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When you think of Ernest Hemingway — journalist, novelist, bullfighting aficionado — you probably think of the lean, understated prose that defines many American classics.
The opening line of the book that helped him win the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature, “The Old Man and the Sea,” reads as a status report: “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.” Nicknamed the “iceberg theory” by Hemingway, much of his novels’ meatiness (their nuances, their themes) lies looming beneath the surface. (For a man who wrote that he gets over writer’s block by sitting down and writing the truest sentence that you know,” this isn’t altogether surprising.)
If you’re looking for where to start in the Hemingway canon, know that you can’t really go wrong. After reading the manuscript for “For Whom The Bell Tolls,” the famed editor Maxwell Perkins wrote Hemingway to say, “if the function of a writer is to reveal reality, no one ever so completely performed it.” And William Faulkner, often considered one of the best American writers of all time, wrote that “time may show [“The Old Man and the Sea”] to be the best single piece of any of us, I mean his and my contemporaries.”
To make diving into Hemingway’s work a little easier, we’ve compiled a ranking of the 10 most popular Hemingway books, according to Goodreads reviewers.
Descriptions provided by Amazon and lightly edited for clarity.
“The Old Man and the Sea,” available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $11.39
“The Old Man and the Sea” is one of Hemingway’s most enduring works. Told in language of great simplicity and power, it’s the story of an old Cuban fisherman, down on his luck, and his supreme ordeal, a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. Here Hemingway recasts, in strikingly contemporary style, the classic theme of courage in the face of defeat, and of personal triumph won from loss.
“The Sun Also Rises,” available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $14.72
A poignant look at the disillusionment and angst of the post-World War I generation, this novel introduces two of Hemingway’s most unforgettable characters: Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley. The story follows the flamboyant Brett and the hapless Jake as they journey from the wild nightlife of 1920s Paris to the brutal bullfighting rings of Spain with a motley group of expatriates. It is an age of moral bankruptcy, spiritual dissolution, unrealized love, and vanishing illusions.
“A Farewell to Arms,” available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $14.99
Written when Ernest Hemingway was 30 years old and lauded as the best American novel to emerge from World War I, “A Farewell to Arms” is the unforgettable story of an American ambulance driver on the Italian front and his passion for a beautiful English nurse. Set against the looming horrors of the battlefield — weary, demoralized men marching in the rain during the German attack on Caporetto; the profound struggle between loyalty and desertion — this gripping, semiautobiographical work captures the harsh realities of war and the pain of lovers caught in its inexorable sweep.
“For Whom the Bell Tolls,” available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $17.47
Published in 1940, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” tells the story of Robert Jordan, a young American in the International Brigades attached to an antifascist guerilla unit in the mountains of Spain. In his portrayal of Jordan’s love for the beautiful Maria and his superb account of El Sordo’s last stand, in his brilliant travesty of La Pasionaria and his unwillingness to believe in blind faith, Hemingway surpasses his achievement in “The Sun Also Rises” and “A Farewell to Arms” to create a work at once rare and beautiful, strong and brutal, compassionate, moving, and wise.
“A Moveable Feast,” available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $13
Published posthumously in 1964, Hemingway’s memoir of Paris in the 1920s, “A Moveable Feast,” remains one of his most enduring works. This restored edition includes the original manuscript, never-before-published Paris sketches, and irreverent portraits of literary luminaries, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ford Maddox Ford.
“The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories,” available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $14.72
Selected from “Winner Take Nothing,” “Men Without Women,” and “The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories,” this collection includes “The Killers,” the first of Hemingway’s mature stories to be accepted by an American periodical; the autobiographical “Fathers and Sons,” which alludes, for the first time in Hemingway’s career, to his father’s suicide; “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” a “brilliant fusion of personal observation, hearsay and invention,” wrote Hemingway’s biographer, Carlos Baker; and the title story itself, of which Hemingway said: “I put all the true stuff in,” with enough material, he boasted, to fill four novels.
Beautiful in their simplicity, startling in their originality, and unsurpassed in their craftsmanship, the stories in this volume highlight one of America’s master storytellers at the top of his form.
“The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway,” available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $17.90
The complete, authoritative collection of Ernest Hemingway’s short fiction, including classic stories like “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” along with seven previously unpublished stories.
“To Have and Have Not,” available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $15.64
“To Have and Have Not” is the dramatic story of Harry Morgan, an honest man who is forced into running contraband between Cuba and Key West as a means of keeping his crumbling family financially afloat. His adventures lead him into the world of the wealthy and dissipated yachtsmen who throng the region and involve him in a strange and unlikely love affair.
In this harshly realistic, yet oddly tender and wise novel, Hemingway perceptively delineates the personal struggles of both the “haves” and the “have nots” and creates one of the most subtle and moving portraits of a love affair in his oeuvre.
“In Our Time,” available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $7.99
“In Our Time” is Ernest Hemingway’s first collection of short stories, published in 1925. Its title is derived from the English Book of Common Prayer, “Give peace in our time, O Lord”. The collection’s publication history was complex.
The stories’ themes – of alienation, loss, grief, separation – continue the work Hemingway began with the vignettes, which include descriptions of acts of war, bullfighting, and current events.
“Islands in the Stream,” available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $15.79
First published in 1970, nine years after Hemingway’s death, this is the story of an artist and adventurer, a man much like Hemingway himself. Beginning in the 1930s, “Islands in the Stream” follows the fortunes of Thomas Hudson, from his experiences as a painter on the Gulf Stream island of Bimini through his antisubmarine activities off the coast of Cuba during World War II.
“Men Without Women,” available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $14.72
First published in 1927, “Men Without Women” represents some of Hemingway’s most important and compelling early writing. In these 14 stories, Hemingway begins to examine the themes that would occupy his later works: The casualties of war, the often-uneasy relationship between men and women, sport and sportsmanship.
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