The Libraries of Famous Men: Ernest Hemingway

Welcome back to our series on the libraries of great men. The eminent men of history were often voracious readers and their own philosophy represents a distillation of all the great works they fed into their minds. This series seeks to trace the stream of their thinking back to the source. For, as David Leach, a now retired business executive put it: “Don’t follow your mentors; follow your mentors’ mentors.”

Ernest Hemingway is well known as one of the best and most virile writers of his era, and perhaps of all time. He wrote 10 novels, 9 non-fiction works, and multiple collections of short stories, poetry, and essays. They range in The Common Reader: Fir... Woolf, Virginia Best Price: $6.37 Buy New $13.93 (as of 12:30 EST - Details) scope from fictional war stories and fishing tales, to real-life hunting trips and romantic Paris living. His iconic writing style inspires manliness, and in my experience, even those who don’t necessarily enjoy reading consume his works with pleasure and ease.

What may not be so well known about Papa Hemingway was his own voracious reading appetite. He once said, “I’m always reading books — as many as there are.” And others noted this habit of his as well: “He was always reading. When he wasn’t working he was reading,” “He read all the time,” and, “I think Ernest read just about everything. He was a terrific reader.” He was known to always be reading about four books at a time, which occasionally ballooned to even eight or ten. He also subscribed to numerous periodicals, be it magazines or newspapers, and consumed them with equal vigor. The written word was truly his passion and life’s work.

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Madame Bovary (Bantam ... Gustave Flaubert Best Price: $0.10 Buy New $4.00 (as of 12:50 EST - Details) In Hemingway’s case, his reading habits weren’t picked up out of a lack of education, as they are for many great men like Frederick Douglass or Louis L’Amour. He grew up in a family where reading was incredibly important and credits the library in his childhood home with instilling a lifelong love of the activity in both him and his siblings. His sister Marcelline once wrote:

“Ernest and I did a lot of reading. Sets of the classics, Scott, Dickens, Thackeray, Stevenson and Shakespeare filled many of the shelves in our family library. I don’t think we skipped any of them. Only the fact that I was out of school with mumps one spring and had run out of all other reading matter provided time for me to read all the tragedies of Shakespeare as well as rereading the comedies. Ernie’s attack of mumps followed mine, and I know the same volumes were available to him. We both devoured Stevenson, especially one of his lesser known volumes, The Suicide Club, as well as Treasure Island. Thackeray wasn’t as easy reading as Kipling or Stevenson or Dickens, but the green cloth volume of Vanity Fair we read from cover to cover. We both read Horatio Alger books in third and fourth grade, and Ernest took them seriously.”

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