14 October 2020

The Look of the Book

The Look of the Book
The Great Gatsby
The Look of the Book: Jackets, Covers and Art at the Edges of Literature is the first book to provide a history of book cover design. The authors stress that “this book is not a comprehensive account of cover design across the globe,” though they have produced an excellent account of American and British book design, with a few German, Russian, and French examples for good measure.

The book is by David J. Alworth and Peter Mendelsund, a literature professor and graphic designer, respectively. This collaboration, “combining the insights of literary theory and design,” resulted in a scholarly text complemented by plenty of well-chosen illustrations. One of these, from 1907, shows the origin of the term ‘blurb’: a caricature called Belinda Blurb who shouts praise for new books.

Martin Salisbury’s The Illustrated Dust Jacket 1920-1970 profiles individual book cover designers, whereas The Look of the Book gives a narrative history of the subject. There is surprisingly little overlap between the two, with The Look of the Book focusing on literary fiction covers such as The Great Gatsby (“one of the most striking covers ever created”) and a case study of Ulysses.