Books by Thor Heyerdahl

Released: March 1, 1996

Explorer Heyerdahl (Easter Island, 1989, etc.) offers an engaging memoir of the South Seas idyll that launched him on his controversial anthropological theories and lifelong commitment to conservation. Fresh out of Oslo University, the wayfaring Norwegian (who turned 81 this year) resolved to escape civilization and get back to nature. With a like-minded young bride named Liv, he headed for the Marquesas, an archipelago about 1,000 miles northeast of Tahiti. In 1937, the venturesome couple set up housekeeping in the heights of Fatu-Hiva, above a gorgeous interior river valley. While able to live off the land, the Heyerdahls eventually learned that life in paradise involves certain trade-offs. Forced to seek medical attention for their dangerously ulcerated legs, they braved the open ocean to reach Hivaoa (where painter Paul Gauguin is buried). Back on Fatu-Hiva, the author and his wife quit the mosquito coast for the island's windward side. In time, however, their new Eden became untenable, owing to the animosity of local inhabitants, the descendants of cannibals, and the couple set out for home in 1938. Although fascinating, the quotidian details of Heyerdahl's maiden expedition are less important than the strong opinions he developed. During this initial sojourn, the author first conjectured that transoceanic travelers spread ancient cultures (as well as alien flora and fauna) around the world, a hypothesis he subsequently tested with the drift voyages of the Kon-Tiki and Ra II. Heyerdahl also formed deep convictions about the need for humankind to avoid disturbing nature's wondrous balances, in particular, those of the great life-sustaining waters that cover three-quarters of the globe. In closing, he makes a lyrical attempt to square the circles of creationism and evolution, concluding there's a divine spark in the universe, since neither DNA nor protein could have been fashioned by chance. The absorbing testament of a wise old Viking who remains one of planet Earth's most devoted and persuasive stewards. (28 photos, not seen) Read full book review >