F. Scott Fitzgerald’s List of 22 Essential Books

Artwork: (l) F. Scott Fitzgerald. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. (r) The Maltese Falcon by Dashiel Hammett.

“There are no second acts in American lives,” F. Scott Fitzgerald fatalistically proclaimed. The celebrated novelist and short story writer, who had been an alcoholic since college, was a study in decadence and despair, privilege and passion, success and self-sabotage.

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His fourth novel, Tender is the Night (1934), portended his downfall, as it spoke of a marriage on the skids, alcohol addiction, and mental collapse. An affair with Lois Moran, a starlet and muse for one of the characters in the book, drove his wife Zelda went over the edge. Two years later, Fitzgerald had her committed to the Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. Then he fell apart—just as Esquire was publishing his essay, The Crack Up as a three-month installment.


F. Scott Fitzgerald’s handwritten list of 22 books he considered essential reading.

That summer, Fitzgerald fractured his shoulder while diving in the swimming pool at Asheville’s Grove Park Inn, where he had been staying to be close to Zelda. According to Michael Cody at the University of South Carolina’s Fitzgerald Web site, it was later reported that, “he fired a revolver in a suicide threat, after which the hotel refused to let him stay without a nurse.”

Enter Dorothy Richardson, who took the position of trying to keep the bottle out of his mouth, while providing good company. Fitzgerald felt compelled to build a personal connection with his nurse. Thinking it wise to educate her in his area of expertise, he created a list of 22 books he considered essential reading.

Enjoy a slide show of the titles, along with links where they are available free online.

Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Vogue Online, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Aperture Online, and Feature Shoot. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.