The Essential Ernest Hemingway from Biography to Fiction

Ernest Hemingway, 1952/Photo © Earl Theisen Collection/Getty Images

Ernest Hemingway stands as one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century and, in his personal life, a character of near mythic status. The man called “Papa” was often as much idolized for his uber-masculinity and hard-charging, restless persona as his sparse, affecting prose. He was the winner of both the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Nobel Prize for Literature. Outwardly a prototypical man’s man, Hemingway nonetheless appears to have inwardly dealt with questions of gender fluidity and sexuality – something he referred to in letters as a “dark side” he shared with his son Gregory when he discovered the boy’s fascination with wearing women’s garments.

Lost to suicide in 1961 following years of failing health, escalating alcoholism, and bouts of depression and paranoia that seemed to tragically run in his family (Hemingway’s father, brother Leicester, and sister Ursula all committed suicide), Hemingway’s work has continued to endure and inspire. His often startlingly simple prose and elegiac turns of phrases accentuated works that were built upon the endurance of the human spirit, the emotional toll of war, and of life and romance.

In her forthcoming biography of the famed writer, titled simply Ernest Hemingway, writer Mary V. Dearborn dives into the life of the celebrated author with perhaps the most comprehensive examination yet. Drawing from a collection of newly available material including a trove of papers left behind when Hemingway fled Cuba in 1960, the FBI file detailing Hemingway’s wartime exploits, and largely overlooked letters that shed a light on the dysfunction of the Hemingway family and call into question the sexuality of Hemingway’s mother, Dearborn cultivates an insightful view into the complexities that defined one of our lifetime’s most celebrated writers. To take your feel for and knowledge of Hemingway to a whole new place – or perhaps to simply sate your curiosity –the list below features Dearborn’s new book as well as six of Hemingway’s essential works.

  • The cover of the book Ernest Hemingway

    Ernest Hemingway

    A Biography

    Biographer Mary V. Dearborn gained access to brand-new material from the life of Ernest Hemingway to craft the latest – and most extensive – biography of Papa to date. Dearborn’s perfectly suited tone offers up a portrait of Hemingway that is neither heavy in feel or salacious in texture, but is instead a respectful, all-encompassing account of a literary icon’s life.

  • The cover of the book The Old Man and the Sea

    The Old Man and the Sea

    The Old Man and the Sea is arguably Hemingway’s most well-known novel and a perfect example of his deceptively simplistic style. The novel earned Hemingway the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953 and was cited by the Nobel Committee when Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. In this tale of an aged fisherman struggling to capture an enormous marlin, Hemingway explored themes of masculinity, pride, redemption, and martyrdom – all in a scant 127 pages. The Old Man and The Sea is the final novel Hemingway published before his death.

  • The cover of the book The Sun Also Rises

    The Sun Also Rises

    Hemingway’s love for bullfighting was well-documented, and in his first novel the bloodsport inspired some of the writer’s most eloquent passages. The Sun Also Rises centers on a group of American and British men traveling to Pamplona for the running of the bulls and a bullfighting festival. However, the story’s exploration of the relationship between the narrator, Jake Barnes, and Lady Brett Ashley is the true and melancholic heart of the story.

  • The cover of the book For Whom the Bell Tolls

    For Whom the Bell Tolls

    For Whom the Bell Tolls is perhaps Hemingway’s most popular novel and, arguably, his greatest. As was so often the case, he drew on his real world experiences and relationships to craft the story – in this case his experiences as a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War. The novel chronicles the experiences of Robert Jordan, an American in the International Brigades attached to an anti-fascist guerilla unit. At turns poignant and brutal, profound and haunting, For Whom the Bell Tolls is the pinnacle of Hemingway’s narrative prowess.

  • The cover of the book To Have and Have Not

    To Have and Have Not

    Set during the Great Depression, To Have and Have Not centers on Harry Morgan, an honest man who finds himself caught in a smuggling ring running contraband between Cuba and Key West. Hemingway populated the novel based on encounters from his years in both Key West and Cuba – the social elite of Key West, the struggling dock workers, and the illegal immigrants being smuggled from Cuba to the Keys. To Have and Have Not may be Hemingway’s most experimental novel, rife with shifting narrative styles and points of view.

  • The cover of the book A Farewell to Arms

    A Farewell to Arms

    Hemingway’s second novel is, in many ways, an autobiographical exercise. The story follows an American named Frederic Henry who made his way to Italy to serve as an ambulance driver during World War I. The events of the novel closely mirror Hemingway’s own experiences as an ambulance driver in Italy during the Great War and the seeds of the themes that dominated much of his work – confrontation with death, personal honor, the hardships of war, the complexities of love – can all be found in A Farewell to Arms.

  • The cover of the book Death in the Afternoon

    Death in the Afternoon

    One of Hemingway’s nonfiction works, Death in the Afternoon most deeply reveals the author’s fascination and reverence for bullfighting. Outlining both the history of bullfighting and the pageantry and rituals that accompany the sport, Death in the Afternoon is still largely considered one of the finest books written about bullfighting. Beyond his vivid descriptions of the what he sees as the art of bullfighting, Hemingway laces the book with thoughtful considerations of courage and cowardice.