John's Reviews > Hemingway's Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost, 1934-1961

Hemingway's Boat by Paul Hendrickson
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Jul 20, 12

Read in March, 2012

I recently finished this wonderful book by Paul Hendrickson, and thought I'd give it a shout-out here. It's superbly written, excellently researched and one of the best books I've read in years.

This isn't a full-on adventure story of fishing for marlin in the Gulf Stream, though there is some of that. The book traces from 1934 to 1961 Hemingway's joys and despair around the one constant in his life during this time: his beloved boat, Pilar.

The boat was a stock 38-foot twin cabin cruiser made by Wheeler Shipyards in Brooklyn, N.Y. It was powered by a 75-horse Chrysler with a 4-cylinder Lycoming straight drive engine installed as a separate unit independent of the main power plant. The engines were fed by four 75-gallon gas tanks. It also had two copper-lined fish boxes, a live fish well, settee built on the portside, and black-painted hull. Cost: $7,495.

He took possession of it in early May 1934 and wrote this about it to Arnold Gingrich, editor of Esquire magazine:
"The boat is marvelous. Wheeler, 38 footer, cut down to my design. 75 horse Chrysler and a 40 h. Lycoming. Lower stern for fishing. Fish well, 300 gal gas tanks. 100 gal water. Sleeps six in cabin and two in cockpit. Can turn on its own tail burns less than three gals an hour trolling and four at cruising speed with the big engine. Will do sixteen with the two motors. The little one will do five hooked up."

What I especially liked about the book was Hendrickson's depth of research and peeling back Hemingway's macho layers to reveal a man with tortured, ambiguous tensions about his own sexuality. It's unlike anything ever written about Hemingway. Hendrickson, by the way, is a National Book Critics Circle Award winner, worked two decades for The Washington Post and is now on the faculty of the Creative Writing Program at the Univ. of Pennsylvania. The book is published by Knopf.
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