Judging a Book By Its Cover

On the left side of my desk I stack my “quake books”. These are books which have fundamentally changed me in some way; shaken the foundations of who I am and helped me on some sort of path. Placing these on the side of my desk they prove as daily anchors where looking at the binding alone helps me instil the principles or philosophies to live by (having read it of course)



One of these books, by far the best looking, is ‘Letters from a Stoic’ by Seneca the Younger on the Penguin Classics Pocket Philosophy Hardbacks which was design by the amazing Coralie Bickford-Smith. And it’s quite beautiful.



More importantly for this post is that the book is actually part of a set which includes Marcus Aurelius, Niccolo Machiavelli, Karl Marx, and more, and they all sit together beautifully in unity with each other but at the same time each of them can stand alone and have their own distinct voice – ideal for the varying philosophies and stances lying behind each cover.



Looking at the way these books are presented, it is clear that they belong to each other in some way. But how is this achieved? The colours are all different and each pattern used are all totally unique.


I think it’s the unique patterns and differing colours which give the book collection the qualities to make them all stand apart individually, the unifying factors, however, are those of material, format, type, the placement of elements, size, and above all, the style.


In my opinion, just by looking and not feeling the clothbound material, the style of the pattern is the most aligning factor here.


A style is an appearance determined by the principles or process of how something is designed.


This means that even though the patterns and colours all differ, the style ties it together. Allowing them all to appear equal but allowing each book to secure its own voice and meaning.


Even though each pattern is uniquely different, the style of the patterns all have the same hand-drawn quality, they all utilise one monochromatic colour over another, they have no shading or dimension leaving them flat and timeless, the tones used are warm; giving a wholesome interesting tonality to them all, and mostly (not all), colours are picked analogous from each other.



In this particular series, I’d broadly determine this style as “decorative” or “ornamental”. This is a particular procedure and principle to which the patterns are done which has been replicated to each book cover.


What’s nice about this is that even though they are not strictly part of an anthology (Vol 1, Vol 2, etc), it still makes you want to buy and read each one to add it to your collection. Yet another case where carefully picked design systems have happened to increase sales without the brain-dead solution of systematically putting red text over white backgrounds just because… “other people do it, it’s proven”.



in writing this, this turned me on to Coralie Bickford-Smith and her other award-winning work. Everything has a lovely, warm, hand-made quality. It makes you feel good.


You can discover her work here: cb-smith.com


Also, I don’t use much philosophy other than Stoicism purely for its practicality and everyday usefulness. Discover more on Stoicism here: dailystoic.com