Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Autobiography 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.
"How many ways can you describe a wave? You'll never get tired of watching Finnegan do it. A staff writer at The New Yorker , he leads a counterlife as an obsessive surfer, traveling around the world, throwing his vulnerable, merely human body into line after line of waves in search of transient moments of grace...It's an occupation that has never before been described with this tenderness and deftness."- TIME Magazine, Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2015"A hefty masterpiece."- Geoff Dyer, The Guardian"Terrific...Elegantly written and structured, it's a riveting adventure story, an intellectual autobiography, and a restless, searching meditation on love, friendship and family...A writer of rare subtlety and observational gifts, Finnegan explores every aspect of the sport - its mechanics and intoxicating thrills, its culture and arcane tribal codes - in a way that should resonate with surfers and non-surfers alike. His descriptions of some of the world's most powerful and unforgiving waves are hauntingly beautiful...Finnegan displays an honesty that is evident throughout the book, parts of which have a searing, unvarnished intensity that reminded me of 'Stop Time,' the classic coming-of-age memoir by Frank Conroy." -Washington Post"The kind of book that makes you squirm in your seat on the subway, gaze out the window at work, and Google Map the quickest route to the beach. In other words, it is, like Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild, a semi-dangerous book, one that persuades young men...to trade in their office jobs in order to roam the world, to feel the ocean's power, and chase the waves." -The Paris Review Daily "Fans of [Finnegan's] writing have been waiting eagerly for his surfing memoir...Well, Barbarian Days is here. And it's even better than one could have imagined...This is Finnegan's gift. He's observant and expressive but shows careful restraint in his zeal. He says only what needs to be said, enough to create a vivid picture for the reader while masterfully giving that picture a kind of movement." -Honolulu Star-Advertiser"That surfing life is [Finnegan's], and it's a remarkably adventurous one sure to induce wanderlust in anyone who follows along, surfer or not...Lyrical but not overbaked, exciting but always self-effacing. It captures the moments of joy and terror Finnegan's lifelong passion has brought him, as well as his occasional ambivalence about the tenacious hold it has on him. It's easily the best book ever written about surfing. It's not even close." -Florida Times-Union"An engrossing read, part treatise on wave physics, part thrill ride, part cultural study, with a soupçon of near-death events. Even for those who've never paddled out, Finnegan's imagery is as vividly rendered as a film, his explanation of wave mastery a triumph of language. For surfers, the book is The Endless Summer writ smarter and larger, touching down at every iconic break." -Los Angeles Magazine"Vivid and propulsive...Finnegan...has seen things from the tops of ocean peaks that would disturb most surfers' dreams for weeks. (I happily include myself among that number.)...A lyrical and enormously rewarding read...Finnegan's enchantment takes us to some luminous and unsettling places - on both the edge of the ocean, and the frontiers of the surfing life." -San Diego Union-Tribune"Barbarian Days gleams with precise, often lyrical recollections of the most memorable waves [Finnegan has] encountered...He carefully mines his surfing exploits for broader, hard-won insights on his childhood, his most intense friendships and romances, his political education, his career. He's always attuned to his surroundings, and his reflections are often tinged with self-effacing wit." -Chicago Reader"Extraordinary...[ Barbarian Days] is in many ways, and for the first time, a surfer in full. And it is cause for throwing your wet-suit hoods