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Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  11,542 Ratings  ·  1,365 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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Matthew Quann
Jun 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: memoir fans, surfers, adventure-seekers, literary, award-winner
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
Elyse Walters
Mar 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
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
Paula Kalin
Aug 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Paula by: Pulitzer
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.
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
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
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

`Ashlula` Ayse
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
Spencer Orey
Aug 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: l-a, surfers
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. 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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
Craig MacIntosh
Jul 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who surfed or loves exotic travel spots
Recommended to Craig by: My daughter purchased it
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
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
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
May 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Oddly enough since I have always lived on the Northern plains and have only been to the ocean a few times, I loved this book. Finnegan does a marvelous job of explaining and describing the intricacies of both waves and surfing. Many times it felt as if the reader was riding along on the board behind him - seeing those huge waves barreling across the coast.
Occasionally I would have liked to have had a glossary of surfer terminology, but for the most part it was possible to glean meaning from the
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
Alfonso Junquera perez
May 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memorias
No se muy bien que decir de este libro ¿es la historia de un deporte? ¿de una forma de vida llevada al limite? ¿de una obsesión por superarse a si mismo constantemente? ¿de la búsqueda de la muerte en la ola mas grande y poco frecuentada que se pueda encontrar? Realmente no lo se pero lo que si se es que Finnegan comienza a contar su vida y sus viajes y te ves sumergido (y nunca mejor dicho) en su historia sin posibilidad de dejar de leerla, ya que ademas de la historia del surf te cuenta tambié ...more
Wendy Ortiz
Jul 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Welp, I hadn't imagined just how much I'd love this book. There's something so measured & beautiful in the whole narrative. The opposite of chaotic waves. A gentle bobbing. Amazing phrases & descriptions of magnificent & frightening waves, & lovely accounts of people met along the way, all in that measured, warm tone. Want to read everything he's written now.
Simply sublime. William ‘Bill’ Finnegan, a journalist for the New Yorker and other major magazines, tells his life’s story. At a very early age he discovers surfing for himself and follows his passion way into his fifties. He travels in his mid-twenties, following a four-year search for the ‘perfect wave’ in the South Pacific, Australia and southern Africa. By far, these are the strongest chapters of his biography, and the ones I cherished the most.

Having surfed many of the spots he mentions al
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
Nancy Kennedy
Jul 09, 2015 rated it liked it
Having just finished The Boys in the Boat, I picked up this book hoping for a similar read about the surfing life. But whereas Boys in the Boat opened out to a story that spoke to a specific time and place in history, this book is narrowly focused on the author and his global quest for the perfect wave. I found the endless dissection of waves and surfing techniques repetitious and lacking in power to move the narrative forward.

I really only became interested in the author's story when he talks a
Christine Zibas
Jan 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
One can imagine that the book "Barbarian Days" must be a wet dream for surfers. It's all there: the triumphs and the tragedies, the waves heard round the world and those hidden gems known to only a chosen few diehards.

Yet, the book offers much, even for those who have never planted feet on a board or paddled out into the ocean, challenging themselves. This is a story not unlike the ocean, with layers of insight, into surfers and surfing culture, into men and their driving passions, into life in
Questo libro è sorprendente, qui dentro c'è di tutto.
Io lo definirei un romanzo di formazione. Un ragazzo, la sua passione, i suoi amori, i suoi amici, le persone che lo aiutano a crescere, a diventare l'uomo che è oggi.
E in mezzo a tutto questo c'è il surf. Passione così travolgente che quasi porta chi lo pratica ad odiarlo (mi ha ricordato Open di Agassi).
Scrittura fluida e avvolgente, bellissimi i passaggi in cui spiega che cosa vuol dire essere in mare aperto e avere una paura assurda ma
Come Musica
Sep 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Una vita su una tavola da surf!
Un amore incondizionato, al limite della spregiudicatezza.
Molto bello.
Non ho dato cinque stelle perché è troppo lungo.
Scott Grossman

As a magnanimous gesture for the prize-winning best-seller I rounded up to a two star rating from the dismal 1.5 stars it certainly deserves. This book became more and more painful for me to continue the deeper I ventured into Finnegan’s tube. By page 380 I’d given up hope, feeling like I was the one held under, getting pummeled by wave after literal wave. I think no book can replicate the author’s ability to make his readers feel like they themselve
Helga Cohen
This was the 2016 Pulitzer Prize Winning book for Biography or Autobiography. It is a memoir about his life as a surfer which was also an obsession and a way of life. Finnegan was raised in California and Hawaii where he started surfing as a child. He tells of how he literally chased waves all over the world, including the South Pacific, Australia, and Africa. He writes about his surfing experiences and the male friendships. He became a journalist and war reporter. Even today, 50+ years later hi ...more
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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."
“The particulars of new places grabbed me and held me, the sweep of new coasts, cold, lovely, dawns. The world was incomprehensibly large, and there was still so much to see. Yes, I got sick sometimes of being an expatriate, always ignorant, on the outside of things, but I didn't feel ready for domestic life, for seeing the same people, the same places, thinking more or less the same thoughts, each day. I liked surrendering to the onrush, the uncertainty, the serendipity of the road.” 9 likes
“In a recent interview, he compared himself to surfers: “What are they doing this for? It’s just pure. You’re alone. That wave is so much bigger and stronger than you. You’re always outnumbered. They always can crush you. And yet you’re going to accept that and turn it into a little, brief, meaningless art form.” 6 likes
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