Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life (Paperback)
  • Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life (Paperback)
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Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life (Paperback)

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£12.99
Paperback 512 Pages
Published: 10/05/2016
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Winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2016

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography 2016

Everything out there was disturbingly interlaced with everything else. Waves were the playing field. They were the goal. They were your deepest desire… At the same time, they were your adversary, your nemesis, even your mortal enemy… a dynamic indifferent world.

Surfing only looks like a sport. To devotees, it is something else entirely: a beautiful addiction, a mental and physical study, a passionate way of life.

William Finnegan first started surfing as a young boy in California and Hawaii. Barbarian Days is his immersive memoir of a life spent travelling the world chasing waves through the South Pacific, Australia, Asia, Africa and beyond. Finnegan describes the edgy yet enduring brotherhood forged among the swell of the surf; and recalling his own apprenticeship to the world's most famous and challenging waves, he considers the intense relationship formed between man, board and water.

Barbarian Days is an old-school adventure story, a social history, an extraordinary exploration of one man's gradual mastering of an exacting and little-understood art. It is a memoir of dangerous obsession and enchantment. As the Chair of the William Hill Award, Grahame Sharpe commented; “as we follow William Finnegan’s story we see not just the maturing of a boy into a man, but of a rebellious soul coming to terms with society on his own terms.”

Already a recipient of 2016’s Pulitzer Prize for Biography and famously on President Barack Obama’s summer reading list, Barbarian Days is a soaring elegy to not just surfing but the very ideas of freedom, commitment and community.

For a number of us at Waterstones, this is not just the best sports book of 2016 but the finest biography we’ve read overall in a year of fierce competition.

‘Need is a strong word. Nobody needs to surf. But then, if we’re talking about mere survival, nobody needs to play the piano or climb a mountain or read books. Finnegan explains that his relationship with surfing has been about seeking a “broad-beamed understanding of what is what”; in the water he experiences “brief, sharp glimpses of eternity”.’ – The Guardian

‘Incandescent . . . I’d sooner press this book upon on a non-surfer, in part because nothing I’ve read so accurately describes the feeling of being stoked or the despair of being held under. . . . [But] it’s also about a writer’s life and, even more generally, a quester’s life, more carefully observed and precisely rendered than any I’ve read in a long time.’ – The Los Angeles Times

‘The compromises and corruption on shore fail to contaminate or alter the joy-drenched, adrenalated play in the ocean. Wave and surfer are ageless. For surfing is a pagan mystery cult after all. And “Barbarian Days” is its “Confessions.”’ – The New York Times

Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
ISBN: 9781472151414
Number of pages: 512
Weight: 390 g
Dimensions: 195 x 130 x 34 mm


MEDIA REVIEWS

A surfer's tale of his quest for self-transcendence is a masterpiece that recalls early James Salter - Geoff Dyer, the Observer

I don't know anything about surfing, but I was gripped by the intensity of his language, never mind the thrilling recklessness of his behaviour in the waves - Olivia Laing, Guardian Best Holiday Reads 2015

There are too many breathtaking, original things in Barbarian Days to do more than mention here - observations about surfing that have simply never been made before, or certainly never so well. But a particularly remarkable feature of Barbarian Days is the generous yet unsparing portraits of competitive surf friendships that make up a major share of the narrative - New York Times

Nothing I've read so accurately describes the feeling of being stoked or the despair of being held under. But also because while it is a book about 'A Surfing Life' - as the subtitle states - it's also about a writer's life and, even more generally, a quester's life, more carefully observed and precisely rendered than any I've read in a long time - LA Times

Surfing is Topic A here, but it inevitably connects with politics (when Mr. Finnegan taught in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1981, students boycotted his classes to protest apartheid), environmental issues (he sees great surf spots both created and destroyed by human enterprise) and much more. - New York Times, Cool Beach Books for Hot Summer Days

Reading this guy on the subject of waves and water is like reading Hemingway on bullfighting; William Burroughs on controlled substances; Updike on adultery. . . . a coming-of-age story, seen through the gloss resin coat of a surfboard - Sports Illustrated

For pure sensation, pick up New Yorker writer William Finnegan's memories of the beach, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life. Just try and keep the sand out of your book . . . and out of your sandwich. - Publishers Weekly, Best Summer Books 2015

Luscious - Ed Caesar, Guardian

A far-ranging, unique and bewitching memoir ... You don't need to have surfed to enjoy this book. - Literary Review

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

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

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 - Washington Post

Overflowing with vivid descriptions of waves caught and waves missed, of disappointments and ecstasies and gargantuan curling tubes that encircle riders like cathedrals of pure stained glass . . . These paragraphs, with their mix of personal remembrance and subcultural taxonomies, tend to be as elegant and pellucid as the breakers they immortalize . . . This memoir is one you can ride all the way to shore - Entertainment Weekly

Without a doubt, the finest surf book I've ever read . . . All this technical mastery and precise description goes hand in hand with an unabashed, infectious earnestness. Finnegan has certainly written a surfing book for surfers, but on a more fundamental level, Barbarian Days offers a clear eyed vision of American boyhood. Like Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild, it is a sympathetic examination of what happens when literary ideas of freedom and purity take hold of a young mind and fling his body out into the far reaches of the world - New York Times Magazine

Which is precisely what makes the propulsive precision of Finnegan's writing so surprising and revelatory . . . Finnegan's treatment of surfing never feels like performance. Through the sheer intensity of his descriptive powers and the undeniable ways in which surfing has shaped his life, Barbarian Days is an utterly convincing study in the joy of treating seriously an unserious thing . . . As Finnegan demonstrates, surfing, like good writing, is an act of vigilant noticing - The New York Review of Books

Gorgeously written and intensely felt . . . With Mr Finnegan's bravura memoir, the surfing bookshelf is dramatically enriched. It's not only a volume for followers of the sport. Non-surfers, too, will be treated to a travelogue head-scratchingly rich in obscure, sharply observed destinations . . . Dare I say that we all need MrFinnegan...as a role model for a life fully, thrillingly, lived - Wall Street Journal

Irresistible - O, The Oprah Magazine

It's always fabulous when an incredible writer happens to also have a memoir-worthy life; Barbarian Days bodes well - GQ.com

A dream of a book by a masterful writer long immersed in surfing culture. Finnegan recaptures the waves lost and found, the euphoria, the danger . . . the allure - BBC.com

A skillful, masterful memoir . . . it's a book about surfing, of course, but it's not just for surfers. Finnegan's skill sees him trace memories and emotions with honesty. - The Skinny

Barbarian Days is one of the few surfing books for a wider audience. - Guardian

William Finnegan's absorbing surfing memoir, Barbarian Days will have you studying the ocean with new eyes - Anthony Doerr, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of All the Light We Cannot See

An astounding book. - Matt Haig

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