"Books aren't dangerous per se, but they can certainly be arousing. William Finnegan's sprawling and deeply moving memoir, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, takes readers from the western coasts of Hawaii to the beaches of the South Pacific and everywhere in between as the young Finnegan hunts for the perfect wave.This is so much more than a book about surfing, however. It asks big questions about how far we're willing to fling ourselves out into the world to discover who we are and what we're meant to be. It explores the power and heartbreak of what it means to be a friend. It's an extraordinary tale of a young person trying to find freedom on the crest of a wave. Truly an important and perspective-altering reading experience."
**Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Autobiography**
Included in President Obama’s 2016 Summer Reading List
“Without a doubt, the finest surf book I’ve ever read . . . ” —The New York Times Magazine
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: 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 reader in the edgy camaraderie of close male friendships forged in challenging waves.
Finnegan shares stories of life in a whites-only gang in a tough school in Honolulu. 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. As Finnegan’s travels take him ever farther afield, he discovers the picturesque simplicity of a Samoan fishing village, dissects the sexual politics of Tongan interactions with Americans and Japanese, and navigates the Indonesian black market while nearly succumbing to malaria. Throughout, he surfs, carrying readers with him on rides of harrowing, unprecedented lucidity.
Barbarian Days is an old-school adventure story, an intellectual autobiography, a social history, a literary road movie, and an extraordinary exploration of the gradual mastering of an exacting, little-understood art.