In all likelihood, Ernest Hemingway will go down in history as one of the greatest writers of all time. And he’s certainly in the top five when it comes to Americans. He was also remarkably prolific, releasing at least 26 books throughout his life before his untimely suicide in 1961. He even won the Nobel Prize for writing in 1954, amongst a slew of other accolades.
With subject matters influenced heavily by his personal experiences — war, love, humanity’s connection to the natural world, and so much more — Hemingway had a vast encyclopedic knowledge of the human experience, making it easy for just about anyone to relate to his works in some way or another. And his minimalistic, straightforward style of writing makes his stories remarkably approachable from a reading standpoint. Still, with as many books as he authored, it can be hard to dissect the catalog to find the best of the best. But we’ve done the heavy lifting and ranked Ernest Hemingway’s greatest works of all time on the following list.
10. Death In The Afternoon
Hemingway was a huge fan of bullfighting and had written about it several times throughout his career. But Death In The Afternoon is, undoubtedly, his defining work on the subject. Across its pages, he’s done a tremendous job of illustrating both the beauty and savageness of the sport. Not for the weak of heart, this non-fiction book told through the author’s own eyes is an often-brutal treatise that delves into the deepest corners of bullfighting and breaks it down not like a spectator event, but like a ballet between a man, an animal, and the thin piece of red cloth that separates them. Loaded from cover to cover with examinations of bravery and cowardice, heroism and tragedy, life and death — this is undoubtedly a book every man should read.
9. In Our Time
Hemingway’s first book-length published work, In Our Time is also one of his most easily-digestible, due largely to the fact that it’s a collection of extremely short stories and vignettes. But don’t let the brevity of the tales between this work’s covers fool you — it’s a lot to unpack for the discerning reader, with a number of stories that are still considered some of the greatest ever penned. That includes the introduction of Nick Adams, a semi-autobiographical character who would become one of Hemingway’s signatures as the years passed. Interestingly, In Our Time works brilliantly as an introduction to the author, which is poetically appropriate if you ask us.
Genre: Short Stories
8. Men Without Women
Another short story collection published three years after his first release, Hemingway’s Men Without Women does a beautiful job of illustrating the author’s growth as an artist, but also retains the same straightforward prose and dedication to no-nonsense storytelling as his earlier work. Fourteen stories long, the subject matters within these pages range from war to sportsmanship and even contain a revisit of his Nick Adams character. Probably the most famous, unique, and esoteric story of the collection, however, is “Hills Like White Elephants.” There’s a pretty good chance you’ve read this subtle meditation on abortion at some time in your schooling, but we highly suggest revisiting it outside the confines of academia.
Genre: Short Stories
7. To Have and Have Not
There are a lot of thematic threads woven into Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not which are just as relevant today (or more) than they were when it was released in 1937. They include privilege, poverty, and the lengths at which people will go for their family. Of course, that’s hardly all there is to unpack in this tale — which follows protagonist Harry Morgan as he goes from struggling-but-honest family man to contraband-smuggling playboy. Laced with action, violence, and just the right amount of melodrama to keep things interesting without watering down its morality and brutality, this dark novel is an excellent read for the same types of folks who might binge-watch Breaking Bad.
6. Green Hills of Africa
While all of Hemingway’s novels and short story collections have a few autobiographical elements mixed in, none of them give quite as deep an insight into the man himself as his works of non-fiction. And Green Hills of Africa might just be the most intimate look at who he is and what makes him tick. After all, Hemingway wouldn’t be Hemingway without big-game hunting. Undoubtedly, one of the best books for outdoorsmen ever penned, this memoir is a true-to-life example of just how wonderfully the author balances brutality and beauty, animalistic instinct and higher-thinking humanity, and life and death.
5. A Moveable Feast
While Green Hills of Africa shows one side of Hemingway, he was a complicated and multi-faceted man — meaning there’s not a single work of his (fiction or non-fiction) that really encapsulates him in his entirety. Take his works as a collection, however, and the image becomes clearer. That’s especially true if A Movable Feast is taken into account. This memoir, which serves as an opposite-side-of-the-spectrum bookend to Green Hills of Africa, largely concerns Hemingway’s younger self and his journey into the literary world of Paris in the 1920s. Those who have seen Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris will likely be familiar with some of the content. However, Hemingway’s take is a lot more approachable, personal, and a good deal less neurotic.
4. For Whom The Bell Tolls
Following the journey of a young American journalist as he becomes inextricably embroiled in the Spanish Civil War, For Whom The Bell Tolls is undeniably one of the most important works of American fiction ever published. However, in classic Hemingway fashion, it’s not entirely fictional. This is because, three years prior to the publishing of this work, the author traveled to Spain to cover the country’s civil war for the North American Newspaper Alliance. While we can safely assume not everything that takes place in this novel is autobiographical, his personal involvement in the conflict served to bring a hefty dose of realism to this equally bleak and hopeful work. This tale also serves to illustrate one of the writer’s finest talents: the ability to tell a compelling story without shoving obvious lessons down the throat of the reader.
3. The Old Man and the Sea
A staple of academic courses around the world, Hemingway’s novella, The Old Man and the Sea, is heralded as being one of the bigger reasons the author earned the Nobel Prize for literature. The story concerns a down-on-his-luck Cuban fisherman as he struggles in the fight of his life against a massive marlin he hooked off in the far reaches of the Gulf Stream. A bit on the heavier-handed side of metaphor, the lessons of this tale are more easily gleaned than some of the author’s other, more esoteric works. But its approachability and worldwide popularity across dozens of languages and hundreds of countries serve to show just how far-reaching and relateable Hemingway’s stories are. Reading this novella is practically a rite of passage for anyone with even a passing interest in literature — and rightfully so.
2. The Sun Also Rises
One of the author’s very first completed novel-length works, The Sun Also Rises is a bleak and bone-chillingly honest take on the post-WWI Lost Generation. Of course, it’s not entirely without hope, though the shimmers therein are certainly overshadowed by the novel’s larger themes of disillusionment, angst, and cultural self-destruction. It was a time of deep sorrow — and understandably so, as the Great War had taken 40 million lives — masked by self-indulgence, substance abuse, and listless wandering. And Hemingway captures the spirit of that time perfectly. For those who enjoy the prose of Cormac McCarthy, author of The Road, you’ll likely appreciate this predecessor.
1. A Farewell To Arms
Ernest Hemingway’s body of work is filled with absolutely brilliant tales across a spectrum of literature types, which makes it a nigh-impossible task to pick out one that stands head-and-shoulders above the rest. If there’s any sole contender for the throne, however, it has to be A Farewell To Arms — written when the author was young enough to still have hope and a fresh perspective, but not so young that he was naive about the state of the world and its potency for tragedy. It also serves to show just how dedicated Hemingway was to his writing, as (so the story goes) he rewrote the ending a whopping 39 times to make sure each and every word was exactly right. It’s that combination of raw talent and commitment to his craft that makes Ernest Hemingway one of the greatest writers of all time, American or otherwise.
50 Skills Every Man Should Know
Ernest Hemingway was most-definitely a well-rounded man. And his life experiences are a big reason for that. You can become a well-rounded man like Hemingway if you pick up these skills that every man should know.