Ernest Hemingway: a name that resonates through the echelons of literature as an embodiment of storytelling genius. Born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois, Hemingway led an extraordinary life filled with adventure, love, war, and of course, writing.
From serving in World War I as an ambulance driver to hunting big game in Africa, fishing in the Gulf Stream, and running with the bulls in Pamplona, Hemingway’s life was a relentless quest for experience and adventure, which he masterfully transposed into his groundbreaking works of literature.
As a devoted Hemingway enthusiast, I’ve always admired the remarkable simplicity and vigor of his prose, his ability to portray the human condition in all its rawness, and his distinctive iceberg theory — the art of focusing on surface elements in a story, with deeper themes implicitly present.
[Related: Best bell Hooks books]
Hemingway was a master at evoking emotion in just a few short sentences, shaping characters that were flawed yet profoundly human, against a backdrop of themes like war, love, death, and masculinity.
One of my first encounters with Hemingway’s work was “The Old Man and the Sea.” The book’s enduring story of an old fisherman’s struggle with a giant marlin was not just a tale of man versus nature, but a deep reflection on perseverance, dignity, and the indomitable human spirit. The book’s deceptively simple narrative style belied a wealth of underlying themes and emotions, embodying Hemingway’s genius for storytelling.
In the spirit of my admiration and in an attempt to share my passion for Hemingway’s work, I’ve compiled a list of some of his best books, including a short summary for each. These works epitomize Hemingway’s contribution to literature and offer readers a profound understanding of his unique literary vision.
Best Books by Ernest Hemingway
1. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway
The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway’s timeless fable set in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Havana. It’s a profound tale of an old man, a young boy, and a giant fish, deftly exploring man’s ongoing challenge against the elements, earning Hemingway the Nobel Prize for Literature.
2. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
The Sun Also Rises: Hemingway’s first novel and enduring masterpiece. It follows American and British ex-patriots traveling from Paris to Pamplona for the Running of the Bulls. Delving into the “Lost Generation” post World War I, it’s a work of profound character study and exploration of masculinity, widely recognized as Hemingway’s greatest.
3. A Farewell To Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
A Farewell To Arms: Set amidst World War I, this unforgettable story is about an American ambulance driver on the Italian front and his passionate affair with an English nurse. A stark reflection of the harsh realities of war and love in the face of it, this semi-autobiographical work stands as a towering ornament of American literature.
4. For Whom the Bell Tolls: The Hemingway Library Edition, by Ernest Hemingway
For Whom the Bell Tolls: The Hemingway Library Edition: Emerging from Hemingway’s experience covering the Spanish Civil War, this novel tells the poignant story of Robert Jordan, a young American attached to an antifascist guerilla unit. Hemingway transcends his previous works with a story of loyalty, courage, love, defeat, and the tragic death of an ideal.
5. A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway
A Moveable Feast: A series of vignettes capturing Hemingway’s life in Paris, his encounters with the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and Pablo Picasso, and the struggles he faced as a struggling writer. It offers a fascinating glimpse into the life of one of the most celebrated writers of the 20th century.
6. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, by Ernest Hemingway
The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: This definitive collection showcases Hemingway’s versatility in storytelling, with beloved classics and seven previously unpublished tales. It’s an invaluable treasury for Hemingway fans.
7. Green Hills of Africa, by Ernest Hemingway
Green Hills of Africa: Divided into four parts, each describing a different stage of Hemingway’s safari, this book is a vivid exploration of Hemingway’s philosophy of hunting, the nature of masculinity, and the relationship between humans and nature.
8. Men Without Women, by Ernest Hemingway
“Men Without Women” by Ernest Hemingway is a collection of short stories illustrating Hemingway’s key themes. With each narrative focused on aspects of masculinity and the struggles of war, this work presents a vivid portrayal of characters from bullfighters to boxers and soldiers. Showcasing Hemingway’s remarkable storytelling gift, each story draws the reader into the world of the characters with gripping realism.
9. The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories, by Ernest Hemingway
“The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories” by Ernest Hemingway is a collection of profound narratives drawn from several of his works. Each story, whether autobiographical or inventive, is a testament to Hemingway’s mastery of storytelling, featuring everything from the personal hardships of war to the fleeting happiness in life.
10. Ernest Hemingway on Writing, by Larry W. Phillips
“Ernest Hemingway on Writing” by Larry W. Phillips is a compilation of Hemingway’s reflections on the art of writing. Despite Hemingway’s initial belief that discussing writing might lead to a loss of creativity, this book provides readers with profound insights into his views on the craft, work habits, discipline, and the integrity of writing profession.
11. To Have and Have Not, by Ernest Hemingway
“To Have and Have Not” by Ernest Hemingway follows Harry Morgan, a man forced into smuggling contraband to support his struggling family. A complex tale of high adventure, love, and personal struggle, this novel paints a vivid picture of the diverse realities of life for both wealthy yachtsmen and financially desperate families.
12. Across the River and into the Trees, by Ernest Hemingway
“Across the River and into the Trees” by Ernest Hemingway tells the story of Richard Cantwell, an American colonel in Italy after the Second World War, and his love for a young Italian countess. In this work, Hemingway explores the resilience of the human spirit in the face of war’s dehumanizing atrocities.
13. In Our Time, by Ernest Hemingway
“In Our Time” by Ernest Hemingway, his first collection of short stories, explores themes of alienation, loss, and grief through spare language and oblique depiction of emotion. Consisting of various vignettes and short stories, this collection showcases Hemingway’s unique “theory of omission” and is widely considered one of his early masterpieces.