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.
©2015 William Finnegan (P)2015 Audible, Inc.
A wonderful, reflective book about being young, getting older, written with a Joycean eye for detail: interior, exterior. Finnegan colours his sentences with the ink of adrenaline; you get to drop in on his waves. Watch the YouTube clips of the breaks as you listen. He reads very well.
"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.
"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.
"An Amazing Performance by the Author"
An important caveat about this book - it’s not just for those who surf. As someone who has never attempted this sport in her life, I thoroughly enjoyed William Finnegan’s lengthy memoir. A detailed, and nicely-paced story, Barbarian Days begins in 1960s’ Hawaii, and from there takes us on an adventure around the word. Finnegan’s memoir is more than just an ode to a past time – it’s a story of balancing an obsession with the inevitable responsibilities of adulthood. He reflects on his past with humor, panache, and of course, a reverence for the sport which profoundly shaped his life.
As a child of '80s southern CA surfing, this book encapsulates the wondering daydreaming of my youth. While, Tom Curren, Kelly Slater, and others captured the covers of the magazines, the stories Finnegan relates in this wonderful memoir are the stuff that every surfer dreamed or dreams of. The portrait he paints is the idyllic life of a surfer. His stories captivate you and take you to the very places that you've dreamed (if you haven't gone) of your whole life.
This book is a wonderful read full of all the surf stories you'd want as a surfer but the autobiographical content, beyond surfing, is captivating to hold your attention to where you feel like Bill is an old friend.
I recommended this book to friends on FB having only gotten to the 4th chapter. The rest of the book did not disappoint!
"Much more here than surfing"
There is so much more in this book than just surfing and description of waves. I am not a surfer, but learned there are as many descriptions of waves as Alaska natives have of snow. Beautifully narrated by the author, it is about life as a youth in the 60s, friendship, travel, taking risks, failures, serendipity and the love of family. One of my all time favorites.
"Quest for the perfect wave, and introspection."
I liked this book, a lot. William Finnegan has earned his chops in journalism and it shows in this insightful memoir. The level of detail is impressive as Finnegan leads us through the phases of his life, each associated with a surfing location and a level of surfing skill. It's hard not to appreciate Finnegan's devotion to his sport (he rightfully questions whether surfing is, in fact, a sport) and the extent to which the myriad waves, locales, characters and experiences are cataloged in his mind.
The book is presented as a series of vignettes, each tied to a specific place or places. They unfold more or less chronologically, though there are numerous excursions into other places and times for the sake of comparison. There are highly "technical" descriptions of the many types of waves, and these are interwoven with keen observations of the personal, social, cultural and political contexts in which they are located. Many individuals and events are recalled in the book. Some are famous, but most are not (at least outside the insular world of surfing), and the book is very much about Finnegan's relationships with these people.
Other reviews have been critical of the length of the work, but I found it entrancing and eagerly awaited my next bit of free time so I could return to his world and was sad indeed to reach the end. Finnegan narrates his own work in a casual tone, relatively devoid of emotion. I'm sure another narrator would have brought more emotion to the book, but I was grateful for the honest delivery and the somewhat dispassionate delivery from his vantage, now somewhat removed from the actual settings.
Finnegan and I are about the same age. I found much familiar territory in his observations about home, family, work, sport, and the passage of time. I recommend it.
"Top 5 Best Books I've Ever Read!!!"
Exciting, Descriptive, Breathtaking
I didn't want it to end. The way he describes each and every place he surfed and lived with such detail, really sucks you in. William Finnegan is such a great writer. It made me want to quite my job and travel the world surfing!
There were times when I was laughing out loud and also probably making some pretty intense faces while driving!
I've recommended this book to all of my friends that surf, including the ones that don't. Read this book!
"An extraordinary listening experience"
I'm not sure I would listen to the whole book again although some passages are really memorable
Since this book is a memoir, the main character is the narrator, although many others do appear throughout.
He reads in a serene tone, with very clear diction. Quite relaxing and interesting. However, he does tend to have an up-and-down cycle of tones that can be tiring.
A poet in the surf
Even if you aren't interested in surfing, the the fine poetic English that is Finnegan's style make it a real pleasure.
"Fantastic writer, a sublime journey..."
Barbarian Days moved me in many ways. I found Finnegan's exquisite observations and delectable word craft to be so mesmerizing I immediately fell under his spell. To deepen my trance his vocal gait added a power as I willingly “rag dolled" into the white water of the surfing life. Myself not a surfer, was exposed to a subculture of slang, tradition and rite of passage.
This fascinating experience of one mans quest for mastery led him to the many exotic oceanic coastal waters of the world. He was willing to risk it all for some mystical desire; this unknown force pulling him deeper to find the perfect wave.
I listened while this boy went searching for his place in the world, being drawn to claim his ground by reading and riding waves, learning a code among peers, growing deep friendships, taking extreme risks and develop his craft of skillful wave riding over many years.
Some people think they will never find meaning in their lives only to discover their true purpose is the journey itself.
Barbarian Days was time well spent for me. I admired this journey - this committed path and what I saw was a man driven from within and a life well lived...
"One of the best books I've ever read"
And I've read every day of my life since I began reading at age 6. This is so involving and visceral and real and so BEAUTIFULLY written. It's a masterpiece. I'd like to live in this book. Especially in the wave so transparent you couldn't see it. The BEST.
I have just finished this book and have so enjoyed it. I found it beautiful written, engaging and compelling. The autobiography was very interesting despite having no knowledge of surfing at all I found the subject fascinating. I have been watching surfing videos on YouTube. I recommend it to everyone.
"Beautifully written, narration only ok."
Didn't have to be a surfing fan to enjoy some of the travel anecdotes. An interesting cultural insight that makes you wonder why/how they keep going back into the water!
"Lifetime of surfing"
Has a bit of The Savage Detectives, a little of Andy Martin's Walking on Water, and when theyre in the south seas, even a little Coleridge.
This book hooks you from the off and if it's surfing excitement entwined with deep insight your after this is for you! Couldn't stop listening and loved every minute. Read by the author in a calm voice. Just amazing
I'm no surfer but this is a truly stunning book, beautifully written and read by the author.
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