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.
Show More Show Less

Regular price: £28.09

Membership details Membership details
  • A 30-day trial plus your first audiobook, free
  • 1 credit/month after trial – choose any book, any price
  • Easy exchanges – swap any book you don’t love
  • Keep your audiobooks, even if you cancel
  • Free, unlimited access to Audio Shows
  • After your trial, Audible is just £7.99/month
Select or Add a new payment method

Buy Now with 1 Credit

By completing your purchase, you agree to Audible's Conditions of Use and Privacy Notice.

Buy Now for £28.09

Pay using card ending in
By completing your purchase, you agree to Audible's Conditions of Use and Privacy Notice.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Anonymous User on 12-02-18


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.

Read more Hide me
5 out of 5 stars
By Amazon Customer on 30-11-17


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.

Read more Hide me
See all reviews

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Laura - Audible on 01-02-16

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.

Read more Hide me

45 of 46 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By sunstan on 03-09-15

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.

Read more Hide me

46 of 48 people found this review helpful

See all reviews