With a career in entertainment spanning half a century, John Lithgow has left an indelible mark on stage, screen, and television. Born in Rochester, New York in 1945, the iconic actor made his breakthrough on Broadway, winning a Tony Award for his debut role in The Changing Room. Lithgow continued to flourish on stage, with acclaimed performances in M. Butterfly and The Sweet Smell of Success.

On the silver screen, Lithgow’s showcased his range in a tapestry of star-making turns, from the heartwarming Terms of Endearment to the whimsical The World According to Garp. His TV work is also renowned, with widespread praise for his portrayals of an extraterrestrial physics professor on 3rd Rock from the Sun, a serial killer on Dexter, and Winston Churchill in The Crown.

Aside from acting, Lithgow’s been active in the literary world, having penned a string of children’s books, compiled a poetry book, and narrated a short story collection for Audible. In 2011 he published the memoir, Drama: An Actor’s Education, offering a vivid portrait of his struggles as a young actor and lifelong passion for theater.

Sharing ten of his all-time favorite books with NY-based bookstore One Grand, Lithgow revealed a penchant for sweeping histories, masterful storytelling and emotional intensity. From Philip Roth to Ann Patchett, dive into his reading list below, and check out the bookshelves of other acting legends here.

John Lithgow’s Reading List

Sabbath’s Theater by Philip Roth (also rec’d by Bruce Springsteen)

“This is one crazy book, but I just love it. It’s about a reckless, old, out-of-work puppeteer named Mickey Sabbath who gets himself in all kinds of trouble out of sheer libidinous self-destructiveness. Roth wrote it with exuberant abandon, reflecting the character of Sabbath himself.” -JL

The Last Lion by William Manchester (also rec’d by Elon Musk)

“Reading Manchester’s three Churchill biographies is a mammoth undertaking, but it gives an epic account of an extraordinary life. I took on the role of Churchill recently and Manchester’s magnum opus was my indispensable handbook.” -JL

Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner

“I have to include Faulkner. With multiple narrators, shifts in time, and sentences that go on for a thousand words, it is an Everest-like challenge. But its epic story of the doomed Sutpen dynasty is a masterpiece of Southern literature. Read it slowly (you pretty much have to) and savor every word.” -JL

A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan

“This is the most gripping book I’ve read about the Vietnam War, written by a New York Times journalist who, along with David Halberstam, was one of the best on-the-ground chroniclers of that chapter in our history. And because it focuses on one single, indelible character, it reads like a great novel.” -JL

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

“Here’s a novel of intimate emotion and historical sweep. It tells the twin stories of an Australian doctor’s melancholy love affair and his appalling experience as a war prisoner building the Burma Railway. Most potently, Flanagan makes use of his own father’s real-life biography in telling his story.” -JL

Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families by J. Anthony Lukas

“This is another terrific piece of journalism written years ago about an even earlier time. It’s a portrait of the city of Boston during the racial strife of the ‘60’s and ‘70s. Lucas tracks the lives of three families — African-American, Irish, and upwardly mobile Yankee — to bring the struggles of that era back to life.” -JL

Act One by Moss Hart (also rec’d by Dick Cavett)

“Moss Hart’s memoir of his early years (he died too young to produce Act Two) remains the gold standard among books about the American theater. Fully half of it is about his collaboration with George S. Kaufman on ‘Once in a Lifetime,’ Hart’s breakthrough success. It is the best description of the creative process of theater that I’ve ever read.” -JL

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (also rec’d by Alan Cumming & Elena Ferrante)

“Atwood keeps several plates spinning in this engrossing novel. What a gleeful storyteller she is. Her book is part family saga and part Gothic fantasy, with a plot twist near the end which casts the whole book in a dazzling new light.” -JL

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

“Warning: this is one of the most upsetting books I’ve ever read, but it’s a great one. Set in South Africa, a nation struggling to remake itself in the wake of Apartheid, it tracks a professor’s downfall as he suffers a career-ending scandal followed by a horrific episode in the life of his daughter. It’s a Booker-winning book by a Nobel-winning novelist.” -JL

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett (also rec’d by Constance Wu & Elizabeth Warren)

“Ann Patchett makes use of haunting events in her own life which, coupled with her storytelling skills, lend her book an extra layer of emotional intensity. If you have siblings, and especially if you have half-siblings, it will bring your own childhood back to vivid life.” -JL

(via One Grand Books; photo by Michael Buckner)

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Categories: Actors