Three Years in Wonderland is a well-researched and informative look at the building of the Disneyland Amusement Park in specific and the theme park industry in general. Two individuals stand out throughout: C.V. Wood and Walt Disney – two visionaries with very different methods and personalities. Both provided invaluably to the completion of the park but ultimately only one would be remembered.
The book is arranged in a non-fussy chronological manner ensuring that all the relevant information is easy to follow. I’ve read several books on the subject and many can be dense; Three Years maintains its focus throughout and rarely strays off on tangents. Key figures are given short background introductions to put their personalities and decisions into perspective. The book begins with site location and ends with C.V. Wood’s firing/resignation shortly after opening day.
At heart, author Pierce creates a thorough understanding of the making of the theme park industry. From the creative frustrations, technological hurdles, financial constraints, and personality conflicts at all levels. Decisions made when buying land, presenting to the public, even the opening day fiascoes and triumphs are thoroughly covered. But the facts never overpower the personal stories within.
Through meticulous research and interviews, we get a very complete picture of the three year period leading up to the opening day. The tone is carefully neutral – whether grafts and nepotism by Wood or Walt’s mercurial temperament – and pains are taken to stick to facts. That lack of point of view was perhaps the only nitpick because it felt like the author was also doing a C.V. Wood – promising a ‘clean treatment’ of all the characters in exchange for interviews.
Although Disneyland is the focus, really the book is more about creating a theme park model that would be copied many times over the next decade: all to little or no success as Disneyland. Many of the individuals involved with Disneyland would become pioneers in that burgeoning industry. Here, we see the beginning. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.