Books Like The Old Man and the Sea

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Looking for books similar to ''The Old Man and the Sea?'' In this lesson, you'll see a few selections that mimic Hemingway's great novel in terms of theme, writing style and subject matter.

The Old Man and the Sea

Ernest Hemingway's well-known and enduring novel, The Old Man and the Sea, tells the tale of an aged fisherman and his adversarial battle with his catch, a marlin, the elements and his own mortality. Written in a simple and concise style, Hemingway captures the essence of the fisherman's journey from failure to short-lived success and back again to failure.

Indeed, the novel's themes, Hemingway's writing style and the subject matter of the story are three of the most intriguing areas to focus on if you're looking for reads similar to The Old Man and the Sea. If you're on the hunt for books with similarities, read on. In this lesson, we'll take a look at a couple that match Hemingway's great work in terms of the central themes of the story; a few that are written in a similar style; and, finally, a few that bear some resemblance in terms of the subject matter, or setting, of The Old Man and the Sea.


Among the many themes apparent in Hemingway's tale are suffering, strength, skill, perseverance in the face of difficulty or obstacle, pride, friendship, age and the struggle between man and nature. Hemingway's central character - aged, malnourished and unlucky - prompts a number of themes central to the book's plot as he struggles with capturing a fish, enduring hardship in the struggle to finally land the fish, and battling the enemy (sharks) to exhaustion. The fisherman's friendship with his long-time fishing partner also contributes to the various themes of the tale. Below are a couple books that feature similar themes.

  • Youth by Joseph Conrad

Aside from the fact that many believe Hemingway drew from Conrad's work for his own writing, Youth touches on similar themes of man versus nature, strength, courage and overcoming difficulties. The book is an autobiographical tale of Conrad's own experiences at sea, ones in which he struggles against the elements and endures suffering along his journey. There are also themes of age and maturity played out in a battle between the aged captain and Conrad's youthful independence.

  • Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

A more contemporary look at similar themes, Hillenbrand's book about an Olympic athlete turned World War II hero was published in 2010. The book chronicles Louis Zamperini's Olympic quest, miltary career, time as an ocean castaway and years as a prisoner of war. Throughout, as the title might suggest, you see Zamperini's unbroken spirit, his suffering and perseverance and themes of friendship.

Writing Style

Hemingway, himself, described his own writing style as direct and personable, using language that is simple and direct. Many have debated the influence of Hemingway's days as a reporter, where short sentences and concise storytelling are key, on his later writings. Regardless, he was a master of concision, not prone to flowery prose, but effective nonetheless. The following books also feature concise diction.

  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Though not completely devoid of the rare big word (vestibular, anyone?), the use is still similar to Hemingway's style in that it is simple in both delivery and syntax. The book is heavy on conversations ('Where are we?' 'I don't know.') that are short and succinct, and even the punctuation and capitalization in appropriate places are lacking. This mirrors Hemingway's short sentence structure and concise delivery.

  • The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Of course the writing style is going to be similar here because it's the same author penning both works. This book is another reflection of Hemingway's style leaning toward the terse, almost journalistic form. Concise sentences and realistic dialogue make it easy to keep up with the action and provide another example of the author's style.

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