Essential Walt Disney World Books

Written by George Taylor. Posted in Disney, Disney History, Features, Imaginerding

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Published on October 21, 2013 at 5:02 am with 6 Comments

If you’re doing any serious research about Walt Disney World or if you’re the world’s biggest Walt Disney World fan, then there are a few books that you need to own. I’ve been collecting Disney-related books for 20 years and I’ve amassed over 800 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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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Vinyl Leaves: Walt Disney World and America by Stephen Fjelman (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.

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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.

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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.

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

David is well-known in Disney circles. He’s a journalist who’s written a lot about Disneyland (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.

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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.

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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.

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Walt Disney World Hidden History: Remnants of Former Attractions and Other Tributes by Kevin Yee (2010)

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.

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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.

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Haunted Mansion: 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.

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Walt Disney World Railroads, Part 1: Fort Wilderness Railroad and Walt Disney World Railroads, Part 2: 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.

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.

Do you have any favorites? Is there a book (or two) that I should have included?

What kind of Walt Disney World history book would you like to see?


ImagiNERDing is written and edited by George Taylor

About George Taylor

George has been obsessed with Disney theme parks since the first time he saw a photo of the Haunted Mansion in the early 70s. He started writing about Disney in 2007 and has amassed one of the world's largest Disney-related libraries.

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  • WDWHound

    Great list. I would add Bob Gurr’s recent title – Design: Just for Fun. It covers a lot of topics, including a great deal of WDW history. Its already out of print (and therefore expensive), but its a great read.

    • stevek

      Wanted to pick up the Gurr book but wasn’t willing to pay the inflated price they offered it for. Gotta believe they would have sold quite a few more if they price was more reasonable and in-line with releases about/by other former imagineers.

  • Amy VandenBoogert

    I have Since the World Began and Story of Walt Disney World Commemorative Edition. The latter we got as a souvenir on a trip to WDW in the late 70s or early 80s. Amazingly it’s still in great shape considering how many times I’ve looked through it over the last 30-some years.

  • stevek

    Great list of books. Thanks for the info about the Beard book as I’ve always been a bit confused on the difference. Now to track down the pre-release version. As an pretty avid parks book collector, there are sooo many great books about WDW. I’d add Steve Alcorn’s “Building a Better Mouse” to this list. Great info about the building of Epcot.

    • WDWHound

      I second the opinion on “Building a Better Mouse”. This is an outstanding book, especially for anyone who considers themself an armchair imagineer. Its a fascinating, detailed, behind the scenes look at the building of EPCOT Center.

  • davidleaphart

    Hi George,

    Thanks for including my Fort Wilderness books in your review! However, I have two important updates. First, the covers you show are the first edition. The book set is now in second edition with a greatly expanded Photo Gallery book and a new third volume, Art Gallery. Most importantly, you didn’t mention the books are available as e-book, PDF versions. The price for the main book is only $7.99 with no shipping, of course! The Photo and Art gallery books are $6.99 and $2.99! If you like to hold onto a physical book, great. But if you want to read the books, the e-book version is the way to go!

    Thanks.
    David Leaphart