For all the biographies and critical studies that have been published about Hemingway in the last 60 years or so, none has really gotten as close to the man as this accumulation of letters is now allowing. It’s as if we are watching a picture emerge on blank paper as the developer does its darkroom magic, to employ an old-school film reference.

“Unlike a formal biography,” J. Gerald Kennedy writes in the introduction, “which reconstructs the subject’s lifetime as a coherent narrative already defined by the arc of a career, this virtual narrative produces a rather different perspective, as shifting, incomplete, and episodic as lived experience, which it mirrors more closely than a biographical account.”

This volume includes a mere fraction of the total cache – 242 letters, about 60 percent of which have never been published – but it spans three of Hemingway’s most significant early years.

For those with a passion for American literary history and an interest in the machinery of fame, these letters provide an abundance of raw material and scintillating reading.