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Top 16 Best Books About Acting: The Definitive List

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Okay, I admit, this isn’t an acting website. But I have a huge passion for books and learning, and I love to read books on any ol’ subject that I’m interested in.

One of those things is acting. I took a couple of theater and drama classes during college, and I found it fascinating. In fact, I found it extremely useful to help me write characters in my books. If you are a writer who follows me on the site, you might find some of these books insightful into how a person thinks.

And if you’re an aspiring actor, these are definitely the cream of the crop when it comes to learning how to act. I’ve done my research, and this is definitely the best place to start when it comes to your vocational training.

So with that in mind, let’s get into the top books on acting. As always, everything is available in this handy chart if you just want to get right down to it, or you can read on and see my full breakdown of each title below.

1. Sanford Meisner on Acting by Sanford Meisner & Dennis Longwell

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Sanford Meisner was one of the best and most well-known teachers of acting. He used to run a bunch of acting classes, and this book follows one of those classes, basically giving you all of the wisdom that you need in one convenient location.

Meisner has a way of teaching that is unique, and full of humor and emotion. This book has a fantastic way of capturing that, as it is based on a 15-month acting class.

This book was written in collaboration with Dennis Longwell, who I presume did most of the actual writing based on Meisner’s notes, but overall it is a great place to start when it comes to your acting journey.

2. Audition by Michael Shurtleff

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This guy is no joke. He was the casting director for Chicago, Pippin, Beckett, Gypsy, The Graduate, The Sound of Music, and Jesus Christ Superstar.

In other words, this guy knows his stuff when it comes to acting. He literally cast some of the greatest Broadway shows of all time. So not only does he know a lot about acting, but he knows what makes an actor good at what they do, what makes them successful.

This book is the distillation of everything you need to know to win that audition. He goes through multiple techniques, including how to use humor, create mystery, etc. He presents all of the information in this handy 12-step guide, with plenty of questions to help actors improve their craft and prepare for that big audition.

3. A Challenge for the Actor by Uta Hagen

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Uta Hagen is a another well-renowned actress for the stage. She also taught acting for for over 40 years in a studio in New York. She’s written multiple books before, but I like this one because it’s less of a beginner book, and more of a distillation of her many years of wisdom for advanced actors.

A lot of this book is based on mindset, helping actors understand mental techniques, not only to improve their own lives, but to inhabit the lives of others through physical and psychological senses.

This book also has a number of great exercises that the author walks through in order to help you, as an actor, learn your craft.

These include things like employing historical imagination, creating a character, re-creating literal physical sensations, etc.

The scope of this book is incredible, and the author’s experience really helps to solidify everything she says as something that you should really take seriously. I highly recommend it.

4. Intent to Live by Larry Moss

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Larry Moss is one of the most celebrated acting instructors in Hollywood. In fact, Oscar-winning actresses Helen Hunt and Hilary Swank credited Larry Moss and his instruction as one of the important steps in their career, and they did so while accepting their Oscar at the Academy Awards.

Furthermore, Larry Moss has over a two-year waiting list for some of his advanced acting classes. He’s the real deal.

This book breaks down what he has learned over time, and what he teaches in the classroom, into a convenient resource for aspiring actors.

In fact, if I could only recommend one book on this list, it would be this one from Larry Moss. He is the guy to beat.

Not only does Larry Moss have the knowledge to become a good actor, but he is passionate about it. He has a high respect for actors in the love of the craft that shines through in the writing. I highly recommend his work.

5. The Art Of Acting by Stella Adler

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Stella Adler was a fantastic actress who lived in the 20th century, and unfortunately died during the 90s.

But she was an acting teacher for many of the greats, including Marlon Brando, Warren Beatty, and Robert De Niro.

She had decades of experience, and the lessons that she shared with countless actors and actresses is encapsulated in this book, thanks to co-writer Howard Kissel.

6. Acting in Film by Michael Caine

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Most of you are probably familiar with who Michael Caine is, especially if you’re an aspiring actor. He is one of the most respective gentlemen in the business and for good reason. Just go watch any of his movies, and you will see why.

But did you know that he has actually written some books?

It’s true, and my favorite of the bunch is Acting in Film. It focuses on how to be an actor, specifically in the film industry. It goes into detail on things like script preparation, working with the director, understanding your character in their voice, etc.

Given Caine’s experience as an actor on film, he is certainly one to listen to when he tells you how to do it. Plus his style is just incredible.

7. True and False by David Mamet

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David Mamet gives us a unique look at acting, because he is not an actor but a playwright. So while he is involved in theater a lot, acting is not his main skill. But it does give him a good outsider perspective on it.

David Mamet completely destroys everything you think you know about contemporary acting practices and really digs into what makes the craft important and noble.

The author walks actors through the entire process of stage acting, from the audition, to the rehearsals, to working with agents and directors, etc. It’s a fantastic Bible for those interested in getting into stage acting.

8. The Actor’s Art and Craft by William Esper and Damon Dimarco

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We talked earlier about Sanford Meisner and his techniques. Esper worked very closely with Meisner, eventually developing his own program for actors that has become quite a success.

His rigorous system of exercises helps actors to build their acting skills from the ground up, in a way that works for actors of any stage, whether that is a soap opera, or whether it’s Shakespeare.

Damon DeMarco, the cowriter of this book, was a former student of Esper, and he helps to break down his experience as a student and re-create it for us in this book. Overall, a great book to have on your shelf, especially if you aspire to the Sanford Meisner’s schools of thought.

9. An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavski

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Now it’s time to get a classic on here.

This book is a guide written in 1936 by Constantin Stanislavski who was born in 1863, and died only two years after this book was published. He was a Russian actor, famous for his work in theater, and essentially the creator of method acting.

But he is most famous for his techniques on how to learn to act. This book focuses on how to prepare yourself, how to train, what techniques you should use in order to become one of the best actors out there.

We often forget that acquiring any skill takes a lot of practice, and we can learn how to be more effective with that practice. This book is a great way to start learning how to do that.

10. The Power of the Actor by Ivana Chubbuck

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Ivana Chubbuck is a acting teacher who is amazing at what she does. In fact, she has a technique named after her: the Chubbuck Technique, which is a common technique today in 21st century acting.

As an acting coach, she has helped countless individuals develop their craft, and she has developed her own curriculum that distills the theories of other acting masters, and takes it to the next level by showing how you can use in her pain and emotions to fuel your acting.

Her twelve-step technique is incredibly useful, but I like this one because of the behind-the-scenes accounts by many other actors who have mastered their craft, giving us hope and guidance for how we can become better actors.

11. The Golden Rules of Acting by Andy Nyman

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Simon Pegg said this about this book: “Christians have the Bible, now actors have this book. At last, everyone is happy.”

This book is a vast collection of incredible advice, support, and encouragement for actors at any stage of development.

It’s great for winning those auditions and understanding what the auditioners truly want.

It is also a bit of a mindset book, since this is a hard craft, and you need everything you can to be able to make it.

If you are serious about acting, this is definitely one that I would pick up.

12. To the Actor: On The Technique of Acting by Michael Chekhov

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Chances are you’ve heard of Anton Chekhov, the originator of the “Chekhov’s gun” concept. Michael Chekhov was Anton Chekhov’s nephew, and he was a student of Constantin Stanislavski who we talked about in an earlier book.

Chekhov discovered that he disagreed with Stanislavski on a couple of techniques, and eventually formed his own acting school where he taught actors about how to use physicality and imagination to create characters, rather than through emotional examination.

Plus, Chekhov would eventually go on to instruct incredible actors like Clint Eastwood, Yul Brynner, and Marilyn Monroe.

This book was originally published in 1953, so by now it is a classic. If you want to know one of the leading schools of thought when it comes to crafting your acting journey, this is definitely one to pick up.

13. The Empty Space by Peter Brook

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This is another book that is slightly different because it focuses more on theater in general than specifically on acting.

That said, it is a great resource for those who want to understand the magical craft that is bringing a scene to life. Peter Brook is a legend of theater, having written and directed many different plays. And this book has remained a pillar of thought in the world of theater since its original publication in 1968.

The book centers on Peter Brook’s idea that “I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage.” In other words, theater is something magical that happens. As an actor, you don’t need to depend on fancy trappings, but can tell a story from any venue, any stage.

It’s a great school of thought that you should definitely look into if you’re planning on being a stage actor.

14. Acting As A Business by Brian O’Neil

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A lot of people talk about the art of acting or the craft of acting, but very few people like to focus on the business. The reality is, if you want to make a living as an actor, you have to do both. You have to focus on the craft of acting and the business of acting, otherwise you will not make it anywhere.

This book by Brian O’Neill is a handbook for actors who want to make it in the business. It walks through how to create a resume, how to join various unions, how to get an agent, how to find work, and how to navigate the different customs and cultures between theater in New York and film in Hollywood.

15. The Actor And The Target by Declan Donnellan

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You’ve heard of the phrase “stage fright” right? Well, it’s not something the actors just get over. Plenty of high-profile actors continue to experience stage fright, even after years and years of experience.

This book by Declan Donnellan is one of the best books on how to get to the heart of your fears, then use that as fuel to release your talent on stage.

It’s a fresh approach to acting, from an author who is a celebrated director in the field.

16. A Life in Parts by Bryan Cranston

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I’m guessing you’ve also heard of Bryan Cranston, one of the most respected actors working in Hollywood and New York today.

This book is a little different, because it doesn’t focus so much on the craft of acting. Instead, it’s a memoir. It walks through Brian’s Cranston’s life, going from whatever jobs he could find from soap operas to Power Rangers, to one of the most iconic villains of all time: Walter White from Breaking Bad.

It’s a fantastic and classic story of the American Dream in action, going from rags to riches with nothing but perseverance and hard work.

If you want a healthy dose of inspiration, this is definitely the book for you.

Final Thoughts

I hope this list was interesting for you. I sure had a lot of fun researching it and learning just a little more about acting.

For those of you who are writers like me, I highly recommend checking out these books to help understand your characters better.

And for the actors, you should definitely check out these books to get started on your career.

Go break a leg!

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