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The best book covers of all time: 50 coolest book covers

Cover designs so good they'll class your living room right up

The best book covers of all time: 50 coolest book covers
Marc Chacksfield
27 February 2020

Like a record sleeve, a book cover is a crucial element of the reading experience.

It's the first thing you see, and a great cover can draw you in and persuade you to start that journey of discovery, page by page. We've picked 50 of the coolest for you to enjoy. Some are iconic. Some are clever. Some are beautiful, some scary, and many have transcended their original home to become as famous as the book itself.

Upvote the designs you think are true classics. And you can suggest any designs you think we should add to this hall of fame below.

  • Thinking of going digital? Here's a look at the best Kindle for you

Best book covers of all time

Best book covers of all time

1. Flowers in the Attic

£24.59
Buy now at Amazon

Title: Flowers in the Attic
Author: V.C. Andrews
Artist: Milton Charles/Gillian Hills

This classic cover perfectly echoes the harrowing tale of the book - a group of siblings locked in an attic together, with the black sky, and blood red bricks housing a single pained face looking forlornly out of the window. A unique and haunting image.

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Best book covers of all time

2. The Godfather

£5.47
Buy now at Amazon

Title: The Godfather
Author: Mario Puzo
Artist: S. Neil Fujita

The cover art for this classic was simple and striking - a heavy, gothic typeface and a puppeteer pulling the strings; so good that it was carried over wholesale for the film...and the rest is history.

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Best book covers of all time

3. Catch-22

£11.43
Buy now at Blackwell's

Title: Catch-22
Author: Joseph Heller
Artist: Paul Bacon

Catch-22's iconic cover, almost as famous as the book itself, showcases Bacon's signature style of author and title in bold, large typeface, with a small, but memorable illustrative motif.

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7
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Best book covers of all time

4. A Clockwork Orange

£2.09
Buy now at Amazon

Title: A Clockwork Orange
Author: Anthony Burgess
Artist: David Pelham

Designed ten years after the book's first publication, to coincide with the release of the 1971 film adaptation by Stanley Kubrick, this iconic cover was designed and realised by Pelham in a single night after an illustrator's first attempt was deemed inadequate. The Cog-eyed Droog design was thus adopted and instantly became a design classic.

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Best book covers of all time

5. 1984

£3.26
Buy now at Amazon

Title: 1984
Author: George Orwell
Artist: Shepard Fairey

1984 is a tale of Big Brother surveillance and, of the many great covers that have graced this, we like this one from 2008, designed by Shepard Fairey of Obey. The Soviet style of Obey's work suits the content of the book perfectly and the all-seeing eye gives that essential element of creepiness.

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Best book covers of all time

6. The Psychopath Test

£7.80
Buy now at Amazon

Title: The Psychopath Test
Author: Jon Ronson
Artist: Alex Merto A brilliantly cool cover for this book, with the two contrasting design styles even having different textures 'in the flesh'. Formal, stagnant and reserved on the left is 'ripped' away to reveal psychedelic, fluorescent and crazed on the right - a perfect Jekyll & Hyde design to suit the title.

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Best book covers of all time

7. Psycho

£1500
Buy now at Abe Books

Title: Psycho
Author: Robert Bloch
Artist: Tony Palladino

Like so many great covers - simple, but hugely effective. Black and white starkness and a giant typeface, viciously slashed through. A portent of what was to come inside its cover, and carried through to the film artwork.

This hardcover edition is highly collectable nowadays. That price is not a typo.

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4
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Best book covers of all time

8. American Psycho

£5.42
Buy now at Amazon

Title: American Psycho
Author: Bret Easton Ellis
Artist: Marshall Arisman

Artist George Corsillo, who designed the cover art for Bret Easton Ellis' first two books turned down the chance to design the artwork for American Psycho, stating "I was disgusted with myself for reading it". However, this just opened up the door for Marshall Arisman, who responded with this haunting, and very cool, representation of Patrick Bateman as part-man, part-devil.

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Best book covers of all time

9. Columbine

£11.99
Buy now at Amazon

Title: Columbine
Author:
Dave Cullen
Artist: Henry Sene Yee

Cullen's seminal non-fiction book - the definitive text about the Columbine High School Massacres of 1999 - deserves an iconic cover, and Henry Sene Yee provided it, with this minimalist design, incorporating a simple shot of the normal-looking school with a faintly ominous grey sky above it.

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Best book covers of all time

10. Procession of the Dead

£4.38
Buy now at Amazon

Title: Procession of the Dead
Author: Darren Shan
Artist: Catherine Casalino

Our third book cover to feature the word 'dead' in title, we apologise if we're being a little macabre. But there's something about the ol' grim reaper that seems to bring out the best in designers. This one is simple and haunting, and we're sure El Muerte would approve.

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Best book covers of all time

11. An Ethics of Interrogation

£120.43
Buy now at Amazon

Title: An Ethics of Interrogation

Author: Michael Skerker
Artist: Isaac Tobin Designer

Tobin is responsible for a whole slew of great book covers, but this is his most simple and probably the most effective, with the single lightbulb conjuring up an image of a cold, dark room, with a detective who wants information...and is prepared to use any means necessary to obtain it...

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Best book covers of all time

12. Jaws

£12.75
Buy now at Amazon

Title: Jaws
Author: Peter Benchley
Artist: Roger Kastel

What can you say about this cover that hasn't already been said - so good that Universal used the same design for the film. We've gone for the original cover, as the closed-mouth shark somehow looks even more menacing than the teeth-baring version.

We've linked to the current edition above. Keep an eye on eBay for the original cover version.

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Best book covers of all time

13. Jurassic Park

£15.75
Buy now at Amazon

Title: Jurassic Park
Author: Michael Crichton
Artist: Chip Kidd

Another book cover that has become absolutely synonymous with the book itself, and the subsequent enormous film franchise, Chip Kidd's Jurassic Park cover is absolutely, undeniably cool. The eerie dinosaur skeleton has become so famous that it's easy to forget how menacing it must have originally looked. Very small arms though.

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Best book covers of all time

14. Farenheit 451

£6.67
Buy now at Alibris

Title: Farenheit 451
Author: Ray Bradbury
Artist: Joe Mugnaini

An appropriately terrifying cover for this dystopian epic, the weeping figure standing over burning books has lost none of its power since being created back in 1953.

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Best book covers of all time

15. The Brief History Of The Dead

£2.96
Buy now at Abe Books

Title: The Brief History of the Dead
Author: Kevin Brockmeier
Artist: Archie Ferguson

This very cool cover makes a visual pun on the title, with the black and white colour scheme adding to the creepiness of the disembodied hands. The use of 'a novel' as the name tag on the top of the coat is a nice touch too.

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Best book covers of all time

16. How The Dead Live

£47.04
Buy now at Amazon

Title: How The Dead Live
Author: Derek Raymond
Artist: Christopher King

A brilliantly haunting cover, with designer Christopher King enigmatically stating that inspiration came from "the paradox posed by the title...[it] incorporates visual elements found within the book itself. The illustration presents more clues to the mystery than readers may initially realize."

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Best book covers of all time

17. Why You Should Read Kafka Before You Waste Your Life

£7.50
Buy now at Amazon

Title: Why You Should Read Kafka Before You Waste Your Life
Author: James Hawes
Artist: Steve Snider

A brilliantly self-referential cover for this book on Kafka (who we've all read extensively of course), with the insect Gregory, from The Metamorphosis, clearly getting some tips from his creator to try and help with his existential dilemma. If you haven't read The Metamorphosis, or indeed any Kafka, just point at the cover and smile wryly and everyone will think you're really smart.

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Best book covers of all time

18. The Great Gatsby

£4.20
Buy now at Amazon

Title: The Great Gatsby
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Artist: Unknown

We've all seen an awful lot of covers for F. Scott Fitzgerald's widely read classic but none of them scream cool quite as much as this one does. From the yellow backdrop to the monochromatic man to the fact that he's using the damn 'Y' as a cocktail glass, it's an undeniably attention-grabbing image.

(This classic cover is now hard to get hold of, so we've linked to an alternative design)

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Best book covers of all time

19. Books Burn Badly

£8.20
Buy now at Amazon

Title: Books Burn Badly
Author: Manuel Rivas
Artist: Michael Salu

A book about Franco's Spain, where book-burning was rife, consisting of the covers of 36 books in a beautiful patchwork effect. We're sure Alanis Morrisette wrote a song about that once.

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Best book covers of all time

20. Porno

£2.00
Buy now at Amazon

Title: Porno
Author: Irvine Welsh
Artist: DJ Design

Lurid, crass, striking but real - the artwork for Welsh's sequel to the legendary Trainspotting suited the book perfectly. No-one could not notice this cover on the bookshelves.

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Best book covers of all time

21. Brave New World

£6.00
Buy now at Amazon

Title: Brave New World
Author: Aldous Huxley
Artist: Leslie Holland

This dystopian classic has a beautifully designed cover to match; there have been many since, but our favourite is the first edition version, designed by Leslie Holland. And of course, perhaps the colour scheme foresaw the advent of Facebook, which many believe is the modern day realisation of Huxley's World...or maybe it just looked cool. Probably the latter thinking about it.

Search your local second-hand book store for the original cover. We've linked to the current edition, a lovely retro-inspired design.

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Best book covers of all time

22. When You Are Engulfed in Flames

£23.76
Buy now at Amazon

Title: When You Are Engulfed in Flames
Author: David Sedaris
Artist: Chip Kidd/Van Gogh

Most Sedaris covers could easily feature but his most recent just about won out in the cool stakes. It features an early Van Gogh painting. It's a painting of a skeleton. It's a skeleton smoking a cigarette. How could this not make it onto the list?

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Best book covers of all time

23. All My Friends Are Dead

£6.81
Buy now at Amazon

Title: All My Friends Are Dead
Author: Avery Monsen & Jory John
Artist: Avery Monsen

Well, this book cover and title is certainly a way to get attention. Perfectly capturing the feel of the whole thing, the cover features a very forlorn-looking dinosaur making a brutally accurate and morbid statement. Poor dino.

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Best book covers of all time

24. On Seeing and Noticing

£0.83
Buy now at Amazon

Title: On Seeing and Noticing
Author: Alain de Botton
Artist: Laura Oakden

This 2006 cover of Alain de Botton's philosophy text is perfectly suited to the book; the clothes hanger and question mark perhaps hinting at questions of self-worth and the search for oneself which Monsieur de Botton investigates in the pages beneath. Either way, a very cool cover.

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Best book covers of all time

25. The Stranger

£3.01
Buy now at Amazon

Title: The Stranger
Author: Albert Camus
Artist: Helen Yentus

Eminent designer Helen Yentus was given the task of creating new covers for the complete works of Albert Camus, and we think this is the coolest. The utilitarian type contrasts with the optical illusions of the black and white shards, creating a neat sense of vertigo; something which sits well with Camus' subjects and, well, just looks great.

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Best book covers of all time

26. The Road

£5.84
Buy now at Amazon

Title: The Road
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Artist: Nick Lowndes

Lowndes brings his unique stick-figure style to the fore on this cover for McCarthy's The Road, with the post-apocalyptic landscape perfectly represented by the bare, skeletal trees.

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Best book covers of all time

27. Beowulf

£9.99
Buy now at Wordery

Title: Beowulf
Author:
Seamus Heaney
Artist: Seth Rubin

Beowulf is an epic Old English poem consisting of 3182 alliterative long lines and tells the tale of a heroic Scandinavian helping the King of the Danes, whose mead hall is under attack (a worthy reason for any heroic behaviour). This brilliant, simple cover captures the feel of Beowulf, wearing his chain mail, preparing to head away from the reader, into battle. Lets face it - Scandinavian warriors are always cool.

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Best book covers of all time

28. Loneliness

£10.99
Buy now at Amazon

Title: Loneliness
Author: John T. Cacioppo & William Patrick
Artist: Peter Mendelsund

Probably the best of all the minimalist designs in this gallery, the dot of the 'i' at first looks like a mark on the page, which you think must be a mistake, that should be erased. Look closer and you find that it is, in fact, a metaphor for the subject of the book and you feel sad for writing it off and ostracising it. Oh yes, we think very deeply here at ShortList.

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Best book covers of all time

29. A Cultural Dictionary of Punk

£22.09
Buy now at Amazon

Title: A Cultural Dictionary of Punk
Author: Nicholas Rombes
Artist: Sarah Rainwater

Getting bonus marks before it even starts by eschewing the clichéd 'cut-out letters from magazines' style of almost every other book about punk, this cover literally puts the music in the centre, with a DIY aesthetic surrounding it. As it should be.

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Best book covers of all time

30. Tree of Codes

£88.80
Buy now at Amazon

Title: Tree of Codes
Author:
Jonathan Safran Foer
Artist: Jon Gray

While the whole book design is incredibly cool - a book that on each page has words literally cut out of the story in order to create a new one - the cover is also striking and worthy of attention in its own right.

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3
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Best book covers of all time

31. Invisible Man

£17.99
Buy now at Amazon

Title: Invisible Man
Author: Ralph Ellison
Artist: Edward McKnight Kauffer

A design classic to rank alongside Catch-22, Kauffer's Invisible Man artwork perfectly represents the protagonist, struggling to find identity in a hate-filled world, existing amongst the shadows. Effortlessly cool.

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Best book covers of all time

32. The Bell Jar

£9.52
Buy now at Amazon

Title: The Bell Jar
Author: Sylvia Plaith
Artist: Shirley Tucker

Shirley Tucker's original 1966 cover of The Bell Jar is the most iconic, and the coolest of all the covers for this classic; the mesmerising concentric circle design perhaps being a metaphor for the tunnel of despair that the protagonist finds herself in.

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Best book covers of all time

33. Big Sur

£7.68
Buy now at Amazon

Title: Big Sur
Author: Jack Kerouac
Artist: Unknown

If retro chic is your thing, then look no further than this first edition cover for Kerouac's classic, Big Sur. Written in 1962, the cover is very much of the swinging-sixties school of design and thus very cool indeed.

This classic cover is not readily available online, so keep an eye out in your local second-hand book shop

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Best book covers of all time

34. Zoo City

£12.16
Buy now at Amazon

Title: Zoo City
Author: Lauren Beukes
Artist: Joey Hi-Fi

Awarded the 2010 BSFA Award for best artwork, Joey Hi-Fi's artwork has become almost as famous as the book. What, at first glance, is just typography turns out to be an incredibly detailed drawing of animals, people and buildings - together, but also tearing themselves apart. Joey has done some consistently brilliant work throughout his career, and we think the BSFA got this one very right.

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Best book covers of all time

35. Periodic Tales

£21.65
Buy now at Amazon

Title: Periodic Tales
Author: Hugh Aldersey-Williams
Artist: Alison Forner

Colourful, playful and charming, this cover captures the fun elements (see what we did there) of the subject matter. We all know Chemistry is cool really.

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Best book covers of all time

36. Kidney For Sale By Owner

£16.78
Buy now at Amazon

Title: Kidney For Sale By Owner
Author: Mark J. Cherry
Artist:
David Drummond

An intriguing look into the issues and merits of selling body parts on a free market, this book has an equally intriguing cover: the subject of the book mocked up into a classified newspaper advert. Clever and cool.

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Best book covers of all time

37. In Cold Blood

£15.14
Buy now at Amazon

Title: In Cold Blood
Author: Truman Capote
Artist: S. Neil Fujita

A pioneering work in the True Crime genre, Capote's classic needed a sober cover - Fujita provided it, with simple, classic typefaces and a hatpin with a drop of blood. The drop was originally a brighter red, but Capote requested it be made darker to show the time elapsed since the murders. Finally a black border was added, for extra gravitas - the finishing touch to an iconic cover design.

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Best book covers of all time

38. Super Mario

£10.65
Buy now at Amazon

Title: Super Mario
Author: Jeff Ryan
Artist: Dan Donohue

The big little man is the coolest set of pixels to ever exist in the digital world, so it made sense for the cover of this exploration to use him. Retro 8-bit graphics and typeface, and a simple layout make this cover kitsch, understated and very cool indeed.

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Best book covers of all time

39. The Book of Dead Philosophers

£3.48
Buy now at Abe Books

Title: The Book of Dead Philosophers
Author: Simon Critchley
Artist: John Gall

A book within a book cover. But the book is about dead people. So the book that is photographed is positioned to be look like a tomb. That's cool.

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Best book covers of all time

40. A General Theory of Love

£12.05
Buy now at Amazon

Title: A General Theory of Love
Author:
Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini & Richard Lannon
Artist: John Gall

A touching (literally) cover graces this scientific book, getting to the heart (literally) of the subject matter discussed within. It's cool. And love-ly (literally).

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Best book covers of all time

41. Burn This Book

£2.19
Buy now at Amazon

Title: Burn This Book
Author: Toni Morrison (editor)
Artist: Unknown

For a book of essays dedicated to the power of the word, this cover fits perfectly. No more words necessary.

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Best book covers of all time

42. Against Happiness

£6.09
Buy now at Amazon

Title: Against Happiness
Author: Eric G. Wilson
Artist: Jennifer Carrow

A brilliant piece of graphic design, with this minimal design inverting the traditional yellow acid smilie to create a gentle melancholic frown, using just the title and author - a simple, but effective trick.

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Best book covers of all time

43. The Craftsman

£8.19
Buy now at Amazon

Title: The Craftsman
Author: Richard Sennett
Artist: Coralie Bickford-Smith

Perfectly suiting a book dwelling on the use of simple tools to create great things, Bickford-Smith uses of a random stack of pencils to create an incredibly cool cover. Cooler still, the artist ended up making use of them after the cover shot: "I use them to highlight my lists, so I don't forget what I'm doing. It's hardly artistic."

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Best book covers of all time

44. The Humbling

£1.54
Buy now at Amazon

Title: The Humbling
Author: Philip Roth
Artist: Milton Glaser

This deceptively simple but clever cover perfectly represents the story within - the tale of an ageing actor who loses his power. The melancholy black and white theme together with the lonely spotlight makes for an extremely cool image.

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Best book covers of all time

45. The Disappointment Artist

£1.85
Buy now at Amazon

Title: The Disappointment Artist
Author: Jonathan Lethem
Artist: Marc Cozza

Is there anything more disappointing than an ice cream melting before you've got chance to get stuck in? We don't think so. Lethem writes in a variety of styles and genres, but this is a universal image and pretty damned cool.

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Best book covers of all time

46. Survivor

£3.70
Buy now at Awesome Books

Title: Survivor
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Artist: Rodrigo Corral

Since he's one of the world's unarguably coolest living writers, Chuck Palahniuk was bound to crop up on this list somewhere. This most recent cover of his iconic novel Survivor succeeds through simplicity and by doing something differently. Hands up if you're now desperate to make a paper plane?

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Best book covers of all time

47. South Of The Border

£29.43
Buy now at Amazon

Title: South Of The Border
Author: Haruki Murakami
Artists: Chip Kidd and Kapo Ng

This retro cover for Murakami's quietly epic novel emulates a vinyl record, aka the quickest way to gain cool points. It's also massively helped by an array of vintage fonts that manage to work cohesively, making this cover one that you'd happily be seen grasping on the bus.

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48. Heed The Thunder

£5.82
Buy now at Amazon

Title: Heed The Thunder
Author: Jim Thompson
Artist: Unknown

This 1946 classic has one of those great old-school Ronseal covers - it does exactly what it says on the tin. Big, exciting title in a funky typeface, serious author and novel credit in a far more sober one, and a flash of title-referencing lightening to tie the two together. Job done.

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49. Amsterdam

£8.99
Buy now at Amazon

Title: Amsterdam
Author: Ian McEwan
Artist: Herman Houbrechts/Dooreman

Belgian graphic designer Herman Houbrechts specialises in PopArt style typefaces and non-linear letter arrangements, none more successfully than this very cool design for McEwan's Amsterdam.

This Houbrechts cover is fairly rare, so we've linked to the standard edition above. Look out for this art deco version in your local book shop.

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50. You Only Live Twice

£9.99
Buy now at Amazon

Title: You Only Live Twice
Author: Ian Fleming
Artist: Michael Gillette

Commissioned for the Ian Fleming Centenary Covers, these designs tried to capture that crucial, and cool, element of all Bond stories - the Bond girls. Artist Michael Gillette stating: "None of them are based on any one person or image, they are archetypes. I wanted a look of seductive murder about them."

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