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Judging the Book: 50 Most Captivating Covers of All Time

by Staff Writers

They say that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but every year publishers spend loads of time and effort getting designers to create covers that will stand out from the crowd of books on the shelf and get consumers to take them home. The cover may not tell the story, but it is certainly an important part of how people choose and remember their favorite books. Here are a few covers from the past and present that have stood out for their innovative designs, great artwork or just plain eye-catching images, many of which are not only pretty to look at but represent books that can help you learn more and stay entertained outside of your college courses.

Classics

Many of these covers have become as iconic as the books they represent.

  1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, cover art by Francis Cugat: This boldly colored, sad-eyed cover is a work of art on its own.
     
  2. The Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger, cover art by Michael Mitchell: Here you can see the bright colors and line drawings of the cover that adorned the first edition of this coming-of-age tale.
     
  3. On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, cover art by Len Deighton: Len Deighton would go on to become a great author in his own right, but before all that he designed this cover for the classic beat generation book On the Road.
     
  4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, cover art by Shirley Smith: While simple, this illustration conveys the beauty and sadness of this tale.
     
  5. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S. Thompson, cover art by Ralph Steadman: Ralph Steadman’s work has become a part of the work of Thompson himself, adorning most of his cover art including this 1972 novel.
     
  6. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley, cover art by Leslie Holland: The world on this cover aptly represents the dystopian topics touched on in this futuristic classic.
     
  7. Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison, cover art by Edward McKnight Kauffer: Kauffer’s designs, like this one for Ellison’s beautifully written and racially charged novel, were part of the new style of graphic design he helped pioneer.
     
  8. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller, cover art by Paul Bacon: This cover uses primary colors and simple designs to draw the viewer in.
     
  9. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess, cover art by David Pelham: Bold designs and bright colors make this cover hard to forget.
     
  10. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck, cover art by Ross MacDonald: The cover of the first edition of this book depicts the main characters of the novel in a serene landscape.
     
  11. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote, cover art by S. Neil Fujita: Fujita worked with Capote himself to create this simple but effective cover.
     
  12. Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin, cover art by Fred Marcellino: The dreamy nighttime landscape of this cover works well as the the mythical New York depicted in the book.
     

Non-Fiction

From memoirs to philosophy tomes, these books have covers that make them stand out.

  1. A Shortcut Through Time, by George Johnson, cover art by Peter Buchanan-Smith: The cover of this book not only works design-wise, but also relates directly to the title.
     
  2. Born to Kvetch, by Michael Wex, cover art by Jennifer Carrow: This cover was named one of the best of the year for the aptness of the photo it contains.
     
  3. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, by Walter Benjamin, cover art by David Pearson: In this printing of Benjamin’s classic work, the reader finds an image that’s a play on the title and contents of the book.
     
  4. Change the Way You See Everything: Through Asset-Based Thinking, by Kathryn D. Cramer and Hank Wasiak: While focusing primarily on the text, this book forces you to do just what the title asks.
     
  5. A General Theory of Love, by Thomas Lewis MD, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon, cover art by John Hall: This cover may use inanimate objects, but there is much life and love implied by them.
     
  6. A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey, cover art by Rodrigo Corral: While the book itself turned out to not be truly non-fiction, the cover art is hard to forget with hundreds of small, colorful sprinkles adorning an outstretched hand.
     
  7. The Map as Art, by Jayne Anne Phillips, designed by Peter Mendelsund: This art book uses its cover to play around with maps and intrigue readers into checking out what’s inside.
     
  8. A Wolf at the Table, by Augusten Burroughs, cover art by Chip Kidd: The main object on this cover may be a fork, but when combined with the title, gives the cover a sinister and compelling look.
     
  9. Oh the Glory of It All, by Sean Wilsey, cover art by Non-Format: The cover of this memoir is simple and bold, offering enough to draw readers in but not enough to reveal what the story is about.
     

Modern Works

Take a look at these covers to see some inspiring and intriguing artwork.

  1. Less than Zero, by Bret Easton Ellis, cover art by Chip Kidd: The cover art for this book accurately represents the time period and the subject matter of this Ellis classic.
     
  2. All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy, cover art by Chip Kidd: The photograph and design of this cover have landed it on numerous best cover art lists.
     
  3. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon, cover art by Michael Ian Kaye: Check out this book cover to see how a few colors and a minimal amount of graphics can go a long way.
     
  4. The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, by Michael Chabon, cover at by Will Staehle: The illustrations on this cover are bold, trick the eye and almost veer into the territory of cuteness.
     
  5. Everything Is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safran Foer, cover art by Jonathan Gray: Who says text-filled covers can’t be intriguing? This one sure is, with playfully arranged and boldly-colored lettering.
     
  6. Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth, by Chris Ware, cover art by Chris Ware: Readers can expect the same attention to detail and innovation throughout the book as there is on the cover designed by the writer and artist himself.
     
  7. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami, cover art by Chip Kidd: This cover offers another Chip Kidd work, distorting and rearranging the image of a bird reminiscent of the dreamlike quality of Murakami’s work itself.
     
  8. August, by Judith Rossner, cover art by Fred Marcellino: This book makes you think both of summers by the seaside and Freudian psychology–a compelling mix to be sure.
     
  9. Blindness, by José Saramago, cover art by Claudine Guerguerian: This cover uses text to play with the title of the work itself.
     
  10. The Abomination, by Paul Golding, cover art by Chip Kidd: Here you’ll find a cover that’s pretty darn cute considering the title of the book.
     
  11. The Last Lonely Saturday, by Jordan Crane, cover art by Jordan Crane: A designer and comic book writer, Crane’s illustrations have garnered him numerous awards.
     

Innovative Designs

The cover designs on these books take the art form to new places with fresh ideas and new ways to bring in readers to the material.

  1. House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski, designed by Joe Paul: On this bold cover, the title stretches over both the front and back covers.
     
  2. Bartleby the Scrivener, by Herman Meville, cover art by Nikelle Orellana: This image plays with text and white space and makes the viewer hunt for the title and information.
     
  3. One Red Paperclip, by Kyle MacDonald, cover art by Maria Elias: No need for the name of the book on the cover with the singular image that represents it there instead.
     
  4. The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell, designed by Alison Forner: The cover of this book doesn’t show much but raises a lot of questions as to just what it’s about–apt considering the title.
     
  5. The Last Days of Publishing, by Tom Englehardt, cover art by Louise Fili: This cover uses proofreading marks found in publishing itself to create a unique and compelling image.
     
  6. The Mayor’s Tongue, by Nathaniel Rich, cover art by Gray 318: This cover shows just how exciting and interesting an almost entirely-type cover can be.
     
  7. All the Sad Young Literary Men, by Keith Gessen, cover art by The Heads of State: In this image you’ll be left wondering if literature can really be a burden.
     
  8. The Way Through Doors, by Jesse Ball, cover art by Helen Yentus and Jason Booher: Using only black and white and minimal text, this cover manages to be incredibly interesting.
     

Science Fiction and Fantasy

From the bold minimalism of Chip Kidd to the lush illustrations of Michael Whelan, these book covers are hard to forget.

  1. Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton, cover art by Chip Kidd: The artwork for this book is simple, but incredibly effective. So much so that when it came time to make a poster for the movie based on this book, the producers decided to use the same image.
     
  2. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, cover art by Fred Marcellino: This cover uses a pop of color to draw the eye in get readers to pick up this dystopian tale.
     
  3. Soviet Science Fiction, by various authors, cover art by Paul Rand: On this cover you’ll find a clever illustration that blends images iconic of Russia with those of space travel.
     
  4. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K Dick, cover art by Bob Pepper: Bob Pepper did nearly all the cover art for Philip K. Dick’s most iconic novels, but this one stands out as representative of both the story and the time period when it was created.
     
  5. 2010: Odyssey Two, by Arthur C. Clarke, cover art by Michael Whelan: The painting on this color is rendered in lush detail and vivid colors and makes it so readers can’t help but to want to know what the story is about.
     

Children’s Literature

These books have memorable artwork both inside and out.

  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by JK Rowling, cover art by David Saylor: This cover brought to life the boy with the lightening shaped scar, illustrating a book that was to become one of the best selling of all time.
     
  2. Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, cover art and illustration by Sir John Tenniel: The cover art and illustrations for this book are well-known, with the original woodcut engravings being held at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
     
  3. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum, cover art and illustration by W.W. Denslow: The simple illustrations of this book bring to life the beloved characters within.
     
  4. Twelve Dancing Princesses, by Marianna Mayer, cover art and illustration by Kinuko Y. Craft: The story of the dancing princesses is a classic one, but this retelling’s cover illustration is incredibly beautiful and detailed, leaving readers to return to it again and again.
     
  5. Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein, cover art and illustration by Shel Silverstein: Shel Silverstein’s writing is in a class of its own, but his drawings are whimsical and endearing enough to stand alone.