13 Books About Walt Disney and the Disney Parks

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Alex Luppens-Dale


Alex Luppens-Dale won the “Enthusiastic Reader Award” all four years of high school. She is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. Her favorite genres are memoir, witches, and anything with cults. She lives in New Jersey. You can keep up with Alex's latest work at her website.

I have a complicated relationship with the now-memetic phrase “Disney Adult.” I will deny that I am a Disney Adult and then I will make sure to get to the parks just as they open. I will say that I’m a Disney Adult and then accidentally start a trading pin collection. I say that I am not a Disney Adult, but somehow I am always planning my next trip, if only in my mind. 

I can enjoy the wonder I feel whenever I’m at Disney World while simultaneously being aware that Disney is a corporation that profits from my nostalgia. That is real. There have been plenty of high-profile issues, from theming a ride on Song of the South, a movie so racist they won’t even release on Disney+ in the United States, to the American history-themed park that never was.

With this list, I will take you beyond the annual guidebooks and into the history and lore that has kept me coming back (and spending more time on social media than is probably healthy). It feels like every white male senior executive at Disney has written a business book, which is not an area of interest for me, and the people who write books about Disney history are, frankly, not very diverse. In recent years, Disney has made more of an effort to highlight diverse voices in their licensed fiction, including books like Reflection by Elizabeth Lim and Almost There by Farrah Rochon, both part of their Twisted Tales series. There are many diverse creators who create content about Disney history online, too. Some of my favorites include PBAndJellyJenn on Instagram and BoundingWithTarri and TheHelenOfJoy on TikTok. There is also a documentary about Floyd Norman, Disney’s first Black animator. 

Hopefully, there will be more diverse perspectives published on this topic soon. In the meantime, here are 13 books to learn about the lore and history of Disney in all its complicated truth.

Cover of Disney100 coffee table book

The Story of Disney: 100 Years of Wonder by John Baxter

There are a lot of coffee table books put out by The Walt Disney Company itself, but this one looks beautiful. Published in honor of the company’s 100th anniversary in 2023, it showcases the history of the Disney company and includes concept art and photographs from Disney parks around the world. It was written as a companion to the currently-touring Disney100 exhibition.

Cover image of The Imagineering Story by Leslie Iwerks

The Imagineering Story: The Official Biography of Walt Disney Imagineering by Leslie Iwerks

This book covers the early years of Walt Disney Imagineering and contains the stories and details that were cut for time in the Disney+ documentary by the same name. Readers will discover the firsthand stories of the people who originated the role of Imagineer as they were building some of the best-known Disney attractions. There is also a section covering future projects for those who prefer to look ahead.  

Cover of Team Rodent by Carl Hiaasen

Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World by Carl Hiaasen

Carl Hiaasen states that Disney is “so good at being good that it manifests an evil.” This is a view of the Disney machine from at Floridian who has witnessed firsthand the success of Disney World and the changes it has brought to Central Florida. It is important to remember that Disney is, of course, a company that will always act in its own best interest and has a vested interest in controlling its own press.

Cover of Disney Theme Parks and America's National Narratives

Disney Theme Parks and America’s National Narratives by Bethanee Bemis

This academic text was an instant purchase for me. Disney’s success is both an American story and a vehicle for exporting Americanness abroad. How much does nostalgia factor into the love for Disney and its parks? The book also explores how Disney has changed alongside with the American people.

Cover of Ink and Paint: The Women of Walt Disney Animation

Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney’s Animation by Mindy Johnson

A lot has been written about “Disney’s Nine Old Men,” the animators who created some of Disney’s most famous films. The book pulls back the curtain on the female artists who brought drawings to life. Disney established the first animation training school for women and, in that way, drew women into all disciplines of animation production. 

The Women of Walt Disney Imagineering cover

Women of Walt Disney Imagineering: 12 Careers, 12 Theme Parks, Countless Stories by Ginger Zee

This is a collection of stories from twelve women who worked in Imagineering for decades. They discuss the problems familiar to women in a male-dominated workplace and what it was like to work for Disney in a period of rapid expansion. This book is a fascinating read for anyone who has ever thought about working for Disney.

Cover of The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney

The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney by Michael Barrier

A biography of Walt Disney that takes the reader from his Midwestern beginnings to his place at the center of American culture, this is a pretty in-depth read. Interviews for the book began two years after Disney’s death and show the layers of a complicated figure. This book has been frequently referenced as a more balanced portrayal of Disney the man versus the figurehead created by, well, Disney. 

Cover of The Sorcerer's Brother by Scott M. Madden

The Sorcerer’s Brother: How Roy O. Disney Made Walt’s Magic Possible by Scott M. Madden

The story of Walt Disney is inextricable from the story of his brother, Roy. From handling the finances of the nascent Disney company to building Walt Disney World after his brother’s death, the Disney story would be very different without Roy Disney. Read this one to learn about the Disney brother whose statue is also in the Magic Kingdom. 

The Art and Flair of Mary Blair cover

The Art and Flair of Mary Blair by John Canemaker and Mary Blair

Mary Blair was one of Disney’s best-known designers. You might know her artwork from It’s A Small World. This art book chronicles the work of an American artist who worked in décor, theme parks, advertising, print and more. 

Book cover of Walt Disney's Epcot Center Creating the New World of Tomorrow

Walt Disney’s EPCOT Center: Creating the New World of Tomorrow by Richard R. Beard

This is another a coffee table book, but it’s about EPCOT, which is my favorite Disney park. EPCOT, which was originally intended as a community for people to live in, has lived many lives over in its 40 years. This book contains the original concept art for exhibits that ended up being very different on EPCOT’s opening day.

The Haunted Mansion cover

The Haunted Mansion by Lauren Clauss, illustrated by Glenn Brogan

This children’s book takes the littlest readers on a ride through Disney’s Haunted Mansion. The text of the book contains actual quotes from the ride’s script and would be great for preparing a nervous child for their first visit to the mansion (speaking as someone who was once that nervous child). The tiny Disney fan in my life is particularly obsessed with this book, but similar Little Golden Books are also available for Space Mountain, Jungle Cruise and It’s A Small World

Cover image of Disneyland on the Mountain

Disneyland on the Mountain: Walt, the Environmentalists, and the Ski Resort That Never Was by Greg Glasgow and Kathryn Mayer

In the 1960s, Disney was looking to build a ski resort in Mineral King, California. This project came into being right at the rise of the environmental movement and the conflict made it all the way to the Supreme Court. This is a fascinating depiction of how a group of activists fought the Mouse — and won. 

Cover of The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion

The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney’s Haunted Mansion by Jeff Baham

This unapproved-by-Disney look at one of its most famous attractions features the central question about whether the ride was intended to be frightening or humorous. Bahm was able to interview several of the Imagineers who worked on the project. This is where you can read the stories behind some of the mansion’s most visible “residents” and the behind-the-scenes stories of the people who get to be there when the lights are on. 

These books will hopefully shed some light on why so many people are interested in Walt Disney and his theme parks. I go to Disney World to take a break from the real world but it is still part of the real world…and I don’t just get to forget that when someone hands me a Mickey Bar.