Best Book Covers of All Time

By Paul Levine

Lots of people compile lists of their favorite books. So why not the best book covers? I thought I’d share a few of my favorites, my personal list of the Best Book Covers of All Time.

I’d start with Joseph Hirsch. He was a Social Realist painter whose cover of Arthur Miller’s classic “Death of a Salesman,” is…well, social realism at work. (Yes, I know it was a play, but it’s in print so it qualifies as one of the best book covers of all time).

200px-DeathOfASalesman best book covers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, going way more commercial, how about Chip Kidd’s iconic vision for Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park?” (It was so good the moviemakers used it, too).

Book Covers: Jurassic Park

The T-Rex cover of “Jurassic Park” has become iconic.

 

Many people regard fellow Penn State grad Kidd as the designer of the best book covers of the past quarter century. According to Wikipedia:

“Publishers Weekly described his book jackets as ‘creepy, striking, sly, smart, unpredictable covers that make readers appreciate books as objects of art as well as literature.’ USA TODAY called him ‘the closest thing to a rock star’ in graphic design today, while author James Ellroy has called him ‘the world’s greatest book-jacket designer.’”

Best Book Covers: “Psycho” is Just Perfect

Then there’s Tony Palladino’s fractured cover image for Robert Bloch’s “Psycho,” which of course was adapted into the scary-as-hell Hitchcock film.

200px-RobertBlock_Psycho best book covers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I like (but have mixed feelings about) the cover of Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22.” It was designed by Paul Bacon, known for large type and small illustrations. Hey, you need good eyesight to find the B-25 bomber. The cover wouldn’t fly in the era of the Internet with postage-stamp size images on Amazon, Barnes & Noble et al. Still, the wacky image representing Captain Yossarian strikes me as just the right note.

catch 22 best book covers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Like the fictional Yossarian, Heller was a bombardier on a B-25 in World War II, flying 60 combat missions over Italy. When I met him once in Key West, I told Heller he was my father’s favorite writer and that my father had been a navigator on a B-29, flying combat missions over Japan. “Then your Dad’s my hero,” Heller replied).

Now, you may disagree with me here, but I really don’t like one of the most famous book covers of all time. It’s Elmer Hader’s illustration for John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.” Hader wrote children’s stories and this cover, it seems to me, is too optimistic and cheery. I would have liked something more grim, along the lines of Hirsch’s tone with “Death of a Salesman.” But I could be wrong.

the grapes of wrath best book covers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Certainly, Steinbeck would not agree with my position. He chose Hader for the book, approved the cover, then had him do both “East of Eden” and “The Winter of Our Discontent.”

I asked a reader (a fan of my Jake Lassiter series) for her favorite book cover. She chose Lawrence Block’s “Getting Off.” Subtitled, “a novel of sex and violence,” the pulp cover delivers what is promised. Maybe more than is necessary. It’s what people in Hollywood would call “on the nose.”

getting off best book covers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What say you? Do you have any favorite book covers?

Paul Levine

Paul Levine

Paul Levine

PAUL LEVINE has won the John D. MacDonald fiction award and was nominated for the Edgar, Macavity, International Thriller, Shamus and James Thurber prizes. He wrote 20 episodes of the CBS military drama “JAG” and co-created the Supreme Court drama “First Monday” starring James Garner and Joe Mantegna. “To Speak for the Dead,” an international bestseller featuring lawyer Jake Lassiter, was his first novel. He is also the author of the “Solomon vs. Lord” series. His latest novels are "Bum Rap," a Amazon Number One Bestseller, "Bum Luck" and "Bum Deal." His forthcoming novel is “Cheater’s Game,” in which Lassiter dives deep into the college admissions scandal. A graduate of Penn State and the University of Miami School of Law, he divides his time between Santa Barbara, CA and Miami, FL.
Paul Levine
Paul Levine