Table of Contents
- 1. The Old Man and the Sea (1952)
- 2. The Sun Also Rises (1926)
- 3. Farewell To Arms (1929)
- 4. For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)
- 5. The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories (1936)
- 6. In Our Time (1925)
- 7. To Have and Have Not (1937)
- 8. A Moveable Feast (1964)
- 9. Islands in the Stream (1970)
- 10. Green Hills of Africa (1935)
- Want to Write Like Hemingway? Try These 5 Tips
- Ernest Hemingway is a two-time Nobel Prize winner and great American author. He created a signature writing style, with short, simple prose, but layered characters and plotlines.
- His works have influenced generations of American writers, and characterize a time of adventure, despair, and hopefulness.
- Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1899 and died in 1961, at 61 years old. During his life, he traveled the world and developed stoic characters based on his own life experiences.
Ernest Hemingway was one of the world’s greatest storytellers. His words touched millions of people from around the world, with tales of adventure, war, romance, and defeat. His complex characters and conflicts were written in a simple, yet layered style that garnered the attention of critics and contemporaries across the globe. “Ernest Hemingway is a new, honest, un-literary transcriber of life,” read a Time review of the author who was admired for his “miracles of prose.”
Hemingway found his love of writing in high school and began working as a crime reporter for the Kansas City Star after graduating. It was there that he learned his unique literary methods. The paper’s writing guidelines called for short sentences, vigorous English, and smoothness—all techniques that became Hemingway’s hallmark style.
His method would later be coined “The Iceberg Principle” or “Theory of Omission,” in which Hemingway includes just enough information for the reader to gain an understanding of the events. He explained this concept, stating, “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.”
In 1954, Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, “For his mastery of the art of narrative . . . and for the influence that he exerted on contemporary style.” His stories are over 100 years old, but their rawness will stand the test of time and continue to inspire readers. His ability to teach people how to communicate simply, but deeply, has made him one of the most influential authors in history.
Learn more about Hemingway’s greatest works, listed in order of influence and notability, and why you should read each one.
1. The Old Man and the Sea (1952)
“There is no one worthy of eating him from the manner of his behavior and his great dignity. I do not understand these things, he thought. But it is good that we do not have to try to kill the sun or the moon or the stars. It is enough to live on the sea and kill our true brothers.”
The Old Man and the Sea was awarded the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It is Hemingway’s last major work of fiction and remains one of his most famous works. Considered a novella, The Old Man and the Sea tells the story of Santiago, an aging, unlucky fisherman who engages in a massive battle with a giant marlin off the coast of Cuba.
Santiago holds the line, with the marlin on the other end, for two days and nights. He’s pulled by the marlin far away from land and his body aches from the ordeal. Santiago begins to love the marlin, gaining respect for his fight and dignity. When he’s finally able to kill the marlin and tie him to the boat, he begins a long journey back to shore. Sharks eat away at the marlin during the trip and Santiago is left with only its head when he reaches his shack.
The novella includes themes of perseverance, pride, and friendship. It explores conflicts of man versus nature and youth versus age in Hemingway’s classic, simple style.
Notable mention: The Old Man and the Sea was published in book form and in LIFE magazine. Within two days of publication, 50,000 books and five million magazines were sold.
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2. The Sun Also Rises (1926)
“I can’t stand it to think my life is going so fast and I’m not really living it.”
The Sun Also Rises is Hemingway’s first major novel and it’s recognized as one of his greatest works. It involves a group of expatriate writers in postwar France and Spain in the mid-1920s. The characters are part of the “Lost Generation,” a term coined by Hemingway’s contemporary Gertrude Stein characterizing the disillusionment and loss of identity in post-World War I society.
The main character, Jake Barnes, mimics the early life of Hemingway. He is a journalist and WWI veteran that suffered an injury during the war that leaves him impotent. Barnes meets a volunteer nurse, Brett Ashley, who treats his injuries and they fall in love, but their relationship never comes to fruition despite their realization that it could have been “wonderful” if it did.
Brett Ashley is considered a fascinating character of 20th-century literature because she doesn’t fit into traditional female norms. She’s complicated, independent, and promiscuous, yet sympathetic, loving, and vulnerable.
A New York Times review of the novel states, “It is a truly gripping story, told in a lean, hard, athletic narrative prose that puts more literary English to shame . . . It is magnificent writing, filled with that organic action which gives a compelling picture of character.”
Notable mention: The Sun Also Rises has been in print since its original publication in 1926, and it’s one of the most translated titles in the world.
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3. Farewell To Arms (1929)
“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills.”
Farewell to Arms is Hemingway’s third novel and like The Sun Also Rises, it depicts the disillusionment of the Lost Generation. It’s notable for the many connections that Hemingway makes to his own life experiences and realistic portrayal of war, with real-life dialogue among soldiers and unromanticized descriptions of love.
There is a clear resemblance between Hemingway and his protagonist, Frederic Henry. Both were soldiers on the Italian front and became severely injured, and both fell in love with nurses from the Red Cross hospital. Like the female character in the novel, Hemingway’s love interest broke off their relationship and denied her love for him.
The novel’s themes include war, masculinity, and grief. Author William Peace Blog said, “Farewell to Arms is remarkable in its realistic, unadorned depiction of the absolute futility of war, and of the terrible price it can inflict on participants and bystanders, alike.”
Notable mention: After its publication, Hemingway told The Paris Review that he rewrote the last page of Farewell to Arms 39 times before he was satisfied with the ending.
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4. For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)
“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.”
For Whom the Bell Tolls is considered a prominent classic of war literature in history. It takes place in Spain and tells the tale of American teacher Robert Jordan who fights for an antifascist guerilla unit and falls in love in the Spanish mountains. The plot was inspired by Hemingway’s experiences in Spain covering the civil war for the North American Newspaper Alliance.
For Whom the Bell Tolls involves themes of love in war, loyalty, fear, and courage. American book editor Maxwell Perkins wrote Hemingway after reading For Whom the Bell Tolls stating, “If the function of a writer is to reveal reality, no one ever so completely performed it.”
Notable mention: Hemingway began writing For Whom the Bell Tolls in Havana, Cuba, while living in the Hotel Ambos Mundos. He finished the manuscript a year later in New York City.
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5. The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories (1936)
“Each day of not writing, of comfort, of being that which he despised, dulled his ability and softened his will to work so that, finally, he did no work at all.”
“The Snows of Kilimanjaro” is a short story that has been praised as an example of Hemingway’s work at the top of his talent. It includes a rich and layered narrative, with Hemingway’s typical spare style.
“The Snows of Kilimanjaro” is about a writer named Henry and his wife, Helen, being stranded on a safari in Africa. The situation looks grim and Henry, who is dying of gangrene, is left contemplating his life and failures. Certain of his imminent death, he experiences a series of flashbacks and dreams of a rescue plane taking him to the snow-covered Kilimanjaro.
The story highlights the virtues of hard work, and warns readers of an unfilling life of procrastination and laziness. Hemingway sees himself in his character Henry in that both have unfinished business in their lives following the war.
Notable mention: A film adaptation of the short story came out in 1952, with Gregory Peck playing Harry, and Susan Hayward as Helen.
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6. In Our Time (1925)
“Remember that he who conquers himself is greater than the one who conquers a city.”
After its publication, In Our Time was considered a major development in American literature and Modernism. This is Hemingway’s first collection of short stories, with themes that touch on grief, loss, and alienation. It includes descriptions of war and bullfighting, and became known for its spare language and purposeful omissions.
The stories of In Our Time include those that Hemingway published a year earlier and ten additional works. Hemingway introduces Nick Adams, his protagonist who’s used in over twenty of his short stories. Adams lives through experiences that are inspired by Hemingway’s own life, including romantic relationships, death, and tension between parents. Two of the most popular stories are “Indian Camp” and “The Three-Day Blow.”
Literary critic Edmund Wilson said that Hemingway “almost invented a form of his own” and had “more artistic dignity” than any other American work based in that period of the war.
Notable mention: There are three editions of In Our Time, each with new short stories and publishers.
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7. To Have and Have Not (1937)
“I don’t know who made the laws; But I know there ain’t no law that you got to go hungry.”
Notable for its unique narrative, telling a story from multiple viewpoints, by different characters in varying time periods, To Have and Have Not is a lesser-known Hemingway book, but worth a read for its literary style.
To Have and Have Not takes place in Key West, Florida, and tells the story of Harry Morgan, a fishing board captain who is living during the Great Depression era. He gets involved in the black market, transporting illegal cargo and immigrants seeking passage into the United States.
The story highlights the reality of life as a “have” versus a “have not,” especially during the Depression, when people were desperate to support their families.
Notable mention: The To Have and Have Not film adaptation was released in 1944 and stars the well-known Humphrey Bogart (also in Casablanca and The African Queen) as Harry.
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8. A Moveable Feast (1964)
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
A Moveable Feast is unlike any other Hemingway book because it’s a memoir described as “sketches of the author’s life in Paris in the twenties.”
The memoir involves several notable figures of the post-WWI era, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein. Specific locations in Paris where the Lost Generation spent their time are also included, including Cafe des Amateurs and Rue Mouffetard.
Notable mention: There is a self-guided “Hemingway’s Paris Walking Tour” that brings you to locations mentioned in Hemingway’s memoir. The tour gives you a sense of the author’s Paris from 1921 to 1928.
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9. Islands in the Stream (1970)
“He thought that he would lie down and think about nothing. Sometimes he could do this. Sometimes he could think about the stars without wondering about them and the ocean without problems and the sunrise without what it would bring.”
Published after his death in 1970, Islands in the Stream was written by Hemingway in 1951 and stored away until his wife, Mary, found it among 332 other works. The novel includes three parts that illustrate the stages of life, which was originally four separate short stories written by Hemingway that he never finalized during his life. A New York Times article suggests that Hemingway was too distracted by the publication of The Old Man and the Sea and his travels to ever publish these stories.
The novel tells the story of Thomas Hudson, a typical Hemingway male figure who’s driven by adventure and struggles with his life decisions. Hudson is an American painter who loses his three children throughout the plot. Through his life experiences, and time in both the Bahamas and Cuba, Hudson grieves his children and questions their death, until his own demise in the end.
The tragic plot line is typical of Hemingway’s greatest works, and reading the stories that he stored away while living is intriguing.
Notable mention: Like the character Thomas Hudson, good friends of Hemingway, Gerald and Sara Murphy, lost their son to illness, and Hemingway expressed his grief in letters to the parents.
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10. Green Hills of Africa (1935)
“Now, being in Africa, I was hungry for more of it, the changes of the seasons, the rains with no need to travel, the discomforts that you paid to make it real, the names of the trees, of the small animals, and all the birds, to know the language and have time to be in it and to move slowly.”
Green Hills of Africa is a nonfiction account of Hemingway’s safari through East Africa. It serves as a travelogue that describes big-game hunting and the primal characteristics that come with it. The New York Times wrote that Green Hills of Africa was “the best-written story of big-game hunting anywhere.”
Beyond his descriptions of hunting in northern Tanzania, the work is notable because of Hemingway’s use of imagery in describing the setting. Even in the 1930s, he understood that the wilderness was being threatened by man.
Notable mention: After the book’s publication, literary critic John Chamberlain wrote, “Green Hills of Africa is not one of the major Hemingway works.” Although positive reviews of the work were written after that, Hemingway said that book critics “killed” the book, and he fell into a deep depression.
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Want to Write Like Hemingway? Try These 5 Tips
With his simple style and powerful prose, Ernest Hemingway was a master communicator. Reading his works can be inspiring for those with creative minds and influence the way you describe life experiences to others.
To capture the signature style of Ernest Hemingway books, try these writing techniques:
- Write for a fifth grader: Hemingway’s works are known for their simplicity and high readability scores. He used common vocabulary and short sentences. He didn’t bother with sentences that required the use of advanced grammar, but made one small point at a time and ended it.
- Use strong adjectives: Hemingway was able to create complex characters and conflicts with strong adjectives, eliminating the need for adverbs. You can use the word “filthy” instead of “very dirty,” for example. This makes sentences more concise but provides power behind their meaning.
- Focus on the present: Besides present-tense flashbacks, Hemingway rarely described a character’s backstory. Instead, he described his actions in the present and peppered the story with details that unveiled their past.
- Erase the extras: Any sentence or paragraph that isn’t essential to further the plot should be eliminated. Simplicity is key.
- Keep your paragraphs short: Along with short sentences, Hemingway had short paragraphs. Complete a thought in each paragraph and move on to the next point that drives the plot.
Read this article to enhance your communication skills even more.
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- In Our Time. (n.d.). Book by Ernest Hemingway | Official Publisher Page | Simon & Schuster. https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/In-Our-Time/Ernest-Hemingway/9780684822761
- Nobel Prizes 2022. (n.d.). NobelPrize.org. https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1954/summary/
- Marital Tragedy. (n.d.). https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/99/07/04/specials/hemingway-rises.html?scp=1
- The Snows Of Kilimanjaro By Ernest Hemingway, 1936. (n.d.). Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 9, 2022, from https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/snows-kilimanjaro-ernest-hemingway-1936
- In Our Time. (n.d.-b). Three Mountains Press. Retrieved November 9, 2022, from http://web.uvic.ca/~mvp1922/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Hemingway-in-our-time-1924.pdf
- World in Paris. (2022, June 26). A Moveable Feast! Self-Guided Hemingway Tour, Paris. https://worldinparis.com/a-moveable-feast-ernest-hemingway-in-paris-walking-tour
- 100-Proof Old Ernest, Most of it Anyway. (n.d.). https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/99/07/04/specials/hemingway-islands.html?scp=4
- Books of The Times. (n.d.). https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/99/07/04/specials/hemingway-green2.html