The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

Books on Book Covers

9781594203367B (1)
It started, innocently enough, with a tweet from my friend Steven Beattie, book review editor of Canada’s Quill & Quire magazine, about the cover of The Most Dangerous Book, Kevin Birmingham’s new ‘biography’ of Ulysses by James Joyce, designed by Ben Wiseman (Penguin June 2014).


That sparked a conversation with designer David Gee and Joseph Sullivan of The Book Design Review about books on book covers. Joe wrote a  a post on the subject in 2009 on the subject, and I rather naïvely thought it would be easy (EASY!) to post a few contemporary examples of the trend, completely underestimating what an undertaking such a project would become.

What follows is an attempt to showcase some of different ways designers incorporate books into their cover designs. Along side covers from the past five years, I’ve included some earlier examples from Joe’s post, and this post about ‘meta-covers’ from HTML Giant. Many of the images of the older titles are small (and some are just not very good), but where I have been able to source a larger image, I’ve included it at full (or close to full) size. I’m indebted to the Book Cover Archive, which is still an invaluable resources after all this time, Ferran Lopez‘s (also mothballed) Jacket Museum, and all the designers and book folk who sent me cover images, and helped me in numerous other ways. Thank you. This isn’t comprehensive survey but, to be honest, I had to stop somewhere…

Front and Center

Seven Hundred Penguins; design David Pearson / illustration Clare Skeats (Penguin Sept 2007)

Cover by Peter Mendelsund; design by Peter Mendelsund (powerHouse Books August 2014)

Kapitalismus und Hautkrankheiten by Jasmin Ramadan; design by Books We Made (Klett-Cotta Verlag April 2014)

The Knowledge
The Knowledge by Lewis Dartnell; design by Kris Potter (Penguin April 2014)
Priceless by William Poundstone; design by Jennifer Carrow (Hill & Wang January 2010)

Publish Your Photography Book by Darius D. Himes & Mary Virginia Swanson; design by David Chickey & Masumi Shibata (Princeton Architectural Press March 2011)

The Yarn Whisperer by Clara Parkes; design by John Gall (Abrams September 2013)

Cut, Torn, Ripped or Otherwise Defaced or Damaged

The Arsonist by Sue Miller; design by Greg Heinimann (Bloomsbury June 2014)

Best New Poets 2013, guest editor Brenda Shaughnessy; design by Atomicdust (Meridian January 2014)

Christine Falls by Benjamin Black; series design by Keith Hayes (Picador January 2008)

Half World by Scott O’Connor; design by Christopher Lin (Simon & Schuster February 2014)

Heaven is Small by Emily Schultz; design by Ingrid Paulson (House of Anansi )

(And if your not Canadian, you may not know that this is a riff on Ingrid’s design for the hardcover of Heaven is Small, featured in this list.)

The Keep by Jennifer Egan; design by John Gall (Knopf August 2006)

The Last Winter of Dani Lancing by P. D. Viner; design by Oliver Munday (Crown October 2013)

Mess; series art and design by Keri Smith (Penguin September 2010)

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson; design by Matt Dorfman (Riverhead December 2011)

Religion for Atheists by Alain de Botton; design by Matt Dorfman (Pantheon June 2012)

(This is what the cover looks like under the jacket if you’re curious)

Salinger by David Shields and Shane Salerno; design by Christopher Lin (Simon & Schuster September 2013)

What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton; design by Jamie Stafford-Hill (Tor January 2014)

Three-Quarters, or a Bit on the Side

 The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde; cover art by Thomas Allen, series design by Jaya Miceli (Penguin 2011)

And those of you with a good memory will remember Chip Kidd used also art by Thomas Allen for a series of James Ellroy titles publisher by Vintage in the US:

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury; design by Matt Owen (Simon & Schuster January 2012)

Fiction Ruined My Family by Jeanne Darst; design by Alex Merto (Riverhead September 2011)

The Most Dangerous Book by Kevin Birmingham; adapted from the US cover with additional design by Jessie Price (Head of Zeus June 2014)

Marcel Proust’s Search for Lost Time by Patrick Alexander; design by Jamie Keenan (Vintage March 2010)

ECW-Real Made Up 2007
The Real Made Up by Stephen Brockwell; design by David A. Gee (ECW October 2007)

Stoner (paperback) Stoner by John Williams; design by Julia Connolly (Vintage July 2012)

9780802122148 An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine; design by Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich (Grove April 2014)

And while it’s not an actual book, let’s give Tom Davie of studiotwentysix2 a round of applause for his famous novel redesign print (which you can buy here).

Open Books and Page Turners

Book Was There by Andrew Piper; design by Andrea Guinn (University of Chicago Press November 2012)

Erotic Poems by E. E. Cummings; design by Gabriele Wilson (Liveright February 2010)

How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti; design by Rebecca Seltzer (Henry Holt & Co. June 2012)

A Journey with Two Maps by Eavan Boland; design by Chin-Yee Lai (W. W. Norton October 2011)

John Dies at the End by David Wong; design by Rob Grom (Thomas Dunne October 2009)

A Life in Books by Warren Lehrer; cover art by Warren Lehrer in collaboration with Jonathan Rosen (Goff Books October 2013)

The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan & Quentin Fiore; design by Yes Studio (Penguin September 2008)

A Most Dangerous Book by Christopher B. Krebs; design by Mark Melnick (W. W. Norton June 2011)

The Novel: A Biography by Michael Schmidt; design by Graciela Galup (Belknap Press April 2014)

Philology by James Turner; design by Kara Davison / Faceout Studio (Princeton University Press, May 2014)

The Pox and the Covenant by Tony Wilson; design by Jason Gabbert (Sourcebooks April 2010)


What to Look For in Winter 
by Candia McWilliam; design by Richard Ljoenes (Harper March 2012)

Where I'm Reading From (1)
Where I’m Reading From by Tim Parks; design by James Paul Jones (Harvill Secker November 2014)

The World by Bill Gaston; design by Kathleen Lynch / Black Kat Design (Penguin August 2013)

Writers Between the Covers by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon; design by Lucy Kim (Plume October 2013)

Shelves, Sides, Spines, and Stacks

Penguin by Design by Phil Baines; design by David Pearson (Penguin May 2005)

Wormholes by John Fowles; design by Carin Goldberg (Little, Brown & Co. 1997)

Bad Teeth by Dustin Long; design by Rex Bonomelli (New Harvest May 2014)

The Broadview Introduction to Literature; series design by Michel Vrana (Broadview August 2013)


First Novel - Nicholas Royle
First Novel by Nicholas Royle; design by Suzanne Dean (Jonathan Cape February 2014)

How To Be A Heroine by Samantha Ellis; designed by James Paul Jones (Chatto & Windus January 2014)

How to Read Literature by Terry Eagleton; design uncredited1 (Yale University Press Jun 2013)

The Junior Officers’ Reading Club by Patrick Hennessey; design by David Wardle (Penguin June 2009)

Ajax Penumbra 1969 by Robin Sloan; design by Irene Pineda (Atlantic Books June 2014)

The Rise & Fall of the Great Powers by Tom Rachman; design by Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich (Dial June 2014)

Stoner (hardback)
Stoner by John Williams; design by Julia Connolly (Vintage November 2013)

Vagina by Emma L. E. Rees; design by Alice Marwick (Bloomsbury August 2013)

Why I Read by Wendy Lesser; design by Rodrigo Corral (Farrar, Straus & Giroux (January 2014)

The Year of Henry James by David Lodge; design by Nathan Burton (Vintage May 2014)

The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller; design by Jo Walker (Fourth Estate May 2014)

And then there’s this…


You Are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier; design by Olly Moss (Penguin January 2010)

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1. The cover designer isn’t credited in either the hardcover or the paperback editions of How to Read Literature. However, the jacket of Eagleton’s The Event of Literature, published by Yale University Press in 2012, which features a ‘torn’ cover was designed by Head Design.

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