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Publisher's Summary

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.

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Wonderful story of a surfer's journey.

Really enjoyable & well told. "Only a surfer knows the feeling" . The author's life long will have much meaning for any surfer.

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if you surf read this book!

the start is a little bit slow during his early years but as soon as he starts travelling the book gets amazing. the descriptive writing of some of the scenarios that he gets into especially when he starts to ride really big waves is epic and his voice as a narrator is perfect especially when he goes into a detailed scenario. the discovery around the islands especially Fiji is epic and also when he goes to Indonesia and finds Nias. I couldn't recommend this book more and I am only in my early thirties and a very keen Surfer!!

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Absolute gem, unforgettable

William Finnegan is now, without a doubt, one of my heroes. The detail he uses to describe every wave and every session is incredible. The highlight for me was the perfect description of one of the first breaks I ever surfed. Hands down best book I've read in a long time.

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Listen & Watch

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.

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  • Laura - Audible
  • 01-02-2016

An Amazing Performance by the Author

Any additional comments?

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.

47 of 48 people found this review helpful

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  • Jennifer
  • 21-02-2017

Promising but Way too Long

What did you like best about Barbarian Days? What did you like least?

I enjoyed the first half of the book. The way the author described the waves, his young life and his family were all very interesting and well done.

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

The challenge with the story was that it was way too long. The more I listened the more I was amazed by William Finnegan's narcissism. The book goes on and on about his trips to surf through his adult life. It becomes very repetitious and boring. I had to stop listening about 3 hrs before it was over.

Did Barbarian Days inspire you to do anything?

no

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • sunstan
  • 03-09-2015

Wishing for a never-end of this book

If you could sum up Barbarian Days in three words, what would they be?

perfect reminice, haunting

What other book might you compare Barbarian Days to and why?

Most of Russell Chatham's books on fishing. especially Dark Waters

Which scene was your favorite?

Loved every last page

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

A time and a place gone forever

Any additional comments?

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.
Hauolikaimana

48 of 51 people found this review helpful

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  • Kris Cox
  • 28-04-2017

How about some serious editing?

The detail became monotonous after awhile.,
especially with the travels with Brian, and the redundant Ocean Beach episodes(to name a couple areas of many).
I would give this memoir surf story a much higher rating if it was reduced in length
by about 25%.
I think Finnegan's editor failed , not Finnegan.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Kaui
  • 17-09-2015

Read this book. You will enjoy it.

Any additional comments?

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.

31 of 34 people found this review helpful

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  • Karen W. Lam
  • 25-02-2017

You Have to Love Surfing...

...which apparently, I don't. The book starts off with a bang, great writing but then becomes fairly repetitive unless you really love chasing waves with a self-absorbed chowder head.

30 of 33 people found this review helpful

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 06-03-2017

What a Jerk.

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

No. Finnegan spent 16 1/2 hours rambling about his surfing obsession and his self-absorbed life. In the last hour of the book, he bemoans how surfing is being ruined by the number of people who want to learn to surf and hog his waves. He complains of a private resort that blocks outsiders from the beach in front of the property. How DARE they? Wait. He just complained about people who are not devoted to surfing as he is ruining his favorite surfing spots then he gripes about a private surfing spot that keeps people from overrunning a favorite surfing spot. Well, of course he becomes a regular customer of the resort so he can surf there even though he despises the resort's concept.

What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)

While I enjoy learning about alternative lifestyles and the experiences people had that are far different from mine, the ending made me sorry I wasted 17+ hours of my life listening to this audio book. Finnegan, you can have the surfing experience all to yourself. You made me hate it.

Would you listen to another book narrated by William Finnegan?

No

Do you think Barbarian Days needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

Absolutely not.

Any additional comments?

So sorry I fell for the reviews and purchased this book.

50 of 56 people found this review helpful

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  • Fub Wub
  • 09-02-2016

Top 5 Best Books I've Ever Read!!!

If you could sum up Barbarian Days in three words, what would they be?

Exciting, Descriptive, Breathtaking

What did you like best about this story?

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!

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

There were times when I was laughing out loud and also probably making some pretty intense faces while driving!

Any additional comments?

I've recommended this book to all of my friends that surf, including the ones that don't. Read this book!

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Peter
  • 10-02-2016

Surfing Attitude

Was hoping more for something in the line of Boys in the Boat but rather got an egocentric ramble. Surfers may enjoy the jargon and the arrogance but its not for me. The early travels were entertaining but got to a stage where I was almost tempted to quit.

37 of 42 people found this review helpful

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  • Erika Shaffer
  • 09-06-2016

An interesting personal story in waves

What did you like best about Barbarian Days? What did you like least?

I really liked how specific William Finnegan was in his memories of riding waves and how he described the water. And how baldly he recounted how awful he was as a boyfriend frankly. I found myself very happy that his first girlfriend did not stay with him and wondered what happened to her. I hoped she had found someone who actually knew how to care for her vs being so self centered. I am not a surfer but I am a lover of being in the water and swimming and it was so interesting to hear about how this sport remained a consistent presence in his life. What i didn't like was his snobbery - anyone other than him and his close friends finding a wave was bad. Reminded me of people who hide meaningful wilderness trails because somehow they are better if they are exclusive. And his constant need to be perceived as cool seemed so below the person he became. It was so elitist and annoying. And made me a little sad for him that he felt like he had to be cool all the time.

Would you be willing to try another book from William Finnegan? Why or why not?

This book made me interested in reading his war and other reporting for the New Yorker. And I was curious about the other parts of his life that weren't surfing.

Any additional comments?

I am not entirely sure why this received the pulitzer prize. While he is indeed a person who has had many incredible life experiences and has sacrificed much to tell very hard to report stories AND is very courageous, it is in its essence a story about surfing and doesn't show much personal growth since he ends the book without really overcoming what feels to be his real failing, which is judgement of other people and desire to keep things they way they were vs face what is the reality. Possibly it got the pulitzer because his body of work is so incredible. This is why I want to read more.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 12-02-2018

Infectious

I was uterly absorbed by the thrilling story!
With the insatiable appetite for travel now burning inside me.
Would recommend to anyone who is serious about surfing or going on an adventure.

This book has inspired me to surf as many spots around the world as my board will let me.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 30-11-2017

Superb

Wasn't sure what to expect but really enjoyed this book. The style of writing and narration made it such an easy listen. My favourite part was probably the description of the the invisible waves at Tavarua.

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  • Edward
  • 03-08-2017

like surfing but staying dry

amazing. loved it. I feel like I've finally got barreled! so beautifully written. will be listening again for sure. enjoy

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 28-06-2017

Almost great....

A fascinating insight into an interesting life and surf culture. But also frustrating, because often the surfing gets monotonous, while the broader life of the author feels just out of reach.

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  • Gareth Jones
  • 23-05-2017

excellent

Told in the author's own voice it captures the surfers desire for "one more wave". Sports and non-sports fans alike will enjoy.

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  • Gary
  • 02-04-2017

a surfing story for surfers

Finnegan manages to capture the essence of the surfer world with clear, concise description that all those afflicted with the disease will appreciate. to write about surfing without even a hint of cliché is a rare talent. i recommend to all.

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  • Ellen P
  • 31-01-2017

Beautifully written

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.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Alex
  • 17-01-2017

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!

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  • S. R. Ashken
  • 24-11-2016

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.

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  • mr
  • 15-09-2016

Wow

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