Author: Thor Heyerdahl
Country (language): Norway (Norwegian)
Published: 1948

Summary

The book Kon-Tiki is Thor Heyerdahl’s account of his extraordinary 1947 voyage, with 5 colleagues, on a primitive wooden raft from South America to the Polynesian islands in the South Pacific. The journey was Heyerdahl’s effort to show that it was possible that the Polynesian’s arrived on the islands from South America, not Asia.

The account follows Heyerdahl’s recruitment of the crew, a mission to the jungle to get the wood for the raft, and the over 100 days and 4300 miles the men spent at sea before finally arriving on land. On the way they encounter storms and high seas, fish that have never been seen alive before, sharks, worries that the raft may fall apart, and the near-disaster of a man overboard. Most importantly they must learn skills long-forgotten in the age of modern transport.

Notes

The book is named after the raft, which in turn was named after a Polynesian legend of Kon Tiki, the man who founded the Polynesian race.

Although the voyage was a success, Heyerdahl himself says that the trip did not prove his theory was correct, but that it was possible.

As well as becoming a best-selling book, the documentary made of the voyage won an Oscar in 1951 for ‘Best Documentary’.

Sample

One day, when we were sitting as usual on the edge of the raft having a meal, so close to the water that we had only lean back to wash our mugs, we started when suddenly something behind us blew hard like a swimming horse and a big whale came up and stared at us, so close that we saw a shine like a polished shoe down through its blowhole. It was so unusual to hear real breathing out at sea, where all creatures wriggle silently without lungs and quiver their gills, that we really had a warm family feeling for our old distant cousin the whale, who like us had strayed so far out to sea. Instead of the cold, toadlike whale shark, which had not even the sense to stick up its nose for a breath of fresh air, here we had a visit from something which recalled a well-fed jovial hippopotamus in a zoological gardens and which actually breathed – that made a most pleasant impression on me – before it sank into the sea again and disappeared.

Reviews

Although some anthropologists still disagree with Heyerdahl’s ideas, the remarkable nature of the voyage made Kon-Tiki a major success. It is seen as one of the best adventure stories of the 20th century.