Circus student reading list

12 years ago when I went to study circus at university there was a reading week but no reading list, either required or recommended. I don’t know if there’s one now but I thought it would be an interesting challenge to come up with my own list.


The following consist of things I wish I’d been more aware of before taking my degree. My list would have given me things I lacked in 2005 (and perhaps still do).

Some entries provide a wider understanding of circus and related activities such as side-show and magic. I have not included books on the history of theatre or dance as they were included in the course syllabus. For some inextricable reason, the history of circus was not covered on the course. Others entries on the list are featured as an attempt to deepen the students’ knowledge of the creative process and the real world application of such a process.

The UK circus student reading list

If I’d consumed all this stuff I would be in a better position to take a degree in circus.

After sharing this article a couple of people suggested some additions…

Harm van der Laan recommended “The ordinary acrobat”

Charlie Holland, author of one of the books on my list suggested the following…
“I normally did a couple of film lectures (at The Circus Space) and recommended ‘The Golden Age of the Circus‘ by Howard Loxton, as an accessible introduction, and ‘The New American Circus’, by Ernest Albrecht.
The UK circus timeline you link to was iirc derived in part and with my permission from my fuller version (with a couple of small errors I’ve never quite been arsed to correct!) at

For those interested in the development of circus acrobatics, I cannot over-recommend Strehly’s ‘L’Acrobatie et les Acrobates’ – a book that really should be translated into English by someone, one day.”


8 thoughts on “Circus student reading list”

  1. I would add “Trust the process” by Shaun McNiff (2d artist but still really helpful..) and on the PT Barnum I have this 2 VHS cassette tape movie that has a scene showing a day in the life of the real ringmaster (manager not barker) and all the snafus he deals with ~ Epic!! I think modern day or nouveau circus artists just don’t grasp the logistics that were involved nor do they get the family “all hands on deck” everybody is a team from the stars down to the grunts learning the ropes.. all equals! Traditional circus died with the automobile and freeways (opposed to rail) and now everyone is too self absorbed and competitive to call themselves “circus” meaning a show in a circle or a circle squared. You don’t get to perform if you don’t hold your end of the rope when raising the tent and you only teach your trade to one apprentice, opposed to making youtube tutorials thereby putting everyone else out of business. The magician’s creed and carnie lingo can be found in pro wrestling but politicized to shit because of the booker calling storylines or who “wins” ~ Best example of modern circus evolvement. 🐒

  2. Hi Aaron, I so appreciate this compiled list, but some of the books you list just don’t seem possible to acquire. The links to “An Introduction to Contemporary Circus”, “Tactile”, and “Every Trick In The Book” no longer work. “Strange Feats and Clever Turns” looks great, but how to get it? I am teaching History of Circus for the new contemporary circus school in Philadelphia, Circadium. Anyway – thank you again for the post, I have a few new additions to my own wish list.

    1. Well some you can go and read at public libraries or university libraries. Others you could track down via specialist book sellers, book bounty hunters or ask to borrow from those that own them. Tactile is just close to being released as the link said. Or visit other circus schools and view their collections? I believe to achieve a degree in circus, students should expect to source knowledge that might be a harder to reach than just a click on Amazon. Thanks for the heads up on the links though!

  3. Good to hear someone else’s recommendations, cheers! Just started teaching a circus school module on Performance Review and Analysis, and adding actual circus-specific material to the critical theory syllabus is massively important imo!

  4. Thanks for the updated links Arron – I think the problem is that I’m searching on instead of – when I force it to stay on the UK site, some of your items are easier to find. …absolutely noted though that some important texts might take a little extra searching! I just acquired a bunch of new books from one of the American circus libraries and I’ve started keeping track of my collection here: ….not much of the critical / theory material yet, but I’m working on it! My current go-to’s for circus history are Circus: A World History by Rupert Croft-Cooke and Peter Cotes, and A History of the Circus by George Speaight. The English Circus by Ruth Manning-Sanders (1952) is also a surprising gem.

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