said the reason was that many Japanese do not accept what their country did in WWII, so mentioning her researcher's names would put their lives in danger. That tells you all you need to know about Japan.

  138. Fantastic article. I couldn't help thinking of Hilary Mantel (author of Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Dead, etc.) who also had a life-altering illness that shaped her writing...

  139. I have followed Laura Hillenbrand's writing for more than 30 years, dating to the time when she wrote a regular column in Equus Magazine. Even then she suffered the discomfort of her debilitating health condition, yet never failed to capture the readers' interest with quality compositions. Seabiscuit and Unbroken likewise are exceptional. I can only wish Ms. Hillenbrand the best health possible, and a lengthy writing career. She is a national treasure.

  140. I have read both your books Laura- and have to say you rival Poe for descriptive creativity...God bless you :)

  141. As a fellow sufferer of CFS, Laura Hillenbrand has been a role model in more ways than one. Her ability to adapt to her limitations and create a life as an author is inspiring and sends the positive message rarely heard when discussing chronic illness, that you can live a full and prosperous life despite the many challenges of chronic illness. It just may be different than what you pictured. I also wanted to point out that memory problems and recall are a significant problem in people suffering from CFS. I often have had problems reading, remembering sentences I just read, recalling and retaining information which makes Ms. Hillenbrand's attention to detail and extensive research even more impressive. Finally, I have to address comments that don't believe CFS exists. If you don't have CFS, don't talk about it. You don't know. Saying CFS is a form of depression is like telling a blind person they can see if they just wear their glasses. Many people with CFS are bedridden and in extreme pain 24 hours a day with the inability to sleep, walk, and function normally. Certainly that would make anyone depressed and create "emotional baggage" but that's not the cause and the symptoms of CFS and depression are not the same. Do your research. As difficult as it is to have CFS, it is equally difficult having to fight off people who "don't believe in it". It's not Santa Claus.

  142. Interesting to read about the author and what was the new journalistic style - which I'd been unaware of. The act of reading a book is remarkable - the awareness of what goes on, in your mind as it happens, from words on a page. I don't think it could be the same with audio books. Any guesses to what Hilldenbrand's new book will be about?

  143. A book that is well-written in a style that allows the aural process to enrich the reader/listener's experience can be even MORE rewarding than simply reading the book. It requires the right material, a reader who "fits" the topic/era and is capable of rendering description and character equally vividly.
    Try the amazing history/biography "The Boys in the Boat", mentioned in this article. It is about the Washington Univeristy rowing team that won the '36 Olympics--but it is so much more than that...I found the narrator to be especially suited to the material because I had already seen him playing FDR--
    It is as rewarding as "Seabiscuit" which is a pleasure to read, listen to, and teach from.....
    Great audio books are the undiscovered joy of reading.

  144. @TexasReader. Since you're in Texas, I'll give you a pass but as a University of Washington alumna, please don't confuse the UW with our arch-rivals, Washington University. The book is about the a UW crew team. (Go Huskies!)

  145. Wow. Superb piece - you've brought this brave, determined woman to vivid life. I must read her books and hope she creates another.

    I have a friend with this terrible mysterious illness. It takes courage to live with it let alone triumph. How I pray that we learn more about it and hopefully find effective treatment!

  146. After Seabiscuit was published Laura Hillenbrand was interviewed on NPR, and the audio recording of the great race between War Admiral and Seabiscuit was played. I remember noting the emotion in her voice as she described what was happening in the race as the underdog (horse) Seabiscuit won. She had to pause to collect herself. I knew then I had to read the book that this writer put her soul in, and did. Still one of my favorites. Keep writing, Laura...thank you.

  147. Dave,
    Understand because when preparing to give a short speech to an international group of colleagues on how the race between Sea Biscuit and War Admiral, based on Laura Hillenbrand's magnificent description of how America came to a halt for a few moments and every radio was turned on, including F.D.R., my voice was already trembling.

    But I managed to give this speech in the end, my face bright red with emotion, jumping up and down with emotion, waving my arms and feeling passionate, all thanks to Hillenbrand's way of making one feel back in time, and attending this historical event during The Great Depression.

  148. I am a big fan of Miss Hillenbrand and this was a beautiful piece to read. Thank you!

  149. Seabiscuit is one of the best books I've ever read. Though I love horses, the story is so much more than an underdog Thoroughbred. Thank you, Ms. Hillenbrand, for making the folks behind Seabiscuit come alive again. And thank you, Mr. Hylton for a glimpse into the author's world and her spirit.

  150. I realize this article appeared in as a Health item and not in the books section. And at the risk of being torched by subsequent comments:

    Wow, I guess I've got to re-read Seabiscuit. It was recommended to me by a colleague, who said it was a great read and knew I was a racing fan. Somehow, I expected even a work of popular history to be aimed at an audience with a higher level of reading comprehension. I didn't anticipate the quality of an Edith Wharton, but Seabiscuit suffered from what a lot of popular history tomes do: pedestrian writing. Volumes by Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough set the popular history standard for me: well documented and written to engage the reader willing to invest some mental energy. [Please don't bring up the plagiarism controversies of Ms Goodwin--she obviously employs a research staff.]

  151. Why isn't there more written and said about this luminous author - and her masterpiece, Unbroken? Hillenbrand writes of genuine heroes - not the false ones in politics or the plastic ones on film.

  152. Thank you, Ms. Hillenbrand, for your service to great storytelling.

  153. Thank you for this enlightening article. What tribute to Ms. Hillenbrand. I have had several women friends who suffered from chronic fatigue. It is extremely debilitating. One, a dear friend of 27 years, had her CFS segue into lupus -- or whatever -- they never could tell her. She had enormous pain and just passed at 68. Her legacy is that she endured that long. There was not only physical dyfunctions but mental also, to a very bright woman. I am looking forward to both of HIllenbrand's books. Our thorns often lead us down paths we would not have taken (such as the way Ms. HIllenbrand works her words from newpapers, phone interviews etc) and bring huge gifts to others.

  154. I was very interested in How Ms. Hillenbrand found the story of Zamperini in a newspaper she had bought to do research on Sea Biscuit. That's similar to how producer David Puttnam came upon the story behind the film Chariots of Fire. He was staying at a friend's house, happened to look at a book on the Olympics and see that the British (his nationality) had won the 100 meter and 400 meter dash in the 1924 Olympics in Paris -- and thought that make an interesting film. We know the rest. You just never know where a great story will come from.

  155. I volunteer for the Prison Book Program in MA which sends donated books to prisoners around the country, upon request. Often they request books which we don't have, and when that happens I like to send them a copy of Seabiscuit, guaranteed to provide them with a stimulating reading experience! I can't wait until Unbroken has been out in paperback long enough for us to have a bunch of copies to send out...

  156. I appreciate the look behind the scenes, giving us some idea how the author Hillenbrand works and what she has to struggle against. I suspect Hylton may have wanted to see initially what made Hillenbrand such a successful writer, and then discovered, in the same way she did with her two books, that there was a much more interesting story to be told.

  157. What makes this author so unique and important to my mind, is the extraordinary research and concentration it takes to produce these important documented works. They are lasting and enduring, and if and when it suits this fine writer, it will be fascinating to see what topic of import we may next find on our bill of reading fare. In the meantime, wishing Ms. Hillenbrand the exquisite Joy of Quiet.

  158. She is a wonderful writer--and profoundly neurotic.

  159. Americans are known to be neurotic. If you could define what is 'profoundly neurotic', this might clear up any horse feathers for some of us.

  160. Having just read an amazing account of what this woman goes through to write at all (the dizziness, if nothing else), it's beyond my comprehension that you would be so glib in your disdain for her issues. Who are you to make such pronouncements?

  161. Jake from Decatur, if what you are implying is that Ms. Hillenbrand is a hypochondriac, I challenge you to befriend one person who suffers from this insidious disease. Those of us who have such a person in our lives recognize the valorous will that powers Miss Hillenbrand's accomplishment.

  162. The author accurately described Kenyon College... my mother's word for Gambier was 'Glochamora.'

  163. Perhaps it takes one kind of fighter to write about another. 'Unbroken' is the perfect title for the book and metaphor for its author. Chronic pain and exhaustion are both enemies and allies in such a quest - they make it harder to get the story down, but when you do, you can do it with feeling because these are feelings you know. But, oh, what a price to pay. And the worst part of that price can be dealing with family members who can't or won't understand because they can't empathise, can't let go of their own ideas of what you should be, or both. If I seem to be able to understand some of this, it's because I'm a retired physician who's treated patients with chronic, painful disabilities and has long been dealing with his own. When you're in that situation it's a strange and sometimes bizarre world out there, and all you can do is cope with it the best way you can without getting into trouble. Not easy.

  164. Wish you were still practicing, or teaching medical students the value of empathy such as yours.

  165. Three years ago I contracted a disease, probably autoimmune like Ms. Hillenbrand's, that tore me out of the world and stuck me in my house. (In my case, as in so many others, it was triggered by a statin drug.) When the doctors pushed this drug on me, my life was trekking in the Himalayan mountains in Nepal, doing tai chi in Malaysia, swimming, bicycling, kayaking: all suddenly gone. Like Ms. Hillenbrand, I've had to deal with the skepticism of doctors, friends, family, even though in my case photographs of my legs show graphic myopathy. There is daily pain, fatigue, inevitable discouragement.

    So what to do with these remaining years--in the words of John LeCarre, "The future. Where it all ends. Leftover life."? Ms Hillenbrand provides an example. It's hard for me to fully express my admiration for her discipline and strength. "Leftover life", of course, is all that one has ever had.

  166. Did going off the statins help with your symptoms?

    (Too many docs try to "push this drug" on their patients.)

  167. No, Robert, but thanks for asking. Some of us experience permanent and progressive neuromuscular diseases from statins, including episodes of overwhelming fatigue. Statin-marketing is unscrupulous, as is much drug marketing. Read Deadly Medicine and Organized Crime, BMA first prize winner 2014, to get some idea.

  168. I see my earlier comment was "redacted" because it dared to suggest CFS and chronic fatigue are not real physical diseases (they are definitely mental conditions, just not physical ailments). This is typical here, where genuine opposition views are repressed. And this despite the fact I am a great admirer of Ms. Hillenbrand as a writer -- I think her work is outstanding.

    I think a good example of this, that more people are familiar with is the poet Emily Dickinson. She's one of the greatest poets of all time -- and she was mentally ill. She became agoraphobic in her early 20s, and never again left her home (not unlike Hillenbrand). It takes away NOTHING from her poetry to fully understand her personality, and that she had a mental illness that poorly understood (if at all) in her lifetime and that she was shielded from many of the realities of life that a poorer woman of the 1800s would have had to have faced -- marriage, children, work. She could hide from life and write.

    I am grateful for the artistry of both women -- but at what a price! Nobody should have to live like this, in their bedroom or sleeping all day, unable to travel or even fully enjoy their fame.

  169. Dear Concerned
    How nice of you to enjoy Hillenbrand's writing even though you "know" she is, humm, ill only mentally. And to enjoy Emily Dickinson's work in spite of the same fault. But what, exactly, is your basis for knowing that? The fact that you haven't had the illness. Or that some "doctors" didn't or don't believe it is. Do you understand the difference between "belief" and "knowing" or "fact" and "opinion"? Give some thought to the history of medicine and for that matter science. It was not so long ago the everyone "knew" the world was flat and the sun, moon and stars revolved around it. People were even burned at the stake for believing otherwise. And the good medicos bled people as a cure for just about everything. So how sure exactly are you of your certainty that the illness is "mental"? Perhaps there's a good reason your comment was removed beyond being offensive?

  170. If you don't know Ms. Hillenbrand personally, you are not qualified to speak about her mental health. Shame on you.

  171. On a note of levity, we should all be so fortunate if staying at home is our comfort zone and inspires us to create and write memorable and essential things of life within and without. The author James Stephens in his work was to write that one may be in prison, but one's mind is not imprisoned, and at the end of the day, it may be whatever makes one happy. His two 'Philosophers' stay indoors, living in dark woods, while their wives look after them, and Hillenbrand represents light, life and learning for this reader.

  172. When this type of symptom hit me many years ago, it turned out to be formaldehyde poisoning from polyester bedding at my parents retirement home. The offending quilt had previously made two other members of my family ill while visiting our parents but I was the one to finally connect it to that particular type of polyester bedding which in the past contained much more formaldehyde than it does now. To this day I know immediately if I am in the presence of older polyester pillows or other bedding. Remember after hurricane Katrina when all those refugees were given hastily built trailers and became ill. It turned out to be polyester in the insulation.

  173. I am struck by the similarity between Hillenbrand's struggles and those of Hilary Mantel: misdiagnoses, denial, desertion, isolation, great pain and devastating consequences of medical mistreatment. Both authors have literally worked through the pain with stunning results. I am in awe.

  174. IMHO- This woman has agoraphobia. She has barely left her house in a quarter of a century. She has CFS but is able to crouch over the sight of the weapon for more than an hour. This doesn't seem like her CFS is sapping all her energy and causing her extreme pain. I don't think very many healthy individuals could spend that amount of time in an odd position without feeling very uncomfortable. She seems to enjoy making everyone come to her. She may be a good writer but she should make more of an effort to get out and see the world in spite of her CFS.

  175. What an outrageous, ignorant comment to make! Remember that Native American saying about walking a mile in someone else's moccasins before you judge? That would apply to your "humble" opinion.

  176. The more you learn about Laura Hillenbrand and Louis Zamperini, the harder it is to believe that there could ever be two greater triumphs of the spirit -- both author and biographical subject -- connected with any one book.

    And at a time when we're being exposed to so much bad judgment in Hollywood, Angelina Jolie deserves highest praise for having the influence, the talent and the determination to bring this overwhelmingly powerful story to the big screen.

    There is a wealth of inspiration to be found in these three extraordinary lives.

  177. I never think of writers as "rivals." After all, there can never be too many good books, though one can certainly run out of time to read them.

  178. A most interesting article about this fine writer. I am in awe of someone who can do anything productive, let alone creative, concentrated work, with vertigo. Having had episodes of vertigo - few and transient, thank goodness - I live in dread of that ever happening again. It is a terrifying, all-consuming state of being. I am so grateful that there are artists in this world, especially those producing wonderful books for the rest of us to read, and particularly grateful to artists working in spite of a serious obstacle in their lives.

  179. Unless the lab work was recent, I'd give viral serology another try. The sensitivity is higher and the spectrum broader than it was 25 years ago.

  180. Below is an excellent web site that describes one person's misdiagnosis of CFS when they had Lyme disease.

    Hopefully this information will be of value to many.


  181. I hope this piece also inspires people to support newspapers and quality journalism. I still love the smell of a fresh new NYTimes or Boston Globe, especially on a cold morning. Thanks for this great article -and best wishes to Ms Hillenbrand. I welcome and eagerly anticipate her next book!

  182. Thanks for this beautifully written story so full of pertinent, intimate details illuminating the topic like lights on a Christmas tree.

  183. Cudos to photographer Heck for a magnetic portrait.

  184. Whenever someone is or was outdoorsy and experiences such disease symptoms as Hillenbrand's, tick-borne illness should be suspected. Lyme, erlichiosis, bartonella, babesiosis -- they can and do cause such symptoms, particularly when they have become entrenched over the years. As a Lyme sufferer, I'm deeply sympathetic to Hillenbrand's suffering, physical and emotional. People are only recently admitting that Lyme exists, too. Doctors vary, and insurance companies refuse to pay for treatment.

  185. What a compelling story at so many levels. My significant other also has similar issues and he will be keen to read this. It is easy for people to sympathize when somebody has a visible illness; not so with these types without any clear diagnosis or visible signs.
    I have read some very negative comments here and it is a shame that at the holiday time people can't look at the positive and appreciate the contributions she has made to the literary world in spite of her limitations. A big lump of coal to them.
    Perhaps Laura can write an autobiography and enlighten us to her world in her unbroken style. She need not leave her home.

    I work in biomedical research and I hope that we can find both cause and cure for these illnesses that thus far have been mysterious but very real. An older but interesting book on the subject is Osler's Web by Hillary Johnson.

  186. My so-called chronic fatigue syndrome turned out to be celiac disease!

  187. Thank you Wil for the great story. Here is an unbreakable spirit, iron will, and a beautiful mind all rolled in one. What we able bodied people would have called serious obstacles, Laura turned them into her advantage. The lack of understanding from her loved ones and others in the early days brought tears in my eyes. Hard to imagine 18 month long confinements and comebacks. Not much of a mention of her 28 year long companion... may be those compartments will open in her future writing.

  188. Let's cure this illness she has. It would be great for someone to one day be able to write a triumphant story about her with a happy ending.

  189. Read most of 'Seabiscuit' sitting on my front porch of my first house in NoCal in 2003. It was so good I had to force myself to put it down and go to bed. I still pick it up from time to time. I do like how she developed her characters. I am reading 'Unbroken' right now. It's hard to put down.

  190. Excellent and well written article about a great story writer.

  191. Only one small problem, in my opinion, with this otherwise excellent piece. The anecdote about the Norden bombsight fails to mention that under real-world combat conditions it wasn't terribly accurate, and perpetuates the long exploded "pickle barrel" myth.