Our Essential Hemingway Reading List

The preeminent American novelist and short story writer of his time, Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) wrote provocative fiction steeped in the experiences of the “lost generation” that came of age during World War I. Hemingway, like most of us, is complicated. His work is generous, raw, passionate, simple yet profound. Unfortunately, most of us were introduced to Hemingway as “required reading”, which rarely does a piece of great literature any favors. Fortunately for us now, the meticulous Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s three-part, six-hour documentary series, Hemingway, explores the turbulent and extraordinary life of this influential American writer. And to celebrate, we’re highlighting our essential Hemingway reading list.

The Hemingway Stories: As featured in the film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick on PBS  

“There was no hardship; but there was no luxury and he had thought he could get back into training that way. That in some way he could work the fat off his soul that way a fighter went into the mountains to work and train in order to burn it out of his body.”

If you want to get to know Hemingway, understand the man behind the myth, you need look no further than his works. Throughout his life, Hemingway continued to reveal himself — his thoughts, fears and philosophies on the human condition — through his writing. This intimate portrait of Hemingway combines a study of biographical events with excerpts from his work, following the trajectory of his impressive life and career. In chronological order, this collection features some of his most significant short stories including, “The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” “Up in Michigan,” “Indian Camp,” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” With insights from celebrated writers such as Mario Vargas Llosa, Edna O’Brien, Tim O’Brien, and Mary Karr, this collection is the perfect entryway to Hemingway, as well as an essential piece for any fan.

The Sun Also Rises 

“You paid some way for everything that was any good … Enjoying living was learning to get your money’s worth and knowing when you had it. You could get your money’s worth. The world was a good place to buy in. It seemed like a fine philosophy. In five years, I thought, it will seem just as silly as all the other fine philosophies I’ve had.”

For so many, The Old Man and the Sea is their first introduction to Hemingway, when it should be The Sun Also Rises. This quintessential story of the Lost Generation is an achingly beautiful look at spiritual dissolution, unrealized love and vanishing illusions. But at its core, it is a story for anyone searching for their place in this world — it transcends generational confines. This story will make you hurt and feel and passages, like the one above, will find a way of creeping into your subconscious when you least expect it.

A Moveable Feast 

“Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

This is Hemingway’s brilliant memoir set in 1920s Paris, published posthumously in 1964. If you’re looking for insights into the early works and life of a tremendous talent, why not go straight to the source? This one is just a fun, quick and entertaining read that also offers glimpses into the lives of other great literary minds of the times, including his friendship with Fitzgerald.

A Farewell to Arms: The Hemingway Library Edition 

“The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

There is no greater epic of love and war than A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway’s gripping, semiautobiographical work that has long been lauded as the best American novel to emerge from World War I. It’s well known that Hemingway drafted multiple endings to this sweeping novel, this edition, for the first time, collects all of them, along with early drafts of other essential passages. A compelling look at the creative process behind one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century.

For Whom the Bell Tolls 

“There is nothing else than now. There is neither yesterday, certainly, nor is there any tomorrow. How old must you be before you know that? There is only now, and if now is only two days, then two days is your life and everything in it will be in proportion. This is how you live a life in two days. And if you stop complaining and asking for what you never will get, you will have a good life. A good life is not measured by any biblical span.”

Seen as one of the greatest war novels of all time, For Whom the Bell Tolls is a portrait of loyalty and courage, love and defeat, and the tragic death of an ideal. Ernest Hemingway traveled to Spain to cover the civil war there for the North American Newspaper Alliance, it was during this time that he wrote this haunting tale. Senator, Navy officer and POW, John McCain is quoted as saying that it “instructed me to see the world as it is, with all its corruption and cruelty, and believe it’s worth fighting for anyway, even dying for.”

The Old Man and the Sea (Pulitzer Prize Winner) 

“Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.”

You can’t mention Hemingway without calling out this contemporary classic. Whether you love it or hate it, there is no denying the literary force that was and is The Old Man and the Sea. This opus would award Hemingway the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature, and to many, is still seen as the culmination of all his stories around courage, loss and personal triumph. And, at just 128 pages, it is a short but powerful portrait of patience and perseverance. Everyone should read this book at least once.

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