first published in 1950
*** About the Book ***
While 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!)***
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?!
I 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!