Essential Walt Disney World Books

Essential Walt Disney World Books

There are a few essential Walt Disney World books. Especially if you’re doing any serious research about Walt Disney World. Or even if you’re the world’s biggest Walt Disney World fan. I’ve been collecting Disney-related books for 30 years and I’ve amassed over a 1000 individual titles in my personal library. I’ve published a fairly complete Walt Disney World bibliography but I wanted to offer a more concise list of Walt Disney World books that everyone should own.

Essential Walt Disney World Books: Since the World Began: Walt Disney World – The First 25 Years by Jeff Kurtti

I wax about this book at every opportunity. It’s the only official history of Walt Disney World and covers the first 25 years. To me, this represents the one book that all Walt Disney World enthusiasts, researchers and fans should own. Jeff’s book takes us on a fantastic overview of the Florida property and he’s able to dispense such a large history into a single volume. There were hopes that Disney would update this title for the 40th Anniversary but there wasn’t an interest from Disney. Let’s hope for a 50th Anniversary edition although this might need to be an independent publication.

Essential Walt Disney World Books:  Disney A to Z: The Official Encyclopedia by Dave Smith (2006)

This is a must have for anyone researching Disney. I have all three editions, but the third one (2006) is the preferred title. Dave’s encyclopedia offers short entries detailing the opening, closing and general history of parks, resorts, restaurants and attractions. I’ve run across a few discrepancies in the book, but overall, it’s the go to resource for quick information and for finding out those small details. In case you didn’t know, Dave did start the Walt Disney Archives and is pretty much the de facto authority on Disney history. There is a fourth edition available exclusively from Sam’s Club.

Essential Walt Disney World Books: Walt Disney’s Epcot Center: Creating the New World of Tomorrow By Richard Beard (1982)

This book is pretty indescribable. If you love Epcot Center, then you need this book. It’s 240 pages dedicated to Epcot. The concept artwork is incredible and the narrative behind each pavilion is eye-opening. Disney had a hard time explaining the concept of Epcot Center to the world so this book was part of the PR campaign, so to speak. It’s a one-of-a-kind resource; Disney hasn’t published anything like it before and probably never will again. There are at least four different versions of the book, as well (You can read about three of the different editions, here).

Essential Walt Disney World Books: The Art of Walt Disney World by Bruce Gordon and Jeff Kurtti (2009)

This is one of the more expensive Walt Disney World books, and with good reason. When it was released, it was a theme park exclusive, so it had a limited run and few people picked it up. This book is amazing and offers some of the most incredible artwork anywhere. Jeff looks at each of the artists, as well, and offers insight into the creation of the work. Most of the images center around pre-opening and the 1970s Vacation Kingdom of the World. If you can find it, grab a copy.

Essential Walt Disney World Books: Walt Disney World Then, Now, And Forever by Bruce Gordon and Jeff Kurtti (2007)

This is almost a follow-up to Since the World Began, but not quite. It’s a general look at what makes Walt Disney World  such a special place. Jeff and Bruce, well known to Disney book fans, offer a look at Walt Disney World through the years, including sections on long gone attractions and what replaced them. It’s a great addition to your collection. This one is geared more to the casual fan but it’s still a fantastic book.

Essential Walt Disney World Books: Vinyl Leaves: Walt Disney World and America by Stephen Fjellman (1992)

This is a sociological treatise on Walt Disney World. Stephen spent a lot of time doing in-park research and offers insight into how Disney looks at Americana and how American society reacts to Disney in a theme park setting. At times the book can be fairly dense but what are the shining jewels of the title, simply, are the attraction walk-throughs from the author. It’s an amazing time capsule of the attractions from 1989-1991 Walt Disney World. As far as insight into these attractions, there’s nothing better.

Essential Walt Disney World Books: Gardens of the Walt Disney World Resort: A photographic tour of the themed gardens of the Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center and other resort areas by Dee Hannaford (1988)

This book has always been one of my favorites. Before the days of digital film and the interwebz, there wasn’t a place where you could spend months on end just looking at photographs of Disney parks. This book offers stunning images of Walt Disney World pre-1988. These full-page (and larger) images showcase the resort and what a vacation was like before the expansion of the Disney Decade. Not a lot of historical information but the photographs do show a lot of areas of the parks that are gone or have changed. I love this book.

Seriously, it is amazing.

Essential Walt Disney World Books: Building a Company: Roy O. Disney and the Creation of an Entertainment Empire by Bob Thomas (1998)

This official company biography of Roy O. Disney really shares a lot about the creation of Walt Disney World from the perspective of Walt’s older brother. Bob interviewed many company officials and people that were directly involved with building Walt Disney World. Beyond the Walt Disney World history, it’s a great book about Roy and all of the amazing contributions of the more silent partner of the company.

Essential Walt Disney World Books: Realityland: True-Life Adventures at Walt Disney World by David Koenig (2007, 2014)

David is well-known in Disney circles. He’s a journalist who’s written a lot about Disneyland (re: Mouse Tales). In Realityland, David looks at the first 20 years of Walt Disney World with the creation of the Vacation Kingdom and Epcot Center. He interviews many cast members from all levels and presents some amazing anecdotes. David is not a fan of Eisner and it’s apparent in this book. Again, it’s a work that seems to stop in the late 1980s leaving us with gaps from the 1990s and 2000s that need to be filled in. It’s a definite for your collection and has a great notes section.

Essential Walt Disney World Books: Story of Walt Disney World Commemorative Edition (Various Years 1971-1982)

A lot of people remember this book fondly and I know that it inspired a few current Imagineers to follow their dreams and work for the company. This is a rare look at the construction of the Vacation Kingdom and offers some amazing photos of the the property, resorts and attractions being built. There are two versions (almost identical) that offer different fun-style maps of Walt Disney World.

Essential Walt Disney World Books: Walt Disney World the First Decade (1982)

A fascinating book from Disney that covers the first ten years of the Vacation Kingdom. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes information and some amazing photos of attractions and lands. Unlike the current souvenir guides, Disney shared a lot of more random photos and more information detailing the attractions. There are also fifteen- and twenty-year titles but the First Decade one is my favorite and offers more information on 1970s Walt Disney World. Epcot fans will want to pick up the fifteen-year title, too.

Essential Walt Disney World Books: Walt Disney World Hidden History: Remnants of Former Attractions and Other Tributes by Kevin Yee (2014)

Kevin is one of the more prolific independent authors. Hidden History is a good look at the hidden (or unfamiliar) details at the parks. Kevin also looks at tributes of former attractions that can be found today. It’s a quick and easy read and is sure to increase your nerdy status with all of your friends. Kevin visits Walt Disney World on a weekly basis and this work helps to document a lot of the changes over the years.

Essential Walt Disney World Books: The Disney Mountains: Imagineering at Its Peak by Jason Surrell (2007)

This book covers the nine mountains at Disney parks around the world and focuses on their history and development. Six of the mountains are at Walt Disney World and offer tremendous insight into the attractions and their differences. Lots of great artwork abounds.

Essential Walt Disney World Books: Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic (2015); From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (2009 Updated Edition) and Pirates of the Caribbean: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (2005) by Jason Surrell

Jason writes the unparalleled histories of these two vaunted and inspiring theme park attractions. Covering the earliest concept artwork and inklings of the attraction, Jason shares how the attractions evolved and the Imagineers that worked on them. The spectacular feature of the books is the scene-by-scene narrative of the attractions and the differences between the version in each park. Jason covers the films, as well, but they offer little insight into the theme park attractions. Great for fans of the attractions and for researchers wanting more information on the development of the attractions. There have been three editions of the Haunted Mansion book. I recommend getting the 2009 and 2015 editions.

Essential Walt Disney World Books: Walt Disney World Railroads, Part 1: Fort Wilderness Railroad and Walt Disney World Railroads, Part 1: Fort Wilderness Railroad Gallery Companion by David Leaphart. (2010)

I’m including this two-volume set by David because it’s an area that not many people have covered, especially not at this level of detail. The amount of photographs (mostly from the 1970s) and the maps that David shares is unprecedented. It’s an expensive set, based on it’s size, but the information presented is fairly unique. Sadly, it’s a LuLu imprint so you have to order it directly from them. If you’re a serious historian, then you need to own it, otherwise it’s a little too expensive. Read my full review, here. There has been an updated version, but I have not had the chance to review them.

I could have included at least 20 more titles in this list. To me, these are the most crucial and offer the most information about Walt Disney World.

What’s your favorite of the essential Walt Disney World books? Is there just one must-have book?

Star Wars, Tomorrowland and Disney Books

I’ve got some more review copies from Disney Publishing, Coconut Press and Bonaventure Press. Reviews will be coming shortly on Communicore Weekly and here! Any that you’re looking forward to reading?

  • Star Wars: Dark Disciple by Christie Golden – this is a title based on several scripts for the Star Wars: The Clone Wars series that were never produced. It’s a really interesting read that takes us into the psyche of Asajj Ventress.

Book Review: Realityland by David Koenig

Realityland: True-Life Adventures at Walt Disney World by David Koenig (334 pages, 2007).

Andrew and I met David at MouseFest 2007 and heard him speak about Realityland at the Reading Trout Book Store in Celebration.

You can read my reviews of Mouse Tales and More Mouse Tales.

Realityland fills a much needed void in the WDW literature–an unofficial look at the development and construction of Walt Disney World. The book follows the same formula as Koenig’s Mouse Tales titles except a lot of space is devoted to the history and development of Walt Disney World (whereas Mouse Tales focuses mainly on anecdotes about Disneyland instead of the construction). It is obvious that Koenig spent a lot of time talking to cast members, executives and construction people from the early days. The first chapters are filled with anecdotes about the Preview Center, hiring the first cast members and the rigors of developing the property.

This is one of the few un-official resources that effectively documents the construction of the Magic Kingdom, the TTC and the first resorts. Koenig offers an easy to read and compelling look at the overall development of the property. The stars of the book are the individual cast members that Koenig was able to interview. Koenig was fortunate enough to spend time with cast members from all areas of the company. He spoke to former executives that talked about the mishaps and happy accidents, cast members that talked about the early years of working at WDW and with locals about the political machinations that took place.

Koenig presents an intriguing view of how Walt, Roy and Card Walker all dealt with the Florida project. There were a litany of undercover plans, political dealings, union issues and theft! As Koenig moves through the the timeline of the resort, he presents the major issues and milestones that each management needed to contend with, including: the fuel crisis of the 70’s, the question of “Where’s EPCOT” and the expense of EPCOT (leading to Card Walker’s retirement) and the new management of Esiner/Wells. Like Mouse Tales, there were times when I laughed out loud and times when I wondered how they got it all done.

As with Koenig’s other titles, he doesn’t gloss over the negative side of Disney. He does cover the accidents that have happened over the years and one of the final chapters is devoted to Disney Security. I never felt that Koenig was out to get anyone–he was just trying to present a fairly unbiased look at Walt Disney World. One story that stands out is that he dispels the myth of George, the ill-fated worker that is rumored to have died during the construction of Pirates. He uses official records to show when the first actual death happened at WDW (I’ll let you read the book to find out) and covers accidents, missteps and Disney/Reedy Creek policy. As I mentioned in my review of the Mouse Tales books, you might have to remove your rose-colored Mouse Ears while reading Realityland.

I would surmise that the lack of information and focus about the development of the property after the Eisner/Wells team took over is due to the author’s one noticeable bias–he is not a fan of Eisner. Koenig almost vilifies Eisner when talking about the creation of the Disney-MGM Studios. A lot of the more recent developments are glossed over. The dearth of information about the most recent 15 years is the major drawback to the book.

When thinking about the history that Koenig plays out, I was able to place a lot of the people and events that I had read about in other sources–this time with much greater detail. I would hesitate to let this work stand as my only source on Walt Disney World: Since the World Began: Walt Disney World the First 25 Years; Disney: The First 100 Years and the History Channel Modern Marvels – Walt Disney World all help to create a solid history of Walt Disney World.

This is a work that will be used by future generations to help further document the history of Walt Disney World. It is obvious by the Notes section, that Koenig did his research and left a great paper trail. Koenig spent a lot of time interviewing people and researching support documents through newspapers and magazines. It is very well researched.

Withstanding the last sections of the book, the first 200 pages alone are worth the price of the book. You will learn more about the development of the property and what it took to get the Walt Disney World Resort up and running. You will never disembark from the ferry or walk down the ramp from the monorail without thinking about how massive an undertaking Walt Disney World was after you read Realityland.

Bottom Line: For any WDW enthusiast, this is one of the few books to tackle the early history of Walt Disney World. Koenig does a fantastic job of telling the story and keeps you wanting to read more. The only shortcoming is the lack of depth in the sections on the development of the Disney-MGM Studios and the Animal Kingdom. You will walk away a deeper understanding of the Resort and a greater appreciation for everything that has been done. I enjoyed this book and I recommend it to all enthusiasts–no matter what your Disney Geek Level.



Daily Figment 136 – Book Reviews: Mouse Tales and More Mouse Tales

I‘ve recently finished both of David Koenig’s earlier works, Mouse Tales and More Mouse Tales. I’ve got his new book, Realityland, queued up after I finish Michael Barrier’s biography, Walt Disney: The Animated Man.

I really enjoyed David’s books. He does take a different perspective from most of the pollyanna Disney titles that we read here at Imaginerding. Both books are filled with behind-the-scenes tales and stories from Disneyland, USA; some of the stories are dark, many are hilarious and quite a few will make you wonder how the guests survive on a daily basis (re: guest stupidity). You will need to take off your rose-colored Disney Mouse Ears when you read these books.

My intent is not to discourage you from David’s work, by any means. They are important in the catalog of Disney-related titles that are currently available. David chronicles life working at Disneyland–there aren’t many books that do this and none that do it this well or with such depth. He writes very well and the books are structured so that the stories flow and you want to continue reading. David is a former journalist and his style is reminiscent of a journalistic/investigative piece.

David does take us behind-the-scenes and he shares a lot of stories that cast members have relayed to him. In the first book he didn’t offer anonymity to his sources. During his research for the second title, he realized that he could pass along stories that were much richer if he allowed his sources some freedom to share at will. It does pay off. At points you will laugh out loud and at other times you will shake your head in wonder and amazement

A majority of both books talk about what it is like to work at the Happiest Place on Earth. Cast member stories, firings and dealing with the guests are some of the better parts. David obviously knows a lot of people at all echelons of the Disney Company. For those of us not cognizant during the 1970’s and early 1980’s, there are lot of events that may surprise you. Did you know that there was a major strike at Disneyland?

David also tells-all about other Disneyland staples. Thought the Grad Nights were wholesome times? Which ride do you think saw the most action? Did you know one of the most dangerous places at Disneyland was the parking lot? How about the Jungle Cruise Skipper revolt?

They don’t need to be read in order, but More Mouse Tales does build on a few of the stories in Mouse Tales. David added a special feature to More Mouse Tales that really added a lot of personality to the book: Guest Pains, where Tales of tourists gone on mental vacations appear in boxes throughout the book. Basically, David has peppered the book with call-out boxes full of stupid guests questions, crazy situations and quite a few “huh?” moments.

You will enjoy both of these works. As I mentioned earlier, David does go deeply behind-the-scenes and some of the stories may cause some dismay. Working at Disneyland, like any other job, does have its highs and lows. Nonetheless, they are both very important works in the Disney literature.

My final thoughts? They are worthwhile reads and solid additions to your Disney Geek library. Some of the stories and histories that are recounted are not available anywhere else.

You can read about the Imaginerds meeting David Koenig.

Visit David over at MousePlanet!

Don’t forget to stop by our site and leave some Disney Geek love!

Daily Figment 126 – Quoting Details


Walt understood the value of high-capacity attractions; after all. He wanted as many people as possible to enjoy his creations. Yet, he also had patience for smaller, more subtle diversions, realizing that fine detail created a depth and richness that kept people coming back. And if a new attraction wasn’t ready exactly how he had visualized it, Walt wouldn’t open it to the public.

He cared about the park, and genuinely enjoyed it. “When we opened the Mark Twain for the press, we were going around the river, and Walt kept blowing the whistle like a kid,” remembered John Catone. “We finally had to tell him, ‘Walt, we’re gonna run out of steam.’ And we did. We were dead in the water until we could get more steam.”

A few years later, Catone added, “Walt wanted to take the first trip on the Monorail. To get him off, we had to shut off the power. The same with the fire truck on Main Street. He was a big kid. He was human, a person, not some executive from Burbank.”

His enthusiasm and concern were contagious. Employees were dedicated to Walt’s vision and made to feel as if they were part of a family.

–p. 190, More Mouse Tales by David Koenig.

I just finished More Mouse Tales by David Koenig and this quote, in particular, struck home with me. We talk a lot about details at Imaginerding. Walt cared about the details, but he also cared about having fun. I love reading the stories of Walt’s eleven years at the helm of Disneyland: staying overnight in his apartment, roaming the park before opening hours and talking to the guests were all part of Walt’s days. And if Walt wanted something, he got it. Whether it was driving the stagecoach, piloting the monorail or ordering a mountain to be built. But that is another story all-together.

I won’t go into a lot of details about David’s books right now; I will have full reviews next week. One thing that I will say is that his books are filled with details. Details about Walt, hourly employees, management and guests. I tore through both of them quickly and I am really looking forward to Realityland.

Photographs used with permission from Grumpy’s Hollow and Daveland Web.