The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life

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9780395835876: The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life

The Magic Kingdom is a full-length investigation of the life of Walt Disney, arguably the principal architect of mass culture in our time. By mid-century, "Uncle Walt" had become an American icon and was universally acknowledged as the spokesman for the American way of life; yet, paradoxically, he was instrumental in changing our social assumptions. Probing Disney's public life as a creative entrepreneur, Steven Watts argues that Disney reflected a central irony of modern American culture: while proclaiming a genuine allegiance to the values of an earlier age (self-reliance, the work ethic, the culture of domesticity, sexual inhibition), he also took the lead in creating the modern world of consumer self-fulfillment. His great creations - from Mickey Mouse to Disneyland - embody the transformation of American popular culture, moving from the satirical edge of what Watts calls the "sentimental populism" of the Depression era to the uncritical, celebratory "sentimental libertarianism" of the Cold War. Watts also digs deeply into Disney's private life, investigating his roles as husband, father, and brother and providing fresh insight into his peculiar psyche - his genuine folksiness and warmth, his domineering treatment of colleagues and friends, his deepest prejudices and passions. Full of colorful sketches of daily life at the Disney Studio and tales about the creation of Disneyland and Disney World, The Magic Kingdom offers a definitive view of one of the most influential Americans in the twentieth century.

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About the Author:

Steven Watts is a professor of history at the University of Missouri. His first book, The Republic Reborn, recieved the National Historical Society Book prize for best book of 1989. Watts currently lives in Columbia, Missouri.

Review:

...a massive grab bag of a book... The Magic Kingdom is an invaluable mine of material on how the American century became the Disney century, a world from Russia to Chile dominated by a Disney-esque culture overseen by the company Walt created. However, as we ready ourselves for our exit from Walt's century into what looks increasingly like the century of Disney Inc., we still await the biographer who can lead us, critical faculties intact, to an exit sign. Perhaps, though, as in any dystopian story worth its salt, there will be no exit from this theater. -- The Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review, Tom Engelhardt

Part biography, part cultural history, The Magic Kingdom gives us a vivid portrait of the man behind Mickey Mouse, while at the same time situating his anomalous achievement within a social and aesthetic context. We are left with an appreciation of just why Disney's work resonated so strongly in the popular imagination and how it evolved over six decades.... a terrifically readable and illuminating book. -- The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani

Walt Disney's life was a fascinating journey--would that the book were equally fascinating. Unfortunately, Watts ... has chosen a poor format. He'll sum up in a few pages the progress Disney made over, say, a decade and then spend the next few chapters going over and over the ramifications. In discussing Disney's numerous projects, he'll dutifully, ploddingly report what the critics said, both for and against, only occasionally enlivening the proceedings with his own point of view.... Watts's scholarly research (there are 57 pages of notes) has turned up enough information for several books. Unfortunately, he tells his story in a way Walt wouldn't have let get past a first draft. -- Reason, Steve Kurtz

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Watts, Steven
Editore: Houghton Mifflin (1998)
ISBN 10: 0395835879 ISBN 13: 9780395835876
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