The best book covers are the ones that become symbols of the books. An iconic design and simple, yet powerful elements, can turn into an integrated part of the book, so you can’t imagine it ever having another cover design.
There are two kinds of books out there: those that you enjoy while reading, but you forget about them as soon as you finish them, and those that stay with you forever.
And, most of the time, so do their covers.
The best book designs invite readers to discover the novel and make them remember what it was about long after they finished reading it.
You can recognize them in a glimpse, and they take you back to the story in a fraction of a second. Many great book cover designs also became posters for the books’ ecranisations, making their way into pop culture and the hearts of the audiences forever.
Let’s take a look at the best book covers of all time and find out the story behind them, so you learn the behind-the-scenes on how to create a book cover that stands the test of time.
Here are 15 of the best selling book covers that everybody can recognize and that are almost as popular as the books themselves.
1. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
With the illustrations created by the author and famous aviator himself, The Little Prince is one of those books that you can’t separate from its cover and the watercolor illustrations within.
First published in 1943, The Little Prince is a poetic tale that stole everybody’s heart. The apparently naive drawings that illustrate the book and its cover are so powerful that they help you visualize the story and become a part of it.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry left the manuscript of the book, along with the original illustrations to a friend before heading to war, saying, “I’d like to give you something splendid, but this is all I have.”
It may seem like a children’s book cover if you see the cover first glance, but it’s so much more. It has so many layers that you can actually read it every year and understand it differently every single time. And after you read it the first time, you can’t help but smile every time you see the cover.
2. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
The first edition book cover of Jurassic Park is so simple, yet it is one of the most beautiful and famous book covers out there. It became the symbol and logo of the whole Jurassic Park universe, including the movies and the park.
It’s made by Chip Kidd, one of the greatest book cover designers of all time, and it made history.
Capturing the book’s atmosphere and metaphorically bringing dinosaurs back to life using nothing but bones makes sense since that’s the only way we have contact with these amazing creatures.
This is definitely one of the best selling book covers, even if the designer modestly says that “Jurassic Park would absolutely have sold a similar amount, whether it had my cover on or not.” Well, knowing how important visuals are in marketing, we can agree to disagree on this one.
3. Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
One of the most iconic book covers out there belongs to Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated novel. With this cover, designer John Gray started the revival of hand-lettering and book cover typography and set up a new book cover design trend.
Published in 2002, the cover is in contrast with the clean graphics that were fashionable at that time.
In his talk at TYPO Berlin, he compares book cover design to cooking, and he is not afraid to try new ingredients and combinations to create delicious book covers. For creating this popular book cover, he was inspired by old handwritten signs often posted at churches. It was an instant hit!
4. Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
Your imagination takes off while reading fantasy books, and you can’t stop picturing the characters and scenes. And with book covers like these, you just know you have the recipe of a best-seller. Illustrator Mary GrandPré designed the covers for the Harry Potter series, and she’s done a fantastic job.
She is responsible for the image of the whole Harry Potter universe, created the iconic Harry Potter logo, as well as a series of illustrations with some of the most essential scenes from the books.
Her illustrations are colorful, vivid, and set up the scene for the amazing adventures of the characters.
5. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid’s Tale books were written back in 1985, but are more relevant than ever. There were many book cover designs over the years, but the most recent cover designed by Noma Bar was one of the best—at least in my opinion.
It was released in 2017 to match the launch of the TV series based on the novel.
The red silhouette with a white touch against the black background offers a powerful contrast that immediately catches your attention and perfectly illustrates the dominant themes in the books.
Noma Bar’s unique style is clearly dominated by negative space and minimalism. This allowed her to play with the illustration on the back, which shows the same silhouette creating the shape of a keyhole.
This is definitely one of those great book cover designs that fall into the category of minimalist book covers.
6. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
David Pelham’s cover design from 1972 for Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange book is another popular book cover, and once you’ve seen it, it’s impossible to forget it. The bold and robust design became the visual symbol of the novel and Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation.
7. Jaws by Peter Benchley
The legendary book and LP cover designer Paul Bacon was the author of many famous book covers that made history. He designed covers for books by authors like Norman Mailer, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, and this iconic cover for Jaws by Peter Benchley.
His idea and vision are so haunting that they can be found in the movie as well.
8. Psycho by Robert Bloch
Like so many famous book covers, this cover for the Psycho novel is simple but powerful. Featuring nothing but a giant and broken typeface in black and white, the cover immediately gives you the chills. The brilliant idea was also used to promote Alfred Hitchcock’s ecranisation.
This first edition cover by Tony Palladino is one of the most iconic book covers of all time. To create the cover, the designer used a simple gesture. All he had to do is tore up the type, and the rest is history.
9. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
One of the best book designs of all time, the cover for The Great Gatsby, was designed by Francis Cugat, and it was a one-hit-wonder since it was the only book cover he ever designed.
The painting that became the book cover was said to be inspired by this quote from chapter two:
“But above the gray land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic—their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a non-existent nose.”
10. The Godfather by Mario Puzo
The famous book cover art for the bestseller The Godfather was designed by S. Neil Fujita. As many examples from this list, this cover also became the poster for the film franchise, becoming so well known that it’s actually synonymous with the story itself.
Simple, yet bold and significant, this popular book cover art features a heavy typeface and a puppeteer’s hand, becoming the iconic imagery for the legendary Godfather.
11. The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
How do you illustrate the invisible? That can be quite a challenge for most artists, but Edward McKnight Kauffer has done a great job creating this classic book cover art.
Even after it has been redesigned countless times, this first edition is still the one everybody remembers and associates with Ralph Ellison’s book.
The design has a distinct cubist influence, and you can clearly see why the author was named the “Picasso of advertising design.” It also evokes the Harlem and Jazz age, with a handful of colors and a powerful message.
12. The Hobbit: Or, There and Back Again by J. R. R. Tolkien
The Hobbit is a fascinating fantasy book that inspired many generations, and there are more than one beautiful cover designs out there. But this one is special since it uses the design created by Tolkien himself for its first publishing in 1937.
And what better way to illustrate a book than using the vision of the one who imagined the whole universe in the first place?
The original cover didn’t have the red sun, but Tolkien Library notes that the author initially wanted it to be red, but had to change it due to budget restraints.
13. The Divine Comedy: Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso by Dante Alighieri
This special edition of the full Divine Comedy, the 14th century classic, with cover artwork by Eric Drooker, is legendary. The three illustrations on the cover represent the three volumes of the book—Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso published here for the first time in a one-volume edition.
Each illustration is highly symbolic and captures the book’s atmosphere and content, depicting the hope of redemption with an ascending composition.
14. The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov
Like any legendary book series, The Foundation had many great covers over the years. One of the most well known is this version, illustrated by artist Michael Whelan. The well-known Sci-Fi artist managed to bring the book’s world to life, and every reader of the genre remembers the iconic covers.
The artist won the Hugo Awards for Best Professional Artist from 1980 through 1986, which are well-deserved. The covers for The Foundation series show exceptional talent and a deeper understanding of the books’ content.
15. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
Here’s another classic by the same amazing Paul Bacon, the book cover for Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 released in 1961.
He created 11 versions for this book cover before choosing this one (including a version with Yossarian naked with his back turned), but he eventually settled for the version that we all know and love. The elements of Bacon’s covers were pieced and pasted together by hand.
Fun fact: the iconic red figure was actually ripped out of a piece of paper and glued onto the book cover.
I hope you enjoyed our trip down memory lane to remember the best book cover art of all time.