Ernest Hemingway was a man whose life seemed more like a fictional tale. Regarded both in his time and today as one of the best American writers of all time, he published very few novels before his death in 1961. Despite this, his books are read widely even now, six decades after his death.
In this article, know who Hemingway was and the best Hemingway books you must read to understand what and why he is considered one of the best writers in the world.
Who Was Ernest Hemingway?
Ernest Hemingway grew up in Illinois, but he dreamt of more than just a simple life in a small town after entering World War I. Due to vision issues, he was barred from the front lines in World War I and was instead put to work for the Red Cross overseas. It did not stop the clever Hemingway from seeing action. Throughout World War I and II, he managed to see battle and actively participate in it.
Hemingway craved adventure, and his experiences inspired his novels. A fisherman, soldier, journalist, big game hunter, husband to four wives, lover of many, drunkard, father, son, enemy, friend, and someone suffering from depression—these are the titles held by Hemingway throughout his life.
He spent time on his boat hunting German U-boats, which got him investigated by the FBI because he was a bootlegger of sorts. He was a Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize winner that made former President John F. Kennedy ask Hemingway to write his inauguration speech.
This article will go over some of Ernest Hemingway’s most cherished books, as well as the real-life experiences that inspired them.
The 9 Best Hemingway books
1. For Whom the Bell Tolls
Inspired by the things he witnessed while serving as a correspondent and war reporter in the Spanish Civil War, this is the story of Robert Jordan, an expert of explosives who is put in charge of blowing up a bridge. For Whom the Bell Tolls also tells the love story of Robert Jordan.
Ernest Hemingway was a man who loved Spanish culture, fighting, and women. In his classic and famous way of saying things bluntly and without too many words, parts of himself are put into the book For Whom the Bell Tolls. This is the moving story of experiencing the Spanish Civil War and love, honor, and courage in times of war and horror.
Written while he was a war correspondent for the North American Newspaper Alliance, this story is a reflection and memoir of the horrifying things that the prolific war veteran saw and did while there.
2. A Farewell to Arms
A Farewell to Arms tells the story of Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an ambulance driver for the Italian army during World War I. Ernest Hemingway’s own experiences are heavily nodded to in this novel. Known as part of the “lost generation,” Hemingway was eager to get into the action and hated doing nothing but being part of the medical staff during the war. Along with The Old Man and the Sea, this novel is often praised as Hemingway’s most remarkable work.
True to the actual things that happened to Hemingway, the story’s protagonist is injured and falls in love. This also happened in Hemingway’s life. He delivered chocolate and cigarettes to soldiers on the front lines during a war, and he was poorly injured by shrapnel. Hemingway carried a soldier to safety before he collapsed. He later fell in love and had a short love affair with his nurse, the much older Agnes. The relationship ended when Hemingway was discharged from the military a short time later.
Both Gary Cooper and Rock Hudson have played the famous Frederic Henry in films based on this Hemingway book.
3. The Old Man and the Sea
Often regarded as the top of Hemingway’s best books and the book that redeemed him from the only poorly reviewed book he ever suffered in his lifetime, this is the story of a fisherman about love, honor, truth, and death. This book gave Hemingway a Pulitzer award.
The main character in The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago, is based on a person who taught Hemingway about deep-sea fishing in real life. It is the most celebrated and popular of all the Hemingway books. In fact, The Old Man and the Sea is still part of the required reading in many subjects in different schools.
4. Green Hills of Africa
Green Hills of Africa is a nonfiction book written about Hemingway’s time in Africa on a safari with his second wife, Pauline. This book is well known and well-liked for its imagery and straightforward explanation of the beauty that Hemingway discovered about African people and culture—and the love letter he wrote for his second wife, Pauline.
Green Hills of Africa also tells the tales of Hemingway on his hunting expeditions. A big-game hunter, Hemingway took pride in the animals he pursued and killed, including rhinos and lions.
5. A Moveable Feast
A Moveable Feast is Hemingway’s posthumously published memoir about his time in Spain and France with friends like F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, and Sylvia Beach, as well as a love letter of sorts to Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife.
Richardson was eight years older than Hemingway. She was also the mother of Hemingway’s first child. Sadly, Hemingway left Richardson for a younger, more posh woman. Although Hemingway is known to have many lovers and marriages, there was speculation that Hemingway never truly loved anyone aside from Richardson.
A Moveable Feast is one of three novels and short story collections published after Hemingway’s death.
6. The Nick Adams Stories
Also, a short story writer, Hemingway, wrote many complete short stories that centered around the same character: Nick Adams. Before his death, Hemingway published some of the stories, but many of them were published after his death. To date, it is said that 24 short stories and various sketches were published after Hemingway’s death.
Hemingway was perhaps his own most harsh critic. Many of his short stories were not published before his death. While he may have enjoyed writing short stories, he considered most of them subpar for publication. After his death, many short stories were found both pre and post-World War II.
7. To Have and Have Not
This novel tells the story of Harry Morgan, a fisherman who smuggles illegal contraband between Key West and Cuba. Hemingway himself smuggled Cuban alcohol with a Florida bar owner based on real-life events.
In this dark and intense novel, Harry Morgan finds himself deeper and deeper entwined in illegal activity, including smuggling illegal Chinese immigrants, until finally murder is involved.
8. The Sun Also Rises
This is the story of protagonist Jake Barnes, a wounded war veteran who has suffered a catastrophic injury to the point that he cannot make love to the woman he is committed to. A love story, a story of sadness, and a nod to bullfighting, Hemingway relied upon his own experiences with Spanish culture and his love of bullfighting when he wrote The Sun Also Rises.
The Sun Also Rises tells the story of expatriates from the first world war and their experiences. This story was mostly drawn from his life, but some of them were drawn from his friends’ experiences. This book solidified him as a prolific writer at the expense of many of them. While this book carved his name as one of the greatest American writers, it pushed away many of his friends. This book is part of the essential Hemingway reading list.
9. Death in the Afternoon
A nonfiction work, Death in the Afternoon is a memoir of sorts that covers bullfighting and Hemingway’s love of the sport. He loved the sport so much that he talked his wife and friends into attending and participating in the running of the bulls in Spain, and he named his first child after his favorite bullfighter.
This classic story talks about death, honor, glory, and bravery.
A Tragic Ending
Hemingway was known for his larger-than-life ways. He drank more than others. He was a large, loud, handsome man admired by many, and he loved war and adventure. He was married many times. He learned deep-sea fishing from an old Cuban fisherman, writing from a lady in France, and big game hunting from a sportsperson in Africa. He was a constant student of the world.
Hemingway’s simple language is what made his work so powerful. He was called the most excellent writer since Shakespeare. Hemingway survived divorce, the deaths of his closest friends and family members, two helicopter crashes, a lion attack, and cancer. In the end, depression had overthrown him.
After shock therapy in a mental institution and several suicide attempts, Hemingway fatally shot himself in his home in 1961. Many have speculated that he would have written many more masterpieces if he had been able to get better treatment for his mental illness.
A Controversial Writer and Person
Never one to shy away from a fight, Hemingway was a brawler in many ways. A chauvinist and womanizer, he was married four times and took several extramarital lovers—one of those was underage. He was also called an anti-Semite, racist, and sexist. His mother reprimanded him for using foul language at work. He insulted many of his friends and influences in his quest for recognition and fame.
Many of his books were banned in libraries when he died. Some are still calling for his books to be removed from shelves. Whether or not people agree with the lifestyle or the content of his stories, Hemingway invented the short and blunt writing style he is known for, and it deserved to be recognized.