The 9 Best Hemingway Books Anyone Should Read

Ernest Hemingway is one of the most influential American writers of all time. Many of the best Hemingway books are regarded amongst the finest works of American literature.

He was a deeply profound writer, one who shared greatly about the hardships of love, life, but also other topics such as war and opposing the unconquerable.

Ernest Hemingway Photograph
Ernest Hemingway

His works shine by a combination of a simplistic, yet powerful style, deep themes and an often harsh portrayal of realism.

He’s a writer who differed vastly from his peers. He branded a new, simplistic style of writing.

Over the years, I’ve read many of the best Hemingway books, but I also have taken his approach to the craft to heart. I think reading Ernest Hemingway is a great experience. His works might appear simplistic, but they are full of life, of a feeling of love and profound insight. If you want to more about this insight check out my article of the best Hemingway quotes.

Table of Contents

The Sun Also Rises

Best Hemingway Books – The Sun Also Rises

The Sun Also Rises was Hemingway’s debut and first novel. It’s, however, regarded by many as one of the best Hemingway books out there.

The novel’s defined by a contrast of Midwestern values and new experiences in post-World War I Europe. It showcases life in Paris with friends and acquaintances, meaningless revelry, but also bullfighting in Spain. It portrays the bad and the ugly of people who return from World War one, those who are lost and how they try to create something beautiful.

Its protagonist is typical of Hemingway. He’s competent, confident, yet doomed to stay unfulfilled. It’s, in essence, a personal and literary search for meaning.

The Sun Also Rises is a courageous attempt to write in a different way. It shows Hemingway’s mastery of dialogue, but also his sparse and simplistic style of description and narrative.

The Sun Also Rises is self-indulgent, promiscuous and even unflattering, but most of all, it’s honest. It shows an age of moral bankruptcy, spiritual dissolution, unrealized love and vanishing illusions.

It’s lively, engrossing, clearly one of the best Hemingway books out there and a must read for fans of his work.


A Farewell to Arms

Best Hemingway Books – A Farwell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms is Hemingway’s second novel and a fictional retelling of the events that shaped his worldview.

It’s about a young man who leaves the Midwest and goes to Italy as an ambulance driver. He wanted to join the Great War, display honor and courage, but was instead blown apart in the trenches. We see him falling in love, contemplating marriage before being rejected. In essence, it shows us how man faces life’s challenges.

It’s the first novel of his that should feature one of his most dominant themes: confrontation with death.

A Farewell to Arms is one of the most important works on World War I. It shows us that war brings out the best and worst in man, shows us weary and demoralized men and the profound struggles between loyalty and desertion.

One can also see that Hemingway’s become more confident in his craft since he wrote The Sun Also Rises.

Overall, A Farewell to Arms is another one of the best Hemingway books out there, and quite a profound and enjoyable read.


Death in the Afternoon

Best Hemingway Books – Death in the Afternoon

Hemingway was a big fan of bullfighting and we can see it in Death in the Afternoon.

This one of the best Hemingway books is his defining work on the subject. He describes bullfighting not as merely a sport, but as an inspiration for his art. He sees it as something akin to a richly choreographed ballet.

One of Hemingway’s most popular themes is courage and grace under pressure, and it’s what he sees as the essence of bullfighting. He does a tremendous job of illustrating both the savageness and the beauty of it. He describes it in detail, sheds light on the rigorous combination of athleticism and artistry, as well as the technical aspects and dangers of it.

Death in the Afternoon is a novel full of examination and insight. It shows bravery and cowardice, heroism and tragedy, and, of course, life and death.

While it’s not one of Hemingway’s most popular novels, I still believe it to be amongst the best Hemingway books and one anyone should read.


To Have and Have Not

Best Hemingway Books – To Have and Have Not

To Have and Have Not is a novel about Hemingway’s growing awareness of the different financial and social classes of people.

Its cast of characters are based on the people Hemingway met during his time in Key West. They comprise the working class on the docks, the illegal immigrants who are smuggled in from Cuba and the rich who moor their boats there.

The plot centers on a man who’s forced to run contraband between Cuba and Key West to keep his family afloat. It leads him into a world of wealthy yachtsmen and involves him in a strange and unlikely love affair.

To Have and Have Not is a depression-era novel. It’s a harsh and realistic work, yet also oddly tender. Hemingway argues for political and social change to help the working class, yet he doesn’t think the New Deal is a solution.

Via the novel’s main character, he outlines the limits of personal freedom, self-reliance and the absence of grace under pressure.

It’s a profound and deep work and amongst the best Hemingway books.


The Green Hills of Africa

Best Hemingway Books – The Green Hills of Africa

The Green Hills of Africa is Hemingway’s venture into the realm of nonfiction. It details his real-life adventure of going hunting in East Africa and provides us with insights into his life and adventures.

In his prose, he showcases the rich, unsullied lands of Africa, the fat herds, but also the dangers of overhunting and the scarcity of nature.

It’s regarded as one of the most essential books in the travel literature genre. When I first read it, I loved every page and even now I regard it as one of the best Hemingway books out there.


The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

Best Hemingway Books – The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway started his literary career as a writer of short stories and he became a monster of the form.

This giant book is the definite collection of all his short stories and contains all sixty he ever wrote.

It contains many highly regarded classics such as ‘Hills Like White Elephants,’ ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro,’ ‘The Killers,’ and, of course, ‘Indian Camp.’

It’s a fantastic collection, a true showcase of Hemingway’s mastery of the short story, and it contains some of the greatest short fiction ever written.


A Moveable Feast

Best Hemingway Books – A Moveable Feast

A Moveable Feast is Hemingway’s memoir and was only published posthumously.

Did you ever dream of going to Paris to become a writer? If you read this book, I’m sure you’ll find it as tempting as I did.

I regard A Moveable Feast as one of the greatest and most definite memories any young writer could read, probably the best.

Before Hemingway wrote about deep sea fishing, hunting, or his experiences in war, he was a young man who desired to hone his craft.

The book’s essential a time capsule that takes us back to this time, the Paris of the 1920s.

What’s interesting to note is that it also gives us insight into other writers of the period, most notably F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein.

A Moveable Feast is definitely amongst the best Hemingway books out there, and it’s a warm, heartfelt love letter to the craft of writing and of being young.


The Old Man and the Sea

Best Hemingway Books – The Old Man and the Sea

The Old Man and the Sea was the work Hemingway published before his death.

It’s, in my opinion, his most refined and finely crafted work and his most enduring book. It’s a short, but outstanding read.

Based on his experiences in Cuba, Hemingway created the character of Santiago, an old fisherman. After an unlucky streak of not catching anything for eighty-five days, the old man catches a great marlin. Yet, his luck doesn’t last for long, for the fish is soon torn apart by sharks.

All the while, the old man reminisces about his life and his experiences as an arm wrestling-champion.

The novel’s a testament to Hemingway’s view of life, confront the unconquerable and to fight and show courage under pressure.

The old man doesn’t give in, not until the end, even though he knows he’s lost.

All this is encapsulated in the novel’s most famous line ‘A man can be destroyed, but he cannot be defeated.’

The Old Man and the Sea is a testament of his mastery of the craft like no other. The style is simplistic, yet incredibly powerful.

When the book was first published, it was an incredible success. It was first awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and later the Noble Price in Literature.

It’s without a doubt one of the best Hemingway books, if not the best, and it’s a book anyone should read.


For Whom the Bell Tolls

Best Hemingway Books – For Whom the Bell Tolls

For Whom the Bell Tolls is Hemingway’s magnum opus and clearly one of the best Hemingway books ever written.

It’s based on Hemingway’s experiences as a correspondent during the Spanish Civil war and going behind enemy lines, similar to the novel’s protagonist.

The novel showcases his classic themes in all their glory: the courage of man under pressure and the conflicts of love and war.

Once more, Hemingway uses his personal experiences, as well as that of friends and acquaintances, to develop his fictional retelling. Many of the characters in the novel are based on people Hemingway knew himself.

The novel takes place over three days and is set near the El Tajo gorge.

One of the most outstanding parts of the novel is the description of the political massacre in Pablo’s village. The best, however, at least in my opinion, was his description of the smell of death. It was something I’d never seen outlined in such detail before.

It’s a fantastic novel, and one of his most popular by far.

While it can be tough, or even tedious at times, it makes up for it by those parts who are nothing short of brilliant.

It’s a story that’s beautiful, strong and brutal, but also compassionate, moving and wise.

For me, For Whom the Bell Tolls is the best Hemingway book out there, and a book that anyone should read.

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