Book Review: Kon-Tiki

Kon-Tiki:  Across The Pacific By Raft, by Thor Heyerdahl

I had a lot of fun reading this book and thinking about its implications.  This is an enjoyable book of about three hundred pages or so that is written about an epic journey in order to prove a bizarre theory about ancient history.  As someone who has a high degree of tolerance and/or interest in bizarre theories about ancient history [1], I am a pretty ideal audience for this book.  This book certainly delivers, whether or not you find the theory of the author about Peruvian settlement of Polynesia to be a ridiculous idea, something worth taking seriously along with other research on linguistics and genetics, or gospel historical truth.  I fall within the middle camp myself, as I am of the belief that any society that could feasibly travel across the world’s oceans and seas did so in search of freedom and resources.  This book proves that the raft technology of the pre-Columbian population of South America could at least feasibly travel to the islands of Polynesia and so I grant the minor premise that such a journey would have been successfully undertaken by the desperate and foolhardy of the that time, as such people exist in every age.

In terms of its structure, this book has a familiar feel of a travel narrative.  The author introduces himself in a period of frustration where he finds himself broke and unable to have his odd and unorthodox ideas about the South American settlement of and exploration of Polynesia taken seriously.  He then chooses, with help from five other people–one woman and four men, one Swede and four fellow Norwegians, to undertake a voyage on the sort of raft that was built by the indigenous people of South America from Peru to French Polynesia.  The author is keen to note that this was funded via loans as well as contracts to write–of which this book is presumably a part–and that its feasibility took advantage of the author’s ability to work diplomatically with the consuls and ambassadors of Norway (his native country) as well as the political leaders of other countries who may not have agreed with his theories but had their own reasons for supporting his endeavors such as a desire to bolster the glory of their own nations and cultures.  The author shows himself to be a vivid writer full of detail and someone whose disciplined habits of having written and photographic records kept of the journey in progress and his love of dealing with other people helping to create a vivid and compelling travel narrative which likely inspired many future world travelers.

Again, I am skeptical of the author’s broad claims for the settlement of Polynesia through Rapa Nui (Easter Island) from Peru.  Nonetheless, the author’s comical and dramatic voyage, full of peril but also success, demonstrates beyond the shadow of a doubt that such a voyage was feasible.  After all, if a group of neophyte Scandinavian explorers could do it in a replica raft of balsawood (!), then certainly whatever seasoned and experienced ancient Peruvian sailors would have been able to undertake the voyage successfully.  That such a thing can be done does not mean that it was done to the extent that the author claims, but it does give a strong indication that such a thing was done at least once or a few times.  There are always going to be people, like the author for example, who feel it necessary to explore the unknown, and that drive makes such voyages extremely likely wherever they are possible to undertake successfully.  With a quart of water a day and all the flying fish and bonito one could eat such a voyage could be done.  How then was such a voyage not done, all of the solemn pronouncements of ignorant self-professed exports to the contrary?

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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4 Responses to Book Review: Kon-Tiki

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