The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

Lost in the Plot: Maps on Book Covers



Who doesn’t like a good map? From sophisticated charts to intricate, idiosyncratic drawings to directions drawn on the back of napkin, maps explain the world two-dimensionally. They are flights of imagination anchored in our knowledge of the world — much like books themselves.

This post is a collection of book covers which use maps as parts of their design. I started this working on it months ago (my earlier post collecting arrows on books covers was originally an offshoot of this one), but it turned out to be surprisingly difficult to find enough interesting covers. I think I’ve finally got there — even if I had to cheat a little to include a couple of floor plans! I hope you agree…

Abolitionist Geographies by Martha Schoolman; design by David Drummond (University of Minnesota Press / October 2014)

All Over the Map by Michael Sorkin; design by Dan Mogford (Verso / July 2011)

American Smoke Iain Sinclair; design by Nathan Burton (Hamish Hamilton / November 2013)

Astray by Emma Donoghue; design by Keith Hayes (Little Brown & Co. / October 2012)

Bleeding London by Geoff Nicholson; design by Jamie Keenan (Harbour Books / September 2014)

A Boy and a Bear in a Boat by Dave Shelton; design by Dave Shelton (David Fickling Books / January 2012)

Cartographies of Travel and Navigation edited by James R. Akerman design by Isaac Tobin (University of Chicago Press / October 2006)

The Coat Route by Meg Lukens Noonan; design by Allison Colpoys (Scribe / January 2014)

A Darker Shade final for Irene
A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab; design by Will Staehle (Tor / February 2015)

(This unused comp is even mappier!)

Delmore Schwartz: A Critical Reassessment by Alex Runchman; design by Palgrave Design Team (Palgrave Macmillan / May 2014)

Dogfish Memory by Joseph A. Dane; design by Jason Ramirez (Countryman Press / June 2011)

Eat the City by Robin Shulman; cover art by Christopher Silas Neal (Crown / July 2012)

The Fatal Strain by Alan Sipress; design by Isaac Tobin (Penguin / September 2011)

From Here to There by Kris Harzinski; design by Deb Wood (Princeton Architectural Press / September 2010)

1493 by Charles C. Mann; design by Darren Wall (Granta / September 2011)

The Ghost Map by Steve Johnson; design by Ben Gibson (Riverhead / November 2007)

Gun Machine by Warren Ellis; design by Oliver Munday (Little Brown & Co / January 2013)

Hackney-front Hackney-full
Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire by Iain Sinclair; design by Nathan Burton; map by David Atkinson (Hamish Hamilton / February 2009)

Harlem is Nowhere by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitt; design Friederike Huber (Granta / August 2011)

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien; design Adam Busby / Buzz Studios (unused / February 2013) 1

The Imperial Map edited by James R. Akerman; design by Isaac Tobin (University of Chicago Press / March 2009)

Infidelities by Kirsty Gunn; design by Darren Wall (Faber & Faber / November 2014)

La Isla del Tesoro (Treasure Island) by Robert Louis Stevenson; design by Raúl Arias (Bolchiro February 2013)

KCP_B paperback
Kimberly’s Capital Punishment by Richard Milward; design by Luke Bird (Faber & Faber / August 2013)

London Underground by Design by Mark Ovenden; design by Matthew Young (Particular Books / June 2013)

Project1:Layout 5
Project1:Layout 5
Map of the Invisible World by Tash Aw; design by Anna Morrison (Fourth Estate / April 2009)

Map Thief by Michael Blanding; design by Stephen Brayda (Gotham Books / July 2014)

Maps by Paula Scher; design by Pentagram; cover art Paula Scher (Princeton Architectural Press / October 2011)

(these Paula Scher Maps mini-journals are also rather nice)

No Dig, No Fly, No Go by Mark Monmonier; design by Isaac Tobin (University of Chicago Press / May 2010)

The Norfolk Mystery by Ian Samson; design by Jo Walker (Fourth Estate / June 2014)

N-W by Zadie Smith; design by Gray318 (Hamish Hamilton / September 2012)

On the Map by Simon Garfield; design by Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich (Gotham Books / December 2012)

On the Map by Simon Garfield; design by Nathan Burton (Profile Books / October 2012)

Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius; design by Charlotte Strick (FSG / January 2012)

Rats by Robert Sullivan; design by Whitney Cookman; cover art by Peter Sis (Bloomsbury / April 2004)

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch; design by Patrick Knowles; cover illustration Stephen Walter (Gollancz / January 2011)

Ring of Steel by Alexander Watson; design by Antonio Colaco (Allen Lane / August 2014)

The Second World War by Antony Beevor; design by Steve Marking (Little Brown & Co / June 2012)

Seen Reading by Julie Wilson; design by Natalie Olsen / Kisscut Design (Freehand Books / April 2012)

The Snow Tourist by Charlie English; cover art by Mike Topping / Despotica (Portobello Books / November 2008)

Thick as Thieves by Peter Spiegelman; design by Nathan Burton (Quercus/September 2011)

Transnationalism edited by Michael D. Behiels and Reginald C. Stuart; design by Michel Vrana (McGill-Queens University Press / October 2010)

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson; design by Coralie Bickford-Smith, cover illustration by Mick Brownfield (Penguin / May 2008)

Villages of Britain by Clive Aslet; design by Sarah Greeno (Bloomsbury / October 2010)

A Wilderness of Error by Errol Morris; design by Pentagram (Penguin / September 2012)

Zone of the Marvellous by Martin Edmond; design by Keely O’Shannessy (Auckland University Press / September 2009)

And I don’t think we can end this post without mentioning the amazing Book Map print by Manchester-based studio Dorothy:

The map — loosely based on a turn of the century map of London — is made up from the titles of over 600 books from the history of English Literature. Buy it here.

Similar Posts:

1. To the best of my knowledge, this was created for a ‘re-covered’ contest on The Fox is Black and does not exist in book form. However, prints and other merchandise that use the design are available from the Buzz Studios shop.


  1. Just wanted to say thank you for you posts, and how appreciated your hard work is in assembling themed collections like this one. Keep up the great work. It doesn’t go unnoticed.

  2. I definitively love book covers and maps. Thks. :-)

  3. Superb collection – well done!

  4. Hi Ian — I was going to include Jen’s cover, and then I changed my mind because it wasn’t the final design. But then I included the unused Hobbit cover, so maybe I should’ve kept it after all? Thanks as always, man. :-)

  5. Thanks James! I really appreciate the kinds words. (And please feel free to keep me posted on your new work!)

  6. Thanks er… ‘graphicdefiner’! I’m really glad you’re enjoying these posts. :-)

Leave a Reply