Entertainment Books Judging books by their covers: 11 of the greatest

Judging books by their covers: 11 of the greatest

the great gatsby
A first edition copy of The Great Gatsby with its original and iconic cover. Photo: Getty
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Never judge a book by its cover, so the old adage goes, but occasionally the eye can’t help but be drawn by beauty.

Luckily for us, sometimes books (and people) are brilliant both inside and on the outside too. Here are 11 of our favourites.

American Psycho

Bret Easton Ellis’s controversial 1991 novel American Psycho is still shrink-wrapped in Australia. Detailing the monstrous exploits of preening cannibal Patrick Bateman (played by Christian Bale in the movie adaptation), it’s a brutal satire of ‘greed is good’ nailed by Marshall Arisman’s demon-in-a-suit cover.

A Clockwork Orange

Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange is another seminal classic, this time set in a dystopian England wracked by teen violence. David Pelham’s 1971 update, tying into the Stanley Kubrick movie starring Malcolm McDowell, makes brilliant use of bold colour and simple design.

The Man Without A Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin

A searing indictment of the Russian President’s rise to power, investigative reporter Mash Gessen’s staggering insight reads like a le Carré thriller. Designed by Alex Merto, the striking cover sees an unnerving Putin glowering out of the darkness.

The Bell Jar

Originally published in 1963 under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, poet Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar was published a month before she committed suicide. Shirley Tucker’s 1966 take on the cover, with its disorientating black and white spiral, captures the novel’s harrowing essence.

Dry: A Memoir

Covers of Running With Scissors author Augusten Burrough’s 2003 memoir about his struggles with alcoholism include a great design depicting a fish upended in a champagne flute, but we think this 2005 all-at-sea update is spot on.

The Great Gatsby

One of the world’s most famous novels, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unforgettable tale of the man who had it all and was still left longing for his out-of-reach lover has an iconic cover to match. Spanish artist Francis Cugat painted the haunted blue eyes floating above sparkling city lights in 1925.

The Luminaries

Eleanor Catton, at 28, was the youngest author to ever win the Man Booker Prize with her second novel, The Luminaries, in 2013. Set during New Zealand’s gold rush in 1866, Jenny Grigg’s waning moon design symbolises its magical essence.


Courting controversy with its depiction of a female schoolteacher stalking an underage boy student, Alissa Nutting’s Tampa is a riveting read about to be adapted by Spring Breakers director Harmony Korine. Zooming in on an innocent piece of clothing, the power of suggestion runs rampant on Jon Gray’s cover.


While we’re on controversy, the blow up sex doll cover for potty-mouthed Irvine Welsh’s 2002 sequel to Trainspotting, photographed by Chris Frazer Smith, is inspired.

The Vegetarian

The white feathers of a severed bird’s wing resting on a purple leaf with its veins picked out in embossed metallic pink sums up both the beauty and the horror of Man Booker International-winner Han Kang’s The Vegetarian.

The Start of Something

Our favourite cover of last year, we have a feeling Susanne Dean’s well-used pencils cover for Stuart Dybek’s short story collection The Start of Something will pop up on best-of lists for many years to come.

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