The most recommended books about the film industry

Who picked these books? Meet our 57 experts.

57 authors created a book list connected to the film industry, and here are their favorite film industry books.
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Book cover of Valley of the Dolls

Stephen Rebello Author Of Dolls! Dolls! Dolls!: Deep Inside Valley of the Dolls, the Most Beloved Bad Book and Movie of All Time

From my list on the down-and-dirtiest showbusiness Romans à clef.

Why am I passionate about this?

A Southern California-based author and screenwriter whose adventures in and around the film business have led to hundreds of feature stories for such magazines as Vibe, Playboy, Entertainment Weekly, American Film, Smithsonian, and Movieline. My books include three dedicated to Disney animated classics and a volume on the art of American movie posters. The lovingly satirical book Bad Movies We Love, co-written with Edward Margulies, inspired a Turner Network movie marathon series. My next non-fiction book will be published in 2024.

Stephen's book list on the down-and-dirtiest showbusiness Romans à clef

Stephen Rebello Why did Stephen love this book?

Newbie novelist Jacqueline Susann created an iconic all-time bestseller with her tale of three young glamazons who vault to the show business heights, only to tumble into a pit of addictions, poor choices in men, and delightfully overripe dialogue. Susann made her sweeping, sexy soap opera shenanigans even more irresistible by patterning her characters on such 20th-century headline-makers as Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Grace Kelly, Ethel Merman, and the Kennedys. Said publicity-savvy Susann, “They can keep calling it that ‘roman à clef'. It’ll only make my books sell.” They did. It did. Although the sanitized and critically bashed 1967 movie version toned down the à clef elements, it became a box-office smash that has gone on to become enshrined as a kitsch classic.

By Jacqueline Susann,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Valley of the Dolls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Before Jackie Collins, Candace Bushnell and Lena Dunham, Jacqueline Susann held the world rapt with her tales of the private passions of Hollywood starlets, high-powered industrialists and the jet-set.

Valley of the Dolls took the world by storm when it was first published, fifty years ago. Never had a book been so frank about sex, drugs and show business. It is often sited as the bestselling novel of all time.

Dolls - red or black; capsules or tablets; washed down with vodka or swallowed straight. For Anne, Neely and Jennifer, it doesn't matter, as long as the pill bottle is…

Book cover of The Day of the Locust

Andy Marx Author Of Royalties

From my list on show business.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m Andy Marx and I am definitely a child of Hollywood. My paternal grandfather was the comic icon, Groucho Marx, and my maternal grandfather was the legendary songwriter, Gus Kahn, who wrote such classic songs as “It Had To Be You,” “Makin’ Whoopee!” and “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” After working as a film publicist on a number of films including, Terminator and Red Dragon, I launched my journalism career writing about Hollywood for such publications as The Los Angeles Times, and Daily Variety. I also co-founded the satirical website, Hollywood & Swine, which poked fun of Hollywood, not a terribly hard thing to do. 

Andy's book list on show business

Andy Marx Why did Andy love this book?

This is one of the first Hollywood novels I ever read and it has stayed with me ever since. This book is great because instead of focusing on superstars, it’s the story of the behind-the-scenes people working in Hollywood, who haven’t hit the big-time yet and are just trying to survive. What makes the book so remarkable is that West could’ve been writing about any industry but uses Hollywood as a metaphor for many of society’s ills that were rampant in the 1930s.

By Nathanael West,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Day of the Locust as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Admired by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, and Dashiell Hammett, and hailed as one of the "Best 100 English-language novels" by Time magazine, The Day of the Locust continues to influence American writers, artists, and culture. Bob Dylan wrote the classic song "Day of the Locusts" in homage and Matt Groening's Homer Simpson is named after one of its characters. No novel more perfectly captures the nuttier side of Hollywood. Here the lens is turned on its fringes - actors out of work, film extras with big dreams, and parents lining their children up for small roles. But it's the…

Book cover of An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood

Elyce Helford Author Of What Price Hollywood?: Gender and Sex in the Films of George Cukor

From my list on classic Hollywood from a scholar and fan of film.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a film fan and scholar who has a joyful yet complex relationship with Hollywood. I have basked in the classics of Hollywood’s Golden Age (1930s-1950s) from my teen years on, including the musical delights of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the screwball comedies of Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant, the magnificent Universal monsters, and the deliciously dark creativity of film noir. Reading about the history of Hollywood has helped me enjoy this pastime even more, learning everything from economics and politics to method and form. The more I know, the richer grows my interest in both the past and present of that unique institution we call Hollywood.

Elyce's book list on classic Hollywood from a scholar and fan of film

Elyce Helford Why did Elyce love this book?

Gabler offers a detailed and persuasive history of Hollywood’s first producers, all immigrant Jewish Americans seeking to achieve the American dream.

This handful of men started in New York as peddlers or small business owners and then moved west to build their own film empires. No one saw motion pictures as more than a superficial pastime, but it seemed a good business opportunity. Unfortunately, Thomas Edison owned the rights and patents that kept Jewish entrepreneurs from accessing New York, so the immigrants went west.

MGM, Warner Brothers, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, and Universal: these were their kingdoms and are still the names we know today as the major Hollywood studios. Meet the remarkable (and sometimes horrible) men who built this world and learn about their lives and ambitions in Gabler’s engaging book.

By Neal Gabler,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked An Empire of Their Own as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A provocative, original, and richly entertaining group biography of the Jewish immigrants who were the moving forces behind the creation of America's motion picture industry.
The names Harry Cohn, William Fox, Carl Laemmle, Louis B. Mayer, Jack and Harry Warner, and Adolph Zucker are giants in the history of contemporary Hollywood, outsiders who dared to invent their own vision of the American Dream.  Even to this day, the American values defined largely by the movies of these émigrés endure in American cinema and culture. Who these men were, how they came to dominate Hollywood, and what they gained and lost…

Book cover of Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films

Frederick W. Gooding Jr. Author Of Black Oscars: From Mammy to Minny, What the Academy Awards Tell Us about African Americans

From my list on the impact of movies outside the theater.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a professor of pop culture, so I know personally that talking about race can be so incredibly awkward at times – but it does not always have to be! Often, many restrict themselves from fully participating in these necessary dialogues only because of a profound fear of “saying the wrong thing.” As individuals responsible for preparing a new generation of thinkers prepared to innovate improved solutions for the society we share, inevitably, the topic of race must not only be broached, but broached productively. I write to provide tools to help make such difficult conversations less difficult.

Frederick's book list on the impact of movies outside the theater

Frederick W. Gooding Jr. Why did Frederick love this book?

This book is an absolutely indispensable reference – Donald Bogle may well be dubbed the “godfather” of race studies in film as he meticulously chronicled and chartered black images in early film.

The book’s title alone already clues readers into the idea that Bogle will not pull any punches in describing popular black film caricatures that we now regard as problematic today.

By Donald Bogle,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This classic iconic study of black images in American motion pictures has been updated and revised, as Donald Bogle continues to enlighten us with his historical and social reflections on the relationship between African Americans and Hollywood. He notes the remarkable shifts that have come about in the new millennium when such filmmakers as Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) and Ava DuVernay (Selma) examined America's turbulent racial history and the particular dilemma of black actresses in Hollywood, including Halle Berry, Lupita Nyong'o, Octavia Spencer, Jennifer Hudson, and Viola Davis. Bogle also looks at the ongoing careers of such stars…

Book cover of What Makes Sammy Run?

Carleton Eastlake Author Of Monkey Business

From my list on what Hollywood is really like.

Why am I passionate about this?

Having been a Hollywood writer for thirty years, and now written a novel that although satirical still accurately describes the creation of a TV series, I’ve long been amazed at how many Hollywood stories – including films made in Hollywood – offer fantasies that have even less to do with the reality of love and work in film and television than Game of Thrones does with the real Middle Ages. I’ve written fantasy myself, but for people fascinated by Hollywood, or who want to work in film and TV, there’s a reason too to read books that capture the reality, especially when like the books listed here, they do so astonishingly well.

Carleton's book list on what Hollywood is really like

Carleton Eastlake Why did Carleton love this book?

Despite wars, plagues, and technological revolutions, the psychology of Hollywood endures and Schulberg’s novel about screenwriters in pre-World War Two Hollywood remains an obligatory read for anyone contemplating a life in showbusiness or wanting, as a member of the audience, to have a deeper understanding of the business. The book still so accurately describes the challenges of a writer’s life and work, that when I served on the Writers Guild of America West’s board, I’d sometimes read passages from the book to the rest of the board members during our discussions of potential strike issues or matters affecting Guild unity. Schulberg’s eloquent yet plain-spoken insights were simply still that valuable, convincing – and entertaining.

By Budd Schulberg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked What Makes Sammy Run? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What Makes Sammy Run?

Everyone of us knows someone who runs. He is one of the symp-toms of our times—from the little man who shoves you out of the way on the street to the go-getter who shoves you out of a job in the office to the Fuehrer who shoves you out of the world. And all of us have stopped to wonder, at some time or another, what it is that makes these people tick. What makes them run?

This is the question Schulberg has asked himself, and the answer is the first novel written with the indignation…

Book cover of Show Trial: Hollywood, HUAC , and the Birth of the Blacklist

Brian Neve Author Of Film and Politics in America: A Social Tradition

From my list on Hollywood blacklist.

Why am I passionate about this?

Years ago, as part of my research, I interviewed Elia Kazan and Abraham Polonsky, two key figures in the blacklist story, and two men who were on different sides in terms of how they responded to the postwar Congressional investigations. These personal encounters – in New York and Los Angeles – fed a fascination with the anti-Communist purge in Hollywood, its dramaturgy, and the way filmmakers of that generation were caught up in it in different ways. There are more specialized works but the books recommended provide a substantive introduction to this still globally resonant topic, calling attention to the problematic and still difficult relationships between citizenship and cultural identity.

Brian's book list on Hollywood blacklist

Brian Neve Why did Brian love this book?

Renowned cultural historian Thomas Doherty provides a granular, blow-by-blow retelling of the events that led to the Hollywood blacklist. He places particular emphasis on the hearings as a ‘media-political spectacle,’ seeing it as the first such media event of the postwar era. He reexamines the events through a close and careful reading of press and media responses of the time. Less cinema-centric than other accounts, and less mesmerized by key individuals, Doherty gives us a cool, skeptical perspective on what is often an emotive or partisan discourse. There is much detail on how filmmakers, activists, politicians, newspaper and radio figures acted, and for what reasons, and how and why the post-war hearings played out as they did. The result is a sophisticated cultural history of the blacklist era.

By Thomas Doherty,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Show Trial as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1947, the Cold War came to Hollywood. Over nine tumultuous days in October, the House Un-American Activities Committee held a notorious round of hearings into alleged Communist subversion in the movie industry. The blowback was profound: the major studios pledged to never again employ a known Communist or unrepentant fellow traveler. The declaration marked the onset of the blacklist era, a time when political allegiances, real or suspected, determined employment opportunities in the entertainment industry. Hundreds of artists were shown the door-or had it shut in their faces.

In Show Trial, Thomas Doherty takes us behind the scenes at…

Book cover of Musts, Maybes, and Nevers: A Book About The Movies

Glenn Frankel Author Of Shooting Midnight Cowboy: Art, Sex, Loneliness, Liberation, and the Making of a Dark Classic

From my list on Hollywood memoirs that tell the truth.

Why am I passionate about this?

I worked for 27 years at The Washington Post, where I won a Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting. But when I returned home in 2006, I wanted to write about my own country, and what could be more American than the movies? They’re a wonderful looking glass into the past, and my books explore the making of an iconic movie and the historical era in which it was created. My recent ones have recounted the making of The Searchers, starring John Wayne, and High Noon, the Gary Cooper classic and its connection to the Hollywood blacklist, a time of vicious conflict eerily similar to our own troubled era.

Glenn's book list on Hollywood memoirs that tell the truth

Glenn Frankel Why did Glenn love this book?

As Hollywood’s Golden Age sputtered to a close and the old studio behemoths collapsed, United Artists became the Little Studio That Still Could, thanks largely to the discerning eye and risk-taking appetite of David Picker, its young head of marketing and production. Under his leadership, UA made deals that snagged the James Bond series, the Beatles’ two feature films, and Woody Allen’s best movies. Picker’s formula was simple—sign the most intriguing filmmakers in America and Europe to low-budget, one-movie contracts and then leave them alone to do their finest work. Picker praises his pals and lacerates his foes, including Robert Altman, Otto Preminger, and most especially Bill Cosby, whom he despised long before the sexual assault allegations. Anyone recall Cosby’s woeful Leonard Part 6?

Book cover of The Cinema of George Lucas

Peter Krämer Author Of American Graffiti: George Lucas, the New Hollywood and the Baby Boom Generation

From my list on the life and films of George Lucas.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have turned my childhood fascination with Hollywood into an academic career. For four decades I have explored, not least through extensive archival research, all aspects of the history of American cinema – films, filmmakers, studios, production histories, marketing campaigns, critical reception, audiences. Among other books, I have published three volumes in the British Film Institute’s Film Classics series (on Buster Keaton’s The General and Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove and 2001: A Space Odyssey). I have focused on some of the most highly acclaimed, most commercially successful, most ardently loved, and most influential movies of all time. The starting point for my work is always my passionate engagement with particular movies.

Peter's book list on the life and films of George Lucas

Peter Krämer Why did Peter love this book?

This lavishly illustrated large-format volume takes the reader from George Lucas’s childhood and early youth to his years at film school and his subsequent Hollywood career as a director, writer, and producer, with a particular emphasis on the production histories of his key films.

With unprecedented access to countless interviewees and archival materials, Hearn brings George Lucas and the making of his films to life.

Apart from telling compelling stories, he also reproduces a wide range of documents for the reader’s perusal so that the book may serve as an archive in its own right (and I have certainly used it precisely in this way in my own research).

By Marcus Hearn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Cinema of George Lucas as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Acclaimed filmmaker George Lucas reinvigorated the science-fiction genre more than 25 years ago with Star Wars, one of the greatest epics and cultural icons of its generation. He has enthralled audiences with his grand vision, mythic narratives, and groundbreaking visual effects ever since, and he remains a pivotal figure in American cinema: Star Wars: Episode II (2002) was the first film to be shot entirely with state-of-the-art digital cameras, and Star Wars: Episode III, Revenge of the Sith is set for release on May 19, 2005. Marcus Hearn draws on exclusive interviews-as well as unprecedented access to the Lucasfilm archives-to…

Book cover of Film and Politics in America: A Social Tradition

Frank Krutnik Author Of 'Un-American' Hollywood: Politics and Film in the Blacklist Era

From my list on the Hollywood blacklist.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a film studies scholar from a working-class background (which is pretty rare in UK academia!), I’ve long been fascinated by the Hollywood Left and the prospect of what they could have achieved had they not been expunged from the scene. Many of the social justice causes they embraced—anti-fascism, anti-racism, workers’ rights, etc.resonate very strongly with contemporary concerns. The persecution of these creative workers also serves as an ever-timely warning from history about the importance of maintaining vigilance in the face of totalitarian thinking and systems of oppression. 

Frank's book list on the Hollywood blacklist

Frank Krutnik Why did Frank love this book?

An editor of my book, Brian Neve has written extensively on the Hollywood Left, with many books, articles, and chapters devoted to filmmakers such as Cy Endfield, Elia Kazan, Robert Rossen, and Joseph Losey, or more broadly to politics and American cinema. A useful complement to the Ceplair & Englund volume, this astute, engaging, and empirically-grounded study explores how a generational cohort of radical and liberal creative practitioners—including Kazan, Losey, Rossen, Abraham Polonsky, Jules Dassin, John Huston, and Orson Welles—were energized by the political culture of the Depression era and sought, in different ways, to navigate the industrial and commercial constraints of Hollywood to produce socially-engaged films. This project was brutally stifled by the blacklist, with many filmmakers forced to choose between exile or collaboration. 

By Brian Neve,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Film and Politics in America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In A Social Cinema: Film-making and Politics in America, Brian Neve presents a study of the social and political nature of American film by concentrating on a generation of writers from the thirties who directed films in Hollywood in the 1940's. He discusses how they negotiated their roles in relation to the studio system, itself undergoing change, and to what extent their experience in the political and theatre movements of thirties New York was to be reflected in their later films.
Focusing in particular on Orson Welles, Elia Kazan, Jules Dassin, Abraham Polonsky, Nicholas Ray, Robert Rossen and Joseph Losey,…

Book cover of Cinema of Paradox: French Filmmaking Under the German Occupation

Yehuda Moraly Author Of Revolution in Paradise: Veiled Representations of Jewish Characters in the Cinema of Occupied France

From my list on French theater and film during German occupation.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am teaching Theater studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Among my courses, “The World of Theater in the Reflection of Cinema" was a notable one. My favorite film was Children of Paradise. However, I was taken aback when a friend questioned the film's alleged anti-Semitic elements. I scrutinized the character of the Old-Clothes Man, Josué, noticing his stereotypical Jewish traits. As my research went further, I discovered the original 1942 script, where Josué played a more significant role as an overt Jewish traitor, ultimately slain by the film's hero, Deburau. This revelation prompted extensive research in Paris and Jerusalem, uncovering veiled Jewish portrayals in other French films made during the German occupation.

Yehuda's book list on French theater and film during German occupation

Yehuda Moraly Why did Yehuda love this book?

Cinema of Paradox is a captivating journey into the intricate world of French cinema during the challenging years of the Nazi occupation of France. This book offers a unique window into a period when the French film industry not only survived but flourished, producing enduring classics like Carne's Children of Paradise.

Evelyn Ehrlich's meticulous exploration guides us through the tapestry of French filmmaking from the outbreak of World War II in 1939 to the liberation of France in 1944. What sets this book apart is its comprehensive approach, delving into the political, cultural, and social context that shaped the cinematic landscape in occupied France. It also sheds light on the occupiers' perspective, revealing the surprising encouragement from the Nazis for the French to maintain their high cinematic standards for their own purposes.

Though the book doesn’t approach the problem of veiled representations of Jewish characters in French cinema, Cinema of…

By Evelyn Ehrlich,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Cinema of Paradox as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From 1940 to 1944 the French cinema thrived both economically and artistically under the Nazi occupation. Despite the harsh and grim conditions of defeat, the French film industry produced many good films and a few enduring classics, including Carne's Children of Paradise, one of the most beloved of all French films. Cinema of Paradox reveals, for the first time in English, the difficult course of French filmmaking from the declaration of war in 1939 through four years of misery to France's liberation in 1944. Evelyn Ehrlich examines the conditions of filmmaking as they reflected the larger political, cultural, and social…