Books as Objects and Notable Articles

Judging Books by Their Covers: U.S. Vs. U.K.

By posted at 6:01 am on February 2, 2011 51

Like we did last year, we’re going to have a little fun comparing the U.S. and U.K. book cover designs of this year’s Rooster contenders. Book cover design is a strange exercise in which one attempts to distill iconic imagery from hundreds of pages of text. Engaging the audience is the name of the game here. and it’s interesting to see how the different audiences and sensibilities on either side of the Atlantic can result in very different looks. The American covers are on the left, and clicking through takes you to a larger image. Your equally inexpert analysis is encouraged in the comments.

cover cover
At first glance, these are both a little cheesy, but closer inspection of the American cover reveals a clever trick: the shadow of the cake is the silhouette of our despondent protagonist. The U.K. cover, meanwhile, is a bit too on the nose. Lemons, check. Cake, check. Particular Sadness, check.
cover cover
These are both appropriate creepy, and while the U.K. cover gets points for the claustrophobic smallness of the toy house, I think the U.S. cover is better here. there’s something harrowing about that crayon scrawl on the stark white background.
cover cover
These are both pretty great. The U.S. cover is simple and memorable with those curly guitar strings hinting at the drama within. The U.K. version is more playful, and I love the slightly sunbleached and tattered effect.
cover cover
Franzen’s Cerulean Warbler on the U.S. cover has become somewhat iconic stateside. In the U.K., they give us a feather and a big “F” instead.
cover cover
The U.S. cover is awfully bland here, while the U.K. cover is pretty stunning, with a clever visual pun.
cover cover
The U.K. cover has a cool throwback sci-fi vibe going on, but the U.S. cover is one of the more visually arresting efforts in recent years.
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51 Responses to “Judging Books by Their Covers: U.S. Vs. U.K.”

  1. Judging A Book By Its US or UK Cover « memoirs on a rainy day
    at 6:39 am on February 2, 2011

    […] Interesting take on how different the UK and US book covers are. […]

  2. AMPruteanu
    at 7:48 am on February 2, 2011

    Awful all around, for all of them.

  3. Radhika
    at 7:54 am on February 2, 2011

    I think the US covers are so much better. They are more subtle and more artistic. I was pleasantly surprised!

    — Radhika.

  4. Jimmy Nowhere
    at 9:07 am on February 2, 2011

    Such a thought provoking and in-depth analysis of the work, AMPruteanu.

  5. Dwayne Davies
    at 10:14 am on February 2, 2011

    Its clear from this that America is way better than the UK!!

    Go team America!!


    UK = visit a dentist already!!!

  6. AMPruteanu
    at 10:16 am on February 2, 2011

    Jimmy Nowhere: when they pay me for that, I’ll give them that. Until then, though: Nyet!

  7. Man
    at 10:25 am on February 2, 2011

    Have you seen the UK cover for Knut Hamsun’s Hunger?

    It’s awful.

  8. Dwayne Davies
    at 10:28 am on February 2, 2011

    Never judge a book by its cover they say….

    Obviously they’re never read the Necronomicon ;)

  9. Dwayne Davies
    at 10:31 am on February 2, 2011

    They have tails you know…(Brits that is)

    My cousin/brother Jeb told me so.

    I’ve even heard that some of the books they read have plain covers with just the name of the book on it!! Sometimes only down the spine!!!

    They have big dusty old libraries with these plain covered books and people actually read them!!! 80

    Its a mad, mad world and no mistake!!

  10. Jane Gilman
    at 10:58 am on February 2, 2011

    It isn’t that one set of covers are better or worse than the other it is good that publishers recognise the different sensibilities of 2 seperate sets of readers. perhaps we could work on the spelling next.

  11. Dwayne Davies
    at 11:05 am on February 2, 2011

    P-lease! Don’t get me started on the spelling!!!

    I’m pretty sure they learnt modern English from us Americans (You only have to read Charles Dickens to understand how backward they were before we educated them on modern English)

    I love the accent though; “Aw-roight Mary, spare us cupla bob!”

    so twee…

  12. AMPruteanu
    at 11:34 am on February 2, 2011


  13. Dwayne Davies
    at 11:43 am on February 2, 2011


    “Honour, Colour.”

    An obsession with the letter ‘u’ maybe?

    (If you line up lots of u’s it kind of looks like teeth:


    They have wooden teeth you know….


    (The Queen mother did in fact had plywood teeth)

  14. Solveig Crompton
    at 1:23 pm on February 2, 2011

    Actually judging from the perspective of which books I would be more likely to pick up to read the blurb – for the most part (perhaps one exception) I prefer the UK covers. Could not always tell you why. I certainly wouldn’t presume to say the US covers are awful (well one or two really put me off) but simply that they do not attract me in the same way.

  15. Stacey
    at 2:41 pm on February 2, 2011

    Great article!

    The ignorant/rude/offensive people in the comments? Not so much.

  16. Stacey
    at 2:42 pm on February 2, 2011

    Or person, should I say.

  17. Matt
    at 6:04 pm on February 2, 2011

    This is strange: in the years since I’ve been following TMN’s Tournament of Books, this marks the first time that I’ve preferred the US editions over the UK. Except with “Freedom” and “So Much for All That.” That giant bird drives me nuts.

  18. Maija
    at 7:52 pm on February 2, 2011

    You should compare covers of the John Cleaver series by Dan Wells. They’re also in Germany (and look at the cover from Taiwan from the first book).

  19. Steve UK
    at 11:32 am on February 3, 2011

    Great piece; I find it fascinating that although we English and Americans are very similar in many respects, that there are also some beautiful finite differences that make us wonderfully unique.

    I can’t agree on this whole spelling deal though! – ‘English’ grammar on the whole is an organic entity and changes have appeared throughout the 20th Century on both sides of the Atlantic. Hundreds of words are added to the Oxford English Dictionary every year, I’m sure the same applies state-side…

    NB: The American spelling ‘Aluminum’ is in fact scientifically correct; When this new material was presented to English engineers, they, in their wisdom changed it!

    (The queen Mum did in fact have very bad teeth though i’m sure they were spruce not plywood!!)

    vive le difference as they say…

  20. Steve UK
    at 11:35 am on February 3, 2011

    > I did think that the Necronomicon post was funny though!!

    Like it or not, ‘Dwayne the Rude’ is one funny guy!

    We are very good at laughing at ourselves over here ;)

  21. David
    at 1:34 pm on February 4, 2011

    200 years ago Noah Webster changed the spelling when he did his dictionary.

  22. Nigel Spencer
    at 2:48 pm on February 4, 2011

    Generally, the UK covers have a little more tone, but adaptability to local tastes is a dine idea.
    Comments (above) about dumbed-down American spelling are pointless and incredibly self-defensive!
    Is oversimplification really the first principle of everything in the US?

  23. Nigel Spencer
    at 2:48 pm on February 4, 2011

    “fine idea”, of course.

  24. Book covers: US vs UK
    at 8:47 pm on February 4, 2011

    […] that the american versions were not suitable for UK readers (and vice versa). The Millions has a serie of book covers on display with both versions. Liked this post?Get more by subscribing to the rss feed.Get the […]

  25. Resemo
    at 4:53 am on February 5, 2011

    Generally the American covers are more artistic.

    What’s clearly noticeable though is the fact that 90% of UK covers have snippets of acclaims or praise from sources, be it newspapers or other authors. This plays as a major selling point for the books from my study of the UK market.

  26. Roger
    at 6:50 pm on February 6, 2011

    As an American, I could not say which is better–we are all culture bound. I can critique the art tho.
    The Brit ROOM for instance offers great claustraphobic effect with the gradient as if looking through a window and the strectched text on ROOM give the effect of a magnifying glass. So that house is really small. The Am. ROOM suggests a child and maybe an angry child which I don’t find as interesting.

    The Brit FREEDOM has vertical text which is harder to read. The Am FREEDOM has eye catching text and nice colors.

    SO MUCH FOR THAT on the Brit ver is harder to read than the Am. but the opposite ti true of the next book, SUPER SAD.

  27. Book Covers US vs UK — Zarina's Blog
    at 11:15 pm on February 6, 2011
  28. DAS
    at 1:17 am on February 8, 2011

    To Dwayne Davies:

    The British fascination with the letter ‘U’ is actually a very successful innovation on their part.

    It makes drawing the ‘U’ to a Scrabble rack much less of a threat.

  29. Steve UK
    at 6:03 am on February 8, 2011

    ^ U’s used to be V’s – (Ancient stonemasons found it easier to carve a V than a U.)

    I live near a city called Bath, Roman Name: Aqvae Svlis

    V’s like, 4 points, U’s only 1 point :(

    I therefore blame the Romans for my poor Scrabble scores.

  30. jenandthepen
    at 9:49 am on February 8, 2011

    […] and U.K. book covers compared. TwitterNow that everyone is back from AWP, consider joining the Argentina Reading […]

  31. David
    at 11:29 am on February 8, 2011

    There is one big difference between the US and UK. The UK still publishes a lot of quality writing,= and has many excellent bookstores. The US tends to publish cookbooks, romance novels and self-help trash. The difference may be that the British still teach English in schools. Most people here in the US find People magazine challenging.

    Just pop in any American bookstore–what do you find. Anything BUT books and then cookbooks and self-help trash.

  32. David
    at 11:31 am on February 8, 2011

    Dear Dwayne Davies…

    Give it a break. Or get a job. You obviiously have too much time on your hands given the number of off-topic posts…

  33. Designerd
    at 1:41 pm on February 9, 2011

    I thought the good ‘ol US would be crushed in this one, but I’m pleasantly surprised to see that we faired pretty well. I’m one of those nerds that would lean towards purchasing a book (or any product) just because of the design. I appreciate the insightful reviews after each example.

  34. Ayass3r
    at 4:21 pm on February 9, 2011

    me being neither American not English i would say i have unbiased opinions and I think for all the books except for freedom i prefer the UK book covers are much better since I am guilty as charge of judging books by their cover i would have choose the UK ones every time (except for freedom) without even knowing which one it belongs two!!!!!

    ~Cuz Diamond is nothing but coal that did well under pressure~

  35. What I Read | Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
    at 6:57 am on February 11, 2011

    […] Judging Books By Their Covers: US vs UK : This post had me at its title alone, but it gets so much better than that! Analyzing the […]

  36. DOm
    at 7:12 am on February 11, 2011

    You can’t really tell from the picture, but the UK Super Sad… has a coloured foil effect that, IMHO, works very well.

  37. DAS
    at 8:38 pm on February 11, 2011


    “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake”: US. US version reminds me of the paintings of Wayne Thiebaud: Happy, but with a haunting quality. The UK version looks like a still life with cake, lemons, and human being. That’s kind of creepy when you think about it.

    “Room”. UK. A hauntingly beautiful quality about it. Little house draws us into picture, and might draw me into the book itself. The US version is more scary-creepy-disturbing.

    “A Visit from the Goon Squad”. US. I like Jennifer Egan, and the bigger her name is on the book the more likely I am to read it. The UK version is just kinda’ weird with the letters falling like coal on an umbrella. What’s that about?

    “Freedom”. US. It’s pretty, and it has a whole bird and not just some lame feather like the UK version.

    “So Much For That”. US. Bold colors and torn picture suggest more than a place setting where if you look closely the knife has been replaced by a box cutter (or is that a fountain pen?). I like orange in books. It reminds me of my copy of “A Clockwork Orange”.

    “Super Sad True Love Story”. US. A tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top title deserves a similar cover. The UK version is too muted and convoluted in tone. The US version is as in-your-face as the title.

  38. Flavorwire » Judging Countries by Their Covers: US vs UK Book Jackets
    at 12:13 pm on February 13, 2011

    […] American. Inspired by the annual US vs UK book cover comparison of Rooster contenders over at the Millions, we decided to make a list of our own, comparing the covers of our favorite books from last year […]

  39. US vs. UK Covers | Bookish
    at 9:27 am on February 22, 2011

    […] those covers featured in the article, my favorites are:   […]

  40. Francis
    at 12:59 pm on March 3, 2011

    jeez, could’ve you have been ANY more bias against the UK??

    could’ve been a good article…


  41. Current Events post 3/3 « create it.
    at 5:29 pm on March 3, 2011

    […] that the american versions were not suitable for UK readers (and vice versa). The Millions has a serie of book covers on display with both versions.” I thought that this was interesting and agreed with the above […]

  42. George Philip
    at 5:20 am on April 14, 2011

    I am a writer and I design my own book covers completelty by myself. Who else knows better than me how to visualize the content of my manuscript?

  43. George Philip
    at 5:21 am on April 14, 2011

    Completelety = completely

  44. George Philip
    at 5:22 am on April 14, 2011

    Hehe, completelty

  45. cărți și coperți | a matter of catharsis
    at 7:15 am on November 10, 2011

    […] comentarii pertinente și alte exemple de coperți, mergeți aici, aici și din nou aici. Share this:EmailLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry […]

  46. prustage
    at 5:14 am on November 11, 2011

    I find it interesting that for the “unbearable Sadness of Lemon Cake”, the UK cover emphasises the “Sadness” whereas the US cover emphasises the “Lemon Cake”. Far be it from me to draw any conclusions from that. :-)

  47. Emma
    at 6:45 am on January 17, 2012

    Reading some of these comments are quite funny, “Visit a dentist already” & “Plain covers with only the title down the spine”, guys come on, really? Don’t believe everything you hear. The U.S version of most of the books are better, which is a shame really as it’s the covers that draw you in, oh well, I think more time needs to be spent deciding on the cover designs over here in Britatin.

  48. Judging a book by its many covers. |
    at 12:28 pm on February 8, 2012

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  49. What I’m Reading Weekly Roundup | readingwritingpublishing
    at 4:02 pm on February 9, 2012

    […] Cover Love a variety of teen/middle grade covers around the world. What’s your fav? More Cover Love this time The Millions takes a look at US covers versus the UK. Bookshelf Envy I think I finally […]

  50. Judging Books by Their Covers: U.S. Vs. U.K. « Gyrovague's Raves
    at 11:27 pm on February 13, 2012

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  51. Welcome to the Great Anglo-American Cover-Up! | thegreatangloamericancoverup
    at 2:13 pm on December 6, 2012

    […] have been compiling an annual comparison (usually of titles of American Origin) for the last several years. But other than the occasional blog entry or newspaper column (often aimed, for some […]

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