Laura Hillenbrand

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Laura Hillenbrand
Born (1967-05-15) 15 May 1967 (age 48)
Fairfax, Virginia
Occupation Author
Nationality American
Genre Non-fiction
Notable works
Spouse Borden Flanagan (m. 2006)

Laura Hillenbrand (born May 15, 1967) is an American author of books and magazine articles. Her two best-selling nonfiction books, Seabiscuit: An American Legend and Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption have sold over 10 million copies, and each was adapted for film. Her writing style is considered to differ from the New Journalism style, dropping verbal pyrotechnics in favor of a stronger focus on the story itself.

Both books were written after she fell ill in college, barring her from completing her degree. She told that story in an award-winning essay, A Sudden Illness, which was published in The New Yorker in 2003. She was 28 years with Borden Flanagan, from whom she separated by 2014.


Hillenbrand's first book was the acclaimed Seabiscuit: An American Legend (2001), a nonfiction account of the career of the great racehorse Seabiscuit, for which she won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year in 2001. She says she was compelled to tell the story because she "found fascinating people living a story that was improbable, breathtaking and ultimately more satisfying than any story [she'd] ever come across."[1] She first told the story through an essay, "Four Good Legs Between Us", that was published in American Heritage magazine,[2] and the feedback was positive, so she decided to proceed with a full-length book.[1] The book received positive reviews for the storytelling and research.[3][4] It was made into the Academy Award nominated film Seabiscuit (2003).

Hillenbrand's second book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (2010), was a biography of World War II hero Louis Zamperini.[5] The book's film adaptation is called Unbroken (2014).

These two books have dominated the best seller lists in both hardback and paperback. Combined, they have sold more than 10 million copies.[6]

Hillenbrand's essays have appeared in The New Yorker, Equus magazine, American Heritage, The Blood-Horse, Thoroughbred Times, The Backstretch, Turf and Sport Digest, and other publications. Her 1998 American Heritage article on the horse Seabiscuit won the Eclipse Award for Magazine Writing.[7][8]

Hillenbrand is a co-founder of Operation International Children.[9][10]

Writing style[edit]

Her writing style belongs to a new school of nonfiction writers, who come after the New Journalism, focusing more on the story than a literary prose style:

Hillenbrand belongs to a generation of writers who emerged in response to the stylistic explosion of the 1960s. Pioneers of New Journalism like Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer wanted to blur the line between literature and reportage by infusing true stories with verbal pyrotechnics and eccentric narrative voice. But many of the writers who began to appear in the 1990s ... approached the craft of narrative journalism in a quieter way. They still built stories around characters and scenes, with dialogue and interior perspective, but they cast aside the linguistic showmanship that drew attention to the writing itself.[6]

Personal life[edit]

Hillenbrand was born in Fairfax, Virginia, the daughter and youngest of four children of Elizabeth Marie Dwyer, a child psychologist, and Bernard Francis Hillenbrand, a lobbyist who became a minister.[11][12][13] Hillenbrand spent much of her childhood riding bareback "screaming over the hills" of her father's Sharpsburg, Maryland, farm.[14] A favorite childhood book of hers was Come On Seabiscuit.[14] "I read it to death, my little paperback copy," she says.[14] She studied at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, but was forced to leave before graduation when she contracted Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, with which she has struggled ever since.[15] She now lives in Washington, D.C, and rarely leaves her house because of the condition.[15] Hillenbrand married Borden Flanagan, a professor of government at American University and her college sweetheart, in 2006.[15] In 2014, they separated after 28 years as a couple, living in separate homes.[6]

She described the onset and early years of her illness in an award-winning[16][17][18] essay, A Sudden Illness.[19][20] The disease still structures her life as a writer, keeping her mainly confined to her home. She reads old newspaper articles by buying the old newspapers or borrowing them from libraries, and does all her interviews with living persons by telephone.[10][6]

On the irony of writing about physical paragons while being so incapacitated herself, Hillenbrand says, "I'm looking for a way out of here. I can't have it physically, so I'm going to have it intellectually. It was a beautiful thing to ride Seabiscuit in my imagination. And it's just fantastic to be there alongside Louie as he's breaking the NCAA mile record. People at these vigorous moments in their lives - it's my way of living vicariously."[15]

In a 2014 interview, Bob Schieffer said to Laura Hillenbrand: To me your story – battling your disease ….is as compelling as his (Louis Zamperini’s) story.[21]


  1. ^ a b Andriani, Lynn (January 1, 2001). "PW Talks with Laura Hillenbrand" 248 (1). Publishers Weekly: 75. 
  2. ^ Hillenbrand, Laura. "Four Good Legs Between Us" (July-August 1998 ed.). American Heritage. Retrieved December 19, 2014. 
  3. ^ N. A. (December 18, 2003). "Beyond the top 50: Sports". USA Today. 
  4. ^ Sanders, Erica (May 14, 2001). "Seabiscuit (Book Review)" 55 (19). People: 54. 
  5. ^ "The Defiant Ones". Wall Street Journal. November 12, 2010. 
  6. ^ a b c d Hylton, Wil S. (December 18, 2014). "The Unbreakable Laura Hillenbrand". New York Times. Retrieved December 19, 2014. 
  7. ^ "Winners, 1971-2012: Outstanding Magazine Writing". Daily Racing Form. Retrieved November 8, 2014. 
  8. ^ "Eclipse Award Winners: Print and Internet: Magazine Writing". National Turf Writers and Broadcasters. 2011. Retrieved November 8, 2014. 
  9. ^ "Operation International Children". April 1, 2013. Retrieved June 25, 2014. 
  10. ^ a b Gell, Aaron (December 2, 2010). "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Celebrated Author's Untold Tale". Elle. Retrieved December 30, 2014. 
  11. ^ "Mount Holyoke Alumnae Quarterly" (Winter 2012 ed.). Retrieved November 8, 2014. 
  12. ^ Jaffe, Jody. "Brave Hearts: Bethesda native Laura Hillenbrand, the author of Seabiscuit and the new Unbroken, has overcome incredible hardships" (March-April 2006 ed.). Bethesda, Maryland: Bethesda Magazine. Retrieved November 8, 2014. 
  13. ^ Syracuse Herald-American. "E. M. Dwyer, B. F. Hillenbrand Are Married" (July 10, 1955 ed.). Syracuse, New York. Retrieved November 9, 2014. Miss Elizabeth Marie Dwyer, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John T. Dwyer of Cortland, became the bride of Bernard Francis Hillenbrand, son of Mrs. Anne Hillenbrand... and the late Leonard Hillenbrand.. 
  14. ^ a b c Kulman, Linda (March 19, 2001). "There's no holding this horse" 130 (11). U.S. News & World Report: 62. 
  15. ^ a b c d Hesse, Monica (November 28, 2010). "Laura Hillenbrand releases new book while fighting chronic fatigue syndrome". Washington Post. Retrieved November 8, 2014. 
  16. ^ Donahue, Deirdre (Nov 10, 2010). "'Seabiscuit' author Hillenbrand back with true tale 'Unbroken'". USA Today. Retrieved June 22, 2013. 
  17. ^ "The New Yorker magazine honored for CFIDS story". Archived from the original on January 5, 2011. Retrieved June 22, 2013. 
  18. ^ "Winners & Finalists of National Magazine Awards". American Society of Magazine Editors. Retrieved June 22, 2013. 
  19. ^ Laura Hillenbrand (July 7, 2003). "A Sudden Illness". The New Yorker in CFIDS Association archive. Archived from the original on May 29, 2013. Retrieved June 21, 2013. 
  20. ^ Hillenbrand, Laura (July 7, 2003). "A Sudden Illness". The New Yorker. p. 56. Retrieved June 22, 2013. 
  21. ^ Schieffer, Bob (December 28, 2014). "Unbroken author opens up about her own personal struggle". Face the Nation (CBS News). Retrieved December 30, 2014. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Lance Armstrong
William Hill Sports Book of the Year winner
Succeeded by
Donald McRae