Actors know that we can’t learn everything in an acting book—building an artistic career is more than just reading the best acting books to understand new acting techniques.
That said, some of these books are about acting, while some of them are not “acting books” at all—they are simply excellent books. They’ve helped me set goals, understand the industry, do the work, and stay happy, productive, true to myself, and (mostly) sane as a creative.
I’ve divided by book list into a few sections—check out whatever’s relevant for you
Best acting books by category:
- Books on acting methods and techniques
- Books about story, structure, and archetypes
- Books about emotions and human psychology
- Books to develop and strengthen yourself as an artist
- Books to help you have a good relationship with money and success
- Books about business and creative entrepreneurship
You can see that these aren’t just acting technique books—I think actors need a variety of resources to really develop:
We need to understand story, and the role of story in our minds, culture, and business.
We need to have a strong and healthy relationship with ourselves.
We need to speak the language of emotions and be curious about the human mind.
We need tools to run our own businesses and define our brands as creative entrepreneurs.
Just as much as we need to understand character statements and counterpoints as we break down a script, we need to understand business, economic concepts, and money.
These books have helped me grow in numerous ways as an actor. I hope they help you, too.
Affiliate Disclaimer: All of the links to the books listed here are Amazon affiliate links. That means if you click on the link and consequently buy the book, I receive a small commission (at no additional cost to you). I then use the funds to pay off some of my website costs (~$300 year). Thanks in advance for the support.
Books on acting methods and techniques
Acting: The First Six Lessons by Richard Boleslavsky
A fundamental book for understanding actor methods.
This book is a great one for new and experienced actors alike; it’s a basic acting book that a lot of teachers refer beginner actors to. Richard has a wonderful way of sharing his experiences through narration and gives some of the most important basic information about acting. They are shared as a dialogue between teacher and student, which makes it an easy and fun read. He talks a lot about concentration, the memory of emotion, characterization, and dramatic action to name a few. It shows Richard’s philosophical view of the theatre industry.
The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide by Jenna Fischer
A down-to-Earth and inspiring look at an actress’ career; a great read for actors with a few years under their belts who feel a bit stuck.
In this book, the lovely Jenna Fischer of the hit show The Office recounts her personal journey from an unknown actress for 8 years to becoming one of the main characters of a hugely popular TV show. She talks a bit about acting techniques but more in the context of how things work on set, and she covers the production, business, and career side of an actor’s life. She shares some absolutely hilarious stories and also extremely practical tips to getting yourself noticed in a massive industry. It’s raw, insightful, and pretty eye-opening to read. She doesn’t hold back with her honesty with this work.
The Great Acting Teachers and Their Methods by Richard Brestoff
Great overview of all the big names and established acting methods you’ll hear about in acting classes: Stella Adler, Stanford Meisner, Lee Strasberg, Brecht, Stanislavsky, Suzuki, etc.
A great book to get you in touch with the most legendary teachers and the techniques they used and taught to their students. Brestoff also outlines the history of acting, his own criticisms of the industry, and his personal biography. I personally didn’t uncover any mind-blowing acting techniques to immediately improve my acting skills, but having the context about the industry, all the big industry names, and prevailing mindsets that defined the acting craft over time have helped me better internalize the instruction I receive from acting teachers in scene study classes.
The Power of the Actor: The Chubbuck Technique by Ivana Chubbuck
A detailed walkthrough of a proven process actors can use to break down scripts and develop characters.
All actors and acting teachers seem to develop their own version of a script analysis, but I think Ivana’s 12-part approach is a great one to study because it’s one of the longer and more comprehensive ones. A lot of other methods have some combination of these 12 parts—albeit ordered differently, named differently, or combined. Ivana Chubbuck has taught superstars like Charlize Theron, Brad Pitt, Elisabeth Shue, Djimon Hounsou, and Halle Berry—so you know she’s got some serious knowledge and skill to share here.
Fine on Acting: A Vision of the Craft by Howard Fine
Widely regarded as one of the most useful and applicable collections of acting techniques.
Written by the legendary, sought-after acting teacher Howard Fine, this is one of the best books to own if you’re working on an acting career. It covers the essentials of working as an actor, from auditions to working with a terrible director, or just being emotionally blocked. He uses a bunch of examples from his own experience and his passion for the art of acting really shines through.
Books about story, structure, and archetypes
The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
The quintessential book about the role of story and myth in the development of human culture.
You won’t learn acting techniques in this book, but I believe this is practically more essential to read than books that strictly cover acting. Along with Kim Hudson’s book below, this book paints a clear picture of a storyteller’s role in society. As actors, we need to understand the currency of story and the role it plays in cultural self-perception. This book is simply fascinating.
The Virgin’s Promise by Kim Hudson
A thoughtful, open-minded exploration of the feminine version of the widely established “hero” story structure.
It’s common for storytellers (actors, writers, directors) to study the “hero’s journey” which Joseph Campbell articulated in his work. In this book, Kim Hudson talks about a different flavor of this journey, showing how feminine (not necessarily female, but feminine) stories tend to have the same fundamental structure—but with characters who interact with their world in a different way. She defines the obstacles and growth that characterize feminine stories.
It has been so useful for me to understand if I am looking at a feminine or masculine character journey (or a blend, which Kim illustrates in her book as well), and I can better understand my character’s role in the story and my obstacles and goals when I break down scripts.
Save The Cat! By Blake Snyder
An easy-to-understand outline of the main beats that give structure to a lot of popular stories and films.
This is a book that most screenwriters have read, and it’s a good book for actors to read as well. It’s a fast read and a book that I come back to over and over again when I’m fleshing out a character arc and plot points for screenplays. It covers some screenwriting techniques that most actors probably don’t need to know, but exposing yourself to the story/plot language that Blake Snyder uses is a good idea because the concepts and terms have worked their way into the industry among writers, directors, and producers as well.
I find that the more I learn about screenwriting, the more it helps my acting. It helps me to dissect scripts from a different vantage point and look at my character’s role in the story in terms of how I am influencing the structure of the plot and structure of the relationships in the story.
Books about emotions and human psychology
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
A summary of years of research about two distinct and complementary thought processes that humans use.
Kahneman explains the concept of “System 1” and “System 2” thinking in this book. System 1 is fast and instinctive and is processed through emotions, while System 2 is slower and logical. For actors, this book helps you understand how emotions and rational thoughts pair together and work separately from one another.
I think it’s tempting for us to give our characters rationally-based motivations when we break down a script because we’re logically analyzing it—but Kahneman’s book illustrates how people don’t just use their rational System 2 to make decisions. This book helped me understand why memorization and prep (System 2) are so important for being able to fall into your character and be intuitive and instinctual (System 1) when the time comes.
Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor E Frankl
An influential and widely-read chronicle of a man’s experience as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps.
You won’t find this book listed on any other best acting books lists, but in my experience, this book has been useful for me, both in my acting practice and my mindset around my career as a creative. In this book, the psychotherapist and holocaust survivor talk about his views on the prisoners’ mindset and approach to living in such extreme conditions.
What I took away from this book is a deeper understanding of what a positive mindset looks like—and how lucky I am to be me and be alive. Whatever I found challenging about my acting career before reading this book somehow seems way more surmountable after having gained some perspective from this book.
Never Split The Difference by Chris Voss
A book about negotiation principles from an FBI hostage negotiator.
I read this book for personal development at work, but this book is one every adult would benefit from reading. As an actor, this book helped me understand the other characters in my scripts. It essentially breaks down real-life examples of point and counterpoint through Chris’ examinations of people’s motivations in life-or-death hostage negotiations.
This book has also influenced my acting career—being an effective negotiator is a key skill in an industry with so many stakeholders on a given project. We know that actors deal with a lot of uncertainty, so having clear principles for understanding people’s motivations and responding in a constructive way is enormously helpful. Our line of work is not straight-forward—the same principles for navigating a hostage situation really do apply to navigating the uncertainties of a career in the arts.
Books to develop and strengthen yourself as an artist
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
A 12-week course laid out in a book, with practical exercises to recover and strengthen your relationship with your inner artist.
I’ve read this book twice now. I go back to it regularly. It’s not something you should sit and read in an afternoon—it requires at least 3 hours a week for the activities, which are mostly fun, and then about 20 minutes a day to write your “Morning Pages”. The techniques in this book definitely work and have made me feel more expressive, grounded, and true to myself. They have shaped the way I think about creativity.
Hands-down the best best I’ve read lately. Highly recommended as a book for actors, artists of all kinds, artists who feel blocked, and people who think that they aren’t artists.
Steal Like An Artist and Show Your Work by Austin Kleon
Fun, visually driven books that help you easily understand concepts that will help your creative career.
These are great books to keep on the desk or by your bed. They can be read in small chunks and you can page through them and pick up pretty much anywhere. The author Austin Kleon has a great way of distilling complicated things into really simple charts and diagrams. For anyone who feels overwhelmed carving out a career in the arts, Austin provides humor, clarity and simplified thinking that can help you see your challenges in a new way.
The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte
A guide to figuring out how you want to feel in your life, and shaping your actions so you feel that way more of the time.
Danielle LaPorte has an amazing book and entire enterprise built around this Desire Map concept. It’s really good. Instead of force-feeding yourself ambitious goals and self-discipline, Danielle suggests a more intuitive and soul-filling way to make decisions about your life. The book helps you figure out how you want to feel in life, and provides a framework to keep you on track to live that way. This book is fresh, perspective-changing, and a really good book for actors, who need to be able to develop and trust their intuition throughout their careers.
Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
A popular book about having the courage to be vulnerable.
In acting, you are forging your own way, and it can feel lonely and very exposed—especially exposed to criticism. This book by the renowned Brené Brown is her best (in my opinion), and it’s a great book for actors because it helps you keep your eye trained on what matters. It shows how the big important things in life start with the courage to be vulnerable and contains good suggestions for facing adversity and criticism.
Books to help you have a good relationship with money and success
Worry-Free Money by Shannon Lee Simmons
A realistic and shame-free guide to managing your money and planning your financial future.
I have to admit, I did not read all the case studies in this book because there were too many. But! The first half is really good. Shannon has a realistic approach to helping her clients manage money. She shows how rich people can feel (and be) broke, and how the feeling of being broke at any income level is a self-destructive cycle. Then, she shows you how you can tweak your attitudes towards spending, earning, and saving to stop that cycle.
Most importantly, she lays out a framework for financial health that is based on real life people with real life money habits. This is probably the best book an actor can read for managing their money because the conceptual framework can help you better deal with money uncertainty (and we all know that actors have that!).
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Yes, I recommend this twice—definitely read this book)
I summarized this book above—it’s really good for building a good relationship with your inner artist, but there’s a whole section on money, success, fame, and related topics. The exercises in that section were really impactful for me, and I highly recommend it.
Books about business and creative entrepreneurship
Anything You Want by Derek Sivers
A breakdown of business and life lessons from a very grounded, thoughtful, and successful creative entrepreneur.
Derek Sivers started CB Baby in the late 90s (kind of by accident) and sold it eight years later for 22 million dollars. But this book is not a lesson on how to build an entire business plan to net you millions. It’s his collection of simple, honest lessons about the things that really matter in building a meaningful business and career as a creative entrepreneur.
The author is an unconventional thinker, and I’ve found his points of view really refreshing. It helps you ignore the distractions and busy-ness of “more, more, more” and reminds you that staying focused on good relationships and happiness produces great results.
Zero To One by Peter Thiel
A book about being innovative—and a great resource for actors and artists who feel they’re holding themselves back from taking creative risks.
In this book, Peter Theil (co-founder of PayPal) talks about the startup world, but the concepts still apply to actors and creatives. He explains the things he sees in successful businesses and startups, and why people who start from principles often enjoy more success than people who look for formulas. This is a great book for actors because it takes you outside of the film industry to examine the core concepts behind what it means to take a creative risk, and why it’s worth it.
Any Other Great Books For Actors?
I hope these books serve you on your journey to success the same way I’ve benefited from them!
If you have a book you’d like to recommend, please feel free to comment with it below.