Over the years some of the most common questions I get is "What Disney books would you suggest?" and "Where do you learn all this stuff about Disney?" Rather than create a video that will grow outdated over time, I've decided to put together this page so that I can constantly update it with a list of suggested Disney history books for the curious reader looking to learn more about Disney!
Full disclosure: All of the links below are Amazon affiliate links. If you decide to purchase any of these books through the links below, it will in-turn support the channel!
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Walt & Roy - The Disney Brothers
There are many choices out there when it comes to biographies about Walt himself, and this one happens to be my favorite. This is an in-depth look at the man behind it all, from his childhood in Missouri up until his plans for Epcot and his unfortunate death in the 60's.
To anyone who has read a Walt Disney biography, a book like this might seen a bit redundant, especially when you consider how closely Walt worked with his brother Roy. However this book does a great job of offering an alternative perspective during crucial times in Disney's history, one that focuses on the business.
The Parks - The Happiest Places on Earth
The cover makes this book look like one of the many annual guidebooks to vacationing in Disney, however in actuality it's a wonderful and in-depth look back at the history of the building and operation of Disneyland in California, from the day Walt purchased land to the opening of Disney's California Adventure.
Much in the same way The Disneyland Story is a fantastic look back at the history of Disneyland, Realityland is similarly a wonderful look at the construction and opening of Walt Disney World in Florida. It goes into the practical issues of building the parks, as well as it's growth over the years.
While less of a history book, Cleaning the Kingdom is a fascinating look at the work that goes into being a member of the custodial staff at Disneyland, and what it takes to preserve the magic by keeping it clean behind-the-scenes. There's even a chapter with a bunch of gross anecdotes!
It Takes People: Imagineers & Leaders
Charles Ridgway was a Disney Legend who had worked in the PR department for Disney, helping to promote everything from Disneyland to Disney World, to even Disneyland Paris. This book is his memiors from his long time at Disney, which even included working with Walt.
Jack Lindquist started his career at Disney just after the opening of Disneyland, and ultimately climbed to the position of President of Disneyland before he retired. This book contains plenty of random anecdotes about his time working for Walt and the parks.
Mr. Sklar is another Disney legend on this list. His decades at Walt Disney Imagineering and his history of working with Walt himself fill out an interesting and impression career at Disney. For any park fan this is a must read.
Rolly Crump is among the handful of Disney legends on this list and he is by far the most eccentric. This book is full of great little stories about his years as a Disney Imagineer and offers lots of interesting facts and origins for some of the most memoriable Disneyland attractions.
Another title by Mr. Sklar, this book focuses more on Imagineering itself. The first half of this book covers the ten essential design principles that all Imagineers follow in their projects, and instances in which things went well and instances where they didn't. The second half of the book is a medley of letters and stories from Disney Imagineers about their time at the Disney company.
The Eisner Era
Disney War by James B. Stewart
This is by far my favorite Disney history book. Covering the entirety of Michael Eisner's time as Disney CEO, this book takes a deep dive into the business decisions behind the "Disney decade". You won't see much about magic and joy here. This is very much about the business of Disney, but that's what makes it such a good read.
Keys to the Kingdom similarly covers the Michael Eisner era, including his time at ABC and Paramount Pictures. While a good read, I felt this book was pretty clearly biased against Eisner, so ultimately this book serves better as a supplement to Disney War than a replacement. I consider it a good second book in what I call the "Eisner Trilogy"
This is probably the oddest book on my list. An auto-biography by Michael Eisner is bound to be biased, and to be honest this book is. However I think it offers an important balance of perspective (not to mention a personal one) when it comes to learning about his era of the Disney company, making it worth a read. With this being too far in favor of Eisner, and Keys to the Kingdom being too far against him, the two together act as great compliments. Top it off with Disney War and you'll have the most complete look at his time as CEO.
This book chronicles the worrisome period in the mid 1980s when Disney was the target of a couple of attempts of a hostile takeover, an incident that ultimately resulted in the hiring of Michael Eisner and Frank Wells. What other books cover as a chapter of the company's history, this covers as a full book. Thematically it's essneitally a "prequel" to what I consider the Eisner trilogy.
Similar to the way Storming the Magic Kingdom is a hyper-focused look on the takeover attempt of Disney, The Disney Touch dials in on the critical few years following the introduction of Eisner and Wells. This book covers their start in 1984 to around 1990 and details how the two turned the company around and expanded it in size. This is a great follow-up to Disney War if you want even more details on that period of the era.
More Disney History
Korkis is a Disney Historian and by his own merits a Disney legend. You may have heard him on one of his many guest appearances on the WDW Radio Show. He has a talent for telling engaging and memorable stories about the parks and the company, and with this series he puts many of these stories to paper.
This series needs a bit of explaining. This is not about the history of Walt Disney World. This is about the history that inspired the attractions at Walt Disney World. If you ever wondered how historically accurate rides at Disney World were, this book will give you an idea. It also highlights just how much work Imagineers put into every project.
Volume two of this series continues on the format of Volume one, picking five locations and attractions at Walt Disney World and diving into the real life history behind them. The Spaceship Earth chapter is especially interesting, as the book covers each and every scene from the ride, and what the actual history of the time was like. For example Kiste uses visual clues to actually narrow down the year the Roman scene in the attraction takes place.
This book is exactly what you think it is, a fun collection of Walt Disney quotes. You won't learn much about Disney history here, but you'll get some insight to the man behind it all. The quotes in this book are all split up into categories, ranging from the parks and business to family life and creativity.
To be 100% clear, there is VERY LITTLE Disney history in this book. I actually hesitated to even put this book on the list. Tomorrow-land is both a look at the history of the 1964/65 New York World's Fair, as well as a look at the shift in American culture at that time. Since Walt was involved in four pavilions during the fair, there is some mention of him and his attractions, but it is brief. Instead, I put this book on the list because I felt it offered great insight into what American culture was looking like in the mid 1960s, which likely was a big driving force behind Walt wanting to build EPCOT as well as maintain a walled garden with Disneyland.
Fun Disney Reading
If you're new to the series, Disney Kingdoms is a series of short-run comic books based on attractions and ideas at Disney. Out of them, this series is by far my favorite. It follows the four birds of the Enchanted Tiki Room as they deal with the pressures of performing the same show every night along with a series of families as they visit the tropical island the show is set on. The humor in this series is really dry and it's probably one of the few times I've laughed out loud while reading a comic book.
While this isn't laugh-out-loud funny in the way the Enchanted Tiki Room series is, I love how this series really fleshes out the backstory of the world of the runaway train ride. Even better, it does so in a complimentary way to the ride so that when you go back and pay close attention to the details of the ride queue, you'll find connections between these comics and the ride. It's a fantastic way to add depth to an attraction without being there to ride it!
This is an interesting read for sure (and dealing with some adult themes, it's not for children.) This book takes place in a far future where death is no longer a problem and life has gotten so easy that all work done is voluntary. In such a world, The Magic Kingdom is entirely staffed with volunteer fans of the Disney Parks, and the park itself is split into separate lands that are independently governed. Conflict arises when the workers from one land want to step in to upgrade and alter a beloved Disney World classic, The Haunted Mansion.