Book Covers to Make People Envious of your Bookcase

Classic readers are a lucky bunch when it comes to book covers. Almost universally, classic books are covered in great artworks or designs, that add an extra special treat to having a great book on the bookshelf. This blog post is going to be light on words but big on pictures, so enjoy the following classic book covers from my own bookcase. These are my favourite covers that I have identified, but having just got into the habit of photographing book covers, I want to add a lot more in future!

  1. Moliére – The Misanthrope and Other Plays

A wonderfully colourful and playful scene to this book cover, this piece of artwork is called Jourdain Fencing his Maid by Charles Leslie. Penguin Classics as we shall see, often have very colourful and striking artwork to their numerous classic book collection, and what a great service they do for us all!

2. Dante Alighieri – The Divine Comedy

I really should have plenty more Everyman’s Library books in my collection, but as it stands this is the only one I currently have. This is a portrait of Dante himself by Sandro Botticelli.

3. Henrik Ibsen – Four Major Plays

Oxford World’s Classics can match any publisher for inspired artworks. The books are almost pieces of art themselves. For the cover of this Henrik Ibsen collection of plays, the painting is called A Woman at a Window by Vilhelm Hammershoi.

4. Aristotle – The Politics

I think this is pre-renaissance artwork because the perspective is kind of like a bit crazy, but I love these medieval artworks that have so much character to them. This is actually taken from a french manuscript of Aristotle’s works from the 15th Century.

5. David Hume – An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding

This book is worth buying for the cover itself, I don’t care what people say. I’m not sure what a pool/snooker table has to do with Hume’s philosophy but The billiard room of Menil Hubert by Edgar Degas is a stunning piece of art to have as a front cover.

6. Honoré de Balzac – Old Goriot

Now this is definitely one cover that is done no justice by the photo. In the flesh, this waxy kind of artwork gleams beautifully off the page. This is one of 2 translations of Pere/Old Goriot by Balzac I have, and it was the Oxford Classics version that I read recently. This is a Portrait of Felix Lopez by Vincente Lopez.

7. Othello – William Shakespeare

The Shakespeare Penguin Classic series has many great pieces of art for its covers (just look at the range on Amazon) and most of them have a connection with the play in question. This was taken from an advertising poster for a production of Othello in the 1950’s by Waldemar Swierzy.

8. Ward Number Six and Other Stories – Anton Chekhov

A picturesque landscape picture from rural Russia provides a stunning cover for one of the many books of Anton Chekhov short stories that Oxford and Penguin produce. This piece is called The Rooks are Back Again by Alexei Savrasov.

9. Thus Spoke Zarathustra – Freidrich Nietzsche

This is one of the books I simply couldn’t stop staring at after I bought it. I mean, what a stunner! This artwork is Sunset, Mont Blanc by Wenzel Hablik. Penguin also used Hablik’s artwork for the cover of Beyond Good and Evil by Nietzsche, but I’ll have to show that one off another time, because it’s also magnificent.

But the best of the best of the best is… 10. The Belly of Paris by Émile Zola

Whoever at Oxford University Press came up with the idea to use this piece of artwork is a genius. It honestly looks like you get a free painting with your copy of the book. Truly spectacular! Wonderfully detailed and very appropriate to the theme of the novel, this is The Square in Front of Les Halles by Victor Gabriel-Gilbert. I love busy and scene paintings such as this one, and this would be eye-catching on anyone’s bookshelf.

So there are 10 of my favourite book covers from my own collection. Having done this blog post now, there are plenty more book covers I want to post, so maybe I will do that sporadically as time goes on.

I would love to know and see (by link if necessary) what book covers you believe are truly gorgeous. I’m especially keen to see and learn of some of the American Penguin Classic front covers, as I believe these are different in many cases to the cover used for the British versions? Whatever you think makes a great cover though, let me know in the comments!

7 thoughts on “Book Covers to Make People Envious of your Bookcase

  1. You’ve given us a splendid appreciation here, Pete! A feast for the eyes. What an array of art displayed on the covers of books in this exhibit from your personal library.

    I like the character studies of Dante and Goriot’s faces. The sunset picture for the Nietzsche cover reminds me of Van Gogh’s Wheatfield With Crows, without the crows of course, in the sunset part. The picture of the square on the Zola cover is teeming with life and interest. Although I’m not into the occult, the artwork for the front of Aristotle’s Politics reminds me of a tarot card. And, like you, I admire the Degas picture for Hume’s book, but whatever connection it has with that work is surely a poser.

    It would be interesting to see the cover for Anthony Powell’s Books Do Furnish A Room from his 12-novel series, but I don’t own the complete set of these works of the British Proust. I could look it up.

    Thank you Pete, for putting on this absorbing and varied assortment. I enjoyed it a lot.

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    1. You’re very welcome, thanks George! I am not familiar with Anthony Powell’s work but I just had a look now and it is definitely intriguing. I think I am very interested in novelists with a large volume of connected work, hence my interest in Zola.

      Thank you for your thoughts and comments on the front covers. I am no art expert, but Van Gogh’s work is breathtaking, having first observed in person at the Musée d’Orsay 10 years ago. I will have to look up that painting of his you mention.

      I saw your comment on another post regarding my next book review. It might be a little while off yet, as I am not moving very fast through The Kill by Zola, but hope to have it done by next weekend. Might write a new post before that, I don’t plan too far ahead, but it won’t be too long 🙂

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      1. I’m glad that you find an interest in Powell’s work, Pete. It definitely fills the bill for you as a large volume of connected work. Well, twelve volumes in all. From what I remember, I would say his “Dance” has more humor than Proust, but not the depth. Who has?

        I did not realise that Huysmans was not only an art critic, but an early disciple of Zola, until I discovered it from looking up info on the museum of the Impressionists just now.

        Always looking forward to more posts in your own good time and excited to see them.

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  2. Those Penguins are beautiful. I’m a sucker for art, and I love it that “someone” thought to pair great works of art w/ literature. The Hablik on Nietzsche’s makes me think of Wanderer Above the Sea by Friedrich. Sadly, I buy a lot of used books, so I am not graced with enough gorgeous covers.

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  3. Agree… the OWC’s edition of The Belly of Paris has one of the best covers! In fact, I love almost all of this editions, OWC uses paintings which are from the same era of Zola’s works. I also love the Chekhov’s one. OWC and Penguin are always the best in term of art-in-covers!

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    1. Thanks Fanda! I completely agree, The OWC and Penguin covers are generally excellent, and the artwork they use is usually very relevant to the book. I saw your post on Zoladdiction 2020 and will be signing up very shortly!

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