Book Review: Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy: Ernest Hemingway's Secret Adventures, 1935-1961 by Nicholas Reynolds

October 24th, 2019

Details from Audible:

Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy

Ernest Hemingway's Secret Adventures, 1935-1961
Narrated by: Fred Sanders
Length: 9 hrs and 14 mins

Publisher's Summary

A former CIA officer and curator of the CIA Museum unveils the shocking untold story of Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway's secret life as a spy for both the Americans and the Soviets before and during World War II.

While he was the curator of the CIA Museum, Nicholas Reynolds, a longtime military intelligence expert, began to discover tantalizing clues that suggested Ernest Hemingway's involvement in the Second World War was much more complex and dangerous than has been previously understood. Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy brings to light for the first time this riveting secret side of Hemingway's life - when he worked closely with both the American OSS, a precursor to the CIA, and the Soviet NKVD, the USSR's forerunner to the KGB, to defeat Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.

Reynolds digs deep into Hemingway's involvement in World War II, from his recruitment by both the Americans and the Soviets - who valued Hemingway for his journalistic skills and access to sources - through his key role in gaining tactical intelligence for the Allies during the liberation of Paris to his later doubts about communist ideology and his undercover work in Cuba. As he examines the links between his work as a spy and as an author, Reynolds reveals how Hemingway's wartime experiences shook his faith in literature and contributed to the writer's block that plagued him for much of the final two decades of his life. Reynolds also illuminates how those same experiences also informed one of Hemingway's greatest works - The Old Man and the Sea, the final novel published during his lifetime.

A unique portrait as fast-paced and exciting as the best espionage thrillers, Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy illuminates a hidden side of a revered artist and is a thrilling addition to the annals of World War II.

©2017 Nicholas Reynolds (P)2017 HarperCollins Publishers

Initial Thoughts:

I've loved Hemingway for a long time, I'd say over 25 years. I know he was a flawed human being, a womanizer who drank too much, hot-headed, a hunter, someone who was certainly sexist and also made lots of enemies. I can see all that but I love him for being an extraordinary writer and a man who accomplished amazing things. All of this has led me to read plenty of non-fiction about him an continue to (listen these days) his fiction. This book was on Audible, sounded good, so I chose it and gave it a listen.

Main Points:

I'll say right off that I thought the narration here was good, often times excellent. Hemingway was such a complicated person that a nearly endless amount of books could be written on him and this one is a worthy addition. 

I judge any non-fiction book on him now on whether it entertains me, is well researched, does not shy from the truth and gives me more details about his life than I had before, this book does all 3.

As usual, I won't go into all the details, it's full of great stories. While it's a little slow getting started, once we get to his involvement with the Spanish Civil War (an early fight against fascists, where the good guys lost), I  was glued to my headphones. I don't think anyone like Hemingway has ever been around since maybe they can't exist in our modern world but I'll keep learning about Papa for the rest of my life.

Final Thoughts:

Did this book change the way I feel about him? I suppose it did. While I knew he committed suicide I didn't know all the details surrounding it, I didn't know the depths of his despair or how those who loved him tried so hard to help. If you can't handle depressing details of the last days of a man's life, maybe skip over that part, is heartbreakingto listen to. The book dispels some myths I had about it but for me does nothing to deter from his legend. It's like Papa is a jigsaw puzzle and this book fils in more of the picture.

I give it a solid 8.5 out of 10, I didn't want the book to end and as I said loved 3/4 of it. Any Hemingway fan will love this book and anyone else who just enjoys a good non-fiction tale will also do the same. Not for children due to language and mature themes, along with some descriptions of violence. Ages 14+, a strong recommendation from me.