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Hemingway's Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost, 1934-1961 Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 20, 2011

125 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“I read [Hemingway’s Boat] without a pause . . . [It’s] a biography that is at once admiring and devastating, and full of material that I wouldn’t have thought even existed and of people who knew Hemingway whom I’d never heard of—an eye opener of a book, full of unexpected riches, fascinating digressions, and leaving one at the end wishing the book were longer, and thinking long and hard about the price of fame and success in America, and the dangers of seemingly getting everything you wanted out of life—it just may be the best book I’ve read this year, and certainly the best book I’ve read about an American writer in a long, long time.”
            -Michael Korda, Newsweek Favorite Books 2011
“A lyrical and expansive search for the essence of a famous writer—heart, soul, and hull.”
            -Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune Top Picks of 2011
“The author, an accomplished storyteller, interprets myriad tiny details of Ernest Hemingway’s life, and through them says something new about a writer everyone thinks they know.”
            -The Economist Books of the Year 2011
“Hendrickson’s engrossing book offers a fresh slant on the rise and fall of a father figure of American literature.”           
            -San Francisco Chronicle Best Books of 2011

“Hendrickson deftly maps out the ‘irresolvable differences’ within Hemingway in this rather unusual take on biography, explaining that although Hemingway’s writing is ‘rooted in geography’ and ‘linear movements’, his life, ‘like his boat, beat against so many cross-currents’—as Hendrickson’s own exploration does, taking many ‘departures from the main frame’. In doing so, he surveys a huge amount of information: boat journals, letters—Hemingway wrote several thousand over his lifetime—and interviews with figures routinely seen as footnotes by most major Hemingway biographers. . . . The boat is the spiritual centre of the book, and however far Hendrickson strays he always brings us back to her, bobbing on the azure waters. . . . [T]he book becomes more than a study of Hemingway; it is a study of frailty, imagination, humanity, fathers and sons (all kinds) and torment. . . . ‘Memory is hunger,’ Hemingway wrote in A Moveable Feast. Hendrickson has achieved the near impossible and increased that hunger. In The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Papa writes, ‘No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude’, yet Hendrickson gets closer than most, taking the mantle out of the hands of the industry and into the arms of poetry.”
          -The Irish Times

“There's never been a biography quite like this one . . . The stories are rich with contradiction and humanity, and so raw and immediate you can smell the salt air.”
            -Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2011: The Top 10
“Rich and enthralling . . . Paul Hendrickson is a deeply informed and inspired guide. He often appears in the first person, addressing the reader and exhorting him or her to speculate, imagine, or feel. He has researched exhaustively, been to the places Hemingway frequented, and talked to whoever was part of or had a connection to the Hemingway days. His diligence and spirit are remarkable. It is like traveling with an irrepressible talker who may go off on tangents but never loses the power to amaze . . . Hemingway’s Boat is a book written with the virtuosity of a novelist, hagiographic in the right way, sympathetic, assiduous, and imaginative. It does not rival the biographies but rather stands brilliantly beside them—the sea, Key West, Cuba, all the places, the life he had and gloried in. His commanding personality comes to life again in these pages, his great charm and warmth as well as his egotism and aggression.”
            -James Salter, The New York Review of Books
“Large-minded [and] rigorously fair . . . An indispensable document . . . With this sterling summation of the entire Hemingway canon, Hendrickson shows what has eluded some very able scholars. A writer’s life can contain two conflicting existences, one of purely original genius and one of irreversible destructiveness. It’s a lucky genius who gets credit for the first and a free pass on the second. Hendrickson issues no free pass to Papa. He gives the ravaged old man something more honest: a fair summing-up of a life like no other.”
            -Howell Raines, The Washington Post
“A rich book and a wandering one . . . Hemingway’s Boat is about Hemingway, about what was good in him and what was bad, about what brought a man who took pleasure in so much to the point where he could take his own life. It is about the joy he spread and the infection he carried . . . For Hendrickson, discovering just how unhappy and unsettled Hemingway was for so long makes him more of a hero. He states his case persuasively, which is why this book is so good.”
            -Allan Massie, The Wall Street Journal
“Heartbreaking . . . Hemingway’s Boat includes some of the most moving, beautiful pieces of biography I have ever read . . . In the best of these streaming ‘other lives’ . . . Hendrickson’s two strongest gifts—that compassion and his research and reporting prowess—combine to masterly effect.”
            -Arthur Phillips, The New York Times Book Review
“Brilliant . . . Through painstaking reporting, through conscientious sifting of the evidence, and most of all, through vivid, heartfelt, luminous writing, Hendrickson gets to the heart of both Hemingway and his world . . . Hendrickson writes sentences that seem lit from within—but not in a showy way. Rather, they glow with the yearning of the humble seeker, the diligent observer who understands that we’ll never get to the end of the Hemingway story—yet we have to start somewhere.”
          -Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune
Glorious . . . A copious, mystical portrait . . . [Pilar] proves that there just might be one more way of telling Papa’s story . . . Hendrickson handles her like the relic she is, and makes of her a cunning, capable metaphor for Hemingway’s contradictory drives . . . Hendrickson fills in the negative space exuberantly. He imagines each scene completely, and then imagines himself into it. The book becomes a participatory biography—the details are rendered with a hallucinatory intensity . . . This big-hearted book leaves us with a litany of sorrows, but also images of grace: of heroism in Gigi’s muddled final moments; of tenderness and lucidity in Hemingway’s paranoid last days; and of Pilar and her promise of escape, renewal, and the open sea.”
            -Parul Sehgal, Cleveland Plain-Dealer
“The most honest and honestly excellent prose about Papa Hemingway to date . . . Hendrickson’s quirky, compelling, and compassionate biography of a literary lion slants great.”
            -Linda Elisabeth Beattie, Louisville Courier-Journal
“This unfailingly intelligent meditation on the achievement of genius and the corrosion of fame brings a man we thought we knew to life in a wholly different light.”
“[Pilar is a] brilliant conceit. . . No wan symbol or factitious theory [serves] as blinkered Virgil, but instead a tactile, intensely documented, sensual, action-crammed vessel that [carries] a rich cargo of story . . . The utilitarian yet graceful lines of Pilar form a sturdy armature for the sculpture of Hemingway that Hendrickson hews from the marble of history in Hemingway’s Boat. Thanks to Hendrickson’s insights, his laborious research, and his sturdy, cannily wrought, often lyrical prose, the famed novelist comes alive again in uncluttered, fresh dimensions, vividly at the helm of his boat once more.”
            -Paul Di Filippo, The Barnes & Noble Review
“An often lyrical mélange of biography, lit-crit meditation and straight reportage . . . Hendrickson delves deep into the margins, running down fascinating profiles of a handful of characters who had been treated like bit players in earlier works and searching for renewed significance in some episodes that had previously been relegated to footnotes . . . Smart and lovingly crafted, a worthy addition.”
            -Larry Lebowitz, Miami Herald
“This may be the great Hemingway book of the past twenty years. It gives us, at long last, the New Hemingway we’ve needed. We are persuaded that, at long last, we have somehow encountered Hemingway who...

About the Author

Paul Hendrickson’s previous book, Sons of Mississippi, won the 2003 National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction. Since 1998 he has been on the faculty of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Pennsylvania. For two decades before that he was a staff writer at The Washington Post. Among his other books are Looking for the Light: The Hidden Life and Art of Marion Post Wolcott (1992 finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award) and The Living and the Dead: Robert McNamara and Five Lives of a Lost War (1996 finalist for the National Book Award). He has been the recipient of writing fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Lyndhurst Foundation, and the Alicia Patterson Foundation. In 2009 he was a joint visiting professor of documentary practice at Duke University and of American studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is the father of two grown sons and lives with his wife, Cecilia, outside Philadelphia.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (September 20, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400041627
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400041626
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.8 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (125 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #210,012 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

69 of 75 people found the following review helpful By C. M Mills on October 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Hemingway's Boat is a new nonfictional acccount of the life of Ernest Miller Hemingway (1899-1961) the 1954 Nobel Prize Laureate for Literature. The author is Paul Hendrickson who teaches creative writing to college students. Hemingway is the fa author of such American literary classics as "The Sun Also Rises"; "A Farwell to Arms"; "For Whom the Bell Tolls"; "A Moveable Feast"; "Green Hills of Africa": "Across the River and Into the Trees"; "Death in the Afternoon"; "The Old Man and the Sea"; the Nick Adams short stories and countless other works.
Hendrickson's book is a mixture of pleasures especially for those who love fishing and exploring the complex lives of the dysfunctional Hemingway family. Ernest's father committed suicide as did his younger brother and possibly two of his sisters. His mother died insane. Hemingway was a difficult man who could be cruel to friends and family members. He could also extend kindness and help to those in need. He lived for adventure and was a hedonist. Hemingway relished good food, drink and conversation. He had a massive ego
Hendrickson, an outdoorsman and fisherman, describes his personal visits to the Hemingway finca in Havana and the Pilar boat owned by the Cuban government. Hemingway loved the Pilar since the day he bought her at the Wheeler firm in Brooklyn in 1931. At that time the famous author was married to Pauline who gave him two sons" Patrick and Gregory. Gregory became a doctor who was a notorious cross dresser. Patrick and John both lived outdoor lives serving as game guides. Papa's oldest son John was by his first wife Hadley Richardson. Hemingway's third wife was journalist Martha Gellhorn and his final wife was Mary.
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful By wogan TOP 500 REVIEWER on October 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Paul Hendrickson writes a personalized view of Ernest Hemingway, with the focus on Hemingway's love and obsession with the sea, fishing and his boat `Pilar'. Hendrickson visited Cuba and what remains of Hemingway's home and boat. He interviewed and got to know those who knew Hemingway, especially his son Gigi and a Foreign Service officer that married his secretary during his years in Cuba. It is quite an original idea to write of Hemingway and his love of the sea - using this as the main focus of Hemingway's life from 1934 until 1961. The outdoors made this writer much of what he was and was the part most fondly remembered by his sons.

At times it seems as if there is padding of the story, with letters and history of the `Pilar's boat builders. There are almost 20 pages concerning Arnold Samuelson, who wanted to be a writer, came to Hemingway and spent some time with him. These 20 pages are Samuelson's life, not his contact with Hemingway. The same technique occurs with Walter Hock, which is interesting in its' own way, but detracts from the focus of Hemingway. Much is also added in concerning Hemingway's cross dressing son, his problems, his life and death.

A picture is placed in the beginning of each chapter, but photos are mentioned so frequently, that one longs to see these pictures that the author is describing, including ones he took of `Pilar' in more recent times.

What is extremely good is the talent Hendrickson has for getting inside Hemingway's head; his feelings for the surroundings and of course his boat and the sea. Even subtle changes are well described and noted, such as the how Hemingway's writing changes through the years to a more complex sentence structure.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Red Nichols on October 17, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
Every time I think I'm done with reading Hemingway and reading about Hemingway, someone comes along with a fresh angle and reels me back in. . .so much of what Hem wrote is hopelessly stale (the dialogue between the lovers in Farewell stimulates the gag reflex) but the best stuff (the retreat scene in the same book) still crackles with life. Wish I could understand why this writer, who died when I was about 13, continues to fascinate me. . .I've read everything he wrote and most of the bios and memoirs, so you'd think I'd have had a belly full. And yet. . .

I'm more than halfway thru Hendrickson's book and am having a very tough time putting it down. . .yes, he hops around a lot and sometimes gets bogged down in detail and yes, he succumbs to the Hem disease, writing in the master's style, in spite of his best efforts. Michael Reynolds suffered from this defect, which is minor but occasionally annoying. I also find it jarring when PH quotes post-Hemingway sources such as Springsteen and Lyle Lovett. Nor do his repeated attempts at period slang often ring true.

On the plus side, I appreciate the reminders of Hem's kindness to kids and wayfaring strangers. Some great insights here. Also appreciate Hendrickson's generally sympathetic remarks on the perhaps unfairly reviled Islands in the Stream, which does contain some beautiful passages. Hendrickson is particularly strong in documenting the shocking, even heartbreaking, decline and fall of the author during the '50s. . .

But what really irritates me is I know damn well that when I finish this compelling treatment, I'll be going back to the bookshelf and re-reading Hemingway, one more time. A guy really ought to have better things to do. . .
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