One of the more common questions I get is what books are behind me on this bookshelf, and what Disney books I recommend for people to read, so that’s exactly what we’re going to cover today.
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First up might seem like an odd one. Storming the Magic Kingdom by John Taylor is an in-depth account at the attempted hostile takeover of The Walt Disney Company in the early 1980s. In some of my videos I talk about how Disney wasn’t in a great spot then, and how it took an effort lead by Roy E Disney to oust Miller and the old guard so that Michael Eisner and Frank Wells could take over. This is all about that.
Now, it’s a business book first and foremost. You’re going to get more talk about stocks, revenue, and board meetings than magic and storytelling, but to me that’s why it’s fascinating. For as much as we love Disney for the movies and rides, it is still a business at the end of the day, and reading the story of how one of America’s most beloved businesses almost got taken over is worth it. Another interesting point, but this book was written in the late 1980s, so it has no foresight into just how much the company would eventually turnaround.
This next book is my latest read, and it’s one I was really pleasantly surprised with. Cleaning the Kingdom by Ken Pellman and Lynn Barron is the author’s accounts of working as a members of the custodial staff at Disneyland for over fifteen years. It’s an unofficial book which means that, sorry for the pun, nothing is cleaned up. Cleaning the Kingdom offers a look at what I think a lot of guests overlook but is a crucial role in preserving the magic. There’s a chapter that covers in detail what someone’s full day is like working at the parks, and there’s even a chapter dedicated to the especially gross stories about cleaning Disneyland. It’s less of a history book, but a fun read nevertheless.
Next up is The Disneyland Story by Sam Gennawey. This book is a fantastic example of not judging a book by its cover. At first glance it looks like one of those annual guide books for first-time tourists who are intimidated by a Disney vacation. However in reality it’s an extremely comprehensive look at the history, building, and running of Disneyland. It covers everything from Walt’s original idea all the way up until the opening of Disney’s California Adventure. It’s full of anecdotes of Walt’s influence on the parks after it opened and also covers the more practical issues of running a theme park. For anyone who is a fan of learning about the parks behind-the-scenes, this is a must read.
The fourth book on my list is actually two books, and they’re pretty unconventional as far as Disney books go. Volume one and two of A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World by Andrew Kiste are two books that go beyond the history of attractions. Instead, these books focus on the history of the inspirations for the rides. The example I use is Pirates. The Pirates of the Caribbean chapter isn’t about the history of the ride, it’s about the history of piracy in the caribbean during the era the ride is based on.
Beyond just offering historical context for the ride’s inspirations, the books will also weigh up the rides to see how historically accurate they are. The Spaceship Earth chapter in volume two is my favorite in particular, as it goes over every scene in the ride. Kiste is even able to use context clues from the set dressing, animatronics, and costumes to pinpoint a date range in which scenes like the Roman one take place.
Last up is a book I’ll suggest until the end of time. Disney War by James B. Stewart is my favorite Disney book, not to mention the most comprehensive look at the Eisner era of Disney I’ve ever read. Similar to Storming the Magic Kingdom, this is a business book primarily. It focuses on the business deals, the meetings, the contracts and the revenue. However where Storming is more about the Wall Street takeover attempt, this is about the turnaround and growth of the Disney company. So there’s plenty of mention of stuff like the Little Mermaid or MGM Studios, but it’s not about the magic of them. It’s about box office motivations, production issues, construction plans, and so on. To get an insight to how the decisions that have lead to some of the most memorable Disney projects get made is an interesting one, and the way Stewart tells these stories is engaging enough that this is one of the few Disney books I’ve re-read multiple times.