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Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  25,988 ratings  ·  2,586 reviews
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 Hawai
Hardcover, 447 pages
Published July 21st 2015 by Penguin Press
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Margob99 AA Gill "Pour me a life". A different topic in that the author is focusing on his addiction issues, but as you mention "the real pleasure was the auth…moreAA Gill "Pour me a life". A different topic in that the author is focusing on his addiction issues, but as you mention "the real pleasure was the author's prose, insight and reflection on himself ..." I too loved "Barbarian Days" and AA Gill's memoir came in a close second. I couldn't finish Keruoac's "On the Road", I read "Shantaram" and while it made for a rollicking read I couldn't help feeling the author had glamourised some of his more criminal activities. Another memoir I did thoroughly enjoy was "Fire Season" by Philip Connors. Absolutely stunning. In it, he mentions "The Dharma Bums" also by Kerouac, and I'm still searching for a hard copy of that one!(less)

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Average rating 4.26  · 
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Dec 15, 2021 rated it it was amazing
4.5. It probably deserves only 4 stars but I am still thinking about it, one month after I finished it so I decided to upgrade the rating.

Last night I dreamed I was surfing. Well, trying to, at least. The author would not even call that a Kook effort, which is slang for a beginner. I took the dream as a sign that I should finally write a review for this memoir.

I bought Barbarian Days few years ago before a vacation where I was planning to take a surf lesson. I saw it won the Pulitzer Prize and
Matt Quann
Jun 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
I spent a lot of car-locked hours listening to William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life while I drove through three provinces to get to a two-week placement and back again. In fact, the 18 and a bit hours of Finnegan’s Pulitzer-Prize winning memoir lasted through two driving companions, one who joined me for the book’s opening hours, the other who took in the final three hours. The later companion remarked, with nary but an hour left in the audiobook:

”Man, he’s just all about the surfin
Paula K (on hiatus)
One of the best books I have ever read!

What a wonderful book. I listened to the audiobook and was glad I did. William Finnegan has a delightful voice. So soothing that you feel calmed. This Pulitzer Prize winner is so worth the read.

Highly recommend.
5 out of 5 stars.
Dec 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
I have an ongoing personal Pulitzer challenge that I engage in each year. This year was a struggle all the way around but I managed to read six nonfiction winners and one player. Next year I am setting the bar higher and will participate in a Pulitzer challenge in the nonfiction Pulitzer group. It is not as much of a challenge as a way for me to track my books. That aside, December is a time where everyone I know is either busy with holiday preparations or rushing to get books read for challenge ...more
Elyse Walters
William Finnegan, has a sultry pleasant voice.
His voice - alone - was alluring.

I enjoyed listening to the never-ending surfing stories as I might a guided meditation.....
like meditation.....
I often drifted into 'ozo-land'...... taking detours away from the spiritual path. I didn't have the endurance to keep up with the Zen of Surfing -God.

William Finnegan is a phenomenal writer -- blows my mind a surfer could be so lyrical and descriptive. BUT THERE IS NO LET UP!
Very impressive ongoi
Spencer Orey
Aug 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: surfers, l-a
The writing was so vivid that I ended up having nightmares about trying to learn how to surf. I'll be coming back to this especially for the descriptions of surfing, reading the wind, and shapes of waves.

There's a great interweaving of politics of places as the author surfs through them, engaging with his decisions and his relationships with people in the moment and over time.
Jul 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Let's get this out of the way: I don't know how to surf, I've never been to Hawaii, and what little I do know of surfing was gleaned from watching cheesy movies like 1991's "Point Break" and 1987's "North Shore."

To wit: I am not the ideal audience for this memoir about a surfing life. And yet, I really enjoyed this book!

For starters, it has some seriously gorgeous prose. William Finnegan writes for The New Yorker and he won a Pulitzer Prize for Barbarian Days, which is how it came to my attenti
Kevin Kelsey
Apr 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2019, favorites
Posted at Heradas.com

No matter what we tell ourselves, we all secretly want to live forever. It follows that a good memoir serves as vicarious life extension, toward this eternally minded, unachievable end. A glimpse into an alternate possibility. Between the pages unfolds what could’ve been — if. If we were born at a different time. If we had different circumstances. If we had different interests. If we were altogether different people through any number of natural or nurtural deviations agains
May 06, 2015 rated it it was ok
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life is more the subtitle than the title -- that is, a surfing life. To break it down further, it is more life than surfing, as it follows William Finnegan from youngest years to the present day, from continent to continent, from schools to jobs, from here to eternity. Is there a lot of surfing in that life? Yes. Is there a lot of life -- maybe too much life -- in this book? Yes again.

Meaning, I felt that 464 pages was a bit much. Surprising, considering Finnegan is a N
Eric Kirkman
Aug 26, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2015
This was the longest 450 page book I have ever read. This memoir covers the surfing life of New Yorker and New York Times Reporter William Finnegan from his humble upbringing in Souther California and Hawaii, through a southeast Asian/Pacific wanderlust surfing tour with his friend Bryan in his twenties, and ends with a middle-aged father slumming nor'easter chop on the island and the Jersey Shore. If I read one more description of a wave, whether it be how it breaks, whether it's a reef break, ...more
Jul 19, 2015 rated it liked it
Barbarian Days review

This is a memoir built around surfing. Despite knowing nothing about surfing I enjoyed most if it. That's an accomplishment. It's also got a great cover.

The book is split into three parts. The first part, set in California and Hawaii, is the strongest. It talks about Finnegan's childhood and his discovery of surfing. If this were a superhero movie this would be the part where the protagonist discovers their powers. Some of this was excerpted in The New Yorker and it's what
Scott Grossman

My magnanimous gesture for the prize-winning best seller is rounding up to 2 stars from the 1.5 stars it deserves. This book became more and more painful the deeper I ventured into Finnegan’s tube. By page 380 I’d given up hope. I felt like it was me getting held under and pummeled by wave after literal wave. I think no other book can make readers believe they are the ones drowning--gasping for air under a self-indulgent swell of redundant prose. Did
Jul 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviews, favorites
Barbarian Days is Finnegan's autobiography/memoir of his life as a surfer. His interest in surfing starts at a very young age in California and becomes a real passion when his family moves to Hawaii when he is in middle school.

Finnegan states that surfers are perfectionists. I don't know the others, but he certainly is one. He spends most of his life (almost till the end of his 40s) searching for the perfect wave and perfect place to surf. This journey takes him literally around the world (many
Sep 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: surfing
Finn Again

This book is not about moonlight on the bayou. It's about structured water. Water, and other media, muscled with vortices.

Feminine Wave, by Hokusai

Feminine Wave, by Hokusai

This is a dazzling book like the glints from the sun on the surfing waves. While there are some philosophy of life and memoir mixed in, the book never deviated from the theme of surfing.
Tania Malik
Aug 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Visceral details and descriptions and insider jargon draws us into the author’s globe-trotting adventures as he chronicles his enduring love for the art of surfing. The search for a clean set of waves influences, shapes, and affects the choices he makes in life, and it is a sweet ride to bob along beside him as he tries to understand what the pursuit of surfing did to his soul.
Judith E
May 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, audible
William Finnegan loves surfing so much that he has chased it to the ends of the earth. From a carefree and independent child of the 70’s and surfing the California and Hawaii coasts, to his worldwide pursuit of every imaginable surfing locale, his adventure is elegantly chronicled. Finnegan’s writing is meditative and technical about swells, waves, boards, reefs and weather. His desperate journey is nearly unbelievable at times but it’s clear he has been given a lifetime gift of surfing love and ...more
Bill Vaughn
Jan 27, 2016 rated it really liked it

Endless winter One sparkling May afternoon in 1979 I answered a knock at the front door of our house in Missoula to discover a large, angry man. “Bill Finnegan and I vowed that the first one to get back to America would kick your ass,” he said.

My wife had some nice pieces of antique furniture I wanted to spare so I stepped out onto the porch and closed the door behind me. “Who are you?”

So began a confrontation that would end peacefully but leave me bewildered.

I had taken a job the year working
Joy D
Jul 05, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Everything out there was disturbingly interlaced with everything else. Waves were the playing field. They were the goal. They were the object of your deepest desire and adoration. At the same time, they were your adversary, your nemesis, even your mortal enemy. The surf was your refuge, your happy hiding place, but it was also a hostile wilderness—a dynamic, indifferent world.”

The author has been obsessed with surfing since he was an adolescent in the 1960s. This book is a memoir of his surfing
Apr 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Ode to the Sea

Finnegan recounts a lifetime of surfing and along the way relays epiphanies and the process of self-actualization. 
Surfing, to begin with, was not a "sport." It was a "path."

"Waves were the playing field. They were the goal. They were the object of your deepest desire and adoration. At the same time, they were your adversary, your nemesis, even your mortal enemy."

It is an interesting glass from which to view historical events as they pass by in waves, some which Finnegan rides, oth
Aug 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
Five stars for surfers, 3.5 for lay people. Lots of detail about waves, weather, paddling, etc that might become repetitive for those who haven't spent a lot of time in the ocean.

Incredible travelogue of surfing the globe, primarily in the '70s and '80s from a writer for the New Yorker. He and a friend were 2 of the first 10 or so people in the world to surf Tavarua, and they would not speak of it by name in the hope that it would remain undiscovered.
Deep insights into the lives of his closest
Michelle Carrell
Jun 24, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: won
The images contained in this book made me feel like I was reading a treasured journal or scrapbook. It made me feel welcome and willing to dive deep into FInnegan's memories. Which, by the way, I am severely jealous of his superb memory. I could almost smell the salt in the air and faintly hear the waves off in the distance. I could taste the author's fear, I reveled in his happiness and sympathized with his childhood troubles. Very well written. I am very honored to have won this book in a good ...more
Michelle Curie
Sep 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, memoirs
"Surfing, to begin with, was not a sport. It was a path. And the more you poured into it, the more you got back from it."

More than any other thing we call sport, surfing encompasses an entire lifestyle. I've been to and lived by seas often enough to know that feeling of connection to it is addictive and inexplicable at the same time. This memoir tapped into that, exploring what it means to dedicate your life to a passion.

William Finnegan is a renowned writer at the New Yorker and while he
Kasa Cotugno
For those of us who have never surfed and never will, the sport has always held a mystic otherworldly glamor incorporating a strength of purpose that is almost superhuman. From an early age, surfing was part of Finnegan's DNA, thanks in large part to the freedom he enjoyed as a kid first in California, then, Hawaii. His father, working in the film industry, was largely responsible, not only because of these locations being necessary for his work, but also because of one remembered incident when ...more
Craig MacIntosh
Jul 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loving this story...I lived it, at least the Hawaii part. Ten years older than Finnegan, my Hawaiian surfing days were rudely interrupted by a summons from Uncle Sam. It would be twenty years before I picked up surfing again. Finnegan nails the lure of the waves perfectly. He's brutally honest about his man/child existence from his high school years on. Traveling to exotic surf spots and exploring reefs across the South Pacific takes him around the world. Great eye for details in a colorful, at ...more
Carol Storm
Barack Obama recommended this book, and it won the Pulitzer Prize. It's easy to see why Obama liked it, since the first few chapters give a really kick-ass description of what it was like to be a teenager in Hawaii in the Sixties. Not only the surf and sun, but the drugs everywhere, the gang fights, the sordid underbelly of the whole tourist scene.

So the first few chapters are really good. It's hard not to root for William Finnegan when he's a kid in Hawaii getting beat up by Samoans and having
Liza Fireman
I guess this book can be awesome for someone that loves surfing. I found it way too long and repetitive. William Finnegan is moving through his life, from continent to continent, and there is a lot of surfing on the way. Some great description, but could be easily cut in half.

The first part, set in California and Hawaii, is the strongest. It talks about Finnegan's childhood and his discovery of surfing.
In the second part, his friend and him are going around the world, finding out great surfing p
Peter Tillman
First-rate book. You should read my GR friend Vivian's take, https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
-- by "a mermaid who has lost her tail,
longing for the sea." Woot!

And jrendocrine's, https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
"Honestly, Finnegan's writing is reminiscent of Proust." !!

Most highly recommended. I have next to no interest in surfing, although I like to watch them for a few minutes. Can't imagine hangin out for hours in the cold Calif water, waiting for a wave...
But I recommend his
Nov 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Full disclosure: I grew up in the same L.A. suburb and graduated from the same high school from which the author's surfing life originates, in part. So there was an extra personal resonance that carried me through some of the repetitive installments of wave-catching negotiation, description, reflection, and reverie. Finnegan's writing is smart and emotionally engaging enough that even if you've never thought about surfing culture, you're likely to ride these memoire waves with enthusiasm. At tim ...more
Dec 29, 2015 rated it liked it
Having been born and raised in Hawaii to a father who learned to surf in the 60's, and me learning to surf in the 70's -- I really thought I'd like this book more. I enjoyed it, except that I felt it was at least twice as long as it should have been. It suffered from needing an editor. Badly.

If you were into the 60's and 70's surf scene, you might find this interesting, but be prepared to stand by with a dictionary and some long nights, as Finnegan is VERBOSE and definitely enjoys showing off hi
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William Finnegan is a staff writer at The New Yorker. He has won several awards for his journalism and the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography for his work "Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life." ...more

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