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The 50 Coolest Book Covers

The 50 Coolest Book Covers

The 50 Coolest Book Covers
05 June 2012

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 are scary and many have transcended their original home to become as famous as the book itself.

All are very 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.

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.

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.

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.



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.

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.

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.



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.

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.

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."

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.

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."

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.

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.

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."

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.

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.

The Great Gatsby

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.

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?

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.

Big Sur

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.

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.

Heed The Thunder

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.

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.

Books Burn Badly

Title:Books Burn Badly

Author: Manuel Rivas

Artist: Unknown

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.

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.

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.

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: 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.



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.

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.

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.

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.

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.



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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

An Ethics of Interrogation

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...



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.

Burn This Book

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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