There are many books about Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Imagineering, along with biographies of theme park designers. This post reviews the best books in my library, plus the coffee table titles with the most beautiful concept art and photos. Our book buying guide also offer links for finding inexpensive used copies of these Disney Parks titles. (Last updated August 3, 2019.)
Currently, an Amazon search for “Disney books” yields 94,266 results. That’s a lot of books. My Disney library focuses on Disneyland and Walt Disney World coffee table books with strong visual elements, many of which were originally sold as souvenir books in the Disney Parks. There are tons of Disney biographies and other non-fiction titles, and although I have or have read a good number of these, I only touch upon some of what I consider to be the highlights here.
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). A few are quite expensive, costing a few hundred dollars, but most can now be purchased much cheaper than they were when sold new at Walt Disney World or Disneyland.
A word of caution before we begin: although these books are individually cheap, the costs of collecting them is deceptively expensive, and these books can take up a lot of space. When we last moved, I discovered that I had more boxes of Disney books than I did clothing…and books are slightly heavier! (I have no regrets.)
With that, let’s take a look at my Disney theme park library, starting with the essential titles for those of you who want to get your collections started out right!
Must-Have Disney Books
Disney War – This 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. Author James B. Stewart was granted unprecedented access to write a book on the Eisner regime before the “war” 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. Super cheap, and super interesting–it’s a must own.
Walt Disney – An American Original – Understanding the man who started it all is a necessary prerequisite to understanding Disney as it exists today, and this is the best biography about Walt Disney. It’s interesting, illuminating, and captivating above all else, but never feels like it’s devolving into fiction for the sake of entertainment value. Unlike so many Walt Disney biographies, the author doesn’t have an axe to grind, nor is this a puff piece. Instead, it’s a facts-forward historical narrative with some analysis and insight. All in all, it’s a humanizing read about Walt Disney. Read my full review of this book.
Poster Art of the Disney Parks – Much like the Behind the Dreams books listed above, Poster Art is an oversized coffee table book by Walt Disney Imagineering. 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. Tis 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. Read my full review of this book here.
Maps of the Disney Parks – The companion piece (of sorts) to the ‘Poster Art’ title above featuring park maps along with map-like concept art from the parks. This one has been met with more of a mixed response from fans, with most negative reviews fixated on it not being simply a collection of park maps distributed over the years, but can you imagine how dull and repetitive that would’ve become? I found this to be much more engaging than a bunch of map reproductions, but perhaps that’s just me. (I will say that if you’re only buying one of these books, go for the Poster Art one. It’s the better of the two.)
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 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 follow-up to the above title, this is another must purchase. It’s an oversized hardcover coffee table book, and is worth every penny. This covers Disney California Adventure, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Tokyo DisneySea and other newer developments that opened following the first book. It illuminates the design-process, the rationale behind specific details, and provides stunning fold-outs and ‘different’ page-types within the book. 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.
Since the World Began: Walt Disney World – Not the best Walt Disney World book, but a cheap way to start your collection. It’s detailed with plenty of interesting text, and is a snapshot in time during a great time in Walt Disney World history. 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.
The Art of Walt Disney World – This is my favorite book on this list, but it is a tad pricey. It 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 captivated by the breathtaking artwork I’d never seen. It’s the perfect coffee table book for any fan who wants something to randomly flip through from time to time.
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. Even if you don’t care about gardening, this book is awesome. I gush over it at length in my full review of it.
I was skeptical it’d be worth the money, but I’m very glad I bought it. The authors spent over a decade researching and writing this title, and it really shows. This voluminous 392-page title is quite the page turner as the authors inject their humor into it to make the dense history engaging. The value of Nickel Tour will only increase in the coming years 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. Consider this a true investment.
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 coffee table book. At 240 pages, this book balances history with 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.
Walt Disney’s Disneyland – This oversized title by TASCHEN, the world’s leading art book publisher, is the most beautiful Disney book to be released in years. Walt Disney’s Disneyland is interesting, stunning, and an absolute must-have for Disneyland fans. Even if you’re a more of a Florida person, there’s a good amount on Walt Disney here, making it a worthwhile option for WDW fans, too. Read my full review of it here.
The Art of Disneyland – This is another expensive title that is an essential for any Disneyland collector. Seeing the early art in this title gives me goosebumps, and reading the story of Herb Ryman being told by Walt that he was going to draw the now-famous concept art for Disneyland always brings a smile to my face. The Art of Disneyland is a visual treat with its amazingly detailed concept art. My favorite portions of the book 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?!
Walt Disney World
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 version you’re getting until it arrives in the mail.
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. Given its price and the photos, it’s an absolute must-own.
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 simply a fluff piece. This will definitely make you appreciate the park more, and its low price and uniqueness make it a must-own.
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 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. Well worth purchasing.
Walt Disney World Then, Now, and Forever – One of the more recent titles, this is one of the few titles that showcases current attractions and extinct attractions that were previously there in their place. This book 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, copies of it regularly sell for $50.
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’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 (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. If you can find it for $10 or less, get it.
Walt Disney World Resort 100 Years of Magic – This is incredibly similar to the Souvenir for the New Millennium title. Near the same number of pages, 80% of the same photos similar. They basically have different covers and layouts. Buy one or the other.
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.
Disneyland Then, Now, and Forever – This is a great place to start your collection. It’s not the best title on the Disneyland list, but it’s relatively inexpensive, accessible, and offers some information about extinct attractions that pre-dated present favorites at Disneyland. My personal favorite is the section on 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 without breaking the bank.
Disneyland, Memories of a Lifetime – This book is one of the best of the newer titles, and is cheap as compared to the books above. 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 solid 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.
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. Kudos to Mr. Ballard for creating this title!
Disneyland Hotel 1954-1959 – This is Donald Ballard’s follow-up title to The Early Years, and it offers some great insight into the beginnings of the hotel. It is hyper-focused and really interesting for those interested in the early years of Disneyland.
Disneyland the First Quarter Century – The next 3 books are all 75% the same, with minor differences. One of them is worth owning because they are all cheap and offer a nice snapshot in time of Disneyland, but 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.
Imagineering, Details & Design
These are books that might cover Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disney Resort, and/or Hong Kong Disneyland. Basically, books that can’t be specifically placed on only either list above. Plus, some excellent titles on Walt Disney Imagineering.
Designing Disney’s Theme Parks: The Architecture of Reassurance – This is considerably more academic in nature than the books above, 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 as it’s academic, rather than trying to market the parks. 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. This book is on the expensive side, but I feel it’s worth the money given the quality and concept.
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. If you’re going to Walt Disney World or Disneyland Resort, especially for the first time, these titles are a great in-park companion to give you a greater understanding and appreciation of the parks.
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 – 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. If an attraction-based film is what it takes for more books like this to be written, I hope Disney keeps churning them out.
The Disney Mountains: Imagineering At Its Peak – A book featuring text and art of the Disney mountains, this title is somewhat superficial as compared to the Pirates and Haunted Mansion books. To be fair, the former are focused on one attraction each, 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, get it.
Building a Dream: The Art of Disney Architecture – This is another title that pertains to the architecture of the Disney Parks, mostly from the Michael Eisner era. It isn’t exactly critical, but it’s a nice coffee table book that provides insight into design choices.
Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea Books – I’m going to lump all of these books together because they probably don’t interest many of you. All of these books are entirely in Japanese and are overpriced on eBay (about the only place to find them short of going to Japan). The upside? They all feature breathtaking photos of the Tokyo parks, and the photos are the stars of the show, so not reading Japanese makes no difference. I only recommend the 5 books pictured above; there are a lot of other books, but they are all character photos.
Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Reality – This book is right up there with Disneyland Nickel Tour, which is incredibly high praise. For a while, it was cost-prohibitive for me, as list prices soared above $500. Prices have since come down, and I finally purchased it. This book is a big part of the reason why we visited Disneyland Paris. Enough said.
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. Fun “game” for vacation, and a good gateway to noticing other depth in the Disney Parks!
Biographies & Misc.
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…
The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney – For many Disney fans, Walt Disney is the ultimate hero. Between that and The Walt Disney Company’s attempt to market Walt as somewhat of a caricature of a real person, he is often viewed is infallible, more creative than any other human ever, etc. This book does not do that. It also doesn’t demonize him as other books have tried to do. It presents a balanced view of Walt Disney, both good and bad. The stories aren’t as humorous or enthralling as those in some other books, but it’s very interesting, and is the best Walt Disney biography I have read.
Eat Like Walt: The Wonderful World of Disney Food – Thankfully, this is NOT A COOKBOOK. It’s a book about historical stories through the lens of food. With tons of original photos, it feels like taking steps back in time to the early days of Disneyland. It’s an excellent history book and features a ton of striking photos we had never seen before. We highly recommend it–just don’t expect much in the way of recipes!
It’s Kind of a Cute Story – Imagineer Rolly Crump is one of the last Walt Disney-era Imagineers, and this book covers everything from the design and approval process for Disneyland projects to Crump’s relationship with Walt Disney. The best thing about this book is that it was not published by Disney, so instead of trying to sugarcoat Walt Disney’s personality, it presents a more candid take. It is still far from a ‘tell-all’, but you just feel a different tone with it. Another incredibly well done book.
Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney’s Animation – This book is an overdue celebration of the women who played a pivotal role in the early years of Walt Disney’s animation department. The result is a beautiful, informative book that’s shockingly large (at least, its size surprised us). Thoroughly researched and infinitely fascinating, this is a must-have new release.
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. 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. A must own.
Marc Davis: Walt Disney’s Renaissance Man – Biography of another Disney Legend, this one is sort of hit and miss. The art that was curated for the title is mostly stunning, but there are some notable omissions and the text isn’t all that special. If you’re looking for a coffee table book featuring art from one of the most legendary Imagineers of all-time, I recommend it. Read my full review of this book here.
Dream It! Do It! – Marty Sklar’s autobiography is interesting in that Sklar is the only person who has had a hand in opening every single Disney theme park to date. Sklar also had a lot of relationships with key individuals in Imagineering and elsewhere within Disney, and he covers both the good and bad of that. Despite being published by Disney, this book is surprisingly frank. Read my full review here.
From Dreamer to Dreamfinder – If you are a child of EPCOT Center who loved Figment and Dreamfinder, this is for you. Ron Schneider recounts his days as Dreamfinder and in a host of other roles in entertainment at various theme parks. This is another unofficial title that offers a candid, and sometimes depressing (albeit accurate) look on decisions made in theme parks.
The Revised Vault of Walt – Disney historian Jim Korkis knows how to weave a yarn. He has been the guest on several podcasts, and his stories are always really captivating. The same is true here, as he presents 30-some anecdotes about Walt Disney and those around him. Unlike many books that seem to repeat the same stories as one another, this is fresh material presented in a fair and even-handed tone.
A Brush with Disney – Disney Legend Herb Ryman had an illustrious career with Disney, working side-by-side with Walt Disney and doing concept art for the parks for decades. His Disney work is breathtaking, and this book gives insight (perhaps too much) into his non-Disney work as well. It’s pricey, and probably best for the serious Ryman fan.
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.
Travels with Walt Disney– “There’s always a Disney connection.” That’s what we find ourselves saying whenever we travel, no matter where we go. This is for good reason, as Walt Disney was a world traveler, and this book chronicles his adventures and how they influenced his movies and parks. Lots of original photos, and it’s unique to have a profile of Walt’s life through the lens of travel.
One final note: when buying older Disney souvenir books, make sure the item listing includes a photo. 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.
I have a lot of other Disney books in my library, but these are the highlights that pertain to the Disney Parks. I have several other souvenir books and miscellaneous biographies, so if you have questions about other titles not listed here, ask!
We hope this helps you fill your bookcase with Disney Parks titles! If you are considering a purchase of any of these (or anything else for that matter) just click the links here to get to Amazon and navigate to any items you might need. Using these links benefits the site, doesn’t cost you anything, and helps us to keep providing you with useful content!
Which books in this list do you own? Do you have any favorites? Which Disney theme park books do you own that aren’t listed here? Share your thoughts in the comments!