#194 Ernest Hemingway Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy

Summary Notes


In the episode featuring Nicholas Reynolds, the author of "Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy: Ernest Hemingway's Secret Adventures from 1935 to 1961," the conversation delves into the complex life of Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway, a renowned American writer, led a life marked by his passion for adventure, which often blurred the lines between his literary pursuits and his involvement in espionage and combat. As a historian for the CIA museum, Reynolds uncovered Hemingway's unexpected affiliation with the Soviet NKVD, juxtaposed against his embodiment of American values in his literature. Despite his literary success, Hemingway struggled with a sense of purpose post-war, leading to his tragic suicide. The episode also touches on the host's preparatory reading of Hemingway's works and Steve Jobs' perspective on living a broad life, paralleling Hemingway's own expansive approach to life and literature.

Summary Notes

Introduction to the OSS and Ernest Hemingway's Connection

  • Nicholas Reynolds worked as a historian for the CIA museum in 2010.
  • He was tasked with researching the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), America's first central intelligence agency.
  • The OSS was a mix of upper-class individuals and talented, creative people from various backgrounds.
  • Reynolds made a connection between Ernest Hemingway and the OSS, noting Hemingway's love for secrets and action.
  • Hemingway was not suited for conventional soldiering but moved easily across social classes and borders.
  • Reynolds questioned if Hemingway had been an OSS spy and sought to explore his full story in intelligence during World War II.
  • Hemingway had various intelligence and combat roles in Spain, Havana, and China.
  • Reynolds discovered Hemingway's connection to the Soviet NKVD, which was a shock given Hemingway's embodiment of American values.
  • The research journey led Reynolds through archives and correspondence, revealing Hemingway's political attitudes and their impact on his life and art.
  • Hemingway's involvement with the NKVD influenced his decisions in the last 15 years of his life, including his writing and actions during the Cold War and Cuban Revolution.
  • Reynolds concluded that Hemingway's political misjudgments and overestimations led to his suicide.
  • The book "Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy: Ernest Hemingway's Secret Adventures from 1935 to 1961" by Nicholas Reynolds explores these themes.

In 2010, I was a historian for the best museum you've never seen, the CIA museum. We were preparing to install a new exhibit on the Office of Strategic Services, OSS, America's first central intelligence agency.

This quote illustrates Reynolds' role at the CIA museum and sets the stage for his research into the OSS, which leads to the discovery of Hemingway's involvement in intelligence work.

So had he been an OSS spy of some sort? What was the full story about Hemingway and intelligence in World War II?

Reynolds expresses his curiosity about Hemingway's potential involvement with the OSS, prompting the extensive research that forms the basis of his book.

Ultimately, I concluded that Hemingway's dalliance with the NKVD and the political attitudes that explain it made an important difference in his life and art.

Reynolds shares his conclusion that Hemingway's secret work with the NKVD significantly impacted his life choices and literary work.

The Inspiration Behind Reading Hemingway's Biography

  • The book discussion was motivated by a quote from Steve Jobs' 2003 Stanford commencement address.
  • Jobs' message about life being broader than societal expectations resonated with the idea of studying biographies of writers like Hemingway.
  • Hemingway is presented as someone who lived life to the fullest and treated it as an adventure.
  • The podcast host prepared extensively for the book by reading Hemingway's novels before diving into his biography.
  • The host emphasizes the importance of studying individuals like Hemingway to remind us that life can be as broad as we make it.
  • The host chose to read a biography of Hemingway to understand how he reached the pinnacle of his profession and why his work continues to resonate.

Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, that everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you, that you can change it, that you can influence it.

This quote from Steve Jobs encapsulates the idea that individuals have the power to shape their lives beyond societal norms, a concept that parallels Hemingway's approach to life.

Hemingway treated life like the adventure it is. And I think so few people actually do that, given exactly what Steve Jobs was echoing.

The host draws a parallel between Hemingway's adventurous life and Jobs' philosophy, suggesting that Hemingway serves as an inspiration to live life more fully.

Hemingway's Life and Literary Achievements

  • By 1935, Hemingway had become a prominent figure in American literature.
  • He was part of the Parisian "Lost Generation" and had achieved fame with his bestsellers "The Sun Also Rises" and "A Farewell to Arms."
  • Hemingway's writing style was marked by simplicity and precision, which appealed to a wide audience.
  • His themes often revolved around personal courage and the struggle of the individual against the backdrop of violence and death.
  • Hemingway's influence extended beyond literature; he became a role model for American individualists and writers.
  • His personal values of independence and support for the underdog were reflected in his characters and life choices.
  • Hemingway's adventurous lifestyle included living in various places around the world and engaging in deep-sea fishing, a passion of his.

Hemingway was so successful that he was now on his way to becoming a touchstone for every American writer and a role model for American individualists.

This quote highlights Hemingway's status as a major influence on American literature and individualism, underscoring his success and impact.

Hemingway placed a premium on rugged self-reliance.

The quote encapsulates Hemingway's value of independence and self-reliance, themes that are prevalent in his life and work.

Hemingway's Experiences and Close Calls with Death

  • Hemingway often found himself in life-threatening situations, from his time as an ambulance driver in World War I to covering the Spanish Civil War.
  • His willingness to take risks and live on the edge is a recurring theme in his life.
  • The book describes several instances where Hemingway narrowly escaped death, such as when his car was shot at during the Spanish Civil War.
  • Hemingway's experiences with war were profound, and he sought to be the definitive war writer of his generation.
  • The book also explores Hemingway's interactions with various intelligence agencies and his involvement in significant historical events.

For most of his life, Hemingway liked to live on the edge and take risks. But the expression on his face suggests that at least this time, the brush with death was close enough for him.

This quote reflects Hemingway's penchant for danger and the close calls he experienced, which shaped his adventurous and risk-taking persona.

Hemingway's Involvement with the NKVD and Commentary on Communism

  • Hemingway was approached by the Soviet Union's Comintern to advocate for world communism through propaganda.
  • Although Hemingway was on the political left and anti-fascist, he never identified as a communist.
  • The NKVD, the Soviet intelligence agency, recruited Hemingway, but he did not actively contribute to their efforts.
  • The podcast host feels that Hemingway's association with the NKVD was overplayed in the book, as Hemingway's actual contributions were minimal.

He is never a communist. He's definitely on the left, but he describes himself as an anti-fascist, but he was never a communist.

This quote clarifies Hemingway's political stance, distinguishing his anti-fascist views from actual communism, which relates to his brief and limited involvement with the NKVD.

Recruitment of Hemingway and Barbara Tuckman

  • Hemingway was approached for recruitment by communist agents due to his strong personality and individualistic nature.
  • Barbara Tuckman, author of "The Guns of August," was also someone of interest due to her influential work.

"So they're recruiting him and this other lady named Barbara Tuckman." "He's never going to sign on and be a full-fledged communist." "He's an individual." "Not going to do your bidding."

These quotes underline the recruitment efforts targeting Hemingway and Tuckman, highlighting Hemingway's reluctance to fully commit due to his individualism and strong personality.

The Influence of "The Guns of August"

  • "The Guns of August" by Barbara Tuckman influenced President JFK and Joe of Trader Joe's during his company's near bankruptcy.
  • The book emphasizes multiple solutions to non-convex problems, applicable to both combat and business scenarios.

"Barbara Tuckman would write the bestseller 'The Guns of August,' which attracted the attention of JFK president John F. Kennedy." "That was the book that Joe of Trader Joe's, the founder of Trader Joe's, was reading when his company almost went bankrupt." "The book's main concept is that there are multiple solutions to non-convex problems."

These quotes discuss the significant impact of Tuckman's book, noting its influence on both political and business figures, and its core concept of finding multiple solutions to complex problems.

Hemingway's Time in Spain

  • Hemingway viewed himself as a war writer based on his experiences in Spain.
  • His adventurous personality led him to dangerous situations, often risking his life for the thrill and to test himself.
  • Hemingway admired people who risked their lives for their beliefs and were authentic, qualities he aspired to embody.

"So not only is he doing reporting, but he considers himself a war writer." "More about his personality, perhaps to test himself." "He definitely admired men that risked. Men are people that risked their lives for what they believed in, and they were authentic."

These quotes reflect Hemingway's self-perception as a war writer and his admiration for individuals who were authentic and willing to risk their lives for their beliefs, traits he valued and sought to emulate.

Hemingway's Embedded Experience with Guerrillas

  • Hemingway embedded with communist guerrillas in Spain, experiencing the war firsthand.
  • The novel "For Whom the Bell Tolls" was inspired by these experiences, particularly a mission to blow up a bridge.
  • Hemingway's involvement went beyond reporting; he actively participated in combat and aid efforts.

"The group that he's with, these guerrillas... They were filled with tough, colorful, and educated men, as well as a few women from various countries, including the United States." "Hemingway was with the guerrillas for four days at their camp and in the field."

These quotes provide insight into Hemingway's time with the guerrillas in Spain, emphasizing the diverse and tough individuals he was with and the intense experiences that would later inspire his writing.

Hemingway's Roles Beyond Writing

  • Hemingway took on multiple roles in Spain, including suitor, humanitarian, military advisor, and writer.
  • He distinguished between the roles of a reporter and a writer, seeking to absorb experiences to enhance his writing.
  • Hemingway's involvement in the Spanish Civil War was driven by his beliefs and not just for career advancement.

"Hemingway was also in Spain as a suitor, humanitarian, military advisor, and above all, writer." "The writer wanted to absorb the experience of wartime, which is when he gets back home, it's going to make his writing more profound and resonate more, because he actually saw these things. He actually experienced them."

These quotes highlight Hemingway's multifaceted involvement in the Spanish Civil War and his desire to immerse himself in experiences that would deepen the impact of his writing.

Hemingway's Blind Spot and Ideological Avoidance

  • Hemingway had a blind spot regarding the similarities between authoritarian regimes, regardless of their political spectrum.
  • Charlie Munger's advice to avoid intense ideology resonates with Hemingway's experiences, as it can cloud judgment.
  • Hemingway formed close relationships through shared extreme experiences, which led to lifelong friendships.

"At this time in history, regardless of whether in the left or right, they're all authoritarians." "And this reminded me of advice that Charlie Munger gives, I think is really good. And he's like, listen, avoid intense ideology. It turns your brain to mush."

These quotes discuss Hemingway's blind spot in recognizing the parallels between different authoritarian regimes and the importance of avoiding intense ideology, as advised by Charlie Munger, to maintain clear thinking.

Hemingway's Relationships and Influence

  • Hemingway's temper and ego were significant aspects of his personality, often leading him to believe he was more influential than he was.
  • His actions in Spain blurred the lines between reporting and participating in combat, demonstrating his disregard for conventional rules.
  • Hemingway's belief in his influence was sometimes unfounded, as evidenced by his interaction with the young writer Bessie.

"He considered himself to be more influential than he actually was, believing that others lived by what he said and wrote about Spain." "Hemingway never made that distinction."

These quotes illustrate Hemingway's inflated sense of influence and his tendency to involve himself actively in combat situations, often ignoring the established norms for reporters.

Hemingway's Reflection on Spain and Writing

  • Hemingway later admitted to being overly righteous during the Spanish Civil War, recognizing the negative aspects of his involvement.
  • His writing was influenced by his experiences, and he sought to depict the realities of war, including its atrocities, from both sides.
  • Hemingway's commitment to his beliefs was evident in his willingness to make personal and professional sacrifices.

"No wonder he created a novel so many people loved. His soul was in it at the time." "He's going to look back and realize. Okay, I was a little bit too bought in."

These quotes capture Hemingway's reflection on his time in Spain and the depth of his investment in the war, which later influenced his balanced portrayal of war in his writing.

Hemingway's Work Ethic and Discipline

  • Hemingway's work ethic involved early morning writing sessions followed by an active social life.
  • Despite his heavy drinking, he maintained a disciplined writing routine, producing significant work before engaging in leisure activities.
  • Hemingway's approach to life and work was characterized by a balance between solitude in writing and physical, social activities.

"So it says, for Hemingway, now is the time to withdraw from the world and work." "And so what he would do is he'd wake up every day before dawn and just write uninterrupted for hours at a time till about the early afternoon."

These quotes emphasize Hemingway's discipline in his writing process, where he dedicated early mornings to focused writing, allowing him to produce profound literary works.

Hemingway's Perception and Legacy

  • Hemingway saw himself as more than a writer; he believed he had the sophistication to influence world events.
  • His desire for recognition and his self-perceived versatility are evident in his willingness to take on various roles, including that of a spy.
  • Hemingway's legacy is marked by his pursuit of experiencing life in all its fullness, which is reflected in his diverse interests and adventures.

"In his mind, he was more than just a novelist or a journalist. He was a sophisticate who understood how the world worked and could use his understanding to help shape events." "But for experiencing life in all its fullness."

These quotes reveal Hemingway's self-image as an influential figure capable of impacting global affairs and his dedication to experiencing life to the fullest, which is a central aspect of his legacy.

Hemingway's Personal Code and Literary Success

  • Hemingway lived by a personal code that was reflected in his literature.
  • His writing style was revolutionary and influential.
  • "For Whom the Bell Tolls" was a critical and commercial success.
  • Hemingway enjoyed writing and selling his work but avoided formal military service, preferring a loose affiliation with other irregulars.

Hemingway had been living by his own code for decades in literature. It had to do with his revolutionary writing style.

The quote explains Hemingway's unique approach to writing and his personal philosophy that guided his life and work.

The story that for whom the bell tolls is already out, and it's selling really well and it's being reviewed very well, so it says.

This quote indicates the success of Hemingway's novel "For Whom the Bell Tolls," highlighting its positive reception and strong sales.

Hemingway's Personality and Lifestyle

  • Hemingway did not mind hardship if it served a cause he believed in.
  • He enjoyed luxury and indulgence as much as he did facing danger and adversity.
  • Hemingway's personality was complex, embracing both extremes of life.
  • He desired to experience the full spectrum of life, from misery to debauchery.

Hemingway was a man who did not mind hardship, especially in the service of a cause he believed in.

This quote summarizes Hemingway's willingness to endure difficulty for something he was passionate about, reflecting his strong personal convictions.

He wants the full spectrum of life. He wants the zeros and the tens.

The quote encapsulates Hemingway's desire to experience all aspects of life, from the lowest lows to the highest highs.

Hemingway's Adventures and Writing

  • Hemingway led an eventful life, engaging in various intense experiences like infidelity, divorce, remarriage, and involvement in the Spanish Civil War.
  • He moved from Key West to Cuba and wrote a significant literary work.
  • Hemingway's life was characterized by a relentless pursuit of adventure and literary excellence.

During the previous four years, he had immersed himself in a series of life events that would have exhausted most mortals.

This quote highlights the intensity and variety of Hemingway's experiences in the years leading up to World War II.

Hemingway's Love for Cuba

  • Cuba was a source of inspiration and a beloved home for Hemingway.
  • He was drawn to Cuba for its foreign and exotic nature, often visiting for fishing trips before making it his residence.
  • Hemingway's house in Cuba was filled with an extensive collection of books.
  • The Bay of Pigs incident left Hemingway feeling he could never return to Cuba, a place he deeply loved.

He was depressed towards the end of his life because a few days before he kills himself is the Bay of Pigs.

This quote links Hemingway's depression and eventual suicide to the political turmoil in Cuba, particularly the Bay of Pigs invasion, which severed his connection to the island.

Hemingway's Interests and Lifestyle in Cuba

  • Hemingway enjoyed the freedoms and choices available in Cuba.
  • He engaged in activities like fishing, shooting, cockfighting, and baseball.
  • The informal nature of Cuban society suited Hemingway's preference for a less formal lifestyle.
  • Hemingway maintained a strong work ethic and enjoyed the conducive writing environment in Cuba.

The american writer liked the choices and the freedom that this island offered.

This quote reflects Hemingway's appreciation for the lifestyle and freedoms he experienced while living in Cuba.

Hemingway's Espionage Activities

  • Hemingway engaged in counterintelligence operations in Havana, Cuba, during World War II.
  • He assembled a diverse group of individuals for his intelligence network, known as the "Crook Factory."
  • Hemingway's leadership was unconventional but effective, focusing on detail and thorough debriefing of his agents.
  • He collaborated with the US government to gather intelligence on German activities.

He sets them up, bars and restaurants and hotels in bordellos, just everywhere, all over the island.

The quote describes Hemingway's strategic placement of his intelligence network across Cuba to collect information on German operatives.

Hemingway's Anti-Fascist Efforts and Military Engagements

  • Hemingway retrofitted his boat, the Pilar, to hunt German U-boats off the coast of Cuba.
  • He was ready to risk his life in combat and felt a strong sense of duty towards his country.
  • Hemingway's experiences on the Pilar included long stretches at sea and encounters with enemy submarines.
  • Despite the risks, Hemingway pursued these dangerous missions with enthusiasm and a sense of purpose.

The crew broke out submachine guns and hand grenades.

This quote illustrates the level of preparation and the serious nature of Hemingway's anti-fascist operations at sea.

Hemingway's Role in World War II

  • Hemingway was involved in various capacities during World War II, from intelligence gathering to participating in combat.
  • He was present at significant historical moments, such as the D-Day invasion.
  • Hemingway displayed leadership and resourcefulness, contributing valuable intelligence to the Allies.
  • His actions included unconventional tactics, such as disarming prisoners by making them remove their pants.

He received intelligence couriers, refugees from Paris, and deserters from the german army, methodically gathering information and writing reports that he passed to allied intelligence officers.

The quote demonstrates Hemingway's active role in collecting and relaying intelligence during the liberation of Paris.

Hemingway and Lanham's Relationship

  • Hemingway and Buck Lanham formed a strong bond during wartime, admiring each other's skills and bravery.
  • Lanham was a warrior who enjoyed writing, while Hemingway was a writer drawn to war.
  • They complemented each other, with Hemingway feeling a close friendship and admiration for Lanham.
  • Hemingway's actions during the war went beyond those of a typical war correspondent, engaging in combat and leading troops.

"The writer who wanted to fight and the fighter who wanted to write complemented each other and formed a bond as strong as any Hemingway had ever had with another man."

This quote emphasizes the deep connection between Hemingway and Lanham, highlighting their unique relationship where their roles as a writer and a warrior intersected.

"The allegations were that he had stockpiled weapons, commanded troops, and joined the fight to liberate Paris. So he's like, I can't believe this. And he says these allegations were all true."

This quote reveals that Hemingway's involvement in the war was active and direct, going beyond the expected role of a war correspondent to that of a participant.

Hemingway's War Experiences

  • Hemingway experienced numerous close calls with death during the war, displaying courage and a cool demeanor under pressure.
  • His war experiences became central to his identity, with a particular emphasis on living life fully and learning from it.
  • Hemingway's description of war as the ultimate life experience reflects his passion for engaging with life at its most intense.

"He stayed with the colonel until the Americans have fought the Germans to a standstill and left them no choice but to surrender."

This quote illustrates Hemingway's commitment and bravery in the face of danger, staying with Lanham during a pivotal battle.

"A man can be destroyed but not defeated."

This quote from "The Old Man and the Sea" encapsulates Hemingway's philosophy on resilience and the human spirit, demonstrating his belief in enduring struggles with dignity.

Hemingway's Post-War Life and Decline

  • Hemingway's post-war life was marked by depression, nostalgia for wartime camaraderie, and a strong connection to his experiences with Lanham.
  • His physical and mental health declined over the years due to injuries, excessive drinking, and depression.
  • Hemingway's later years were characterized by a struggle with his creative work, a sense of defeat, and an inability to return to his beloved Cuba.

"He's absolutely Homesick for the regiment. He wrote that he had the black ass."

This quote conveys Hemingway's post-war depression and longing for the sense of purpose he found during the war.

"The distant fiasco at the Bay of Pigs was another defeat, one that was almost as painful."

This quote reflects Hemingway's emotional connection to Cuba and how the political changes there contributed to his sense of loss and decline.

Hemingway's Final Days

  • Hemingway's last days were marked by intense depression, paranoia, and a series of suicide attempts.
  • Despite brief periods of treatment, Hemingway's condition worsened, leading to his eventual suicide.
  • His death was a tragic end to a life that had been filled with adventure, literary success, and personal turmoil.

"He had gotten up before anyone else, padded quietly downstairs, and with one of his double barreled shotguns, killed what was left of the great american writer who had fought so hard for what he believed in."

This quote describes the tragic and solitary end of Hemingway's life, highlighting the contrast between his earlier vitality and his final moments.

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