Best Ernest Hemingway Books: 7 Top Reads

Ernest Hemingway has left an indelible mark on American literature with numerous novels and short stories. What are the best Ernest Hemingway books?

Even though you are probably used to reading Ernest Hemingway during English class in high school, his books have a profound impact on people at all stages of life. One of the greatest writers of the early 20th century, he wrote books about The Lost Generation of World War 1, the Spanish Civil War, and amazing locations such as Paris.

A winner of the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 1953 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954, Hemingway’s books are still frequently read to this day. Even though the list is long, what are Ernest Hemingway’s best books?

Learn more about some great Ernest Hemingway books worth reading today.

1. The Old Man and the Sea, 1952

There are many people who The Old Men and the Sea this book as children; however, it can be difficult to comprehend the true depth of his work. The first time reading this book, A lot of people are focused on doing well on an essay; however, it is time to read this book again and focus on the deep themes the book emanates. 

Even though it was the last novel that Hemingway published during his life, there are many people who view it as his finest work. Even though it is more of a novella than a novel, this is a great place to start if you are not ready for a major time commitment.

Focus on the plight of the fisherman as he struggles to navigate the open water. Then, sit back and think about what this might mean for your own life.

When the novel was first published in Life Magazine, there was a buying frenzy, with close to five million copies sold in the first two days alone. 

Check out our round-up of the best James Crumley books and Ishiguro books.

Hemingway’s best books

“You did not kill the fish only to keep alive and to sell for food, he thought. You killed him for pride and because you are a fisherman. You loved him when he was alive and you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more?” 

The Old Man and the Sea
  • Hemingway, Ernest (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 46 Pages - 08/24/2016 (Publication Date) - Benediction Books (Publisher)

2. Death in the Afternoon, 1932

Death in the Afternoon

If you are looking for a book with a bit more action to it, then you may want to take a closer look at Death in the Afternoon. This work is largely considered one of the greatest books on bullfighting ever written.

During this book, Ernest Hemingway dives deep into the culture and its roots in Spain. He also draws on his own first-hand experience, making this somewhat a work of non-fiction. 

Even though a lot of people have running with the bulls in Pamplona on their bucket lists, this book change that bucket list item in a different light. A fascinating book that turns the religion of bullfighting into beautiful, flowing poetry, this book paints bullfighting differently from other works. There are some who believe this story set the stage for sports writing for years to come. 

When the book was first published in 1932 by Scribner, the first edition printed about 10,000 copies. You might also enjoy these authors like Hemingway.

“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. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water” 

Death in the Afternoon
  • Great product!
  • Hemingway, Ernest (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 496 Pages - 04/16/1996 (Publication Date) - Scribner (Publisher)

3. The Sun Also Rises, 1926

The Sun Also Rises, 1926

The Sun Also Rises was the first novel published by Ernest Hemingway, and many people regard it as his greatest. During the writing of this works, Hemingway relied on his Midwestern values as he went through new experiences during post-World War 1 Europe. He visited numerous cafés in Paris and then talked to members of The Lost Generation who were returning from the bloodiest war ever fought at that time. 

In this book, Ernest Hemingway takes a slightly different approach. He tries to portray the bad and the ugly of people returning from World War I, including the protagonist Jake Barnes, as something beautiful.

Even though the book was received well by critics, it does tackle difficult topics such as alcoholism and promiscuity. Perhaps the book’s ability to paint difficult concepts in such a thoughtful manner has made this book not only one of Hemingway’s greatest but one of the greatest works of literature of all time.

While the first print of this book sold just over 5000 copies, more than one million copies of the book had been sold by 1961.

“You’re an expatriate. You’ve lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed with sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see? You hang around cafes.” 

The Sun Also Rises: The Hemingway Library Edition
  • Hemingway, Ernest (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 320 Pages - 02/16/2016 (Publication Date) - Scribner (Publisher)

4. A Farewell to Arms, 1929

A Farewell to Arms is another gorgeous Hemingway work about World War I. This book was published in 1929 and was the second book ever written by Ernest Hemingway. The book follows an American soldier, Frederic Henry, who served in the Italian Army during World War.

During his time in Italy, he works with a nurse who helps him flee the blood, gore, and death of the “War to End All Wars” on the Italian front. This is an action-packed novel featuring Alpine skiing, heart-stopping moments, and a tragic ending. 

Furthermore, the book also borrows from the life of Ernest Hemingway himself as he worked as an ambulance driver. Even though the story painted in this novel is embellished and adaptive, it is one of the seminal works of World War 1. The book features a confident tone from a more experienced writer as he shows off his literary and creative fiction abilities. If you are looking for an action read, this might be it.

When the book was first published, Scribner’s ordered just over 31,000 copies, with 510 first-edition copies signed by Ernest Hemingway. His first best-seller, Hemingway sold just over 100,000 copies in the 12 months after the book was published.

“The world breaks everyone 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.” 

A Farewell to Arms: The Hemingway Library Edition
  • Hemingway, Ernest (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 352 Pages - 07/08/2014 (Publication Date) - Scribner (Publisher)

5. For Whom the Bell Tolls, 1940

One of the recurring themes in Ernest Hemingway’s novels is action, particularly military action in World War I, and this book is no different. This book seems to be a work of Blended fiction and nonfiction. The book does have some basis in reality, having been researched by Ernest Hemingway while he was working as a war reporter and correspondent in the middle of the Spanish Civil War.

The book follows a protagonist, Robert Jordan, as he faces long odds. While Hemingway does sympathize with the plight of the Second Spanish Republic he portrays the cause as a pipe dream, similar to the goals of Robert Jordan throughout the novel. The rise of Nazi Germany plays a significant role in the book just as it did during the Spanish Civil War itself.

For Whom the Bell Tolls was published in 1940 and the first edition sold 75,000 copies. 

“There will always be people who say it does not exist because they cannot have it. But I tell you it is true and that you have it and that you are lucky even if you die tomorrow.” 

For Whom the Bell Tolls
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Ernest Hemingway (Author) - Campbell Scott (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 05/01/2006 (Publication Date) - Simon & Schuster Audio (Publisher)

6. A Moveable Feast, 1964

If you are someone who likes to envision your own ending, then you will probably fall in love with A Moveable Feast. This book was published posthumously and the manuscript was never finished. Therefore, readers are invited to create their own final touches on this masterpiece. The book reads as a memoir of the early days Hemingway spent in Paris.

The book tells of a variety of stories including deep sea fishing, hunting German U-boats, and going on African safaris, which featured big-game hunting. During this time, Hemingway was a young man honing his craft. Therefore, the book acts as a time capsule for not only Hemingway’s own life but also Paris during the early 20th century. F. Scott Fitzgerald also makes an appearance in the manuscript.

“When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.” 

A Moveable Feast
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Ernest Hemingway (Author) - James Naughton (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 06/01/2006 (Publication Date) - Simon & Schuster Audio (Publisher)

7. To Have and Have Not

This is a masterpiece by Ernest Hemingway that reflects his thoughts on financial and social strata that began to emerge in the 20th century. The characters in this book are based on people Ernest Hemingway met in real life. For example, he encounters working-class individuals who work on the docks at Key West, Florida.

Then, he also encounters the rich people who own the boats in the local area. He also encounters illegal Chinese immigrants who come to the country from Cuba to Key West, establishing a China Town in the region that is still present to this day.

The novel takes place during the Great Depression prior to World War II. Ernest Hemingway comes very close to arguing or political and social changes that can help the working class.

At the same time, the novel does not reflect favorably on the New Deal, implemented by Franklin Roosevelt during his administration. The novel focuses on self-reliance, personal freedom, and civility under stress and is a reflection of many of the social challenges facing the country at that time.

“The hell with my arm. You lose an arm you lose an arm. There’s worse things than lose an arm. You’ve got two arms and you’ve got two of something else. And a man’s still a man with one arm or with one of those. The hell with it,’ he says. . . .after a minute he says, ‘I got those other two still.” 

To Have and Have Not
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Ernest Hemingway (Author) - Will Patton (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 08/01/2006 (Publication Date) - Simon & Schuster Audio (Publisher)

Final Word on The Best Ernest Hemingway Books

Ultimately, Ernest Hemingway is one of the greatest authors of all time, publishing numerous books that are still relevant to the world today. His works are deep, tug on the heartstrings, and force readers everywhere to think about their own lives.

His short story collections and novels focus on important places and moments in time, ranging from Europe to New York and from the Caribbean to Michigan. Consider picking up a few of the best-sellers above. They may change the way you see history, your life, and the world as a whole.

FAQs About Hemingway’s Best Books

What Are A Few Other Ernest Hemingway Stories I Should Check Out?

Consider taking a look at a few other Hemingway stories including Men Without Women, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Hills Like White Elephants, Green Hills of Africa, and In Our Time.

Who Are Some Of The Other Writers Who Published Works During The Same Timeframe As Ernest Hemingway?

There were several writers who published exceptional works during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including Gertrude Stein and James Joyce.

How Long Does It Take To Read An Ernest Hemingway Book?

It depends on how fast you read and how long the stories are. Some of his works are short stories, while others are novels. Instead of focusing on how long it takes you to read the book, focus on the story the book tells.

  • Bryan Collins is the owner of Become a Writer Today. He's an author from Ireland who helps writers build authority and earn a living from their creative work. He's also a former Forbes columnist and his work has appeared in publications like Lifehacker and Fast Company.