Pulitzer Prize, Biography, 2016
A deeply rendered self-portrait of a lifelong surfer by the acclaimed New Yorker writer.
Barbarian Days is William Finnegan's memoir of an obsession, a complex enchantment. Surfing only looks like a sport. To initiates it is something else entirely: a beautiful addiction, a demanding course of study, a morally dangerous pastime, a way of life.
Raised in California and Hawaii, Finnegan started surfing as a child. He has chased waves all over the world, wandering for years through the South Pacific, Australia, Asia, Africa. A bookish boy and then an excessively adventurous young man, he went on to become a distinguished writer and war reporter.
Barbarian Days takes us deep into unfamiliar worlds, some of them right under our noses - off the coasts of New York and San Francisco. It immerses the listener in the edgy camaraderie of close male friendships annealed in challenging waves. Finnegan shares stories of life in a whites-only gang in a tough school in Honolulu even while his closest friend was a Hawaiian surfer. He shows us a world turned upside down for kids and adults alike by the social upheavals of the 1960s. He details the intricacies of famous waves and his own apprenticeships to them. Youthful folly - he drops LSD while riding huge Honolua Bay on Maui - is served up with rueful humor. He and a buddy, their knapsacks crammed with reef charts, bushwhack through Polynesia. They discover, while camping on an uninhabited island in Fiji, one of the world's greatest waves.
As Finnegan's travels take him ever farther afield, he becomes an improbable anthropologist: unpicking the picturesque simplicity of a Samoan fishing village, dissecting the sexual politics of Tongan interactions with Americans and Japanese, navigating the Indonesian black market while nearly succumbing to malaria. Throughout, he surfs, carrying listeners with him on rides of harrowing, unprecedented lucidity.
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Wishing for a never-end of this book
perfect reminice, haunting
Most of Russell Chatham's books on fishing. especially Dark Waters
Loved every last page
A time and a place gone forever
I deeply loved this book. The Hawaii chapter took me back to my Kahala childhood of the 60's. It's all true, exactly as Finnegan wrote. I physically flinched at some of the really awful passages about local brutality to outsiders in those days. The surfing life of the 60's and 70's are perfectly captured in Finnegan's memories. I usually dislike author read audiobooks, but Finnegan's voice added so much to this book, making every sentence and remembrance come alive for me, the listener. This is a beautiful book. I found myself repeating paragraphs and sentences so that I could pull even more out of my first listen. I went on the buy the hard copy to be able to read and reread passages. In all of the surfing articles and books I have ever read, this book describes the ocean, the surfer and that surfing set of mind better than anyone. The reader does not even have to have ever touched the ocean to appreciate Finnegan's lucid descriptions of oceans and the world he traveled and surfed in. Amazing book. So glad he wrote it.
- P Stanley "Say something about yourself!"
Read this book. You will enjoy it.
I thought this book was a masterpiece. I enjoy the genre of "adventure memoirs," of which this is definitely a lead member. Though it is not as thrilling as Lansing's Endurance, or as compelling as Krakauer's Into Thin Air, this book is an intense meditation about surfing and how it shaped William Finnegan's life. Reviews talk about how Finnegan explores themes like family. I did not think so. I think Finnegan explores surfing. In Hawaii. In Southern California. In Portugal. In Australia. In Northern California. In New York.
As he learns to appreciate the breaks, currents and tides of each locale, he invariably meets friends, lovers and forms a relationship to his world. In his case, Finnegan's world is at once very large (he travels around the world for several years) and small (he is driven by surfing. That is IT.) The narrative meanders, but compellingly so. I could FEEL the waves with him. Finnegan's writing is excellent, and he is a well-read fellow, sprinkling many literary references throughout. These, in my opinion, added a depth of deliciousness to an already very enjoyable book.
If you are from Hawaii, you have to read the first chapter; it is hysterical. If you are from Santa Cruz, or surf Ocean Beach, you must read about his SF days - they are... interesting. If you are from New York, you must read about his discovery of awesome surfing on Long Island and the Sound.
That I read this book during the summer months, that I am from Hawaii, live in the Bay Area and have a deep connection to Manhattan only served to expand this book's dimensional delightfulness further for me. Even without these personal connections, this book deserves the attention it is getting. My only thought is I wonder how Finnegan feels about the popularity of this book and how it compares to the popularity and reach of his political publications.
Either way, read this book. It is excellent.
- Kaui "I love to walk and run listening to audiobooks"