Ever since playing shy prep school student Todd Anderson in the 1989 drama Dead Poets Society, Ethan Hawke has carved a niche in Hollywood for his portrayals of sensitive, cerebral men. Alongside his prolific acting work, he’s directed three feature films, three off-Broadway plays, and a documentary, in addition to writing several screenplays and novels.
Hawke was a theatre major at Carnegie-Mellon when he landed the breakthrough role opposite Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, and left university to pursue acting full-time. Following its success, he appeared in a string of coming-of-age films before playing a brooding college dropout alongside Winona Ryder in the cult Gen X drama Reality Bites. Further praise came for his starring role opposite Julie Delpy in Richard Linklater’s romantic drama Before Sunrise, and its later sequels Before Sunset and Before Midnight.
Other notable film work includes Gattaca, Training Day, Fast Food Nation, and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. Hawke’s role as a flawed father figure in Linklater’s Boyhood – an epic exploration of adolescence shot over the course of 12 years – earned him multiple award nominations, including the Oscar, BAFTA, Golden Globe, and SAG Award for Best Supporting Actor.
An avid reader and library advocate, Hawke co-founded the Young Lions Fiction Award in 2001, an annual prize for fiction writers under 35, and was appointed to the New York Public Library’s board of trustees in 2016. He’s authored the novels The Hottest State (1996), Ash Wednesday (2002), and A Bright Ray of Darkness (2021), as well as the epistolary 2015 parable Rules for a Knight.
Sharing a list of his six most beloved books with The Week, Hawke included tender meditations on war, family, freedom, and fighting for survival. Find his favorites below, and complement with the bookshelves of Ben Affleck, John Cusack and Johnny Depp.
Ethan Hawke’s Reading List
Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden
“Xavier Bird and Elijah Whiskeyjack, the protagonists of Joseph Boyden’s 2005 novel, are two Cree men who served as snipers in the Canadian army during World War I. I read the book in one sitting — literally could not put it down. It is a punch to the gut — an absolutely brilliant novel, not for the faint of heart.” -EH
The Collected Essex County by Jeff Lemire
“This is my favorite graphic novel. The Essex County stories, which follow three generations of a farming family in Ontario, helped me understand that the possibilities of the graphic novel reach beyond anything I had ever imagined. Simple, human, touching, and funny.” -EH
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
“In McBride’s National Book Award–winning novel, John Brown’s plot to raid Harper’s Ferry unfolds through the eyes of a young ex-slave who dresses himself as a girl to escape detection. Traveling ‘incog-negro,’ as he puts it, Henry Shackleford journeys with the militant abolitionist across the country. If you ask me, Mark Twain can kiss McBride’s butt.” -EH
“The story of the Apache Wars needs to be told again and again until the names Geronimo and Cochise are as familiar to young American ears as Washington and Lincoln. Indeh would have been impossible to write without the brilliant research and writing David Roberts poured into Once They Moved Like the Wind. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in the history of the Southwest.” -EH
“I had the great pleasure of interviewing Patti Smith recently at the Tribeca Film Festival. If you have any doubts that the punk pioneer is also one of the greatest living American poets, this book will put them to rest.” -EH
“I read Anna Karenina backstage during a 2006 Lincoln Center production of Tom Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia, a nine-hour epic about mid-19th-century Russian radicals. So I read most of it in full Russian period costume. My advice is to re-create these circumstances whenever possible.” -EH
(via The Week)