Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Hemingway: a Life Story

Rate this book


First published January 1, 1969

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Carlos Baker

57 books6 followers

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
356 (40%)
4 stars
332 (38%)
3 stars
141 (16%)
2 stars
29 (3%)
1 star
12 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 60 reviews
Profile Image for Steve.
820 reviews237 followers
August 29, 2014
Because I’m a son of a bitch. -- Ernest Hemingway, late 1926.

Truly. The Hemingway that emerges in Carlos Baker’s mammoth (714 pages of small print, excluding notes) is virtually impossible to like, or even – it seems -- to pity (though that changes when it comes to his last feeble year or so). The four wives (Hadley, Pauline, Martha, and Mary), the blown up marriages, the blown up friendships, the drunken arguments, the literary knifings, are all here. I don’t sense any attempt by Baker to pull punches, though I'm sure later biographies have unearthed some real whoppers. In other words Baker has no axe to grind, but dutifully assembles the stuff (as in everything) of Hemingway’s life and records it – with a tone that is neutrally sympathetic -- in chronological fashion. On occasion Baker will linger over a piece of writing, and add some thoughtful insights, but never for more than a few lines, or a paragraph. Generally this is not a literary study, but a biography on the incredible life of a major literary figure. I've noticed that some reviewers have complained that the sheer avalanche of information is simply too much. I disagree. Hemingway was a prolific letter writer, and that’s where a large part of this biography comes from. Also, a lot of the physical descriptions in Baker’s book sound a lot like Hemingway. You get the sense that Baker is often paraphrasing – or even mimicking EH. If so, it’s not a weakness in the biography, but a strength.

As Hemingway’s life unfolds, you can see how Baker follows up on long running preoccupations of Hemingway, with suicide being the primary one. Time and again Hemingway reflects back on this, with the knowledge that suicide is a family tradition. His father’s death by his own hand, at the height of Hemingway’s popularity, only cemented this notion in Hemingway’s mind. His ending is certainly no shock.

And then there are Hemingway’s issues with women, starting with his mother, Grace (“the bitch”). Though Baker doesn't really go there, one can’t help but feel that the first two marriages (Hadley and Pauline) were simply calculated moves in order to facilitate his writing career. Hadley had a modest pension or trust which allowed for her and Ernest to go to Paris. It was a hard life, but a magical one that captured a special time and place. It’s there that Hemingway, in the blue light of morning, before the nearby sawmill started up, learned to craft perfect sentences that married compression and precision into something complex and new, even poetic. An early example that Baker cites is “Paris, 1922” (see "Six Sentences" link below). These were new for me, and wonderful, strongly suggestive of the prose-poem interludes in the early collection, In Our Time.

Then the baby, “Bumby,” comes along, compounding the difficulties of living on a tight budget and not yet making enough money to live on. It’s at this point Pauline Pfeiffer enters the picture. When this phase began, I set the book down for a few days. I have always felt Hadley got the raw end of it, and Baker records nothing here to change that view. If anything, he underscores it late in the book when Hemingway admits to a house guest that he married Pauline for the money (her family was very well off) so that he could continue in his career as a writer. This calculated move is not without guilt, and Hemingway, in later years, shows regret over blowing up his first marriage. The Pauline Pfeiffer phase begins shamelessly as the two pose as pious Catholics (the first marriage to Hadley didn’t really count). Pauline is sincere about her Catholic faith (perhaps too sincere), and Ernest tries, but the reader never believes it. In the end, I suppose it was the best thing that could have happened to Hadley. She would meet a nice guy who took care of her.

What follows next is a numbing list of hunting, fishing, and traveling expeditions. The pace is manic. Hemingway cannot stay put for long. Pauline is actually content to be a homebody in Piggott, Arkansas. But not Ernesto! He does discover Key West (via Pauline), and the wonders of endlessly shooting shit in Wyoming (400 jackrabbits – how is that possible? And why?) It does prove to be a productive period for him, and he cranks out a number of short stories, lucrative magazine pieces, an uneven "novel" To Have and Have Not, and an uneven travel piece Green Hills of Africa. I think these are mid-level Hemingway efforts that are certainly worth a read, but not close to the chiseled perfection of those early stories and two novels (The Sun Also Rises, and Farewell to Arms).

Now comes the Martha Gellhorn phase (“bitch” number 2). Whatever one feels about how Pauline hooked her man, there’s no doubt she was a good wife – and mother to two of Hemingway’s children. But that kind of static domesticity, no matter how much hunting and fishing punctuates it, shows Ernest losing his edge, drifting into middle age as a writer past his prime. When he meets the predatory Gellhorn, an attractive and up and coming journalist, he proceeds to blow up his second marriage. This process actually takes years to accomplish, thus rubbing Pauline’s face in it for quite a while, but this process is helped along by the war in Spain. Hemingway the Writer becomes invigorated by the war, and spends considerable time in Spain, often in the company of Gelhorn. Stuff happens and goodbye Pauline.

It is during this period that Hemingway gathers himself for one monumental writing effort which would result in For Whom the Bell Tolls. This book is Hemingway’s intended big book, his War and Peace. It’s not his best, but it’s the one that makes him a lot of money both in sales and a movie deal. It’s also the one novel where he gets beyond the smaller, meaner canvases of elevated autobiography (something his critics were hitting him for) and addresses the political issues of his day. To his credit, he never really buys the Communist line, while at the same time maintaining a solid hate for the fascists. The marriage to Gellhorn soon follows. This marriage has to one of the worst pairings ever. We’re talking Ted and Sylvia dysfunction. Different issues, but the same level of heat and hate. They both write, but that’s about all they have in common. She does introduce him to Cuba, and a place for them to live – with lots of cats. But she refuses to be dominated, and continues to pursue her career in journalism as the war clouds in Europe gather.

It’s at this juncture in Hemingway’s life where I sense the wheels coming off. The writing of For Whom the Bell Tolls has emptied him, and his descent into alcoholism accelerates. He starts in the morning, and keeps it going all day long. Once World War II begins, Hemingway is able to secure a bizarre arrangement with the U.S. embassy that has him patrolling (in his fishing boat) the seas off of Cuba, looking for U-Boats. Booze and grenades, tommy guns, shady characters, and the open sea. Whoo-hoo! Martha, whenever she’s home (not often), is disgusted with both Hemingway and the cat shit.

Hemingway does eventually make it over to Europe, and Baker spends considerable time recording these exploits, which are often drunken and madcap. Baker seems to argue that Hemingway actually got physically and mentally better the closer he got to the action, and that the real soldiers often respected his opinions. Beyond danger being a drug, I’m doubtful, but he was probably fun to get drunk with. One weird thing Baker mentions is Hemingway’s accurate sense of impending death to others.

During this time Hemingway meets his next wife, Mary Welsh. He’s still married to Gellhorn, but it’s pretty much in name only. The few times they meet, he treats her like trash. The good news here is that she’s perfectly capable of return fire. It’s also during this period that Hemingway suffers a number of severe head injuries. At the time that Baker wrote this book (1968), the knowledge of what concussions can do to the brain was, I assume, limited. But Baker does draw attention to them and Hemingway’s increasingly bizarre behavior.

The last years do show Hemingway actively writing, but it’s mostly stuff he couldn't finish and that wouldn't be released until after his death. The one big success story, which is really a novella: The Old Man and the Sea. It was a big hit (book, and later, the movie), and it wins him the Nobel. Toward the end of the book you see Hemingway slowing down, becoming more reflective. I found it interesting how he repeatedly asserted that Faulkner (before WF won the Noble) was the better writer. For someone as hyper competitive as Hemingway, such statements are remarkable, but also indicative of just how seriously he took the craft of fiction.

The last years also show Hemingway trying to fend off potential biographers (he thought as a subject, he should be dead first), and traveling once again to Africa. It is here where he suffers two plane crashes, and yet another head injury. The last days are dreary and sad, with Hemingway in the depths of deep depression, being subjected to shock therapy, suffering paranoia attacks and, increasingly, just staring out the window. Mary’s leaving the keys out for the gun cabinet could be seen as incredibly negligent, or simply providing the key that would close the inevitable circle.

Six sentences:

Profile Image for Mikey B..
1,007 reviews373 followers
August 7, 2017
There are many aspects of Ernest Hemingway’s character that range from unattractive to outright despicable. The author does not shy away from demonstrating these traits.

However, Hemingway led a highly compelling life. He lived in France, Italy, Spain and Cuba; traveled extensively in Europe and parts of Africa. In the U.S., for the most part he was on the fringes - in Key West and the mountains of Idaho. He never lived the high life in terms of luxury, except when staying in New York.

This is a complete biography with wonderful passages of how Hemingway’s stories evolved – and then how they were received. We are given many of Hemingway’s wide-ranging activities. What I found interesting, psychologically, was that Hemingway would have a general routine of writing in the morning – and immediately after, switch over to his huge social world of friends, drinking and an assortment of avocations (hunting, fishing, bull-fighting, skiing, travelling...). Hemingway was no loner. It is a remarkable transition to make from the solitary soul-searching of writing.

Later in his life Hemingway tended to surround himself with fawning sycophants, which served to increase his bombast. One trait I found reprehensible was his hateful denigration of those who dared to criticize his writing. Former friends would be cast-off with derogatory insults. Often he would ask feedback on what he had written. Woe betides those who were less than complimentary. His editors at Scribner learnt to maneuver through this minefield.

It should be mentioned that Hemingway did a lot of his own editorial work on what he had written, revising much of his text.

Hemingway spoke Spanish, French and Italian. He had a knack for mixing well in all levels of society – with ranch-hands, privates in the army (Spain and the U.S.), farmers, fishermen (Key West, Cuba); he was no snob. They provided him with characters for his books. He was a keen observer and would probe during conversations, gathering material for future use.

There are a lot of details in this long biography of food, drinking (lots of it), marriages and divorces (three of them), friends encountered (many), and then enemies made – and hunting, fishing, and bull-fighting (one of Hemingway’s least admirable activities I feel).

We are given a full picture of this fascinating man and writer – and a 20th Century journey.

Page 277 (my book) Ivan Kashkeen a Russian translator, 1935

“even under his changing names , you begin to realize that what had seemed the writer’s face is but a mask... You imagine the man, morbidly reticent, always restrained and discreet, very intent, very tired, driven to utter despair, painfully bearing the too heavy burdens of life’s intricacies.” The very mirthlessness of his spasmodic smile, said Kashkeen, betrayed the tragic disharmony inside Hemingway, a psychic discord that brought him to the edge of disintegration.

Page 528-29 excerpts of Ernest Hemingway’s written speech for his Nobel Prize in 1954

“Writing at its best, is a lonely life. He [the writer] grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day. For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment... Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed... It is because we have had such great writers in the past that a writer is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him.”
Profile Image for Míceál  Ó Gealbháin.
85 reviews28 followers
August 11, 2015
For Hemingway scholars this is "The Bible" according to Carlos Baker. The best single volume biography of Hemingway to date, surpassed only by the late Michael Reynolds five volume biography of Papa.
Profile Image for Diem.
459 reviews142 followers
March 3, 2016
It was never my intention to read a biography of Hemingway. I was interested in the work more than the author. But after reading Baker's literary critique of Hemingway I knew that reading the Hemingway biography he had written was inevitable. So I just got to it.

It is a dense and thorough work. It is not available on Kindle and it weighs 4000 pounds. So, spoiler alert, there are shoulder and neck issues for which I should have deducted a star. Also, I had to buy a used copy because a new copy costs no less than $9,000,000,000. Fortunately, I received a very nice copy that had apparently been assigned for a class and thus, appeared to never have been opened.

Unlike most biographies of famous people there is the avoidance of the prurient without being squeamish about sex. It is in no way fawning or adulatory. Neither is it a diatribe. It refrains from judgment while being honest about Hemingway's apparent tendency to be...well...a dick. But the kind that people are drawn to, want to follow to bull fights in Spain, want to knock back drinks with in bars or fight marlins with in Cuba.

I actually went into this Hemingway biography looking, among other things, to dispel the myths about his exploits such as those just mentioned. But, alas, they are all true. The safaris, the bull fighting, the literary friendships, Paris, the wars, Cuba. I was relieved to find not much emphasis placed on Hemingway's drinking; a topic I find tiresome, exaggerated and exploitative. It has so completely distracted from his work that people think they can seem like Hemingway scholars if they crack wise about his boozing.

Reading this biography of Hemingway was like a Grand Tour of Europe, a history class, an introduction to hunting and fishing techniques of the early 20th century, a gossip rag exposing the best writers of the age, and a strenuous strength training routine all in one.

Of course, what I really wanted to know was why Hemingway committed suicide. But the book, which promises that it isn't a "thesis biography" ends with a sentence in which Hemingway activates the trigger that fires the fatal wound. There is, for a chronicler of the events of a particular life, nothing to discuss once that life has ended.

Of course, there's plenty of discussion foreshadowing the event. Much has been made of the "Hemingway Curse" but my own research points to a cluster of suicides that don't suggest anything supernatural at all. Instead, it appears that at the time of Hemingway's father suicide, Clarence was in poor health, dealing with considerable financial burdens and possibly afflicted with mental health issues. Ernest's sister, Ursula, was afflicted with cancer at the time of her suicide. His brother, Leister, was diabetic and about to become a double amputee at the time of his suicide. His granddaughter, Margaux, was suffering under the weight of crippling drug addiction at the time of her suicide. This isn't a curse. There are clear reasons for each suicide.

So what were Hemingway's reasons? The suggestion is that a combination of factors contributed to what was first a slow, and then very rapid, mental, physical and psychological deterioration of this incredibly vital life. A series of very bad concussions (including those sustained in two plane crashes that occurred in a two-day period, one that had him leaking cerebrospinal fluid) left Hemingway with chronic headaches and, later, periods of confusion. Health issues, assumed to be the result of the plane crashes, were never completely overcome and his liver was a source of continued trouble. These combined factors, none of which were improved upon by the application of excessive amounts of alcohol, seem to have caused a fundamental refusal to live in a reduced state where writing had become impossible.

Later evidence reveals that Hemingway suffered from hereditary hemochromatosis. Strong indicators point to this as the primary factor in many, if not all, of the Hemingway suicides. What is hereditary hemochromatosis? Feel free to google hereditary hemochromatosis for an explanation.

So, who should read this book? People who were assigned this book for class. So, shame on you, person who sold me this book. Who else? Only the most devoted Hemingway followers.

I really believed that this would be the end of my Jazz Age reading for a while. But I recently learned that Colin Firth will be starring in a movie about Max Perkins later this year. So, I ordered the book upon which the movie is being based. Turns out to have been written by a protege of Carlos Baker and is, in fact, dedicated to Baker. So...still not finished.

Edited to add: In light of recent research it seems relevant to consider the possibility that CTE played a role in Hemingway's decline and possibly his suicide. There will be no possibility of confirming this but it should give further pause to anyone seeking to malignantly assign such motivations as moral weakness or innate selfishness to Hemingway's suicide.
Profile Image for Unbridled.
127 reviews10 followers
May 27, 2009
Of the book I can say I had issues with its style as a biography. Ernest felt exactly this when he did exactly that as he did this and that exactly as the sun was red and the breeze especially biting. Having read the letters, which Baker also edited, I understand his (Baker's) choice of style (and I grossly exaggerate); however, it still irks. Of the man, Ernie, what more needs to be said? Will we ever have another writer do what he has done, see what he has seen, and become what he became? Maybe after civilization collapses and we return to a more animal state and eventually re-learn the arts we lose, maybe then, in a more primitive world, there would be room for another Hemingway. Poor Ernie: surprisingly smart and shockingly foolish; astonishing and heroic; humane and cruel; gruff and hollow - and something terribly human inside. A terrible void. But what a life and what a writer. I think I will leave it to a real critic, Alfred Kazin, to finish: 'Writing was Hemingway's true life, and he recaptures the striving of it in rhythms so authentic that they make any writer catch his breath: "It was wonderful to walk down the long flights of stairs knowing that I'd had good luck working. I always worked until I had something done and always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day. But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, '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.'"'
Profile Image for T.F. Pruden.
Author 7 books22 followers
December 23, 2015
This is one of my favorite of the author biographies. Like all history its best taken with a grain of salt though Mr. Baker has done a thorough job of his task. The recent re-read was necessary as when originally perused the subject was somewhat deified as a literary entity by the younger version of myself.

Another trip through the in depth text did not disappoint. Mr. Baker writes well and the life of his subject certainly offers a variety of interesting topics upon which a biographer might worry. He has done a fine job of it here.

There have been aspersions cast at both conclusions reached and situations documented in this biography. This is common to the genre and in this case the claims are not significantly worse than those applied to many. At no time will they intrude on the reading experience.

This is an easy recommend for fans of the subject or anyone interested in a somewhat romanticized view of an early 20th century writers life.
Profile Image for Moniek.
336 reviews15 followers
January 26, 2021
"Cóż jest do powiedzenia poza tym, że Cię kochamy?" A ta recenzja będzie trochę krótsza.

Wy wiecie, jak bardzo kocham mówić o Erneście, jak go uwielbiam i jak cieszę się najmniejszą o nim wzmianką. Tak jest już od kilku dobrych lat, i tak, jak zawsze przywiązuję się do autorów moich ulubionych książek, to chyba wszyscy wiemy, że ja i Ernest to jednak coś więcej, coś wyjątkowego. Jednak dzisiaj nie chcę to na nim się koncentrować, nawet jeśli to właśnie cała książka o JEGO życiu, dzisiaj chcę powiedzieć coś miłego o Bakerze.

Ta biografia jest tak przepięknie napisana. Podoba mi się to, jak Baker potrafi otwarcie krytykować Ernesta, ale też przyznawać mu rację i chwalić, to, jak potrafi sobie z niego żartować, ale nadal robić to z ogromnym szacunkiem i sympatią. Podoba mi się to, jak wrażliwy jest w tej książce Baker, jak, chociaż również subtelnie, emocjonalnie podchodzi do wspominanych osób i Hemingwaya, jaki jest na niego otwarty, i w każdym słowie te przywiązanie i bardzo... refleksyjne spojrzenie jest odczuwalne. Podoba mi się to, że on znał Ernesta osobiście, profesjonalnie, ale znał go, i wiedział, że Hemingway go lubi, że chwali jego pracę na swój własny temat, to, jak Baker wplótł samego siebie w historię Ernesta, jest prześliczne. Chcę przeczytać jeszcze kilka biografii Hemingwaya, ale już tak stronniczo sobie myślę, że jednak w żadnej nie będę czuć się tak dobrze, jak w domu, nikt mnie tak i Ernesta nie ugości. Ta książka jest cudowna, i czyta się ją jak naprawdę dobrą opowieść w ogóle. Ostatnie strony doprowadziły mnie do łez, a przecież dobrze wiem, jak to się skończyło, to przez te szybko wzrastające napięcie; w ogóle mam wrażenie, że w tym momencie nagle z narracji Bakera, staje się... bardzo szczery i chyba coś się wtedy łamie. A wszystko zakończyło się w IDEALNYM momencie.

Nie wiem komu bardziej zazdroszczę, Ernestowi, że poznał Bakera, bo wydaje się on tak bystry i uprzejmy, czy Bakerowi, że poznał Ernesta. Chcę być gdzieś pomiędzy nimi.

A za Hemingwayem będę tak sobie tęsknić cały czas. Tak jak Baker wskazuje na samym początku, w ślicznie napisanym wstępie, Ernest był osobą pełną sprzeczności, ale w tym wszystkim... tak wrażliwą, uprzejmą i pokorną, w dziwny sposób pokorną, bo przecież też potrafił być strasznym chwalipiętą, ale jednak taki był, każdy dodatkowy fakt jego życia staje się kolejnym elementem układanki, a efekt końcowy wydaje się być warty zachodu. Ernest jest dla mnie niepowtarzalny i jest moją ogromną radością.

Będę czasami nie cierpieć Ernesta, a będę go też często wielbić, ale nie mogę pozbyć się Hemingwaya z jego własnego prywatnego kącika w moim sercu. I dobrze mi z tym.

Gorąco polecam.
Profile Image for John.
81 reviews
October 9, 2012
As my second attempt to master this text draws toward a premature end, I have decided that this book is for reference rather than reading. Baker's erudite tome attempts to provide as much biographical detail as possible, but at nearly 700 pages plus 100 pages of notes, it is about as engaging as reading an encyclopedia. I'll keep it on the shelf in case I have a particular question. But for biographical storytelling, I'd rather read Hotchner's version.
Profile Image for Tam Tam.
183 reviews
February 5, 2015
I was obsessed with Hemingway in high school. This is one of the best biographies I have read about Ernest Hemingway. It only proved to me that he was as fascinating a person as his writing. His genius will never be repeated and made an impact on me as a reader that I will never forget.
Profile Image for Kenneth Stein.
Author 2 books13 followers
July 11, 2022
As a great Hemingway fan who has read nearly all his major works, I enjoyed the author’s assessment of Hemingway. He is an author who had an action-packed life: fishing, hunting, boxing, bullfighting, and combat action.

I loved the parts where he discusses Hemingway’s thoughts on writing and his writing habits. As an author, I found these narratives helpful.

Some attribute Hemingway’s troubles (throughout his life) to drinking or his many injuries, especially his several concussions. Neither his drinking nor concussions helped him and added to his outlook.

Perhaps his problems were spiritual? His father enjoyed his stories and passed on hometown reviews to Ernest (1925). He felt they were lacking in spiritual uplift and said, “Trust you will see and describe more of humanity of a different character in future volumes… The brutal you have surely shown the world. Look for the joyous, uplifting, and optimistic and spiritual in character. It is present if found. Remember God holds us each responsible to do our best. My thoughts and prayers are for you dear boy every day.”

His Mom dedicated Ernest to God before his conception. She wrote him (1926) when he established himself as a writer, “I love you, dear, and still believe you will do something worthwhile. Try to find Him and your real work. God bless you.”

The Catholic faith of Hemingway was news to me. Indeed, he had a reputation for writing about life and death. Still, the abandonment of his faith perhaps may have led to his nihilism, or as some place him with the “Lost Generation.”

This review is not a judgment but seeks an answer to a question for which we will never have an answer. How much more powerful of an author would Hemingway have been if he had looked at life through a lens other than despairing?

This is a fantastic book, though it is painful at times. RIP Papa
Profile Image for David Campbell.
221 reviews1 follower
October 29, 2021
Late American writer, biographer and Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature at Princeton University Carlos Baker's intimate, definitive biography of 20th century U.S. novelist, short-story writer, journalist, sportsman (and close friend of Dr. Baker) Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway, per both Baker's personal and professional analysis, emerges in the 1920's as a bookend-of-sorts for late literary Modernsim. He explores the decidedly Modern "Lost Generation" themes of post-WWI spiritual/social existentialism and nihilism elevated by Pound, Joyce, Stein, Eliot, and Fitzgerald, but does so more in the role of Modernism's outer, expatriate, semi-realist, journalistic perimeter in the style of Stephen Crane's 'The Red Badge of Courage' (1895) or 'Three Soldiers' (1921) by contemporary and fishing buddy John Dos Passos. Hemingway's legendary manliness however, of bullfights and African buffalo and booze and booming cannons and boxing and busty barroom maidens all requiring his immediate attention is, also per both Baker's personal and professional analysis, Grade-A American bull$hit. Hemingway's seemingly uncommon, hyper-confident creative drive, one that landed him the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature, actually operated in a concentric arena of basic human insecurity and incongruity; he was simply unable to reconcile himself with (1.) the fact that he was artist, (2.) the fact that loving himself (or someone else) might involve very real, very permanent pain and loss, and (3.) that eventually one day he would die. Battle after battle, bullfight after bullfight, drink after drink, marriage after marriage, etc. after etc., Hemingway fights and fights, writes and writes, trying to gird himself for the injury of the human condition that he never quite seems to understand he (and everyone else) has already received. His life and self-questioning ends with a self-inflicted shotgun blast to the head in 1961, but the literary corpus he leaves behind still resonates with many readers (and many Americans) at the deepest emotional levels regardless of if one matches up with his style. Life IS a bullring, and we all wish we could dance around the horns, charge-after-charge, without a care (or fear) in the world.
Profile Image for Jade Dermody.
23 reviews
January 21, 2015
After getting up to page 355/859 I did with this book something which I hate doing-I gave up! Now I'm no quitter. I've never dumped anyone, I've walked out of one movie and still have the same friends I had at 7, but sometimes things are so bad that you failed to come up with any excuse to stick with it and this book is one of those things!
I wanted to read a bio on Ernest Hemmingway to find out more about the man who I had heard so much about. I read Death in the Afternoon while living in Madrid, watched the lovely A Farewell to Arms and enjoyed Clive Owen in Hemmingway and Gellhorn. From these bits and pieces I wanted to read more of his work and find out more about the ruggard, soulful man who is seen as one of the great Americans.
Instead I got a book that was a day by day account of his life. On this day he traveled her by car with so and so, on this day he stayed in a hotel to write. It all began to merge into one fishing trip after the next. People and places given the smallest of background and details from Hemmingways letters or books. All very cold and clinical.
I did manage to form a low opinion of Mr Hemminway, but in no part was it aided by the writer-who wanted to give a detached description of the man as possible.
As a man I believe I would throughly dislike him. rude, crude and a brute. He held fishing and the wildness just a little over his own writing and far above family, friends and loved ones. The two marriages I managed to get through are dealt with in a cold detached way, making you feel that is how the great man himself dealt with them. This is confirmed with many affirs, which again are mearly mentioned in passing. His great love (an inspiration for a farewell to arms) is even seen as nothing more then a puppy first love/crush that is over worked years later to help form a story.
Luckily this book has not put me off reading more of his work (who said "you dont have to be a great man to be a great artist") but I will not be looking for another bio (unless one comes highly recommended) and I certinly will not be looking to read anymore of Carlos Baker.
Profile Image for Jeff Keehr.
545 reviews4 followers
April 12, 2020
What can anyone say about this man's life? It was filled with incredible acts of bravery and foolhardiness. He was at once gentle and kind and belligerant and cruel, depending on how much alcohol he had had at the time. He took ridiculous risks but managed to live through them though he was not unscathed. His body took a terrible hammering during the course of his life and it reminded him of that abuse more and more the older he became. He had a wonderful wife but allowed himself to fall in love with another woman whom he later cursed for being a rich predator. The only woman who seems to have stood up to him was Martha Gellhorn: that marriage was a mistake. And yet he didn't bad mouth her like he did the mother of two of his three children. He was away from home on fishing exbiditions for weeks at a time. He went on safaris and killed lots of beautiful animals. He lived in Cuba up until Castro took over and the repression began. Of course, he understood that before Castro the dictatorship was corrupt and vile. But he understood and accepted the terrible behavior of man. When the Murphy's lost one of their children to a childhood disease, he consoled them by remarking that the child never had to learn what a vile world this really is. He worked very hard and to keep his sanity he was active every second he was not writing. He wrote excellent books and terrible books. And through it all his kept up an immense correspondence because he loved getting missives from others. This book answered the one question I had about Hemingway: why did he kill himself. He was developing dementia and had gone through a series of electric shock treatments in an attempt to shake him out of his depression. He made a number of attempts to get his hands on a gun before his final successful suicide. He took control of his destiny and that is another admirable thing about him.
Profile Image for Joy H..
1,342 reviews62 followers
Shelved as 'watched-film-only'
August 2, 2012
Added 8/2/12.
I didn't read this book but I did watch, via a Netflix DVD, a film which was based on this book and also based on collected letters 1917 to 1961.

The film was: "Hemingway" (1988) - TV Mini-Series - Biography
""Stacy Keach plays Ernest Hemingway, the larger-than-life writer whose spartan prose unlocked the complex and rich world of his colorful characters. A classic troubled soul, Hemingway drank his way into oblivion, even as he lived a life that's infinitely more dramatic than his stories. This miniseries looks at his adventures in Europe and Africa and his four marriages."
FROM: http://dvd.netflix.com/Movie/Hemingwa...

Stacy Keach won a Golden Globe Award for his performance: "Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Special". One online review says: "It has lavish sets and costuming and a wide variety of on-location sites all over the world..." [ http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/3608/h... ]

The cinematography was great because it was filmed on location in France, Spain, Italy (including lovely Venice!), Switzerland, Kenya, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. There were scenes of the Serengeti and Murchison Falls in Africa.

I enjoyed all the lavish sets and it was easy way to get a retrospective of Hemingway's life.
Profile Image for David Civil.
19 reviews
July 20, 2017
Carlos Baker's biography is incredibly detailed and well-researched. At nearly 700 pages it's a tough, committed read which really brings to life Hemingway's forceful, over-bearing character.

What this is not, however, is an accessible biography for those seeking an introduction to Hemingway's life or for those hoping to situate his work against broader stylistic or literary developments. The staggering level of detail, almost down to day to day occurrences, often ensures the minor and the significant moments of Hemingway's life blur into one. Overall, however Baker must be praised for producing a detached and colourful account of one of the twentieth century's most important and enigmatic authors.
Profile Image for Michael.
44 reviews1 follower
May 21, 2014
The definitive work on Hemingway. At 714 pages, it took me some time to finish, but left me with what I had been searching for. A glimpse into the psyche, and an understanding, of Hemingway, the man. I've found nothing as thorough or as insightful as this work. And although it was the sad tale which ended in tragedy that I knew it would be, I am the better for the reading of it.
Profile Image for Danielle Flood.
Author 1 book64 followers
May 14, 2017
Fantastic reportage. Baker created a world in which you really feel Hemingway is alive, in the same room with you, or traveling around the world.
Profile Image for Patrick Powell.
47 reviews3 followers
March 1, 2020

NB I read a British paperback copy of this book and there is a preliminary note to say that to save space the notes to the text which originally appeared had been dropped. As my copy ran to 850 odd pages, lord knows how long an annotated volume would have been, but I would have preferred to have had access to those notes. So if you are thinking of getting this book and feel as I do, make sure it includes Baker’s notes.

I had already read the biographies of Hemingway by Meyers, Mellow and Reynolds as well as several other books which covered the same ground (for example, by Bernice Kert and Scott Donaldson) by the time I got to Carlos Baker’s tome, and I was familiar with the various facts of Hemingway’s life (many, it now seems, which weren’t facts at all).

In a sense that was an advantage, because the later biographers, who also did a lot of their own research, were more sceptical of the ‘world-famous’ writer and many of his achievements and it was interesting to compare how the ‘story’ of Hemingway’s life varied.

Actually, that’s a little unfair to Baker: he, too, takes a balanced and often sceptical view of Hemingway, but was obliged to watch his step to a certain extent. He had written a critique of Hemingway’s work while the writer was still alive and which he had liked, so towards the end of his life Hemingway ‘grudgingly’ agreed that if his life were to be celebrated in a biography, Baker was the man to write it.

However, Hemingway’s widow Mary Welsh was still around, and she guarded the scacred ‘Papa’ flame ruthlessly — she even denied for several years that his death was suicide and sued A E Hotchner, Hemingway’s sycophantic ‘friend’ when he told the truth in a memoir. So Baker soft-pedalled on much he found out about Hemingway, for example the embarrassing extent of his infatuation with an Italian teenager and his often inexplicably cruel treatment of Mary Welsh (the sole beneficiary of his will, by the way).

Although Hemingway often protested that he did not want an biography written about him, he was, to be frank, very ambiguous on the matter: he loved being ‘the ‘world-famous writer’ and the sycophantic adulation that status often brought with it. It was not that Hemingway was being hypocritical, just that he was perfectly capable of holding to opposing, mutually exclusive points of view at one and the same time.

He was equally as equivocal and inconsistent on many other matters. So one day he would dismiss requests for information about his life out-of-hand, a week later volunteer reams of such information, much of it highly personal to the same correspondent on the grounds that he wanted to get the facts right.

One biographer, admittedly a man who was highly hostile to Hemingway (and one wonders why in that case he bothered writing his biography) even suggests that Hemingway had told so many lies about his past and his experiences (he told whoppers galore, increasingly as he got older) that his ‘helpful’ attitude, when it appeared, was simply a ruse to be in control of what was being said and to be able to ‘correct’ or re-interpret a claim if a lie he had told might be exposed.

As the first biographer — and his book took seven years to write — Baker did an enormous amount of background work and it is quite obvious subsequent biographers relied heavily on what he turned up. But although this biography is exhaustive, it is certainly not exhausting: Baker has a happy knack of being an interesting writer.

So if you want to read a biography of Hemingway, Baker’s is as good a choice as any, but bear in mind it is more factually based than the others and does not much pass judgment, something the other biographers allow themselves to do (now that Ms Welsh was well and truly six foot under).
Profile Image for Calla Simone.
13 reviews4 followers
March 10, 2019
My Amazon review:

Author Baker takes on the challenge of the not surprising, almost fictional life of one of the most important American writers of the mid-20th c.

Hemingway was quite prolific as a writer, producing classics such as: "The Sun Also Rises," "For Whom the Bell Tolls," and "Old Man and the Sea" - for which he won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction 1953 and the Nobel Prize in Literature 1954.

As a WWII war correspondence, Hemingway's encounters with Allies and foes are quite remarkable and admirable. He epitomizes hyper-masculinity by being an avid sportsman, boater, fisherman.

Hemingway's way with women is legendary and perhaps the turmoil from his many loves and excessive drinking caused his tragic death.
Profile Image for Laurie Hertz-Kafka.
84 reviews5 followers
November 29, 2017
Read this one many years ago and now reading it again for the second time. This is the definitive story of Hemingway's life and captures many fascinating details of his adventures. It does tend to focus on his successes and is more factual than some of the other books about him, which emphasize aspects of his personality. But it is a great reference for anyone who has been captivated by the Hemingway mystique.
58 reviews1 follower
April 7, 2022
Very thorough but I never like a biography that reads like the author is saying I’ve done all this research now you need to read it… I found there to be so many people, so many references to books and authors I had not idea about, I slightly lost the thread about his life and who he was as a man.
Profile Image for Martin Shone.
Author 9 books11 followers
November 21, 2018
I very much enjoyed reading this. It is intense and takes the reader through the bad and the good of Hemingway and everything in-between.
I highly recommend this to those who love a good biography.
Profile Image for David.
1,315 reviews26 followers
May 1, 2019
Purchased eons ago and never read -- who knows why (why never read, not why purchased) -- but just saw it on my shelf after finishing "For Whom The Bell Tolls" and thought, "Now is the time to read." Seems quite good on first blush.

April 30, 2019: read material concerning EH in Spain and his work on "For Whom The Bell Tolls." That amounted to less than 20 percent of the text. This book is VERY detailed and complete and is worth 4 stars . . . but not worth the time for me right now. Will shelve in "start-and-park," as I probably won't come back unless something else turns up that's compelling.
1 review
July 22, 2020
A bit of a slog to get through. I personally would have preferred a bit more analysis of how the events of Hemingway's life shaped who he was and a little less "just the facts, ma'am".
Profile Image for Brooke Otis.
46 reviews1 follower
June 14, 2021
I'll have to try one of his other biographies. This was too badly written for me to continue reading. Instead of joy, I received a headache for my efforts.
25 reviews
April 24, 2022
Ernest Hemingway had so many conconsions i think he comminted suicide, likemany athletes an soldiers. Their body couldnt handle anymore pain.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 60 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.