Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


by Thor Heyerdahl
304 pages
first published in 1950

*** About the Book ***

Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific by RaftWhile living in Polynesia during the 1930s to do zoological research, Thor Heyerdahl came up with a theory.  He suggested that the reason art and architecture is so similar in Polynesia and Peru is that Polynesian legends are actually based in fact, and that the original inhabitants of the island arrived there via boat from Peru.  This theory was laughed at by scientists around the world.  The outbreak of World War II put a break on his plans but just two years after the war ended Thor went into action.  To prove that his theory was plausible he planned to build a raft according to ancient Peruvian specifications and sail it 4,000 miles from South America to the Polynesian island.  And he did it.  This book is the story of that adventure.

*** Why I Read It ***

Way back in June 2008 I read a review of this book on Guys Lit Wire that began with this quote from the book: "Once in a while you find yourself in an odd situation. You get into it by degrees and in the most natural way but, when you are right in the midst of it, you are suddenly astonished and ask yourself how in the world it all came about. If, for example, you put to sea on a wooden raft with a parrot and five companions, it is inevitable that sooner or later you will wake up one morning out at sea, perhaps a little better rested than ordinary, and begin to think about it." That definitely got my attention!  The review goes on to describe the author and his companions as "the heroic nerd[s], men so driven by the urge to know, to see and understand, they make bold, mad leaps into uncharted territory. The creed of the heroic nerd is, No experiment is so insanely dangerous that it can’t be made slightly more insanely dangerous with a side experiment."  If that doesn't intrigue you, there is something seriously wrong.  

I could go on and on but I'd rather you just go over to Guys Lit Wire and read the review - it's a good one!

*** My Thoughts ***

Have you ever read something that so intrigued your imagination that you couldn't get it out of your head?  Something that you just HAD to talk to other people about, HAD to find out more about?  That is what this book was for me.

Thor's writing is simple, to-the-point, and still beautiful when he wants it to be.  I was right there with him when his theories were rejected by the scientific community.  I traveled alongside him as he gathered the materials and began building the raft.  Then his time on the ocean ... oh his time on the ocean! I loved reading about the months he and his companions spent on board the raft simply enjoying life. (Not that I'd EVER want to do it myself - his writing isn't THAT seductive!)

While part of me went along for the adventure another part of me simply couldn't get past the (unintentional?) cruelty to some of the ocean's creatures.  For the most part the men on the raft had the greatest respect for nature but they were victims of their own lack of knowledge and their ingrained fears.  One example of this that really broke my heart was their encounter with a whale shark.  This animal was completley unknown to them and they assumed it was a deadly predator.  After it bumped the raft several times in what they took to be an aggressive manner, they stabbed it with a harpoon.  If they only knew what we know today, that this is possibly the most gentle large fish in the world!

Yet even with all that I still loved reading this book.  It is a true adventure story, and practically a modern-day one at that. It shows what people can do when they really want to - as both Thor and the ancient people he emulated proved..  I'm still a bit in shock that this story was unknown to me before now.

One thing really bothered me about this book though - my copy was too small! The photo to the left shows my hand holding my copy of the book.  The book is approximately the length of my hand and about as wide as the length of my thumb.  This made it very hard to hold the book open wide enough to read it. 

*** More Info (stuff you'll find fascinating!)***

When I finished reading the book I knew I wanted to see the documentary that the men made while on board the raft. While searching my library's catalog for a copy of it I came across a copy of Kon-Tiki Man: An Illustrated Biography of Thor Heyerdahl and immediately checked it out.  I spent the next few days browsing through the pages and found out that crossing the Pacific was only the first of Thor's adventures.  His next quest was to prove that the ancient Egyptians could have sailed their papyrus boats to the east coast of South America, thereby explaining the cultural and archeological links between Egypt, Peru, and Polynesia.  And guess what? He build a papyrus boat and sailed it across the Atlantic - successfully.  AND THEN he built a reed boat and sailed it from the Middle East and over to Africa to prove that the cultures of the Fertile Crescent could have spread that way.  This guy is freakin' amazing! Seriously, how did I not know about him before now?!

Kon TikiI also watched the documentary, also called Kon Tiki, made from the film footage taken during the original raft journey across the Pacific. There wasn't really anything new in there but it was still fascinating to see the guys I'd been reading about.

*** Your Thoughts ***

First off, are you familiar with Thor's adventures?  (If so, have I been living under a rock?!) Second, have you ever been so captivated by a book that you had go find out more, like I did with this book? I want to hear all about it!


Daisy said...

Ooooh!! I read the Heyerdahl books several times as a kid! They were my favourites, along with Robinson Crusoe and the Emilio Salgari pirate books. I thought they would be forgotten by now :). I read Kon-Tiki, The Ra Expeditions and Aku-Aku: The Secret of Easter Island, which was the one i liked best.

GMR said...

Wow...great review! While this book doesn't seem like a good fit for myself (and no, I'm not familiar with it either so we may be sharing that rock), your enthusiasm radiates off the It seems like you (as well as the Guys Lit Wire folks) truly found a story to which you connected....and I have to say, yes, that opening line does make you stop and think! As for a book that made me investigate more...alas, now that you asked, I can't think of one! LOL. Will have to get back to you on that.... Thanks for sharing...and happy reading!

bermudaonion said...

The book sounds fabulous - I get caught up in stories like that and find myself wanting to embark on an adventure, but then I wake up and realize I would hate it. That doesn't mean I can't enjoy reading about it.

Heather J. said...

Daisy - Very cool! I hope to read the other expedition books at some point - glad to know they are as good as or better than this one. Thanks for commenting, and welcome to my blog. :)

GMR - I'm glad that you can tell how excited this book made me. I was telling everyone about it for days afterward. LOL

bermudaoion - Exactly! The story is so gripping but then I realized that NO WAY would I ever do that.

Alyce said...

I have heard about his books, but haven't read them myself. His adventures sound amazing! The biggest thing I remember reading about him is that his theories were controversial and rejected by most scientists (at least those about the settlement of South America). I know I would love reading about his adventures though.

Daisy said...

Thank you, I love your blog. I've been a lurker for quite some time, but when i saw your review of Heyerdahl's book i had to jump in and comment.

Heather J. said...

Alyce - He talks a bit about his theories being rejected but he makes a lot of good points as to why he believes them. I really want to learn more about it now!

Daisy - Even better! So nice to "meet" you. :)

blackwatertown said...

Thor Heyerdahl was in the popular imagination when I was young. I'm sure I've seen his raft in a museum, though a quick look on wikipedia says it's in Oslo. I haven't been, so the raft I saw must have been a reconstruction.

What has caught my imagination lately? Ford Maddox Ford's The Good Soldier. I hear a lot of interesting chat about the author's life recently on the radio. So now I reading the book. Early days though.

I read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens for the first time recently. Very good once it gets going. But the opening line is not the gem people think it is (as I've been blogging lately.)

fantaghiro23 said...

Wow. Great review! I have to say, now I'm definitely interested in this book, though, no, I haven't heard of it before. Strange that books I've read about sea journeys have all been fascinating, and it seems like this book is, too.

Book that captivated me that I went out to find out more? I guess that would have to be The King's English: Adventures of an Independent Bookseller. After reading that book, tried to go to all it recommended, then kept note of all the reading lists. Then I got interested in publishing which is where I work right now.:)

Heather J. said...

blackwatertown - The Good Soldier is a new-to-me title - I'll have to check it out. And I did actually see your post on A Tale of Two Cities. I love that book but you made a great point about the first line. :)

fantaghiro23 - I'm a huge fan of adventure and exploration books but I must say that this one a really good one. I hope you have a chance to read it at some point! And thanks for sharing about The King's English - it sounds like a book that really influenced your life!

Dreamybee said...

The name sounds familiear, but I couldn't have identified him for anything! Sounds like a fun read!

Heather J. said...

Dreamybee - Ha! Maybe this would have been a good Jeopardy question! LOL

Kailana said...

This books sounds fantastic! And, even if it didn't your enthusiasm would make me want to read it anyway! :)

Heather J. said...

Kailana - I'm so glad my enthusiasm showed in my review. I'm really quite enamored by the whole concept of a raft journey across the Pacific, then to know that the author went on to take other crazy adventures ... well, I just loved all that!

Blog Widget by LinkWithin