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Ernest Hemingway: A Biography Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 16, 2017
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The critics welcome Mary V. Dearborn’s
“Well-balanced and deeply researched.”
—Fintan O’Toole, The New York Review of Books
“A compelling portrait . . . fresh . . . in-depth . . . Excels at Hemingway’s origins . . . Dearborn captures Hemingway in all of his extremes, the story of a hugely flawed and endlessly compelling human being producing enduring art.”
—John Reimringer, Star Tribune
“A detailed examination of the life of one of our country’s most important and influential writers . . . Eloquent . . . Ernest Hemingway deftly displays the complexity of the writer it profiles: a public ‘he man’ who was curious about gender roles, a braggart, a charmer, a thinker, a fighter and a writer. The book should inspire readers, as it has inspired me, to take a fresh look at Hemingway’s work.”
—Tinky Weisblat, Greenfield Recorder
“Splendid . . . definitive . . . wonderful . . . A brilliant account of Hemingway’s life . . . I want to cheer her on and hope that her next biography will be of another twentieth-century American icon.”
—Charles B. Larson, CounterPunch
“Authoritative . . . perceptive and tough-minded . . . Incisive . . . Dearborn skillfully covers an enormous range of rich material; she is an indefatigable researcher.”
—Elaine Showalter, The New York Times Book Review
“Balanced and well researched . . . engaging . . . Dearborn explores these corners of Hemingway’s sensibility more fully than previous biographers, and she does so with subtlety and insight—qualities that are also present in her discussions of his work . . . An admirable, affecting and thoughtful biography, distinguished by a scrupulousness and good sense that animates its subject with vigor . . . The most fully faceted portrait of Hemingway now available.”
—Matthew Adams, The Washington Post
“A kind of extended autopsy, not only of Hemingway’s life, but his reputations as a model of American virility and as an enduring literary figure . . . A fresh perspective on familiar territory . . . keenly dispassionate, coolly discerning . . . Dearborn’s rendition of his life makes you admire Hemingway's headlong pursuit of authentic experience at work, at war or at play as a means to make his writing more honest.”
—Gene Seymour, USA Today
“Fresh . . . impeccably researched . . . impressive . . . Hemingway fans will find something interesting on almost every page.”
—Elizabeth Bennett, Houston Chronicle
“Hemingway books just keep coming out . . . but Dearborn has written one that Hemingway admirers will want to read, keep and read again.”
—Repps Hudson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Mary Dearborn is the first in 15 years to dive into the life of one of America’s most mysterious, complex and conflicted historical figures of the 20th century. She succeeds in providing the reader with a detailed study of the man known as much for his words as his robust, charismatic manliness and his efforts to buff that reputation and legend.”
—John Henry, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“A nuanced portrait . . . a powerful work that draws on new material as well as offering fresh, insightful perspectives on one of American literature’s most complicated icons. One of the books most surprising aspects might be this: even after decades of scrutiny, Hemingway remains a fascinating, stubbornly enigmatic figure, and he merits a biography of the scope and detail that Dearborn offers here.”
—Doug Childers, Richmond Times-Dispatch
—Bob Hoover, The Dallas Morning News
“Dearborn wields both deep research and striking imagination as she charts Hemingway’s path . . . Particularly poignant.”
—The National Book Review
“Dearborn offers a unique perspective, and only partially because she’s the first woman to ever write a full biography of Hemingway. She uncovers plenty of fresh material and exposes new sides of the iconic author to the light . . . She explores Hemingway’s life honestly and with grace. Someone with this depth of knowledge and lightness of touch was needed to fully grapple with all the complexities of this haunted and haunting American master. This is now required reading for anyone with more than a passing interest in ‘Papa.’”
—Tyler Malone, Lit Hub
“Insightful . . . Elegantly written . . . Dearborn pointedly looks beyond the legend . . . There have been scores of biographies of Hemingway, some written by friends, some by academics, some by family members. Dearborn’s is the first full-scale biography of the Nobel Prize-winning American writer in 15 years, and it is a worthy addition to the canon—a splendid reassessment that shores up the genius while removing some of the faulty bulwark that has long supported the myth.”
—Robert Weibezahl, BookPage
“Boy, I enjoyed the heck out of this book. Dearborn gets inside Hemingway’s head where the real action is. Dearborn duly documents all that hairy-chested stuff (Four hundred rabbits taken in one day of shooting?). But as this highly readable, companionable biography makes clear, Hemingway was acting out a rage that burned him up inside. It wasn't exuberance over life that drove him on, but a desire to eat the world alive. This is a biography about a dangerous, brilliant writer.”
—Charles J. Shields, author of Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee from Scout to Go Set a Watchman
“Mary V. Dearborn, a skilled biographer with access to boatloads of new material, has pushed into virgin territory, going well beyond Papa’s macho poses, digging into the cycles of mania and depression, alcoholism, and suicidality that course through his life like powerful underground streams that kept breaking to the surface. An absorbing and brilliant take on Hemingway.”
—Jay Parini, author of The Last Station and Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal
“Dearborn revisits one of America's most popular writers with insight and finesse, in this rich, detailed biography of Ernest Hemingway . . . Her fluid narrative and careful research contribute to an impressive biography. Hemingway changed our language and the way we think, she asserts. Dearborn's account shines from beginning to end, helped by Hemingway's dramatic life and charismatic personality.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Mary Dearborn’s graceful and objective portrayal of an American icon will surely be the definitive one for generations to come.”
—Deirdre Bair, author of Al Capone: His Life, Legacy, and Legend
“Here is the literary biography for our time, a human document embracing Ernest Hemingway’s blazing genius and overwhelming despair. With clarity and compassion, Mary Dearborn has written a heartbreaking story sure to be talked about for years to come.”
—Marion Meade, author of Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This
About the Author
MARY V. DEARBORN received a doctorate in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University, where she was a Mellon Fellow in the Humanities.
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
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Of course in the nearly 50 years since the first edition of Baker's work was published there has been much new scholarly research on Hemingway, especially on subjects such as his mother and her romantic relationship with another woman, his hair fetish and and gender fluidity role-playing with his wives and lovers. Mary V. Dearborn, who earned her doctorate at Columbia (Baker's was from Princeton, where he taught for many years) has incorporated this new research, while adding some significant findings of her own.
Dr. Dearborn is the first woman to write a full biography of Hemingway, and without making too much of this, I think that Dearborn brings some perspective on Hemingway that his male biographers didn't have. In his 20s, 30s and into his 40s, Hemingway's image as a sportsman, outdoorsman, warrior and lover of life including good food and drink was admired by many men, including his male biographers. Dearborn doesn't seem quite so easily impressed. She is more willing to explore his many personality faults than did Dr. Baker, though Baker didn't shy away from them. She is also ruthless in presenting his psychological decline in his 50s and how he lost his way as a writer.
Dearborn also seems much more willing to admit than Baker and other biographers that many things we thought we knew about Hemingway are at the very least subject to interpretation and debate. Quite often she present several different versions of what may have happened and simply lets the reader judge what might, or might not, be the truth. Sometimes, she's blunt about mistakes that others have made: For example, she states categorically that Hemingway's "famous" six-toed cats in Key West are a myth, that he didn't keep cats in large numbers until he moved to Cuba.
For me, where the new biography most falls short is in Dearborn's literary judgments on both some of his individual works and on why he was, and will always be, such an important figure in 20th century literature. Without going into detail, essentially Dearborn seems to conclude that Hemingway's reputations relies mainly on his first major work, The Sun Also Rises, and a number of his short stories. Not only does she agree with others that books like The Torrents of Spring, Across the River and Into the Trees, Death in the Afternoon and almost all of his posthumously published work (except in some ways The Moveable Feast) are second-rate, or worse, she also emphasizes the flawed nature of A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea, among other works. If you had never heard of Hemingway and came across this biography, you might be excused for not understanding why he was such an important figure in modern literature.
Having said that, Dearborn's Ernest Hemingway: A Biography, is an important new contribution to the immense amount of work on Hemingway and his canon. It's clearly and, for the most part, gracefully written. It is full of new insights, and it will occupy a prominent place next to Carlos Baker's biography on my bookshelves.