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Barbarian Days

A Surfing Life
Narrated by: William Finnegan
Length: 18 hrs and 8 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (3,171 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize, Biography, 2016

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 listener in the edgy camaraderie of close male friendships annealed in challenging waves. Finnegan shares stories of life in a whites-only 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 listeners with him on rides of harrowing, unprecedented lucidity.

©2015 William Finnegan (P)2015 Audible, Inc.

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  • Laura
  • New York, NY
  • 02-01-16

An Amazing Performance by the Author

Any additional comments?

An important caveat about this book - it’s not just for those who surf. As someone who has never attempted this sport in her life, I thoroughly enjoyed William Finnegan’s lengthy memoir. A detailed, and nicely-paced story, Barbarian Days begins in 1960s’ Hawaii, and from there takes us on an adventure around the word. Finnegan’s memoir is more than just an ode to a past time – it’s a story of balancing an obsession with the inevitable responsibilities of adulthood. He reflects on his past with humor, panache, and of course, a reverence for the sport which profoundly shaped his life.

59 of 61 people found this review helpful

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Wishing for a never-end of this book

If you could sum up Barbarian Days in three words, what would they be?

perfect reminice, haunting

What other book might you compare Barbarian Days to and why?

Most of Russell Chatham's books on fishing. especially Dark Waters

Which scene was your favorite?

Loved every last page

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

A time and a place gone forever

Any additional comments?

I deeply loved this book. The Hawaii chapter took me back to my Kahala childhood of the 60's. It's all true, exactly as Finnegan wrote. I physically flinched at some of the really awful passages about local brutality to outsiders in those days. The surfing life of the 60's and 70's are perfectly captured in Finnegan's memories. I usually dislike author read audiobooks, but Finnegan's voice added so much to this book, making every sentence and remembrance come alive for me, the listener. This is a beautiful book. I found myself repeating paragraphs and sentences so that I could pull even more out of my first listen. I went on the buy the hard copy to be able to read and reread passages. In all of the surfing articles and books I have ever read, this book describes the ocean, the surfer and that surfing set of mind better than anyone. The reader does not even have to have ever touched the ocean to appreciate Finnegan's lucid descriptions of oceans and the world he traveled and surfed in. Amazing book. So glad he wrote it.
Hauolikaimana

51 of 54 people found this review helpful

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Read this book. You will enjoy it.

Any additional comments?

I thought this book was a masterpiece. I enjoy the genre of "adventure memoirs," of which this is definitely a lead member. Though it is not as thrilling as Lansing's Endurance, or as compelling as Krakauer's Into Thin Air, this book is an intense meditation about surfing and how it shaped William Finnegan's life. Reviews talk about how Finnegan explores themes like family. I did not think so. I think Finnegan explores surfing. In Hawaii. In Southern California. In Portugal. In Australia. In Northern California. In New York.

As he learns to appreciate the breaks, currents and tides of each locale, he invariably meets friends, lovers and forms a relationship to his world. In his case, Finnegan's world is at once very large (he travels around the world for several years) and small (he is driven by surfing. That is IT.) The narrative meanders, but compellingly so. I could FEEL the waves with him. Finnegan's writing is excellent, and he is a well-read fellow, sprinkling many literary references throughout. These, in my opinion, added a depth of deliciousness to an already very enjoyable book.

If you are from Hawaii, you have to read the first chapter; it is hysterical. If you are from Santa Cruz, or surf Ocean Beach, you must read about his SF days - they are... interesting. If you are from New York, you must read about his discovery of awesome surfing on Long Island and the Sound.

That I read this book during the summer months, that I am from Hawaii, live in the Bay Area and have a deep connection to Manhattan only served to expand this book's dimensional delightfulness further for me. Even without these personal connections, this book deserves the attention it is getting. My only thought is I wonder how Finnegan feels about the popularity of this book and how it compares to the popularity and reach of his political publications.

Either way, read this book. It is excellent.

33 of 36 people found this review helpful

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You Have to Love Surfing...

...which apparently, I don't. The book starts off with a bang, great writing but then becomes fairly repetitive unless you really love chasing waves with a self-absorbed chowder head.

32 of 35 people found this review helpful

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How about some serious editing?

The detail became monotonous after awhile.,
especially with the travels with Brian, and the redundant Ocean Beach episodes(to name a couple areas of many).
I would give this memoir surf story a much higher rating if it was reduced in length
by about 25%.
I think Finnegan's editor failed , not Finnegan.

14 of 15 people found this review helpful

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  • JP
  • 02-09-16

Top 5 Best Books I've Ever Read!!!

If you could sum up Barbarian Days in three words, what would they be?

Exciting, Descriptive, Breathtaking

What did you like best about this story?

I didn't want it to end. The way he describes each and every place he surfed and lived with such detail, really sucks you in. William Finnegan is such a great writer. It made me want to quite my job and travel the world surfing!

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

There were times when I was laughing out loud and also probably making some pretty intense faces while driving!

Any additional comments?

I've recommended this book to all of my friends that surf, including the ones that don't. Read this book!

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Promising but Way too Long

What did you like best about Barbarian Days? What did you like least?

I enjoyed the first half of the book. The way the author described the waves, his young life and his family were all very interesting and well done.

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

The challenge with the story was that it was way too long. The more I listened the more I was amazed by William Finnegan's narcissism. The book goes on and on about his trips to surf through his adult life. It becomes very repetitious and boring. I had to stop listening about 3 hrs before it was over.

Did Barbarian Days inspire you to do anything?

no

19 of 21 people found this review helpful

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What a Jerk.

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

No. Finnegan spent 16 1/2 hours rambling about his surfing obsession and his self-absorbed life. In the last hour of the book, he bemoans how surfing is being ruined by the number of people who want to learn to surf and hog his waves. He complains of a private resort that blocks outsiders from the beach in front of the property. How DARE they? Wait. He just complained about people who are not devoted to surfing as he is ruining his favorite surfing spots then he gripes about a private surfing spot that keeps people from overrunning a favorite surfing spot. Well, of course he becomes a regular customer of the resort so he can surf there even though he despises the resort's concept.

What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)

While I enjoy learning about alternative lifestyles and the experiences people had that are far different from mine, the ending made me sorry I wasted 17+ hours of my life listening to this audio book. Finnegan, you can have the surfing experience all to yourself. You made me hate it.

Would you listen to another book narrated by William Finnegan?

No

Do you think Barbarian Days needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

Absolutely not.

Any additional comments?

So sorry I fell for the reviews and purchased this book.

56 of 64 people found this review helpful

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11 Hours And No End In Sight

OK, so again, I am one of the few dissenters. I listened to 11 hours and decided I have no need to finish this book. Hours and hours of mostly detailed wave descriptions? And you might wonder just how many waves can you describe in that many hours? Endless numbers . . . too many. Believe me, a whole lot! No thank you.

While I did learn alot about surfing and have a greater understanding of its lure, I just cannot fathom spending 7 more hours listening to wave descriptions from a monotone author/narrator who, in addition, is exceedingly egocentric and self-centered.

Listening to this audiobook brings to my mind a favorite author Paul Theroux, who has also traveled extensively like Finnegan, but who, unlike Finnegan, genuinely enjoys meeting other people, is very interested in what their lives are about, and who does not make himself the center of the universe in his own travel books. I know Theroux has not written a surfing book! But he kayaked extensively in the South Pacific in many of the places Finnegan describes in this book. So what could it have hurt Mr. Finnegan to include descriptions of the various natives, his interactions with them, his take on their lifestyles considering there seemed to be lots of lulls between finding and describing the best waves? There IS a bit of that in this book, I will acknowledge, particularly about the apartheid problem in South Africa, but somehow, Finnegan makes himself the center of even that!

If Finnegan had been a more likable fellow, I would have finished this book. Many folks loved this book. Obviously, they are not as picky as me. If surfing interests you, go for it!

37 of 42 people found this review helpful

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  • Peter
  • Randburg, South Africa
  • 02-10-16

Surfing Attitude

Was hoping more for something in the line of Boys in the Boat but rather got an egocentric ramble. Surfers may enjoy the jargon and the arrogance but its not for me. The early travels were entertaining but got to a stage where I was almost tempted to quit.

37 of 42 people found this review helpful

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  • Andrea
  • 08-17-19

Meditation in audiobook form

I absolutely loved this, the languid narrative - slow-paced and detailed - and similarly languid narration. The author's passion for waves is so clear from the detailed journal notes he has woven into the book.

The narration made it for me. I can understand why other reviewers have said they found the author's tone monotonous but I found it meditative.

I don't think I would have enjoyed reading the book, it would have been too wordy, too slowly paced, this is perfect as an audiobook.

A lifetime of surf, travel, relationships and a smattering of history and politics... absolutely brilliant. And fitting that more than half the book covers the author's childhood and youthful adventures in the surf, with adulthood and real-life responsibilities crowding out the surf as he aged.

As a once-upon-a-time 'kook' surfer I've loved this opportunity to experience surfing a dizzying range of waves from around the world, as if for real.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Corin
  • 02-17-19

Just wonderful

'Surfing is the source..' from Point Break the film.
Listen to this book and understand - I don't surf however the description of being out at sea, standing waist deep on drying rocks as the wave builds behind the author, 2 storeys high, sucking water from in front of him, is wonderful.

Honest, compelling, exciting and a wade through the development of surfing as seen by an insider. wonderful.

The author-surfer is a pleasure. Do read this.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Daft Monk
  • 06-28-17

Almost great....

A fascinating insight into an interesting life and surf culture. But also frustrating, because often the surfing gets monotonous, while the broader life of the author feels just out of reach.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 09-16-19

excellent read

this has gotten me enthused to surf and travel again. a great story and exploration of the human condition

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • david
  • 06-07-19

Monotonous

Good start to the book but soon becomes almost repetitive Monotonous voice grated on me after a while. Couldn’t finish it.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 05-29-19

A great surfing biography...

...that's articulated beautifully. Feels like going on a surf trip on my commute to work.

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  • tim
  • 03-15-19

Outstanding !

Narrated beautifully by the author.
Compelling tales, running the gambit from heart wrenching to joyous. An inspiring read.

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  • Mark
  • 12-07-18

Superb Surfing Memoir

This the best surfing book I've ever read and also one of the best memoirs I've ever read. The combination of great journalistic ability and a massive passion for surfing combine to create an extraordinarily engaging literary tour de force. Conveys the addiction of surfing beautifully and Madeira has never seemed so fearsomely terrifying as in the hands of Mr Finnegan.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 02-12-18

Infectious

I was uterly absorbed by the thrilling story!
With the insatiable appetite for travel now burning inside me.
Would recommend to anyone who is serious about surfing or going on an adventure.

This book has inspired me to surf as many spots around the world as my board will let me.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 11-30-17

Superb

Wasn't sure what to expect but really enjoyed this book. The style of writing and narration made it such an easy listen. My favourite part was probably the description of the the invisible waves at Tavarua.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 04-06-18

Wonderful story of a surfer's journey.

Really enjoyable & well told. "Only a surfer knows the feeling" . The author's life long will have much meaning for any surfer.

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  • Nick
  • 09-07-17

if you surf read this book!

the start is a little bit slow during his early years but as soon as he starts travelling the book gets amazing. the descriptive writing of some of the scenarios that he gets into especially when he starts to ride really big waves is epic and his voice as a narrator is perfect especially when he goes into a detailed scenario. the discovery around the islands especially Fiji is epic and also when he goes to Indonesia and finds Nias. I couldn't recommend this book more and I am only in my early thirties and a very keen Surfer!!

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  • Luke
  • 03-21-17

Absolute gem, unforgettable

William Finnegan is now, without a doubt, one of my heroes. The detail he uses to describe every wave and every session is incredible. The highlight for me was the perfect description of one of the first breaks I ever surfed. Hands down best book I've read in a long time.

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  • graham smith
  • 05-21-16

Listen & Watch

A wonderful, reflective book about being young, getting older, written with a Joycean eye for detail: interior, exterior. Finnegan colours his sentences with the ink of adrenaline; you get to drop in on his waves. Watch the YouTube clips of the breaks as you listen. He reads very well.