Roller coaster books: Chris Sawyer's top 20

During the development of RollerCoaster Tycoon, Chris Sawyer obtained a large selection of roller coaster and amusement park books for research and personal interest. Here are Chris's favourite books, with his personal summary of each.

"White Knuckle Ride"
by Mark Wyatt, published by Salamander Books in 1996
hardcover 112 pages, ISBN 0861018702

This is the first rollercoaster book I bought back in 1996, well before I'd even thought about creating a roller coaster game. It contains loads of colour photos of roller coasters from all over the world, along with descriptions and statistics for each ride. Pages 44 and 45 are engraved on my mind, as they show exactly the kind of images I wanted to create in RollerCoaster Tycoon - page 44 shows the wooden coaster Twister II at Elitch Gardens, and page 45 shows the steel looping coaster Vortex at Paramount's Kings Island, and I remember becoming fascinated with both these pictures. The wooden coaster is gleaming white with dense wooden support structure and smooth twists and drops, and the steel coaster looks like a tangled knot of track. It's no coincidence that the first two types of coaster created in RollerCoaster Tycoon were the wooden coaster and the steel twister, exactly the types shown in these photos. The rest of the book is just as interesting, with a wide variety of different coaster types covered.

"A Century Of Fun"
by Peter Bennett, published by Blackpool Pleasure beach in 1996
hardcover 150 pages, ISBN 0951467727

A fascinating insight into the 100-year history of Blackpool Pleasure Beach, showing how the park developed from a few 'amusement machines' on the sand dunes into the modern amusement park full of intertwining roller coasters and other rides. Includes some very interesting historical photos, showing rides which have long gone or been partially rebuilt, and some lovely aerial photos showing the park at various stages in it's life.

"A Hundred Years of Fun"
by Peter Bennett, published by Blackpool Pleasure Beach in 1996
56 pages, ISBN 0951467719

This is a stripped-down "tourist" version of the book above, and has some of the same photos and text, but misses out on some of the more lengthy historical sections. Includes a few unique photos not in "A Century Of Fun".

"Roller Coasters, Their Amazing History"
by Robert E. Preedy, published by R.E.Preedy in 1992
60 pages, ISBN (N/A)

This is the first of two small books by Robert Preedy containing monochrome photos of many long-gone wooden coasters in the UK. Includes some fascinating photos of steel coasters from as long ago as 1937 (yes, steel, in 1937).

"Roller Coasters, Shake Rattle and Roll!"
by Robert E. Preedy, published by R.E.Preedy in 1996
64 pages, ISBN (N/A)

The second of Robert Preedy's books, again showing monochrome photos of many long lost rides in the UK, including the UK's first looping coaster in 1902. 

"Disneyland Paris"
by The Walt Disney Company 1996
64 pages, ISBN (N/A)

This is really just a large glossy brochure type book, available only to purchase at the park itself, but is packed with quality photos showing the park. Not many photos actually showing the rides, but all the photos show the quality of the themeing and design of the park.

"Roller Coaster, Wooden and Steel Coasters, Twisters, and Corkscrews"
by David Bennett, published by Chartwell Books Inc. in 1998
hardcover 192 pages, ISBN 078580885X (US edition)

Another of my favourite books, containing colour photos of a wide variety of coaster types with some technical articles and history. Large sections of the book are dedicated to particular rides or parks, for example Cedar Point and Blackpool Pleasure Beach, and there are some wonderful double-page colour photos of rides like the Mean Streak and Raptor at Cedar Point.

"The Roller Coaster Lover's Companion"
by Steven J. Urbanowicz, published by Carol Publishing Group in 1997
162 pages, ISBN 080651924X

This is really a guide book to help you plan a tour through the US's larger parks, but contains plenty of information about the coasters themselves, along with statistics, a few monochrome photos, and the author's personal "top fives" in various categories.

"Roller Coasters of America"
by Todd H. Throgmorton, published by Motorbooks International in 1994
160 pages, ISBN 087938929X

Contains plenty of monochrome photos of roller coasters from all over America, along with lists and details of coasters at each park. Since this book was written in 1994, some of the information is outdated, but the photographs make the book worth reading.

"Kennywood, Roller Coaster Capital of the World"
by Charles J. Jacques, Jr., published by Amusement Park Journal 1982
204 pages, ISBN 0961439254

An in-depth historical look at Kennywood Park from the 1860's picnic spot to the 1980's thrill park. Contains loads of monochrome photos of the existing coasters and long-gone rides through the years along with a comprehensive history of the park.

"Harry G. Traver: Legends of Terror"
by Richard Munch, published by Amusement Park Books in 1982
176 pages, ISBN 0935408029

This is a very difficult book to obtain, but well worth the effort as it contains some of the most frightening photos of wooden coasters I've ever seen. The photos in question show the long-gone Crystal Beach Cyclone and the Zip at Oaks Park in the 1920's, which look so twisted and demented it's difficult to imagine how they must have felt to ride. The whole book is a fascinating insight into the wooden coasters and other rides designed by Harry Traver , most of which had short lives, but some of which are still in existence. Contains numerous monochrome photos.

"The Great American Amusement Parks - A Pictorial History"
by Gary Kyriazi, published by Castle Books in 1976
hardcover 256 pages, ISBN 0806505257

This is an old out-of-print book which I purchased 2nd hand. It covers the history of many US parks, with plenty of monochrome photos from the 1920-1970 period.

"Roller Coasters, Flumes and Flying Saucers"
By Robert R. Reynolds, published by Northern Lights Publishing in 1999
hardcover 192 pages, ISBN 0965735354

This is a historical account of how Ed Morgan and Karl Bacon started building amusement rides in the 1940s and went on to create the first tubular-steel rail roller coaster, the Matterhorn Bobsleds, mine trains, log flumes, car rides and many other pioneering ideas like Disney's unique "Flying Saucers" ride. The company they started was Arrow Developments, a company still going strong now in the theme park ride business.

"The Incredible Scream Machine"
by Robert Cartmell, published by Amusement Park Books Inc. in 1987
252 pages, ISBN 09879723421

Another old book which is difficult but not impossible to obtain, and is well worth the effort. It contains chapters about various different coaster designers through the ages, different eras in amusement parks, and a fascinating chapter about some innovative but unsuccessful coaster-like rides in the 1920's. Contains loads of monochrome photos and well-written text.

"Are You Chicken? (A Coward's Guide to Roller Coasters)"
by Robert Reynolds, published by Northern Lights Publishing in 1997
64 pages, ISBN 0965735338

This is a very slim paperback book, which although written in a light-hearted style (hence the title), is actually quite technically interesting. Contains pages on various coaster design companies, the various types of coaster, different elements and inversions in coasters, how coasters work, and details of some specific coasters. The photos are all in colour, and despite the small size of the book they are nicely detailed.

"Mouse Tails, A Behind-the-ears look at Disneyland"
by David Koenig, published by Bonaventure Press in 1994
238 pages, ISBN 0964060566

"This book is in no way authorized by, endorsed by or associated with Disneyland Park or the Walt Disney Co." it states on the back of this book, and when you read it you realise why. Disneyland doesn't always run as smoothly as it should, and this book shows what really goes on behind the scenes of a complex park like this. It's a fascinating read, and gives a very good insight into how difficult it is to keep a park running and create the Disney "experience".

"More Mouse Tails, A closer peek backstage at Disneyland"
by David Koenig, published by Bonaventure Press in 1999
hardcover 238 pages, ISBN 0964060574

This is a follow-on to "Mouse Tails" above, and basically adds more to the first book by looking in detail at how particular rides were designed and created, how the staff work, and what guests get up to.

"Roller Coasters"
by Mike Schafer and Scott Rutherford, published by Motor Books International in 1998
96 pages, ISBN 0760305064

Contains short descriptions of many of the US's roller coasters, along with loads of colour photos. The first chapter also looks at the history of parks and coasters, and shows some very nice early photos of well-known parks, and parks which have now gone. 

"The American Roller Coaster"
by Scott Rutherford, published by Motor Books International in 2000
hardcover 160 pages, ISBN 0760306893

An excellent book, full of colour photos on a wide variety of coaster types, locations, and eras. The text covers the beginnings of roller coasters in America, how coasters work, how coasters were developed over the years, and a final chapter on the newest coasters (in 2000).

"Alton Towers, A Gothic Wonderland"
by Michael J. Fisher, published by M.J.Fisher in 1999
182 pages, ISBN 0952685523

And finally something very different to the rest of the books here. Not a single coaster photo in the whole book, but instead a detailed look at the history of Alton Towers, which gave it's name to the UK's largest theme park, now home to world-class coasters like Nemesis and Oblivion. The towers building still exists (in a partially derelict state) in the park, and it's interesting to read about the history of the building and the families who owned it, what it looked like in it's glory days, why it became derelict, and how it came to be a theme park.

Some of these books are still "in print", and can be easily purchased by ordering from a book store or an on-line retailer like The out-of-print books are more difficult to obtain, but if you really want them, I can recommend Gunther Hall Ltd., who specialize in selling anything amusement park related and have a large selection of in-print and out-of-print books. Gunther Hall Ltd.'s address is P.O.Box 140, 20 Bay Hill Road, Alton Bay, NH 03810, telephone 603-875-2248 (US)

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