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Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life (Paperback)

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Staff Reviews

William Finnegan is a Senior Staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. His craft is polished and lucid in his autobiography, Barbarian Days. Many layers of storyline are at work at once in this book from a young outsider finding his home on a surfboard and the mostly male bonding rituals of the surfers, to his emerging political awareness found while following his obsession around the world. But perhaps best of all? Finnegan’s superlative writing on the beauty and power of the ocean.” - 

— Karen at Palo Alto


**Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Autobiography**

"Reading this guy on the subject of waves and water is like reading Hemingway on bullfighting; William Burroughs on controlled substances; Updike on adultery. . . . a coming-of-age story, seen through the gloss resin coat of a surfboard." --Sports Illustrated

Included in President Obama's 2016 Summer Reading List

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.

Praise for Barbarian Days

"Without a doubt, the finest surf book I've ever read . . . But on a more fundamental level, Barbarian Days offers a clear-eyed vision of American boyhood. Like Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild, it is a sympathetic examination of what happens when literary ideas of freedom and purity take hold of a young mind and fling his body out into the far reaches of the world." --The New York Times Magazine

"Incandescent . . . I'd sooner press this book upon on a nonsurfer, in part because nothing I've read so accurately describes the feeling of being stoked or the despair of being held under. . . . But] it's also about a writer's life and, even more generally, a quester's life, more carefully observed and precisely rendered than any I've read in a long time." --Los Angeles Times

About the Author

WILLIAM FINNEGAN is the author of Cold New World, A Complicated War, Dateline Soweto, and Crossing the Line. He has twice been a National Magazine Award finalist and has won numerous journalism awards, including two Overseas Press Club awards since 2009. Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life received the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Autobiography. A staff writer at The New Yorker since 1987, he lives in Manhattan. From the Hardcover edition.
Product Details
ISBN: 9780143109396
ISBN-10: 0143109391
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: April 26th, 2016
Pages: 464
Language: English