The best book covers of all time: 50 coolest book covers
Cover designs so good they'll class your living room right up
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
1. American Psycho
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.
2. A Clockwork Orange
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.
3. The Godfather
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.
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.
5. Flowers in the Attic
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.
6. Procession of the Dead
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.
7. Jurassic Park
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.
8. The Psychopath Test
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.
9. The Road
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.
10. How The Dead Live
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."
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.
12. In Cold Blood
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.
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.
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.
15. Farenheit 451
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.
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.
17. The Bell Jar
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.
18. On Seeing and Noticing
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.
19. The Stranger
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.
20. The Humbling
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.
21. The Great Gatsby
Title: The Great Gatsby
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
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)
22. Big Sur
Title: Big Sur
Author: Jack Kerouac
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
23. Books Burn Badly
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.
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.
25. A General Theory of Love
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).
26. Brave New World
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.
27. An Ethics of Interrogation
Title: An Ethics of Interrogation
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...
28. Burn This Book
Title: Burn This Book
Author: Toni Morrison (editor)
For a book of essays dedicated to the power of the word, this cover fits perfectly. No more words necessary.
29. When You Are Engulfed in Flames
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?
30. All My Friends Are Dead
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.
31. Invisible Man
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.
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.
33. The Brief History Of The Dead
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.
34. Why You Should Read Kafka Before You Waste Your Life
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.
35. Kidney For Sale By Owner
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.
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.
37. Super Mario
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.
38. The Book of Dead Philosophers
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.
39. A Cultural Dictionary of Punk
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.
40. Against Happiness
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.
41. The Craftsman
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."
42. The Disappointment Artist
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.
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?
44. South Of The Border
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.
45. Zoo City
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.
46. Heed The Thunder
Title: Heed The Thunder
Author: Jim Thompson
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.
47. Periodic Tales
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.
48. Tree of Codes
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.
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.
50. You Only Live Twice
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."