The Look of the Book

Jackets, Covers, and Art at the Edges of Literature

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Why do some book covers instantly grab your attention, while others never get a second glance? Fusing word and image, as well as design thinking and literary criticism, this captivating investigation goes behind the scenes of the cover design process to answer this question and more.

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

As the outward face of the text, the book cover makes an all-important first impression. The Look of the Book examines art at the edges of literature through notable covers and the stories behind them, galleries of the many different jackets of bestselling books, an overview of book cover trends throughout history, and insights from dozens of literary and design luminaries. Co-authored by celebrated designer and creative director Peter Mendelsund and scholar David Alworth, this fascinating collaboration, featuring hundreds of covers, challenges our notions of what a book cover can and should be.
Judging a Book by Its Cover


We’re not supposed to do it, but we do it anyway. The book cover is the outward face of the text, the all-important first impression of the text, but it’s also incidental and easily replaced. The same text can take many different covers without losing its identity.

These contradictions started to intrigue us the more we thought about them. Eventually, they got us
thinking about the book cover as a specific medium of communication, graphic expression, design, and perhaps even art. There really is no other medium quite like it, but as is the case with all media in the twenty-first century, the book cover is being transformed by the digital revolution. Until recently, talking about book covers meant talking about physical books: either hardbacks (with or without paper jackets) or paperbacks. In the era of e-books and audiobooks, however, book covers exist as digital images that can float free of the texts that they cover. These days, we are likely to see a new book in the form of a publicity image before we can purchase it. As visual designs, book covers must accomplish a nearly impossible task: they have to be as effective at 1 1/2 inches tall, which is the size of an Amazon thumbnail image, as they are at 9 inches tall, displayed in the window of the brick-and-mortar bookstore. For this reason and others, the look of the book matters now as never before.
© Peter Mendelsund
Peter Mendelsund is a designer and writer. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and two daughters. View titles by Peter Mendelsund
© Henry Vega Ortiz

About

Why do some book covers instantly grab your attention, while others never get a second glance? Fusing word and image, as well as design thinking and literary criticism, this captivating investigation goes behind the scenes of the cover design process to answer this question and more.

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

As the outward face of the text, the book cover makes an all-important first impression. The Look of the Book examines art at the edges of literature through notable covers and the stories behind them, galleries of the many different jackets of bestselling books, an overview of book cover trends throughout history, and insights from dozens of literary and design luminaries. Co-authored by celebrated designer and creative director Peter Mendelsund and scholar David Alworth, this fascinating collaboration, featuring hundreds of covers, challenges our notions of what a book cover can and should be.

Excerpt

Judging a Book by Its Cover


We’re not supposed to do it, but we do it anyway. The book cover is the outward face of the text, the all-important first impression of the text, but it’s also incidental and easily replaced. The same text can take many different covers without losing its identity.

These contradictions started to intrigue us the more we thought about them. Eventually, they got us
thinking about the book cover as a specific medium of communication, graphic expression, design, and perhaps even art. There really is no other medium quite like it, but as is the case with all media in the twenty-first century, the book cover is being transformed by the digital revolution. Until recently, talking about book covers meant talking about physical books: either hardbacks (with or without paper jackets) or paperbacks. In the era of e-books and audiobooks, however, book covers exist as digital images that can float free of the texts that they cover. These days, we are likely to see a new book in the form of a publicity image before we can purchase it. As visual designs, book covers must accomplish a nearly impossible task: they have to be as effective at 1 1/2 inches tall, which is the size of an Amazon thumbnail image, as they are at 9 inches tall, displayed in the window of the brick-and-mortar bookstore. For this reason and others, the look of the book matters now as never before.

Author

© Peter Mendelsund
Peter Mendelsund is a designer and writer. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and two daughters. View titles by Peter Mendelsund
© Henry Vega Ortiz

Books for Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Every May we celebrate the rich history and culture of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. Browse a curated selection of fiction and nonfiction books by AANHPI creators that we think your students will love. Find our full collection of titles for Higher Education here.

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