Many books focus on Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Walt Disney Imagineering, the international Disney theme parks, and even specific attractions in the parks. Over the years, I’ve spent more money than I care to think about building my collection of Disney titles. My collection contains mostly official Disney releases, and, as the title indicates, focuses on titles that have a theme park connection. It’s light on biography and prose-heavy titles; most books in my collection are coffee table books with strong visual elements. These are just the types of books I prefer; your tastes may vary. I can only imagine the thousands of additional dollars I’d have to spend for a truly exhaustive collection of all Disney books!
Many of these books are out-of-print, so they can only be purchased on the secondary market. Luckily, you can still find many of them on Amazon.com for prices ranging from $.01 to a few dollars (click each title for current prices on Amazon.com). Unfortunately, a few of them cost far more than that, but values on most of these rarer titles only continues to rise, so consider buying to be a “pragmatic investment” if you need to justify a purchase! First, I’ll give an overview of titles in my collection from Walt Disney’s Original Magic Kingdom, Disneyland, then offer titles from its younger sibling, Walt Diseny World, and finally conclude with assorted titles.
These books focus solely on Disneyland. They may touch upon other parks briefly, but their impetus is Disneyland.
Disneyland Then, Now, and Forever – This is a great place to start your collection, so I’m leading with it. It’s not the best title on the Disneyland list (I’d rank it #4), but it’s relatively inexpensive and offers some information about extinct attractions that pre-dated present favorites at Disneyland. My personal favorite is the “What was there before Big Thunder Mountain,” which covers an especially intriguing attraction to me: the Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland. It’s not as comprehensive as some of the titles that follow, but it’s a great way to get your feet wet.
Disneyland the Nickel Tour: A Postcard Journey Through 40 Years of the Happiest Place on Earth – Unquestionably the best book about Disneyland, Nickel Tour is humorous, detailed, fun to read, and a great resource. Unfortunately, it’s also rare and incredibly expensive. That said, I think it’s well worth the money, as hard as that is to believe. Look up other reviews (many of which note the price) and try to find me a single person who says that Nickel Tour isn’t worth it. I doubt you’ll be able. I was skeptical myself, but I’m very glad I forked over the money for this wonderful title. The premise of Disneyland Nickel Tour is brilliantly simple: use a complete set of Disneyland postcards (and other photos) as a vehicle for telling the story of Disneyland. That said, it’s the execution that really shines. The authors spent over a decade, on and off, researching and writing this title, and it really shows. Laden with their unique brand of humor, I’ve found this voluminous 392-page title to be quite the page turner. The current market price for Nickel Tour will only increase in the coming years (it has already increased since I purchased it in 2011) as both authors are deceased and the publisher is out of business. It’s very unlikely that any reprints or future editions will be written.
Disneyland: Inside Story – Prior to Disneyland Nickel Tour, Imagineer Randy Bright’s Disneyland Inside Story held the crown as the best and most comprehensive Disneyland book ever written. At 240 pages, this book presents quite the history, along with some exceptional photos. Although the book was written in the late 1980s, surprisingly, it doesn’t feel incomplete as to Disneyland (it obviously doesn’t cover Disney California Adventure). It can be a bit on the pricey side, but it’s another title that is well-worth the money.
The Art of Disneyland – The Art of Disneyland is another expensive title that is an essential for any Disneyland collector. For that matter, it’s an essential for any Disney collector. Seeing the early art in this title gives me goosebumps, and reading the story of Herb Ryman being told be Walt that he was going to draw the now-famous concept art for Disneyland always brings a smile to my face. While Nickel Tour and Inside Story are great titles as they present a near-complete account of Disneyland’s history, The Art of Disneyland is a totally different beast entirely. It’s a visual treat with its amazingly detailed concept art, just don’t be surprised if once you open it you can’t put it down. My favorite portions of the book (unsurprisingly) involve the various incarnations of Tomorrowland. Although I did laugh at the authors positive remarks about the warm colors in Tomorrowland ’98. They were joking, right?!
Disneyland, Memories of a Lifetime – This book is one of the best of the newer titles. Author Tim O’Day knows his stuff, and presents his knowledge well (as you know if you’ve ever seen him host a Disney panel). This title has some of the best photos out of all of the books here, too. From a historical perspective, it doesn’t hold a candle to Disneyland Nickel Tour or Disneyland Inside Story, but it’s a valuable title, nonetheless.
Disneyland Dreams Traditions and Transitions – This is another title that I found surprisingly good. It’s not as good as the upper echelon, but the photos are pretty good and unique from other Disneyland books, and the accompanying text is good. Plus, it’s relatively inexpensive, so you really can’t go wrong with this title.
Disneyland Hotel – The Early Years – As soon as you open this book, you can tell it was a passion-project. It’s such a niche title, but it is so incredibly well-researched and presented that I think it could be of interest to most Disney theme park fans. I’ve never stayed at the Disneyland Hotel, but I found myself really intrigued by its incredible history. Kudos to Mr. Ballard for creating this title!
Disneyland the First Quarter Century – The First Quarter Century is fairly similar to The First Thirty Years, which is also very similar to The First Thirty-Five Years. Each title does differ slightly from one the others. The photos in these are unique and offer a nice snapshot in time of Disneyland just before the halfway point of its existence. Text is okay, too. Since the photos and text is largely the same in all of these titles, there’s little sense in owning all three.
Disneyland: The First Thirty Years – Very similar to the other two collector’s books that bookend it, but this is probably my favorite of the three. It seems to have slightly better photos and I really like the cover. Lame justification, but it is what it is. It’s cheap, so it’s not a bad idea to pick it up even if you own the others.
Disneyland: The First Thirty Five Years – Apparently nothing happened in five years, as this book is nearly identical to its predecessor. I haven’t gone through and counted, but I’d say 80-85% of the content is duplicative. Still, a cheap title for completionists.
Disneyland – There’s Magic In The Stars – Celebrating 45 Years Of Magic – I list this book last not because it’s the worst, but because it has suddenly become prohibitively expensive. I purchased it from Amazon for $9.99. Now, it’s exponentially more. If you see it for $20 or less, grab it. It’s actually a good title with plenty of unique photos, so it’s worth monitoring if you can’t currently find it for a reasonable price. It’s just simply not worth the nearly $100 sellers want for it now.
These are the Walt Disney World-centric titles in my collection. Some deal with Disneyland as a prefatory background, but none of them focus on the original Magic Kingdom or any other parks.
Since the World Began: Walt Disney World – The First 25 Years – Not the best Walt Disney World book (#3rd overall), but a cheap way to start your collection. It’s detailed with plenty of interesting text, and features an awesome snapshot in time during a great time in Walt Disney World history (1996). It includes fairly common information, but also more detailed information such as the rationale behind the coloring on the roadway signs at Walt Disney World. I upgraded my copy from the softcover to the hardcover version because I enjoy this book so much.
The Art of Walt Disney World – This is by far the best book on this list, but it is a tad pricey. The book features mostly concept art and explanations thereof, much of the art predating the Resort itself, and much also never coming to fruition. I consider those shots perfect visual explorations. The art in the book is large while the text is kept small (as it should be), and the layout is wonderful. I found myself wanting to race through the book to find certain art I knew was there (based on online reviews) only to stop and carefully gaze at breathtaking artwork I’d never seen. The “re-readability” factor of this book is incredibly high, and it would make the perfect coffee table book for any fan.
Gardens of the Walt Disney World Resort – Not to be confused by a newer title with a similar name (Glorious Gardens), this book is absolutely amazing, and shows just how beautiful Walt Disney World once was with its many gardens and water fixtures. I gush over this book at length in my full review of it.
Walt Disney’s Epcot: The New World of Tomorrow - Any fan of EPCOT Center owes it to themselves to have this book in their collection. There are actually four versions of this book and they’re dramatically different from one another. There are two large ones that are 240 pages each and two smaller ones that are 127 pages each. The biggest difference between the larger books is when they were produced, either pre-opening or post-opening of EPCOT Center; they also have different titles (EPCOT v. EPCOT Center in the names). The pre-opening versions contain more photos of models, whereas the post-opening version contain photos of actual pavilions. The 240 page version is obviously the better version to get, but it’s difficult to determine which you’re getting until it arrives at your doorstep. Luckily, these are cheap-enough that it’s not overly expensive to order a few copies until you get the ones you want. I’m still trying to complete my collection of the variants of this book. Only one to go!
Walt Disney World: A Magical Year By Year Journey – Another great option because of its price and due to the time period in which it was produced (1998), this book has become a real favorite of mine as a Wikipedia-style source of background information concerning attractions, and a timeline of the resort in general. Most of the photos are overly-staged or edited “Guide Map Style” pictures, but they’re cool and different, nonetheless.
Around the World with Disney – This book is an interesting departure from the standard souvenir books produced each year, as it compares and contrasts attractions from the global parks to one another with a strong emphasis on Walt Disney World. It’s not necessarily a Walt Disney World book per se, but it seems there’s an emphasis on the Florida parks. It hasn’t been out of print for more than a few years, but it’s surprisingly cheap given its out-of-print status and unique nature. I haven’t seen too many copies of this pop up on eBay, which is usually indicative of a shortage. I’d snatch this book up now, as it wouldn’t surprise me if it hits $50 or more in the next couple of years.
Walt Disney World Then, Now, and Forever – One of the more recent titles, this is one of the rare titles that showcases current attractions and extinct attractions that were previously there in their place. The Disneyland version, review forthcoming, is far superior, but this book is no slouch in its own right. This version focuses primarily on the “Now” whereas Disneyland’s focuses primarily on the “Then.” This one was co-authored by the now deceased Bruce Gordon (buy any book you can bearing his name–they’re all gems), which means it has shot up in price since going out-of-print. Even though it was released in 2008, copies of it regularly sell for $50.
Walt Disney World 15th Anniversary Edition – The proper title of this book is simply “Walt Disney World” but I added the 15th anniversary portion to differentiate it from 1993′s book by the exact same title. This is a souvenir book in premise, but the photos are gorgeous and this book probably has the coolest cover of any souvenir book ever released. If you only buy one title between this, The First Decade, and 20 Magical Years (as all feature fairly similar photos) make it this.
The Making Of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park – This book, by Joe Rohde’s wife, is far more text-heavy than any of the other titles on this list. The author had amazing behind the scenes access during the construction of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and this book reflects that. It’s not a mere touristy fluff piece. It contains very interesting photos and descriptions of the park. Any fans of Animal Kingdom, or anyone who wants to appreciate the park more, should check this out.
Walt Disney World: The First Decade – The content of this book is fairly similar to the 15th anniversary edition, but it does contain some really cool photos, notably of Cinderella Castle. If you must have a complete collection (like me), make sure to pick this up, but if you’re a casual collector, owning this or the 15th anniversary version is probably sufficient. The obvious advantage to the 15th anniversary edition is that it includes EPCOT Center.
Walt Disney World Resort 100 Years of Magic – 100 Years of Magic is incredibly similar to the Souvenir for the New Millennium title. Very similar. Near the same number of pages, 80% of the same photos similar. They basically have different covers and layouts. Luckily, they’re both really cheap and easy to find.
Walt Disney World Resort: A Souvenir For The New Millennium – Nearly identical to 100 Years of Magic. Can be purchased cheaply, but only purchase if you’re a completionist.
Walt Disney World (1993) – Fairly unique photos (including a hilarious one of some tourists wearing decidedly 90s Little Mermaid shirts) in a book organized by attraction, this book is one to definitely check out. Features fairly in-depth coverage of The Disney-MGM Studios and the Vacation Kingdom.
Walt Disney World 20 Magical Years - This title is pretty similar to the 15th anniversary title, but does feature some new photos. Because it’s relatively cheap, I think it’s also worth picking up. There is another title, released the year before this, simply called Walt Disney World with a white cover, the Castle, and fireworks, that I’ve heard is almost identical to this. I haven’t been able to acquire that version yet.
These are books that might cover Disneyland and/or Walt Disney World, but can’t be specifically placed on only either list.
Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look At Making the Magic Real - I honestly don’t have the superlatives to describe this book. Quite simply, it will change the way you look at the Disney theme parks. It includes information about the design process, why certain details are significant, and how things in the parks came to be (or didn’t come to be). Had I found this back in 1996 when it was released, I honestly think I might have pursued a different career path. As it stands, it’s one of the titles to which I turn when I want to be inspired, and it has never let me down. Every Disney theme park fan should own this book.
Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making More Magic Real- The 2010 follow-up to the above title, this is another must purchase. It’s currently around $32 on Amazon for the hardcover edition (as compared to $60 in Walt Disney World or Disneyland), and it’s worth every penny. The 1996 original was due for a follow-up, considering that Disney California Adventure, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Tokyo DisneySea had all opened since then. It covers these parks and other newer developments wonderfully. It illuminates the design-process, the rationale behind specific details, and provides stunning fold-outs and ‘different’ page-types within the book. I’m actually a bit shocked that it sells for only ~$30. If you only buy two books on this entire list (including the Walt Disney World and Disneyland-specific titles), these two Imagineering: Behind the Dreams titles should be the two you purchase. They are absolute MUST-OWN titles.
Poster Art of the Disney Parks - The newest entry in my collection is one of the best. Much like the Behind the Dreams books listed above, Poster Art is an oversized coffee table book by Walt Disney Imagineering. Unlike the broadly focused Behind the Dreams books, Poster Art narrows its focus to a single topic: Disney theme park posters. More than just a catalog of posters, this book shares concept art, artist quotes, and other information concerning the technical and artistic process. These posters are a sterling example of the creativity and attention that goes into theme park creation, and this book is sure to give even the most ardent Disney fan a new appreciation for the posters that make them smile each time they enter the parks.
Designing Disney’s Theme Parks: The Architecture of Reassurance – If you purchase the two Imagineering titles above and find yourself wanting something more, this is the title to which you should turn. It is considerably more academic in nature, with more text and fewer diagrams and photos than in other books, but don’t let that scare you away. Editor Karal Ann Marling and the essays in the book provide a very thought-provoking, but not unapproachable, glimpse into the design of Disney. It seems to be a more objective title than others on this list that focus merely on the “magic” of Disney. It still does skew heavily toward the positive, but that’s okay by me. If you’re reading this list and searching for Disney books, chances are that you don’t think Disney is a heartless bastion of consumerism that is destroying the world. This is my “sleeper hit” of the list; I really enjoy this book for its depth.
One Day at Disney – Conceptually, I love this book. It’s one day in the worldwide Disney theme parks, presented as the day unfolds around the world. It’s visually engaging because contrasting photos are presented next to one another. While it’s daytime in one park, it might be nighttime in another. This adds a real hook. The photos, largely, are beautiful, too. The text only really offers explanatory captions, which is absolutely fine. My only qualm with the book is that it acts as if these photos are all from one single day in March. That is simply untrue. Some of these photos are in other Disney books on this list that were published decades apart. Otherwise, it’s an amazing book. I paid nearly $50 for my copy, but I see that it’s now as low as $3. (Ouch.)
The Magic of Disneyland and Walt Disney World – I expected very little from this book by Valerie Childs. It was a $.99 purchase, just something to fill out my bookshelf. I was floored when I found a plethora of unique and well-composed photos and a rather nice book. Don’t expect an amazing book, but for the low prices, it’s well-worth purchasing!
The Imagineering Field Guides – Imagineer Alex Wright has done an excellent job with these titles, and they are great take-to-the-park books for guests who want to a bit more background information about the parks or the “why” behind the attractions and lands. I’ve found the Disney’s Animal Kingdom title the most illuminating, but you really ought to purchase all four titles if you’re going to Walt Disney World or the Disneyland title (hopefully a Disney California Adventure version is on the way once the overhaul is complete!) if you’re heading to Disneyland Resort. These titles provide a great in-park companion to supplement the two larger Imagineering titles above.
Designing Disney – John Hench is a Disney Legend, and easily one of the greatest Imagineers of all time. This book is a thoughtful examination of how he and others designed the parks. For only around $17 new on Amazon, it’s a must-own for all fans. It’s approachable-enough for the Disney newcomer, but still has enough depth to satisfy a die-hard fan. Hench himself has always perplexed me. I’ve long been under the impression that he, and others, designed Disneyland on an instinctive, gut level. With this in mind, a lot of his later writings have come across to me as ex post facto intellectual justifications for why these gut decisions were made.
Walt Disney’s Imagineering Legends – Jeff Kurtti authors this title that offers mini-biographies of a number of early Imagineers who all had ties to Walt Disney, in some way, and provides anecdotes, quotes, and some background information about each and how they worked in the grand scheme of the design of the theme parks. Definitely a worth addition to any collection.
The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies – If an attraction-based film is what it takes for more books like this to be written, I hope Disney keeps churning them out. This is an incredibly detailed and well-written book that covers the Haunted Mansion attractions in all of the worldwide parks inside and out. Best of all, it dispels a lot of fan-generated myths about the Haunted Mansion.
Pirates of the Caribbean: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies – Same idea and quality as the Haunted Mansion book, this is another must own. My only complaint: where is my Country Bear Jamboree book, Mr. Surrell?!
The Disney Mountains: Imagineering At Its Peak – Another Jason Surrell-penned title, this book doesn’t have the same must-buy status of the others. Primarily because it’s now out of print and costs well over $50 on the secondary market. My main criticism here is that the book seems somewhat unbalanced and not as probing as the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean titles. To be fair, the former are focused on one attraction, whereas this was focused on multiple mountains, so it necessarily couldn’t have been as in-depth as those titles. There is a lot of concept art, which is great, but the mountains in this book existed at the time of the publication, so more photos would have been appropriate. Still a great book. If you can find a copy for $25 or less, pounce on it.
Many other books in my collection are independent titles produced by third party publishers (ones that Disney doesn’t own). With the proliferation of self-publishing and the interest in the Disney theme parks, in general, it’s not pragmatic to list every Disney book I own here. Here are the highlights:
Disney War – Disney War sparked my fascination with the workings of The Walt Disney Company. Reduced to its most basic terms, it covers the rise and fall of Michael Eisner, culminating in the “civil war” within Disney between Eisner and Roy E. Disney, as the latter undertook his “Save Disney” campaign. It’s my understanding that James B. Stewart was granted unprecedented access to write a book on the Eisner regime before this campaign began unfolding, so he was there to witness it all. It reads almost as a Shakespearean tragedy, and proves that sometimes the truth is more compelling than fiction. I purchased the copy pictured above for $.01 on Amazon.com. Easily the best penny I’ve ever spent!
Walt and the Promise of Progress City – Author Sam Gennawey details the plans for EPCOT as envisioned by Walt Disney before he passed away. This vision was one for an actual community, which was starkly different from the theme park that was eventually built. The author is an urban planning expert, and his knowledge and painstaking research on the title shows.
Hidden Mickeys Guides – The Hidden Mickeys Guides (to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and Disney Cruise Lines) are books that are really fun to take on your trip to give the experience some extra dimension. I only own the Walt Disney World guide, and mine is the second edition. I can only imagine what the newer editions contain!
Project Future: The Inside Story Behind the Creation of Disney World – I have not yet made it finished this book, but I’ve found it very fascinating. That said, I’m an attorney and the book focuses on many of the legal aspects of Walt Disney World’s establishment.
‘Earbook 2011 – Kevin Yee’s ‘Earbook series presents snapshots in time of Walt Disney World and the changes that have occurred to the Vacation Kingdom over the years. Someday these titles will be invaluable to historians. Want List: Books I don’t (yet) own, but would like to purchase at some point in the future.
Building a Dream: The Art of Disney Architecture – I’ve flipped through this a couple of times at Disneyland and it looks intriguing, especially if Disney architecture interests you, but the $60 price scared me away. It’s $40 new from Amazon, so I’ll probably purchase it soon from there.
Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Reality – I’ve heard this described as being better than Disneyland Nickel Tour, which is incredibly high praise. For a while, it was cost-prohibitive for me, as list prices soared above $500 (I never saw copies actually sell for these prices, though). There’s now a second run being printed, and I’m still debating whether a book about a park to which I’ve never been is worth $150 to me. It looks like an amazing book, but even $150 is a lot of money.
Disneyland Through the Decades – This is another book I flipped through at Disneyland but have yet to purchase because of price. Jeff Kurtti is one of the more notable Disney authors, but I have to admit that I wasn’t that impressed with what I saw in this book. It looked fairly superficial with a lot of uninspired photos. In fairness to the author, it wouldn’t surprise me if this is what Disney dictated that the book be to appeal to a more mainstream audience. I’ll purchase it because I’m a completionist, but it didn’t seem like anything special to me.
The Walt Disney World Trivia Books – Lou Mongello is one of my favorite podcasters, but I still haven’t “gotten around” to purchasing his trivia books. I need to fix that soon.
Four Decades of Magic: Celebrating the First Forty Years of Disney World – Another book about which I’ve heard great things, I’ll probably purchase this book in the next few months.
CAUTION: When buying Disney theme park books, make sure the item listing includes a photo. This is why I like Amazon.com so much–they have photos for most listings, unlike half.com and many other websites. Most of these books do not have ISBN numbers and have similar-sounding names, and are thus prone to being mis-listed by sellers if there is no photo on the item page. I’ve received the incorrect book a couple of times. The Disneyland Resort: Pictorial Souvenir above is one such example. No, seller, it’s not “basically the same thing” as Disneyland: Memories of a Lifetime.
The books discussed here aren’t the only ones in my collection, but they’re the ones that I’ve found the most worthy of discussion. I have several other souvenir books and miscellaneous biographies (most of which I have yet to read!), so if you have questions about other titles not listed here, ask!
What books in this list do you own? Which do you like best? What Disney theme park books do you own that aren’t listed here? Share your thoughts in the comments!