Hemingway's Boat by Paul Hendrickson
Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost, 1934-1961


18 Critic Reviews

...bewitchingly beautiful near-biography of Hemingway.


From a National Book Critics Circle Award winner, a brilliantly conceived and illuminating reconsideration of a key period in the life of Ernest Hemingway that will forever change the way he is perceived and understood.

Focusing on the years 1934 to 1961—from Hemingway’s pinnacle as the reigning monarch of American letters until his suicide—Paul Hendrickson traces the writer’s exultations and despair around the one constant in his life during this time: his beloved boat, Pilar.

We follow him from Key West to Paris, to New York, Africa, Cuba, and finally Idaho, as he wrestles with his best angels and worst demons. Whenever he could, he returned to his beloved fishing cruiser, to exult in the sea, to fight the biggest fish he could find, to drink, to entertain celebrities and friends and seduce women, to be with his children. But as he began to succumb to the diseases of fame, we see that Pilar was also where he cursed his critics, saw marriages and friendships dissolve, and tried, in vain, to escape his increasingly diminished capacities.

Generally thought of as a great writer and an unappealing human being, Hemingway emerges here in a far more benevolent light. Drawing on previously unpublished material, including interviews with Hemingway’s sons, Hendrickson shows that for all the writer’s boorishness, depression, and alcoholism, and despite his choleric anger, he was capable of remarkable generosity—to struggling writers, to lost souls, to the dying son of a friend.

We see most poignantly his relationship with his youngest son, Gigi, a doctor who lived his adult life mostly as a cross-dresser, and died squalidly and alone in a Miami women’s jail. He was the son Hemingway forsook the least, yet the one who disappointed him the most, as Gigi acted out for nearly his whole life so many of the tortured, ambiguous tensions his father felt. Hendrickson’s bold and beautiful book strikingly makes the case that both men were braver than we know, struggling all their lives against the complicated, powerful emotions swirling around them. As Hendrickson writes, “Amid so much ruin, still the beauty.”

Hemingway’s Boat is both stunningly original and deeply gripping, an invaluable contribution to our understanding of this great American writer, published fifty years after his death.

From the Hardcover edition.

About Paul Hendrickson

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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.
Published September 20, 2011 by Vintage. 705 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Literature & Fiction, Sports & Outdoors. Non-fiction
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Peak Rank on Oct 16 2011
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Critic reviews for Hemingway's Boat
All: 18 | Positive: 16 | Negative: 2


Reviewed by Olivia Laing on Jan 07 2012

...bewitchingly beautiful near-biography of Hemingway.

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Publishers Weekly

Jul 11 2011

NBCC–award winner Hendrickson (Sons of Mississippi) offers an admirably absorbing, important, and moving interpretation of Hemingway's ambitions, passions, and tragedies during the last 27 years of his life.

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Washington Times

Below average
Reviewed by Marion Elizabeth Rodgers on Dec 29 2011

...making me wish this skillful and talented author had been more judiciously edited. For what we have is not “Hemingway’s Boat” but “Hendrickson’s Boat,” and the vessel is a bit leaky.

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NY Journal of Books

Reviewed by J. W. Nicklaus on Sep 23 2011

You could hardly do better than with Hemingway’s Boat for learning about one of America’s most complex and intense writers among the pantheon of our greatest.

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The Economist

Oct 15 2011

By evoking and interpreting Hemingway's smaller moments, the author has found an ingenious way of showing how this unhappy and vulnerable man was generally nicer outside his family than in it.

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The Washington Post

Reviewed by Howell Raines on Sep 22 2011

This book is a large-minded, rigorously fair summation of the best thought on Hemingway’s writing, his life, traumas, pathologies, his family and friends...and cultural enemies.

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The Telegraph

Below average
Reviewed by Nicholas Blincoe on Jan 17 2012

How is it that the novelist succeeds in sounding laconic and minimal, when the actual words are so ornate and overblown?

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Christian Science Monitor

Reviewed by Steve Weinberg on Sep 16 2011

As always, Hendrickson writes so well that every page is a pleasure to absorb.

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Dallas News

Reviewed by Tim Redman on Sep 23 2011

I found the descriptions of Hemingway’s mastery of deep-sea sports fishing fascinating...All told, Hendrickson’s book adds a great deal to our knowledge of Hemingway.

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San Francisco Chronicle

Reviewed by Alan Littell on Oct 02 2011

An admiring yet candid portrait of a tragic genius emerges from Hendrickson's vivid study.

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The Columbus Dispatch

Reviewed by Margaret Quamme on Sep 25 2011

Hendrickson’s obvious empathy for Hemingway, with all his faults, goes a long way toward humanizing the writer.

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Reviewed by Ronan Farren on Mar 11 2012

This is a measured and thoughtful, sometimes lyrical book that adds considerably to the Papa story.

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Reviewed by Parul Sehgal on Sep 18 2011

The craft proves that there just might be one more way of telling Papa's story.

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Chicago Tribune

Reviewed by Julia Keller

Hendrickson...writes sentences that seem lit from within... 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

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The New York Review of Books

Reviewed by James Salter

Hemingway’s Boat is a book written with the virtuosity of a novelist, hagiographic in the right way, sympathetic, assiduous, and imaginative.

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American Magazine

Reviewed by Franklin Freeman on Jan 02 2012

Paul Hendrickson’s Hemingway’s Boat, despite its faults, is not only the best book on Hemingway I have ever read, but it is also one of the best books I have ever read, period.

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PBS Parents

Reviewed by Mike Fritz on Oct 06 2011

A much more sympathetic portrait emerges from the pages of Hendrickson's book than has been written in the past about Hemingway.

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Reviewed by Doug Childers on Sep 25 2011

"Hemingway's Boat" — a fetchingly kinetic book — makes headway against what sometimes feels like a tidal wave of Hemingway naysayers.

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Trevor Wiersma

Trevor Wiersma 5 Sep 2013

Added the book to want to read list