Book Review: The Look of the Book

I still love wandering book stores, letting the covers of books catch my eye. The reduction of book covers to thumbnails on the screen — like vinyl record covers of yesteryear — brings with it some sense of loss.

In The Look of the Book (Jackets, Covers and Art at the Edges of Literature), Peter Mendelsund and David Alworth offer up an appreciation and an artistic aesthetic to the power of the decisions that grace the covers of books.

Both men are from the field of design and writing, and they bring a wonderful sense of “insider” information to the table for this book, which is packed full of examples, anecdotes, interviews and observations about the power of what we see when we look at the cover of a book, and how the cover works on so many levels to draw us into the story.

While they peruse the historical landscape of book design, they don’t ignore the moment we are in, where, as they remind us many times, people search for books on Google and then order books from Amazon, and where the role of the cover to catch your eye may be diminished, even if books are still going strong and seem to mostly weather any innovation that comes pop culture’s way.

This is also just a beautiful book to read and to hold, and to peruse, and yes, it’s cover is interesting, with artistic collage of book covers that appear to be layered just beneath the raised surface of material. The phrasing in the subtitle of “edges” of writing and publishing and telling stories through words and visuals was a common theme, and one that intrigued me.

I came away from The Look of the Book with new appreciation for the collaboration and teamwork that goes into book design, and loved the look at covers never approved, and how font, and space, and color, and image, and more, all play a coordinated role in the marketing of books (from the business perspective) and the inferred sense that inside the cover is a work of art, worthy of the cover.

Peace (beneath the cover),

  1. Hi Kevin!
    One good blog visit deserves another… Thanks for stopping in at

    I love coincidences … Not sure anything you read at my site mentioned that I’m originally from Northampton, although now in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

    Bookmarking your blog now… reading more later!


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