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.
Praise for The Look of the Book:
“A book about books that deserves a spot in every bibliophile’s collection.”
Praise for Cover:
“In the past decade, Mr. Mendelsund has designed about 600 book jackets, ranging from a sober, sophisticated cover for Tolstoy''s
War and Peace to his whimsical Pop Art-like treatment of Kafka''s novella
Metamorphosis, to the hypnotic fluorescent swirls on Stieg Larsson''s thriller
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”
—New York Times
“Cover is foremost a visually enticing tour of some of the most important books of recent times, made even more memorable by Mendelsund''s daring covers.”
Praise for What We See When We Read:
“A playful, illustrated treatise on how words give rise to mental images.”
—Alexandra Alter, New York Times
“Mendelsund, throughout this thought-provoking book, helps the lay reader contemplate text in ways you hadn''t thought about previously.”
—Los Angeles Times
“A welcome and fascinating new book.”
—New York Review of Books
Peter Mendelsund is the former art director at Alfred A. Knopf, the creative director of
The Atlantic, and the author of a design monograph called
Cover, as well as
What We See When We Read, which has been translated into fourteen languages, and the novel
Same Same. His writings have appeared in the
New York Times, the
Paris Review, and other magazines.
David J. Alworth is the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. He teaches and writes about modern and contemporary literature, media, art, and design. He is the author of
Site Reading: Fiction, Art, Social Form and his essays have appeared in
Public Books and the
Los Angeles Review of Books, as well as in various scholarly journals.
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.