Barbarian Days - William Finnegan

Barbarian Days

By William Finnegan

  • Release Date: 2015-07-21
  • Genre: Biographies & Memoirs
Score: 4.5
From 393 Ratings


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

*Included in President Obama’s 2016 Summer Reading List*

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 reader in the edgy camaraderie of close male friendships annealed in challenging waves.

Finnegan shares stories of life in a whitesonly 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 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. Today, Finnegan’s surfing life is undiminished. Frantically juggling work and family, he chases his enchantment through Long Island ice storms and obscure corners of Madagascar.


  • What a great adventurous life!

    My first ever E Book, loved this, I am not a book reader, however I have read a few in the past 10yrs The art of Racing in the rain, Steve Jobs and Elon Musk This Barbarian days is my all time fav!!! I sup surf and have been to many of the spots William talks about, so rad!!! I was just surfing for a week at K181 that he mentioned and read about 1/3 if the book at this spot, camped on the beach, so incredible! VanDogCEO is my IG
  • Excellent

    By Kat1959 22
    I loved the writing style. I’m not a surfer, but enjoy reading surf books. I learned a lot about different waves. I found myself looking up words I did not know and places as well. I felt the writer really opened himself up, I especially liked the parts about his parents.
  • Great read for the adventurous

    By (>^_^)>$<(^_^<)
    I am not a surfer nor even a particularly strong ocean lover. That said, Barbarian Days for me was a less a book about surfing and more a book about pursuing your passion and dreams to the very fullest. I recommend the book for those who love adventure and have a zest for all that life can offer in all its mysterious ways.
  • High School, revisited

    By Celosostars
    Good story, and an easy read. Moved right along. However, if you're looking for literature, this will not be your stop. Cormac McCarthy's prowess it does not possess; Donald Ray Pollock's power of storytelling, it is not. I suppose, in short, it read like a high school essay. Choppy sentences, reckless characterization and, at best, serves as an airplane companion piece. The fact that this won the
  • Great ride, great read

    By Economan1
    I've body surfed a lot and wished I'd learned to surf. Now I know what it's like. Terrific book.
  • Conflicted

    By Skodonnell
    I really enjoyed this book. I liked the stories of discovering surf spots like Tavarua, Maderia, and OB before they got crowded or transformed. I also believe Bill tried to stay honest in his experiences both in and out of the water and it was refreshing in a world where surf stories can be a bit like fish stories. But here is the part where I felt conflicted by this story. Towards the end, as he is living in New York he airs his frustration of how surf culture has become incorporated into our society but isn't that what he is partaking the by writing this book?
  • Literary Tuberide

    By Rodonisle
    The words, story, places and times all hit me like the personal backwash of my own life. But even youngsters who never sat in the lineup can marvel at the quality of the prose and vivid palette of images that immerse the lucky reader in the life of a world girdling surfer, a surfer that is also a a world class writer.
  • Barbarian Days

    By Salita57
    Absolutely wonderful. My sons are surfers, a few years younger than Wm Finnegan, and I sent each of them this book. But this book is about so much more than surfing . . .
  • Zen and the Art of Surfing

    By capeimer
    Wonderful. Spirited and spiritual. A remarkable story of life and the metaphor is surfing. He got it bad.
  • Brilliant, Moving

    By Pankowboy
    Twenty three years ago I read "Playing by Doc's Rules". I thought perhaps we just got lucky. WF is a deep, driven craftsman. A life well-lived and told.