Expedition Kon-Tiki

by Thor Heyerdahl

Other authorsBengt Danielsson
Paper Book, 1949



Call number




Stockholm : Forum, 1949


On April 28, 1947, an expedition was led by Norwegian biologist Thor Heyerdahl. The journey by raft spanned 4,300 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean and was hailed as one of the most fantastic feats of daring and courage of its time. Heyerdahl and his crew duplicated the legendary voyage of Kon-Tiki, the mythical hero who led the settlement of the South Sea Islands by sailing on a balsawood raft from Peru to the Polynesian islands.

User reviews

LibraryThing member edwinbcn
Looking back acrross the years to its first publication, nearly 70 years ago, Kon-Tiki. Across the Pacific in a Raft has achieved the status of a classic. Probably the documentary film of the expedition in 1951 greatly contributed to the popularization of the book. While largely unscientific,
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Heyerdahl's hypothesis and the practical exploratative nature of his research appeals to the popular mind, and the popularity of the book has swept criticism about its scientific premises or verity aside. Having studied zoology and explored the colonization of Polynesian islands by animals, Heyerdahl proposed a new controversial hypothesis based on an ancient Inca myth that Polynesia was discovered and populated by a mythical white race, originating from the Latin American continent prior to the arrival of the Spanish there. The books premises are about as strong or weak, and at least as popular as those of Gavin Menzies in our day.

Contrary to what many reviewers claim, the book is not 'a ripping adventure story', a claim which would perhaps better fit the films based on the book. The largest part of the book is devoted to describing Heyerdahl's hypothesis and the practical preparation for the journey.

Although Heyerdahl may be wrong about the spread of humans to Polynesia, his work and the adventurous demonstration that ancient people's could have travelled across the Pacific in a vessel or raft of their own crafting, has inspired not only many readers, but also other archaeologists and explorers to reconstruct ancient technology and prove the feasibility of, for example, literary records of travel or warfare.

Thor Heyerdahl is an excellent writer, and regardless of its scientific merit, Kon-Tiki. Across the Pacific in a Raft should be read as a classic travelogue.
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LibraryThing member Cecrow
In 1947, Norwegian archaeologist and WW2 veteran Thor Heyerdahl decided to test his theory that the Polynesian islands had been settled by South Americans rather than Asians. With five other men he constructed and boarded a small wooden raft, built according to design specifications recorded by
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early Spanish explorers, and navigated westward from Peru with intent to land on a tiny spot of land several months' distant.

The building of the raft is briefly told, but is a story in itself. The determination of these men to meet their timeline for launch was awesome, especially in 1947 with limited transportation and communications compared to today. We're talking no cell phones, no internet, no GPS. Long after I would have shrugged and said "maybe next year", they kept finding workarounds.

I was especially impressed with how much thought and care went towards accommodating the psychological effects six men would face while living alone on a small raft for several months. My appreciation for this preparedness increased when the image was fully revealed of just how quiet, endless and - well - boring this trip would have been for me as a passenger. Speaking as someone who doesn't even swim, it was hard to imagine living for so many days with nothing but water surrounding and washing over you, the same unchanging scenery with no landmarks on the horizon. Aside from being riddled with casually mentioned feats of endurance and near-death-experiences, much of the story is taken up with describing the only thing worth observing besides measurements: the wide array of aquatic sea-life which might have lain hidden to noisy engines, but that became companionable with the noiseless raft. The ocean provided fresh food, and the men's primary source of entertainment. As the author put it, "with such company in the water, time never passed slowly." Only once did he remark on someone's wishing for dry land, and that well towards the end of the voyage.

The voyage reached its destination, as related, but failed to provide convincing evidence for the author's theory that Polynesia was settled from South America. His opinion remains rather isolated to this day in scientific circles, despite his seemingly viable arguments. This paints him as a bit of a maverick, but does nothing to detract from this book's enduring quality as a good true-life adventure story.

The author went on to conduct a number of other rafting adventures around the world. Thor Heyerdahl was seen on worldwide television in 1994 as a host at Norway's Olympic Games ceremonies, and later died following a brain tumour diagnosis in 2002 at age 87. The original Kon-Tiki raft is housed in a museum in Oslo.
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LibraryThing member zenhead
Not only is this a remarkable story in every way, but Heyerdahl is a wonderful writer. This could have been a dry tale, based on historical research and navigational theory. but Heyerdhal's sense of humor and true wonder at the whole experience carry through in the telling of the story. From the
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time that the notion first occurred to him that the islands of Polynesia or first peopled by "immigrants" from Peru, through his frustrating efforts to have his theory taken seriously, to funding, outfitting, and actually building the replicated balsa wood raft, christened Kon Tiki, all the way across the Pacific ocean to their near disastrous landing three months later on the island of Raroia in the Tuamotu Islands, Heyerdahl tells the story with enough detail to keep the reader engaged and enough humor to move the story along. I read this book for the first time about 40 years ago, and when I saw a preview for the soon to be released movie, I went back and reread the book. It's held up very well. A quick read, and thoroughly enjoyable to anybody who enjoys adventure stories or seafaring stories.
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LibraryThing member kimchichi
I found this book in a used book store in Salmon Arm, BC, along with others I have not quite had time to read yet. I didn't realize that it was a book that was assigned reading for grade eights back in the '70s (as per my dad). So the origin of this particular copy may have been for some ungrateful
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grade eight who was forced to read such a marvelous book (nothing against grade eights, but I distinctly remember preferring Stephen King over anything we had assigned to us when I was in that grade. Even Ray Bradbury did not escape my sigh-filled loathing).

This was a great book that was engrossing and to the point. It is also a creature of its time, where the author does not seem to think twice about regaling the reader with tales of killing many more sharks than the crew of six could eat and then just throwing them over the side of the raft when they were done with the sharks. But in that sense, the author is probably more honest about the what happened than people are today, as he was not constrained by political correctness.

The lead up to the expedition itself is mercifully short, with the author laying out how he went from New York to South America to being out on the open ocean with the five other crew members on a balsa wood raft within 70 pages, where I think many other authors would have been bogged down by the various details and road blocks encountered. Crossing the Pacific was the best part, and the lion's share of the book, and I wish that Heyerdahl had spent more time talking about what happened and how the crew got along and the anthropology behind the expedition. But maybe that's to be found in other books or other papers, and maybe further details would have slowed the story too much. Overall I loved this book and wish it hadn't ended so soon!
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LibraryThing member br14elmo
Kon-Tiki starts with an idea, conceived during Heyerdahl's stay on a South Seas island researching his doctoral thesis: could Polynesia have been colonized by trans-Pacific emigres from the pre-Colombian cultures of South America?
A true scientist, Heyerdahl isn't satisfied with deciding "yes" - he
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must test the theory! In the hands of a lesser man this would have produced a musty old thesis collecting dust on the back shelf of an anthropology library. Instead, Heyerdahl marshals five friends of heroic spirit, acquires 9 giant balsa wood logs and some other supplies, and within a few months he sets sail from Peru to cross the Pacific. Drinking fresh water stored in hollowed-out bamboo shafts and eating fish that leap aboard the raft, they make their way across the ocean, well knowing that despite the advanced radio technology of 1936, their chance of rescue in the event of mishap is nil.
The only sea book I can think of to rival this for sheer interest and adventure is Verne's "20,000 Leagues under the Sea," - a fantasy. Heyerdahl's work is true, and his heroic heart shines through in every word. His love and reverence for the ocean and the primitive culture he sought to imitate, combined with his scientific clarity of exposition, make it a joy to read and will instill the sea-lust into even the most devoted landlubber.
I think everyone ought to read this book, for sheer pleasure, and as an example of what can be done with stout heart, clear head, and good will. I recommend it to you without any reservation.
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LibraryThing member MrsLee
When I first picked up this book, I thought there was no way it would be interesting to me, I do not like stories of people doing silly, stupid and dangerous things. However, this book is much more than that. It is a sea adventure, a mystery and a very interesting premise for exploration of
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cultures. Heyerdahl writes in such a way that you feel you are right there with him. After finishing this, I decided that I perhaps do have a thing for adventures on the high seas.
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LibraryThing member cestovatela
Convinced that the original inhabitants of the South Pacific migrated from South America, Thor Heyerdahl builds a balsa wood raft to sail across the ocean and prove his theory. In one of the greatest adventure stories ever written, Heyerdahl and his crew of WWII vets survive ocean squalls, strange
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marine life and a shipwreck before making landfall in the South Pacific. A travel book anyone ought to enjoy.
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LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
This was a lot of fun to read. I enjoyed everything about this adventure. Heyerdahl is a fabulous storyteller and really funny too. Although slightly inaccurate, Heyerdahl was convinced there was a connection between the peoples of South America and the population of the Polynesian
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(Easter/Tahitian) Islands. Building a raft made of the same materials the Incas would have used (balsa wood, bamboo and other natural elements), Heyerdahl and five companions spent 101 days crossing 4,300 nautical miles of the Pacific ocean in all kinds of weather to prove the point. The six men (five from Norway and one Swede) took turns cooking and steering and got along surprisingly well for a group of grown men stuck in the middle of the Pacific for almost four months. They endured raging seas, wild winds and all sorts of aquatic creatures that insisted on joining them on the raft. The episode with the squid was especially disturbing.
The photography, while in 1940s black and white, is a helpful addition to the story. Imagining the size and heft of the raft would be difficult without it.
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
This is the first person account of Thor Heyerdahl of his 1947 voyage with five companions across the South Pacific; over 4,000 nautical miles in 101 days with five companions on a balsa log raft. There are various genres this book could be said to fall into: anthropology, adventure/exploration and
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memoir, and I have mixed feelings about its success in each.

The entire purpose of the voyage was "to support a theory that the South Sea Islands were populated from Peru." Heyerdahl did have some compelling points for his theory. Given his expeditions sailing in craft of ancient design, Heyerdahl has good reason to claim that the ocean is "a conveyer, not an isolator." (Although in that case one must ask why Old and New Worlds lost contact for centuries.) Right in the front matter is a map showing the Humboldt currents and trade winds--going west, not east, making it seem plausible the islands were peopled from the Americas rather than Asia. And the sweet potato, which comes from South America, is a Polynesian staple. Nevertheless, Heyerdahl couldn't even get a legitimate scholar to look at his manuscript, because the Incas didn't have boats--only rafts which were believed unseaworthy. So Heyerdahl decided to have constructed a craft made of the same design and materials as pre-Columbian Peruvians and sail it from Peru across the Pacific to one of the South Sea Islands to prove it could be done, so his theory could be taken seriously. From what I can gather, despite the success of his voyage, this is considered by anthropologists today to be at best a fringe theory, if not downright crackpot. Worse is Heyerdahl's fixation that every "high" aspect of pre-Columbian New World came from "legendary white people" who voyaged to the New World, presumably from Europe, and created Aztec, Inca and Polynesian civilization and then were displaced by later Amerindian settlers. So as anthropology, although there's not much discussion of it, for me the book fails pretty resoundingly. Especially when you consider his craft had to be towed out of harbor, didn't land so much as wreck itself on a South Sea Island reef, and that, as Heyerdahl admits, it was sheer luck they used just cut balsa wood which still had enough sap to keep the craft afloat. Had they used dried logs as planned, they would have floundered.

And then there's the memoir/adventure tale aspect, which I consider a qualified success. Qualified because note the above part about luck--and admittedly guts. But I'm somewhat a fan of tales of exploration and I couldn't help compare Heyerdahl to his compatriot Roald Amundsen, the polar explorer. Amundsen famously said that "adventure is just bad planning." He won that race to the South Pole because of rational and efficient planning, preparedness, experience and skill--little of which seemed evident in Heyerdahl. Reading of how Heyerdahl prepared and planned for the Kon-Tiki expedition on the other hand, it's hard for me to understand how he didn't wind up with a Darwin Award. Several maritime experts told him the Kon Tiki was unseaworthy, just as anthropologists had told him his migration theories were unsound--he launched anyway. And as memoir, if you're expecting to find much psychological insight into what he and his five companions went through on a raft for nearly four months, you're going to be disappointed.

Ah, but there are some redeeming qualities to reading this--namely as a tale of the sea. It was often (although perhaps not often enough) fascinating to read about the marine life they came across, the storms and dangers they faced. An encounter with a whale shark was particularly memorable--as was just the abundance of food available to them living off the sea in that raft. They had enough flying fish jumping into the raft to make fishing superfluous the way Heyerdahl told it. Crab, squid, even plankton around them could make a tasty meal, although their favorite was the Bonito fish. So it's as an account of nature and the sea that this tale makes up points for me, even if I look at the theories that inspired this voyage with a jaundiced eye.
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LibraryThing member corracreigh
I can't remember when i first heard about the book, or the expedition, but was was probably while still at school, in the early 1960s; I might even have been gripped by the 1950 film. However, it's a great book of adventure, and one which I found most enjoyable. Very glad I have this.
LibraryThing member lareinak
Kon-Tiki is a fantastic book that reads like a science fiction adventure. I was completely enthralled with the details of building the raft as well as the adventure across the ocean. I loved how he went over some things in detail while not letting the reader be bogged down in things they would no
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understand. This is a great book for anyone who loves adventure and death defying feats.
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LibraryThing member jjmcgaffey
Hmmm. A very enjoyable book - all three sections were interesting, in entirely different ways. The first part deals with Heyerdahl's inspiration and efforts to get the expedition going - from getting the idea to go, to finding funding, equipment, and permission, to getting the actual logs to make
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his balsa raft. When he finally achieved that, the next section describes the trip itself - just over three months at sea, seeing not one ship the whole time (I wonder if it would be true now?) but lots of interesting sea life including species that had never been seen alive before. The final part deals with them actually making it to Polynesia, and the difficulties of landing the raft with its limited steering and strong drive westward before the trade winds. They ended up more or less wrecked, but safe ashore, and a lot of this section is about the celebrations of their trip among the Polynesians. I find some of his argument a little overdone, but mostly the fine details - the general idea, that Polynesia was colonized from South America, makes quite a bit of sense. When he argues that the Polynesians navigate by the stars (and make statues, and this and that and the other thing) because they were taught to do so by "bearded, white men" from some higher civilization (who also came down into South America and taught the Inca their civilization)...that's overdoing it. I'm also finding echoes of the story in other things - other books and random conversations remind me of Kon-Tiki - which usually means this is one of the books that's going to remain memorable.
And all that said - I think I'm getting rid of this book. I don't feel particularly that I'll want to reread it, and if I do I'm pretty sure I can find it at the library.
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LibraryThing member keylawk
Thor Heyerdahl tested the hypothesis of a westward migration to Rapa Nui. The sweet potato was the staple food and it was developed in Peru. Although Linguistic, and even genetic ties are to Polynesia, there was no other explanation for the presence of the sweet potato.
In 1947, with his 13.7 meter
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(45 ft) balsa raft Kon Tiki, Thor showed that in an El Nino year, the Humboldt Current and the trade winds are primarily westerly. Kon Tiki drifted with 6 Norse scientists aboard for 4,300 nautical miles for 3 months and reached the Polynesian island of Raroia (Puka Puka) in the Tuamotus.
Heyerdahl also notes the unique Pre-Inca Peruvian quality of the stone walls at Ahu Vinapu. In addition, the tradition of a short-ear race annihilating a long-ear race is unique to Easter Island.
Kon-Tiki, speaking of linguistic connections, is said to be an "old name" for the Inca sun god, Viracocha. The word Tiki is not in Rapanui, although it appears in Maori (the name of the first man), Tuamotuan, and as ti'i in Tahitian, and ki'i in Hawaiian. "Tiki" culture is now native to nowhere, but has evolved into a tropical theme decor.
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LibraryThing member edspicer
This book was very adventurous and an exciting story at times, though not throughout the whole thing. 3Q3P The cover art is ok and I'd recommend this for high school students and adults. I chose this book because I heard about the story before and it seemed exciting. AutumnM
LibraryThing member kslade
Great book about raft adventure voyage from Peru to pacific islands proving it could be done. Very enjoyable story. Hard to believe I had never read it before ...but I may have read an abridged version years ago.
LibraryThing member kenno82
A classic adventure tale that has spawned many others of its kind. Compared to others, and Heyerdahl's following works, I found Kon-Tiki to be very well paced, effectively broken into three parts - before, during and after the journey. Its not hard to understand why it remains as one of the most
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famous adventure tales of its time.
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LibraryThing member Whicker
An exciting and educational journey. Kon Tiki details the journey of a small group of men as they sail across the Pacific Ocean on a balsa wood raft. When author Thor Heyerdahl published his theory of how ancient man had made such a voyage, he was told it was impossible. Instead of arguing, he did
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it himself. Absolutely captivating.
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LibraryThing member Stbalbach
Although I read this over 30 years ago, I wanted to re-read it in light of recent DNA research the appears to confirm Heyeredahl's theory that some Polynesian's immigrated to eastern Pacific islands from South America, not from the west. Given the new evidence the book now has even greater weight
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and importance, not only as an influential work of exploration and a literary achievement, but the testing of a scientific theory that turned out to be correct. The book explores the Earth while also working out a new theory, comparable to Charles Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle which contained notes about his evolving theory of the fixity of species. When I first read it, I didn't give much credence to his theory because who knew, and anyway if that's what it took to write a great adventure story so be it. But on re-reading it so much more satisfying and interesting knowing it is correct.

Kon-Tiki was published just 3 years after the end of WWII, one of the earliest post-war outdoor adventure books, and as such was influential with many that followed. There have been nine more raft expeditions, the latest in 2015, that recreated Heyeredahl's original. The longest, Las Balsas in 1973, went all the way to Australia and is the longest raft journey in history. The writing is vivid and joyful to read. This is a perfect book, there are not many in this world but I place this on a lightly stacked top shelf of any outdoor literature library.
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LibraryThing member Bridgey
The Kon-Tiki expedition - Thor Heyerdahl ****

I am a massive fan of the adventure novel and man against nature outside of his comfort zone, books by Hammond Innes and his like are littered throughout my shelves. I suppose that because of the vast selection of fiction written over the decades we
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often overlook the true tales of men that have
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LibraryThing member mykl-s
Testing a theory by making a trip, with adventures along the way, and context to explain why.
LibraryThing member electrascaife
Guy who’s afraid of boats and can’t swim decides to prove that ancient settlers of Polynesian islands came from South America, and he does so by recreating the journey they may have made on the kind of craft they would have used. Impressive, but apparently the account of such a journey is not
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my jam. I just couldn’t get interested in it.
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LibraryThing member tuckerresearch
There is BAD speculative/alternative/fringe history. Think David Hatcher Childress, Von Daniken, and their ilk. There is BETTER speculative/alternative/fringe history. Think Graham Hancock and the author of this work: Thor Heyerdahl. It is disingenuous to put someone like Von Daniken or Tsoukalos
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in the same category as Hancock or Heyerdahl. Thor Heyerdahl's great 1947 work Kon Tiki concerned his theory that balsawood rafts from ancient Peru could have made the ocean journey to the islands of Polynesia. How did sweet potatoes reach the area? What of Polynesian myths of settlers from the east? The gripping first-person narrative of Heyerdahl explains his theory, the building of the raft, and his journey, with his companions, across the Pacific. As a first person travel story it is grand and gripping. No wonder it sold so many copies, engendered many copycats, and spawned a documentary film. (A documentary film I grew up watching clips from in various forms on old A&E and Discovery channels in the 1980s and 1990s back when they were good, documentary channels.) There are some spots of the is 1947 book that read funny to modern ears: some subtle racism or Eurocentrism. Some funny old fashioned terms. (And some odd translation choices.) But all-in-all, it's a classic of the speculative history genre and for good reason: it's a gripping yarn of can-do post-WWII attitude. This version is illustrated and "enriched" with a supplementary section that provides some good pics and some odd commentary and context. But, a good paperback version to have. A good book.
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Original language


Original publication date

1948 (Norwegian)
1950 (English)
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