- Mass Market Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster; unknown edition (May 1, 1990)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780671726522
- ISBN-13: 978-0671726522
- ASIN: 0671726528
- Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1 x 6.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 372 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #45,004 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft Mass Market Paperback – Special Edition, May 1, 1990
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About the Author
Thor Heyerdahl was a Norwegian explorer, adventurer, and writer. Born in 1914, he became famous for his daring 1947 Kon-Tiki expedition. He died in Italy in 2002.
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Early in the book Heyerdahl writes that in ancient Peru, "Kon-Tiki was high priest and sun-king of the Incas' legendary 'white men' who had left the enormous ruins on the shores of Lake Titicaca... Kon-Tiki... and his closest companions escaped and later came down to the Pacific coast, whence they finally disappeared oversea to the westward." Heyerdahl was convinced that Kon-Tiki was identical with the white chief-god Tiki, son of the sun, whom the inhabitants of all the eastern Pacific islands hailed as the original founder of that race. Heyerdahl decided that he needed to prove his theory by demonstrating that a primitive balsa-wood raft could have been carried by the currents from Peru to Polynesia.
So he set out to find backers, assemble a team of men to accompany him, build the raft, and acquire the provisions. They knew that once they left the coastal area of Peru, they would not encounter any ships, for no shipping route ran through that part of the Pacific. They had only minimal trials on their crudely built raft, and said that the first days of their journey turned "landlubbers into seamen". By modern day standards, they seemed spectacularly unprepared for this 4000+ mile odyssey. The author writes in intricate detail about how the raft behaved on the ocean, and about their daily routine of manning the helm, setting the sail, preparing meals, catching fish, playing with dolphins and sharks, etc. One of their most exciting experiences was meeting a terrifying sea monster, a whale shark, largest fish known in the world.
The writing is quite humorous at times; for instance, "Torstein limped about for some time with a rag round his big toe because he had let is stray into the mouth of a dolphin, which had used the opportunity to close its jaws and chew a little harder than usual." The author can also be quite introspective and poetic at times: "Time and evolution somehow ceased to exist; all that was real and that mattered were the same today as they had always been and would always be. We were swallowed up in the absolute common measure of history - endless unbroken darkness under a swarm of stars."
What is oddly lacking in the tale though (and the reason why I granted 4 stars rather than 5), was any significant development of the personalities of the 6 men who inhabited the raft for 101 days. We read about a few humorous episodes and scary events when one of the sailors falls into the sea, but we read almost no dialogue or interaction between them. How did they get along? Did they squabble? Did they get homesick? Were they afraid of never reaching shore again? Did they have wives and children at home? Did they have annoying habits? How did they handle boredom? Did they get badly sunburned? Did someone always sing out of tune and irritate the heck out of the others? Those types of little details would have humanized the 6 men considerably. I can hardly remember any distinguishing characteristics between them, other than 2 of them slaved over the radio all the time, and one dove into the water to save the life of the other who was falling further and further behind the raft after going overboard.
Nevertheless, it is a well written chronology of the most impressive feat of floating 101 days across the empty ocean, with only the waves and stars and sun and fish to accompany them. They endured and thrived and have won a well deserved spot in history.
I've long wanted to re-read the book, and gave it to myself as a birthday present. While Heyerdahl's theories of migration are still controversial (though recent DNA evidence may be backing him up more than previously believed), and, very unfortunately, there are undeniably racist elements present in both these theories and his depictions of "brown" people (something I did not realize when young and did not remember), the adventure story still is amazing. I don't at all regret the inspiration it gave and gives to live an adventurous, unafraid life..