2016 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Biography – William Finnegan for Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life

The Pulitzer Prizes

The winners have been announced and Barbarian Days:  A Surfing Life by William Finnegan has won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Biography.

William Finnegan youtube.com
Photo: youtube.com

What’s the book about?  Here is a summary from Amazon:

Barbarian Days A Surfing Life

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 reader 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 readers with him on rides of harrowing, unprecedented lucidity.

Barbarian Days is an old-school adventure story, an intellectual autobiography, a social history, a literary road movie, and an extraordinary exploration of the gradual mastering of an exacting, little understood art. Today, Finnegan’s surfing life is undiminished. Frantically juggling work and family, he chases his enchantment through Long Island ice storms and obscure corners of Madagascar.

Want to know more?  Check out this information from The New Yorker:

William Finnegan has been a contributor to The New Yorker since 1984 and a staff writer since 1987. Reporting from Africa, Central America, South America, Europe, the Balkans, and Australia, as well as from the United States, he has twice received the John Bartlow Martin Award for Public Interest Magazine Journalism and twice been a National Magazine Award finalist. His article “Deep East Texas” won the 1994 Edward M. Brecher Award for Achievement in the Field of Media; his article “The Unwanted” the Sidney Hillman Prize for Magazine Reporting. His report from Sudan, “The Invisible War,” won a Citation for Excellence from the Overseas Press Club, and he received the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism for “Leasing the Rain.” His article “The Countertraffickers” won the Overseas Press Club’s Madeline Dane Ross Award for International Reporting, and his report from Mexico, “Silver or Lead,” won the Overseas Press Club’s Robert Spiers Benjamin Award. Finnegan is the author of five books: “Crossing the Line,” which was selected by the New York Times Book Review as one of the ten best nonfiction books of the year;  “Dateline Soweto”;  “A  Complicated War”; “Cold New World: Growing Up in a Harder Country,” which was a finalist for the Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism; “Barbarian Days,” his latest.

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10 thoughts on “2016 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Biography – William Finnegan for Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life

  1. Reblogged this on WHAT THE HELL and commented:
    At last! A book I read before it won a Pulitzer Prize!

    I wouldn’t have thought a book about surfing could be so riveting, but Finnegan finds a way to make it universal — a metaphor for anything you might become obsessed with as a way to forge your identity and give life new layers of meaning.

    Try it … you’ll like it!

    1. Hey Kevin, I had not heard of Finnegan’s book but that’s because I’m usually immersed in the world of fiction. I try to read a few nonfiction books each year and this looks like one to put on my list. Thanks for the reblog! Have a great day!

      1. Thanks for reminding me about it! Funny, but even though I’m a novelist, I find myself reading more nonfiction these last couple of years …

  2. I bought a copy of this book for my son (who’s a surfer) back in December, based on all the fabulous reviews. I don’t know if he’s read it yet, but I’m thinking I need to steal it from him!

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