July 6, 2017

Books About Spielberg


A number of books have been written about Spielberg’s life, career and films. Some take a broad view, covering everything he’s ever made, while some focus on just one film or a handful of them.

In this section, From Director Steven Spielberg looks at the Spielberg library and guides you on which books are worth getting and which are best left gathering dust on the shelf.

Biographies

Steven Spielberg: A Biography (Joseph McBride)
The ultimate Spielberg book. McBride’s work is biography and critical analysis in one, and it’s unparalleled as both. Originally released in 1997 and updated in 2010 to include everything up to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Steven Spielberg: A Biography should be the first port of call for anyone, at any level, looking to learn more about the director.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Steven Spielberg (Philip M Taylor)
Released in 1991, this vintage book covers everything up to Hook in its first publication (an expanded version covers everything up to Saving Private Ryan). It’s not one for people looking for a complete overview, but it’s unique in that it took Spielberg seriously before Schindler’s List, which is when most critics joined in. An interesting and worthwhile study containing some lesser seen Spielberg quotes.
★ ★ ★ ★

Steven Spielberg: The Unauthorised Biography (John Baxter)
Blending biography and analysis, Baxter’s book is in a similar vein to McBride’s, but much less successful. Baxter comes across as a man with an agenda, and parts of his book seem determined to paint Spielberg in a negative light. Though it’s illuminating in parts, The Unauthorised Biography is mostly a frustrating read.
★ ★ ★

The Steven Spielberg Story (Tony Crawley)
Released in 1983, this is a fascinating historical artefact that gives the reader a unique insight into the director at that point in time. Well-written and researched, it’s full of biographical detail and making-of information that’s been lost to the sands of time. However, it’s now so out of date that it’s certainly not one to buy if you’re looking for a comprehensive overview.
★ ★ ★

Steven Spielberg: The Making of his Movies (George Perry)
A lightweight offering, but not one to be dismissed. Perry offers a concise overview of the making of all Spielberg’s films up to Saving Private Ryan, and an archive of Variety reviews provides added value. Not essential, but a solid purchase.
★ ★ ★

Steven Spielberg (Molly Haskell)
Haskell took this assignment to reassess her views on Spielberg, but there’s precious little reconsideration to be found here. Satisfying neither as biography nor critical work, ‘Steven Spielberg’ cribs heavily from McBride and fails to cover more recent films in sufficient detail. When Haskell finds a point she’s truly passionate about, her insight is invaluable, but such moments are few and far between.
★ ★ ★

Critical and Analytical Works

Pocket Essentials: Steven Spielberg (James Clarke)
A handy overview of all Spielberg’s films up to Saving Private Ryan. Short, but highly informative, this is a concise piece of work that’ll give you all the essentials for Spielberg studies. A great first step for anyone looking to learn more about the director and his work.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Masters of Cinema: Steven Spielberg (Clelia Cohen)
Produced by legendary French film journal Cahiers du Cinema, Masters of Cinema: Steven Spielberg is a slim but satisfying volume. Cohen’s assessments are smart, unique and insightful, without being too advanced, and the book is a great option for anyone looking to take their interest in Spielberg to the next level. Accessible and highly recommended.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Empire of Light: The Cinema of Steven Spielberg (Nigel Morris)
One of the most in-depth and complete analytical assessments of Spielberg’s career on the market. Morris covers all Spielberg’s films up to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and goes into great detail on each one. Very highly recommended, though possibly too advanced for those not familiar with film theory.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Darkness in the Bliss-Out (James Kendrick)
Focusing on a handful of films (including Close Encounters, E.T., and Empire of the Sun), Kendrick reconsiders Spielberg’s work and exposes the darkness lying beneath their surface. The revelatory chapter on the Indiana Jones franchise alone is worth the purchase.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Directed by Steven Spielberg (Warren Buckland)
An in-depth and challenging insight into Spielberg’s directorial style. ‘Directed by Steven Spielberg’ is a difficult, dry and highly analytical read, but one that’s well worth the effort. Highly recommended, but by no means the place to start for those engaging with serious Spielberg studies for the first time.
★ ★ ★ ★

Empire of Dreams (Andrew M Gordon)
A psychoanalytical look at Spielberg’s science fiction and fantasy films. Gordon’s analysis is thorough, and while his theories can sometimes raise eyebrows (the Duel and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom chapters are, uhm, unique) they are never less than interesting. A worthwhile read, but not quite an essential one.
★ ★ ★ ★

Children in the Films of Steven Spielberg
A compendium featuring a wide range of essays focused on a single subject, Children in the Films of Steven Spielberg is a complex and academic read that isn’t for those new to Spielberg studies. The writing here is dry and deeply analytical and even those who are well-versed in film may struggle. However, for those willing to challenge themselves, there is smart, interesting and sometimes genuinely revealing writing here.
★ ★ ★ ★

Film-Specific, Art-Ofs and Making-Ofs

The Jaws Log (Carl Gottlieb)
One of the most celebrated film books of all time, The Jaws Log arguably established the making-of genre of film books that’s so popular today. As one of the film’s writers, Gottlieb has a critical insight into the making of Jaws and he conveys it with a writer’s eye to detail and tone. To read The Jaws Log is to get an education not just into Jaws, but how a major Hollywood movie is made, and for that reason it’s more just just an essential read, it’s an essential resource.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Spielberg, Truffaut and Me (Bob Balaban)
Bob Balaban’s account of the making of Close Encounters of the Third Kind isn’t quite as celebrated as The Jaws Log, but it’s still an essential volume. Detailing his casting in the film, its production, his relationship with Spielberg and – most wonderfully of all – his relationship with Francios Truffaut, Balaban’s diary is warm, witty and genuinely revealing. A must for fans of the film, and fans of film, everywhere.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Testimony: The Legacy of Schindler’s List and the USC Shoah Foundation (The Shoah Foundation)
Released to mark the 20th anniversary of Schindler’s List, this book offers a critical insight into a matter close to Spielberg’s heart. While the film segments are great, the real value is in what ‘Testimony’ has to say about the Shoah Foundation, the charitable organisation Spielberg set up after Schindler’s List to ensure historical remembrance of the Holocaust. Heartbreaking and riveting in equal measure, ‘Testimony’ shows the huge impact Spielberg has had both on screen and off.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Spielberg’s Holocaust: Critical Perspectives on Schindler’s List (ed Yosefa Loshitzky)
One of the first major critical appraisals of Schindler’s List, this 1997 book remains the best. Spielberg’s Holocaust takes on Schindler’s List from all angles, finding a broad range of critical inputs and insights. The results are not always positive towards the film, but they are always interesting and vital. A complex but highly recommended read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Lincoln: A Cinematic and Historical Companion (Laurent Bouzereau and David Rubel)
A truly astonishing volume, Laurent Bouzereau and David Rubel’s book is one of the best Making-Ofs I’ve ever read. Delving deep into every area of production, Bouzereau’s section gives you all the information you could possibly want about Lincoln the film, while Rubel’s goes in-depth on Lincoln the man. Both are wonderful, and the book as a whole is indispensable.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Steven Spielberg and Duel: The Making of a Film Career (Steven Awalt)
Former editor of the much-missed SpielbergFilms website, Steven Awalt graduates to book form with this comprehensive look at the making of Spielberg’s debut, Duel. Blending the passion of a fan with the studious research of an academic, Awalt delivers a fascinating tome that sheds new light on both the film and its director. An essential read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A.I. Artificial Intelligence: From Stanley Kubrick to Steven Spielberg – The Vision Behind the Film (Jan Harlan and Jane Struthers)
A typically excellent work from Jan Harlan, this account of the long production of A.I. cuts through the tedious myth and finds the truth about the picture. Showing the film Kubrick wanted to make (it’s much the same as the one Spielberg made) and how it came into Spielberg’s hands, this brilliant book features fascinating text and beautiful production design images. One of the best, and most important, accounts of the making of a Spielberg film.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Making of Jurassic Park (Don Shay and Jody Duncan)
Possessing the rare distinction of being featured in the film whose production it describes, ‘The Making of Jurassic Park’ is a comprehensive and beautifully laid-out look at Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster. As with many books of its type, there’s a little too much description of the effects for my taste, but Shay and Duncan make even the most technical details fascinating. A must-read for Jurassic Park fans.
★ ★ ★ ★

The Making of The Lost World: Jurassic Park (Jody Duncan)
More great work from Duncan on the Jurassic Park sequel. There’s even more description of the effects here, but it doesn’t affect overall quality. ‘The Making of The Lost World: Jurassic Park’ gives fascinating insight into Spielberg’s only non-Indiana Jones sequel.
★ ★ ★ ★

The Art of The Adventures of Tintin
Tintin marked Spielberg’s first feature-length foray into animation, a form he’d admired for years. It’s a shame then that the Art of The Adventures of Tintin doesn’t feature more input from the director about his approach to the film and affection for animation. Despite this, the book is packed with gorgeous concept art and detailed insight from those who created it, so it’s certainly a worthwhile addition to the library of anyone who enjoys the film, Tintin or cinematic concept art.
★ ★ ★ ★

War Horse: Pictorial Movie Book
As the title suggests, this isn’t an art of or making of but rather a collection of behind-the-scenes images that show Spielberg and his cast and crew on the set of the film. It’s therefore a lightweight read, but it does contain some nice quotes from key players as well as a foreword from Spielberg and the film’s screenwriter Richard Curtis. A beautiful, but inessential, coffee table book.
★ ★ ★

A.I. Artificial Intelligence – Kubrick’s Story, Spielberg’s Film (Julian Rice)
An in-depth and complicated analytical work that uses psychoanalysis and a close reading of Kubrick and Spielberg’s directorial styles to understand A.I.. This isn’t a book for newcomers to film studies, but it’s a rich and rewarding read for those willing to challenge themselves.
★ ★ ★ ★

General

Tellin’ Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg (Virginia M. Mecklenburg, Todd McCarthy)
Spielberg and George Lucas offered some of their Norman Rockwell collections to the Smithsonian for an exhibition in 2010, and this book acted as a companion for the show. Featuring interviews with both directors, it’s a riveting insight into both Rockwell himself and the influence he’s had on Spielberg and Lucas. A vital piece of work for understanding Spielberg’s films.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Complete Spielberg (Ian Freer)
Though a little out of date now, this 2001 volume from Empire magazine’s go-to Spielberg guy Ian Freer is a great introductory guide. Blending analytical insight with fun behind-the-scenes information, The Complete Spielberg plays well to everyone, whether you’re just getting started in Spielberg studies or are eager for a worthwhile new read.
★ ★ ★ ★

Steven Spielberg: A Retrospective (Richard Schickel)
One of the few overviews to feature new input from Spielberg himself, ‘Steven Spielberg: A Retrospective’ doesn’t satisfy like it should. Schickel makes some significant factual errors and never really gets under his subject’s skin, choosing instead to ask simple questions and offer basic analysis. There are certainly interesting passages, but not enough for this to live up to its huge potential.
★ ★ ★

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