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If You're Only Going to Own One Disney Biography...,
This review is from: The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life (Hardcover)
...This is the one. This biography does an incredible job of placing Walt Disney the man (and his works) in historical, social, and cultural context. Not only does Watts provide a balanced examination of Walt Disney--something that many biographies do not in their attempts to paint a picture of Walt as either a perfect saint or the ultimate evil--but he doesn't discuss Walt in isolation of the world in which he lived. Instead, Watts places Walt Disney in relationship to time periods and social movements.
For example, the writing on Walt's early years consider the influences of his mother, father, and his small-town/rural upbringing. Many other biographies have done this as well. But Watts also considers how Walt was raised at the cusp of the Victorian era and the rise of modernism, then considers how this affects Walt and his decisions for the rest of his life. Such writing not only helps the reader to better understand the "whats" and "hows" of Walt Disney's life and accomplishments, but attempts to understand the "whys" and "so whats". In this way, the reader gets a sense of how Walt was shaped by the world he lived in and, in turn, shaped that world.
Watts performs this delicate balance between biography, history, and cultural significance throughout the book. He deals with Walt in terms of the Depression, WWII, the shaping of the Hollywood Film Industry, the Cold War, McCarthyism, and the emergence of postmodern culture. This provides the reader with a deeper insight into Disney *and* these important moments.
Because the book covers so much material and makes so many connections, this is not a light read. The material is accessible but the book is hefty in terms of pages and ideas. It's something to be digested slowly, savored. It's well worth it.