Best Books About Disney World, Disneyland & Imagineering in Our Library
There tons of great books about Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Imagineering, biographies of designers & leaders, and more. This reviews the best of my library and coffee table books with beautiful concept art & archival photos. Our buying guide also offers links for finding inexpensive used copies. (Updated April 9, 2023.)
Currently, an Amazon search for “Disney books” yields nearly 100,000 results. That’s a lot of books. My library isn’t quite that large, although sometimes it seems that way! Rather than owning everything, my collection features the best 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. I also own tons of biographies and non-fiction and cover those highlights, as well.
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. 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.
When it comes to these books about Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Imagineering, and so forth, we receive a small commission from your purchases, so buying through these links helps support the site. However, neither the price you pay nor our recommendations are impacted by that.
Actually, it’s the opposite. We will warn you against buying too many books–let us be a cautionary tale! Although these books are individually cheap, the cost of collecting them is deceptively expensive, and books can take up a lot of space. We’ve moved four times since I got “serious” about building my Disney book collection, and my library filled more boxes than everything else…combined! I have no regrets, but my back (and Sarah) might disagree with that assessment.
With that, let’s take a look at my Disney theme park library, starting with the newest books for the 100 Years of Wonder Celebration, followed by essential titles for those of you who want to get your collections started out right!
New Disney100 Books for 2023
The Story of Disney: 100 Years of Wonder – This coffee table book showcases the company’s history and rich legacy―past, present, and future―with text plus concept art and photographs. It starts, fittingly, with Walt Disney’s childhood through to the early years of the companies that he and his brother, Roy, founded. From there, it grows broader in scope and scale, branching out just like the Walt Disney Company itself.
The first half of the book is generally well-done, giving treatment to a wide range of animated and live action movies through the prism of Walt’s early ambitions and technical innovations. The second half is more scattershot, a result of arranging the book into themes rather than recounting the company’s story as a linear narrative. Undertaking such an endeavor–telling the 100 year history of an enterprise as vast as Disney–is herculean, and necessarily trades depth for breadth.
However, the book is also just generally vanilla. To some extent, that’s to be expected; it’s a surface-level retelling of the story aimed mostly at those who aren’t superfans with libraries stocked full of other titles. My favorite part is how Bob Chapek was cut from the story at the eleventh hour before publication (I think the Amazon description when we pre-ordered indicated that he’d be writing the forward), and only includes one passing quote from the former CEO.
The Official Walt Disney Quote Book – This collection of quotations from the co-founder of The Walt Disney Company ranges from the well-known to the obscure, with everything from nuggets of homespun wisdom to specifics about his vision for running the theme parks and making movies. Much of this is well-documented. What I found most fascinating were the chapters about non-business topics: health, wellness, money, education, love, enlightenment, education, family–all of these and more each have dedicated sections in the book.
There’s a lot to chew on if for those who have read many biographies of Walt, but it could’ve been so much more. As it is, the book is lengthy but not actually long–large font and a lot of empty space. Personally, I would’ve appreciated a compilation of transcripts of the interviews from which these quotes are pulled. That would’ve added context, and been more illuminating and insightful. I can understand why the company may not have wanted that, though. Regardless, it’s easy to see why there’s such a reverence for the company and its visionary founder, who is the archetypal charismatic leader.
Walt Disney: An American Original: Commemorative Edition – This is the best biography about Walt Disney (see the below ‘must-have’ entry) reissued for Disney100 and expanded via essays and introductions by four excellent authors of other Disney books. Unfortunately, these sentimental-but-brief intros don’t really add much to the book itself.
The endnotes are arguably a different story, which add ~25 pages of additional context and depth to certain passages of the biography. In the end, this is the version to buy if you want a new hardcover version that looks good on the shelf (the cover is certainly nice). Everyone else–especially those who already own this classic tome–need not purchase this pricier version.
Art of Coloring: Disney 100 Years of Wonder: 100 Images to Inspire Creativity – Like a couple other recent Disney coloring books, this is an unexpectedly pleasant surprise. This carefully-curated collection of illustrations features memorable characters, favorite icons, and visual surprises–and all with an incredible amount of detail. It’s not what you’d expect–skewing adult and vintage. Even many of the newer characters and princesses are presented in Art Deco-style poster layouts. For what it is, this is the best book of the Disney100 offerings.
Must-Have Disney Books
DisneyWar – This sparked my fascination with the workings of the company. It covers the rise and fall of Michael Eisner, culminating in the “civil war” 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. An absolute 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. Unlike 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.
Disney A to Z: The Official Encyclopedia — By the incomparable Disney Legend Dave Smith, this comprehensive encyclopedia covers everything you want to know about the Walt Disney Company. Note that it’s not just about Walt Disney World and Disneyland (although they do feature heavily), but all facets of the company. A must-own resource for all Disney fans.
A Portrait of Walt Disney World: 50 Years of The Most Magical Place on Earth – This is the best Walt Disney World-specific coffee table book ever. In style, structure, and quality, this is more like a Disneyland deep-dive than one of the past Walt Disney World souvenir books. From Florida history pre-Disney and the Preview Center to the development and history of the Vacation Kingdom, there is a wealth of knowledge thoughtfully presented here in a way that is engaging, informative, and entertaining. There are also tons of photos and concept art I’ve never seen–a rarity for Walt Disney World books, which often recycle not just information–but images.
It reads like a love letter to Walt Disney World (or many love letters, as the authors have cleverly inserted essays from key figures in Walt Disney World’s history, bringing other interesting voices and perspectives to the mix) that is for fans–by fans. This is one of the best things to come out of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, and not just in terms of merchandise. You can read our full review if you want, but the bottom line is that this is the best book about Walt Disney World.
Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look At Making the Magic Real – Quite simply, it will change the way you look at the Disney theme parks. It covers 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 before going to college, I might’ve pursued a different career path. It’s incredibly inspiring, and will make you appreciate the parks more. 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. 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 5 books on this entire list, these two Imagineering: Behind the Dreams titles should be among what you purchase.
Poster Art of the Disney Parks, Second Edition – This new title is an expanded and updated edition of the beloved book that ranks highly in our library. The second edition renders the first obsolete, as the 85+ new posters and behind-the-scenes development info nearly doubles the book in length. While the first edition is fantastic and can be purchased even cheaper now, we highly recommend springing for the new edition.
It’s worth it for all of the awesome new posters made for EPCOT’s reimagining alone. These were displayed in the Odyssey/EPCOT Experience, and are absolutely stunning. (If, like us, you were unable to score the limited releases on shopDisney, this is a good consolation prize.) In the decade since the original’s release, Shanghai Disneyland has opened and various expansions pretty much everywhere have resulted in a treasure trove of new poster art. Highly recommended!
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.)
The Imagineering Story: The Official Biography of Walt Disney Imagineering – The companion book to the highly acclaimed Disney+ documentary series, The Imagineering Story. This title greatly expands on award-winning filmmaker Leslie Iwerks’ narrative of the fascinating history of Walt Disney Imagineering. If you’ve watched the Imagineering Story on Disney+, that’s likely all you need to know to make this book a must-own. If you haven’t watched the Imagineering Story…well, remedy that immediately!
Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of Walt Disney Co — Bob Iger’s memoir is shockingly candid and compelling. Iger is clearly a smart and interesting guy, but all of his interviews are played fairly close to the vest and feel meticulously scripted. This is a sharp and fascinating departure from that.
Travels with Figment — The last title by Imagineering Legend Marty Sklar, published posthumously. It’s interesting anecdotes from his globetrotting while developing Disney theme parks around the world. Plus, it has Figment right in the title!
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.
Holiday Magic at the Disney Parks: Celebrations Around the World — A stunning look at (mostly) Halloween and Christmas in the Florida, California, Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong, and Shanghai Disney theme parks. It is packed with photos and details about what guests see in the parks, but it’s the backstage and behind the scenes insight that make this a special title. Learning about the colossal warehouses and year-round work that goes into the festivities will give you a newfound appreciation for Christmas at Walt Disney World and beyond!
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.
The Disney Monorail: Imagineering a Highway in the Sky — If you’re a fan of Disney’s monorails (who isn’t?!), you’ll love this. There’s a ton of concept art and photos, as the authors take readers on a historical ride the Highway in the Sky. From Walt Disney’s Progress City ambitions to the future of this innovative transportation system.
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. 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. Unfortunately, it’s also rare and incredibly expensive.
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.
Marc Davis in His Own Words: Imagineering the Disney Theme Parks — This two volume behemoth by Pixar director Pete Docter and Imagineer Christopher Merritt is a passion project about one of the true Walt-era Imagineering heavyweights. Disney Legend Marc Davis is the creative mind behind countless clever gags in iconic attractions, including Country Bear Jamboree!
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 Resort: A Souvenir For The New Millennium – Nearly identical to 100 Years of Magic title above.
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 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.
3D Disneyland: Like You’ve Never Seen It Before — This is a really unique, seemingly gimmicky title that just flat-out works. It offers a rare collection of 3D photographs of Disneyland captured from its opening week in July 1955 through the 25th Anniversary in 1980. The stunning photos have an immersive, ViewMaster-like quality.
Disneyland the First Quarter Century – The books made for Disneyland’s 25th to 35th Anniversary are over 75% identical to one another, 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. I like this one best.
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.
The Art of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – The newest land at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, and a high-water mark for Imagineering. This provides a thoughtful look at the design influences, both from the Star Wars universe and the real world, and offers hundreds of concept artworks, sketches, blueprints, photographs, and more. That includes a several things that never came to fruition for the land, making it somewhat bittersweet.
One Day at Disney – As the name suggests, it’s one day in the worldwide Disney theme parks, presented as the day unfolds around the world. It’s visually engaging, with contrasting photos presented next to one another. While it’s daytime in one park, it might be nighttime in another. 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.
Pirates of the Caribbean: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies – Same idea and quality as the Haunted Mansion book, except for Pirates of the Caribbean. This is another must own.
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 company’s attempt to market Walt as 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.
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.
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.
Designing Disney – Legend John Hench is 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. A lot of Hench’s later writings come across as intellectual justifications for why these gut decisions were made. A must own.
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.
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!
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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? Do you agree or disagree with any of our recommendations? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
I was helping my dad move this weekend and found a copy of “Walt Disney’s Epcot: Creating The New World of Tomorrow” in his library. It’s great!
I have to agree that Neal Gabler’s biography was fascinating. It did not paint him as a hero or a demon, but rather as a complex and focused individual. Gabler does attempt to put to rest some of the darker things Disney has been accused of, while not shying away from the things that he can document as true.
Great list, Tom! I respectfully add “Riding the Black Ship: Japan and Tokyo Disneyland”. While it was written in 1999, it’s an insightful look into TDL and Japanese culture.
“Window on Main Street: 35 Years of Creating Happiness at Disneyland Park” is quite good as well – written by Van Arsdale France, who founded Disney University.
Both of these were recommended to me my Disney employees, and they’re worth the read.
I absolutely loved this set of two coffee table size books. Marc Davis was an incredible artist and without him many of our favorite rides and characters wouldn’t exist.
Marc Davis in His Own Words: Imagineering the Disney Theme Parks
by Pete Docter, Chris Merritt
MARC DAVIS IN HIS OWN WORDS: IMAGINEERING THE DISNEY THEME PARKS
BY PETE DOCTER AND CHRIS MERRITT
“Featuring work from the sixties through the eighties, this two-volume set includes more than 1,500 pieces from the Imagineering archives, the vast majority of which have never been published. In addition, for the first time Marc’s design theories as well as many of his stories of working with Walt are featured in his own words as recorded during hours upon hours of interviews by author Chris Merritt.
Marc Davis-In His Own Words is a treasure trove for artists, students, and Disney collectors around the world.
Thanks for the great summary Tom!
For the record, having been inspired by you to take up photography about a decade I go (and why I’m still a Nikon man), I would absolutely buy and purchase a book about Disney parks and other travel photography if you ever wrote one.
Thanks for all you do!
Have you read Disney’s Land yet? It’s fairly new, and it surprised me with how in-depth it got regarding the construction of Disneyland. It got a lot more in depth than just the usual Opening Day stories.
I have not–thanks for the suggestion!
I was just going to suggest that – it is very good.
I think the Walt Disney Imagineering book might have been first printed in the 1970’s. I remember my parents having a book like that (and I think that was the title) when I was a kid. I use to pour over that book before I could read and soak in the photos. Then once I could read I read it cover to cover several times.
If I had to guess, my dad probably bought it on our first trip to WDW in 1974. I have no idea where that book is now since both my parents are gone. I have a feeling my dad donated it to the library when they moved. Now I wish I thought to ask if I could have it. It really was a great book. Probably a nice time capsule now.
It was first published in 1996, so that’s probably not it.
A few of these were published in the mid-70s to early-80s, but not the Imagineering ones.
I’ve read half these books and agree with your recommendations. I wish I had time to read all these books or wish they were more readily available. I would like to add I enjoyed all the books by Jim Korkis and Christopher Smith thus far. I would like to see a book with Disney Parks easter egg type sightings in addition to Hidden Mickeys.
I loved seeing all your Disney treasures, Tom. Though I own some of them and have read a few others, I have now added many more to my list, thanks! For those of us on budgets or books that are out of print, go to your library and get on WorldCat Discovery and you can get almost every single title on your list at no charge through your library, including Disneyland: The Nickel Tour by Bruce Gordon which I put a hold on today. Not as good as owning the books, but at least you can enjoy reading them! Tom, I bought Eat Like Walt: Disney’s Love of Food and Flavors by Marcy Carriker Smothers a few months ago and absolutely love it. It has lots of photos and information about where and what Walt ate at
home, Disneyland, and at local restaurants. One of the best Disney books I own!
Ooo! Thanks for the library tip!! This is such a great list. Can’t wait to start reading these! (After the library opens back up 🙁 )
Long time reader, first time commenter. My husband and I are on the search for a decent book (or even blog) that details the different resorts on WDW property, and the changes they went through (example, what was SSR before it became SSR, etc.). Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated!
PS – my husband bought me Disney War for our anniversary last year based on one of your facebook posts. I loved it. We totally trust your recs! 🙂
Thank you for posting this guide, I remembered I would come back to it at some point and I just ordered a few as a birthday gift for myself.
Thanks again for all of your hard work!
Hi I have the white cover Walt Disney world hard bound book has castle fireworks on front also dragon steamboat, parrot elephant Mickey Schubert diver and more.No date or publisher listed is this a good book for a collector? Thanks Jennie
We were recently in Disneyland. In one of the stores, there was a book showing the maps of the park, as it was developed. It was $40.00. I thought I could find it online but I have yet to see it. This store had a museum attached to it with a raised map of the original park on the wall. Can anyone help me? it is a gift for our daughter.
Great…. I just loved the story books of all Disney collection…i like Beauty and the Beast Book…You have so much great books in your collection
I got Disney Wars because of this article and couldn’t put it down! Just ordered “An Animated Man” and can’t wait to start it up!
and I thought I had a lot of books! I have all the imagineering books you listed (female engineer here), but had no idea i was missing so many other coffee table books!! Thank you for this list, my husband now has gift ideas for the next decade…well if i dont go buy them all right now.
Great list, I’ve picked up a number of these books based off your recommendations. I wanted to find out if there are any books out there that cover the Disney World resort hotels. I’m not looking for ratings/reviews, more so books similar to the ones on this list – more a history of all of the resorts. Thanks!
Hi I have the white cover Walt Disney world hard bound book has castle fireworks on front also dragon steamboat, parrot elephant Mickey Scuba diver and more.No date or publisher listed is this a good book for a collector? Thanks Jennie
I have all of the Imagineering Field Guides. I really like those.
Has anyone read Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler. It got an LA Time award but I vaguely remember Neil Gabler leaning one way or another on Walt-too sugary or too deamony.
IMO it’s the best Walt bio out there. I have read it once and listened to the audio book version on a long road trip. Walt too demony reminds me of Bob Thomas’ bio on Walt. He certainly looked at the so-called dark side of Walt. Gabler does quote from Thomas’ book as well as many others.
I read this last year, and loved it. Even though Gabler did not shy away from the less-than-ideal parts of Walt’s personality, I felt like it was generally an even-handed approach. There was also a ton of great information about Walt’s and the company’s processes. One of the critiques I’ve seen said that there was to much talk about budgets, etc., but even though I generally don’t enjoy such topics, I found the coverage pretty illuminating.
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In the first photo there is a purple book spine with the title ‘Walt Disney World EPCOT center’.
It’s just below the WDW 20 Magical Years book…
Can you give me some more information on this title please?