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Judging Books by Their Covers

By July 21, 2016Uncategorized
Original post: Justseeds

Judging Books by Their Covers is Josh MacPhee’s ongoing series of writings and image collections of book covers. Although sometimes they feel marginal today, books have been a primary form of information and cultural exchange for almost 400 years. Book covers are often a person’s first contact with the ideas inside, and in the hustle and bustle of contemporary life, cover designs are even more likely to shape the opinions of those that pick them up since many of us are too busy to ever read the entirety of the books. Judging Books by Their Covers largely focuses on—but is not exclusive to—the book covers and design coming out of the Left. Josh is always looking for more book covers to feature. If you’ve got some gems he missed, or have ideas, drop him an email at josh (at) justseeds.org

239: Ravan Books

239: Ravan Books

June 27, 2016

This week’s focus is on the South African published house Ravan Press, which was founded in 1972 by Peter Randall, Danie van Zyl, and Beyers Naudé. On second glance, you’ll…

237: Updates

237: Updates

June 6, 2016

This week I don’t have a new focus. Instead I’ve gone back into a number of old posts and corrected mistakes, improved the writing, added new covers, and/or added better…

232: Ben Shahn, part I

232: Ben Shahn, part I

March 21, 2016

Ben Shahn is one of the artists most influential to many members of Justseeds. He was a Lithuanian immigrant who apprenticed as a lithographer before becoming a master of multiple…

224: Diane & Leo Dillon

224: Diane & Leo Dillon

December 7, 2015

Much of what I focus on in these Judging Books blog posts is cover design that is quite rare, either because the politics are marginal (anarchism! communism! socialism! oh my!),…

223: <em>Power and Revolution</em>

223: Power and Revolution

November 30, 2015

Found this rare and fascinating little paperback on a book adventure Monica and I went on for my birthday last year. Tahsin Abdul Hai’s Power and Revolution: From the Impetus…

222: Pluto Crime

222: Pluto Crime

November 16, 2015

You wouldn’t necessarily know it from the books I’m usually discussing here, but a solid half or more of my reading intake is genre fiction, sci-fi and especially crime novels….

221: <em>The Iron Heel</em>

221: The Iron Heel

November 9, 2015

Welcome to the second installment in my sub-series of book covers from early utopian/distopian novels. Back in March of 2014 I took a look at the covers of Yevgeny Zamyatin’s…

220: Buchi Emecheta

220: Buchi Emecheta

November 2, 2015

For this week’s post I thought we could stay in Africa, but focus on an author instead of a publisher. Or maybe a combination of the two. One of the…

219: Éditions CLE

219: Éditions CLE

October 26, 2015

First, welcome to my new Judging Books by Their Covers blog channel on Justseeds.org! I’m really excited to relaunch the series on our new site, which not only looks 200%…

218: <em>This—is Grenada</em>

218: This—is Grenada

June 8, 2015

No in-depth analysis this week, but a peek at one really cool book, inside and out. Frances Kay’s This—is Grenada is a beautiful self-published travel book from 1966. After skimming…

215: AK Press

215: AK Press

March 29, 2015

Today I veer off from my regularly scheduled posting. 2015 is the 25 year anniversary of AK Press, one of the longest (maybe the longest?) running anarchist presses in the…

214: 1980s SWP Pamphlets

214: 1980s SWP Pamphlets

March 16, 2015

In November, while touring London with comrades from Interference Archive, we stopped at Bookmarks, a nice-sized bookshop run by the Socialist Workers Party (which is a sister organization to the…

212: Spro-Cas

212: Spro-Cas

February 9, 2015

Back to Africa this week. I’ve got a massive backlog of African publishers I want to cover, but tracking down information about them is often difficult, as most no longer…

207: Anvil Press

207: Anvil Press

December 29, 2014

Over the last couple years I’ve been finding old political mass market books about Ireland, and squirreling them away. Then I realized they’re actually all published by the same press,…

206: <em>Benia Krik</em>

206: Benia Krik

December 15, 2014

A quick week, only one cover today. I recently found this amazing copy of Isaac Babel’s play Benia Krik. The design is attributed to “Lloyd,” the book published by Collet’s…

205: Americanist Library

205: Americanist Library

December 8, 2014

This week we swing from left to far right, Africa to Belmont, Massachusetts. Sorry for the whiplash. The Americanist Library is a collection of almost twenty mass market paperbacks put…

204: Three Crowns Africa

204: Three Crowns Africa

December 1, 2014

There were three major British publishers which began putting out books by African authors in the late 1950s and early 1960s, especially to the educational book market. The big two…

201: Ronald Clyne

201: Ronald Clyne

November 10, 2014

Ronald Clyne is best known as the brilliant designer of most of the Folkways label record covers, over 500 from the 1950s through the early 1980s (for more on that,…

200: Two Hundred!!!

200: Two Hundred!!!

November 3, 2014

The first “Judging Books by Their Covers” post was on April 12, 2010. Four and half years and over 2,000 book covers later, I’ve reached the two hundred post mark….

199: stage 1

199: stage 1

October 27, 2014

In honor of my upcoming trip to London, I thought I’d do a feature on a little known lefty publisher from the UK. For awhile now I’ve been running into…

196: <em>ESP</em>

196: ESP

October 6, 2014

A brief break from the longer entries, I wanted to share this amazing cover from Susy Smith’s ESP (Pyramid Books, 1962). I can mostly let it speak for itself, but…

195: Ramparts Press

195: Ramparts Press

September 29, 2014

I’m going to try to be a little less complete-ist than I’ve been in the past, hopefully making these posts a bit easier to compile. To that end, this is…

194: <em>Scanlan’s</em>

194: Scanlan’s

September 22, 2014

Scanlan’s Monthly was a New Left political/counter-cultural magazine that ran for eight issues and less than a year, March 1970 to January 1971. It was co-founded and co-edited by Warren…

193: Curbstone Press, part V

193: Curbstone Press, part V

September 15, 2014

For the first four weeks of looking at the output of Curbstone Press, I broke the books into semi-distinct categories: Roque Dalton and Curbstone’s origins, Claribel Alegría and other Latin…

191: Curbstone Press, part III

191: Curbstone Press, part III

September 1, 2014

In 1981, Curbstone Press began publishing a series of small pamphlets of critical non-fiction writing by international practitioners of political art. This series, entitled Art on the Line, ran for…

184: <em>The Hobo</em>

184: The Hobo

July 14, 2014

  I found this great book on a dollar rack here in New York City. It’s a 1961 edition (Phoenix Books, a division of the University of Chicago Press) of…

174: Zamyatin’s <em>We</em>, part I

174: Zamyatin’s We, part I

March 24, 2014

I’m slightly embarrassed that I only read Yevgeny Zamyatin’s (Eugene Zamiatin) We for the first time about two months ago. Not embarrassed because it’s something everyone should read, but embarrassed…

172: Amilcar Cabral, part III

172: Amilcar Cabral, part III

February 3, 2014

Although much respected, Amilcar Cabral didn’t actually write that much beyond speeches and lectures. But there is a large body of literature about Cabral, and the struggle in Portuguese Guinea….

169: Seven Seas, part VI

169: Seven Seas, part VI

January 13, 2014

Continuing with my cleaning up and filling in the gaps in old posts, here’s nine more covers from the East German, English-language publisher Seven Seas. You can check out the…

165: <em>The Wood Grouse</em>

165: The Wood Grouse

December 9, 2013

This week I’ve got another quirky book to share, but we’ll be jumping from East Germany to Laos. I found this small, cheaply produced book—The Wood Grouse—in Portland, OR. It…

159: Bogle L’Ouverture, part II

159: Bogle L’Ouverture, part II

October 28, 2013

After Walter Rodney and Andrew Salkey, the most important author Bogle-L’Overture published was the Jamaican-born but London-based street poet Linton Kwesi Johnson. Kwesi Johnson become a popular voice of the…

157: Gorey, Part III

157: Gorey, Part III

September 30, 2013

For this final week of Edward Gorey covers, I’ve pulled together all the stragglers I could find, covers he did that are later or not for Doubleday Anchor. The Rilke…

156: Gorey, Part II

156: Gorey, Part II

September 23, 2013

Last week I looked at a chunk of Anchor Doubleday paperbacks from the 1950s and 60s with covers by Edward Gorey. You can see them and read it HERE. Last…

155: Gorey, Part I

155: Gorey, Part I

September 16, 2013

One of the great things about working at a bookstore is you start to notice more and more quirky little things about books, stuff that only the week before passed…

149: Arabic Spines

149: Arabic Spines

July 22, 2013

While in Palestine I visited over a dozen libraries and archives, and got to take a look at an entire world of books that was previously unknown to me. One…

144: Fontana Africa, part 1

144: Fontana Africa, part 1

June 10, 2013

While hunting for books in the Heinemann African Writers Series (by far the most expansive collection of writing from Africa in English, and interestingly designed covers to boot!) I began…

131: <em>Pilot Bails Out</em>

131: Pilot Bails Out

December 31, 2012

About a month ago my friend Cindy and I went to go see the jaw-dropping remake of Red Dawn (and that’s an entirely different story—wow, what an amazingly delusional Tea…

123: <em>Up From Slavery</em>

123: Up From Slavery

November 5, 2012

On my recent trip to whirlwind tour of the Midwest (or at least Chicago, Grand Rapids, and Milwaukee) I’ve been hitting up all the used bookstores I can find, looking…

122: <em>The Burden of Choice</em>

122: The Burden of Choice

October 8, 2012

Here’s another great find from the foreign language table at a regional bookfair, this one in Poughkeepsie, NY. I was immediately attracted to the book because of the nicely embossed…

121: Three Czech Books

121: Three Czech Books

October 1, 2012

In early Summer I went with friends from Book Thug Nation to a regional book sale in Pennsylvania. The sale was awesome, thousands and thousands of books packed into a…

109: Frantz Fanon, part IX

109: Frantz Fanon, part IX

July 9, 2012

Let’s start off the second installment of Fanon biographies with Jock McColloch’s Black Soul, White Artifact (Cambridge University, 1983), which takes the African mask metaphor further than any of the…

103: Frantz Fanon, part III

103: Frantz Fanon, part III

May 14, 2012

If Wretched of the Earth is Fanon’s manual for anti-colonial revolt, Black Skin, White Masks is the intellectual backbone behind it. Originally published in 1952, and based on his rejected…

100: B. Traven, part X

100: B. Traven, part X

March 12, 2012

What better way to celebrate 100 posts about book covers than another batch of B. Traven designs! Here’s part ten of my features on Traven, this time adding 34 more…

98: <em>Black Power</em>

98: Black Power

February 27, 2012

Working on the Angela Davis covers has got me thinking about representations of Black liberation. In particular, I’ve been trying to sort out and understand the surprisingly successful cover to…

96: Angela Davis, part II

96: Angela Davis, part II

February 6, 2012

Onward to the Angela Davis pamphlets! Because these have been produced by a diverse collection of publishers and activist groups, the design is much broader and more interesting than the…

94: Penguin Political Leaders

94: Penguin Political Leaders

January 23, 2012

I’ve never hidden my admiration for the sheer volume of creativity, thoughtful illustration, and sharp design that has gone into the production of Penguin Books, especially from the 1950s through…

93: Kronstadt, part IV

93: Kronstadt, part IV

January 16, 2012

My friend R. Marut in London has come through again with some more books I had missed, so here are the last three Kronstadt covers. First is this handsome Freedom…

91: Kronstadt, part II

91: Kronstadt, part II

January 1, 2012

I wanted to start this week off with a counterpoint to last weeks generally pro-Kronstadt sailor covers. To the left is the cover of Kronstadt by Lenin and Trotsky, published…

90: Kronstadt, part I

90: Kronstadt, part I

December 26, 2011

This week’s post is inspired by the book to the right, which I came across on Alec’s bookshelf during a recent visit to Pittsburgh. Emanuel Pollack’s The Kronstadt Rebellion (New…

88: Updates

88: Updates

December 12, 2011

Every once in awhile I need to catch my breath from doing these covers, and that’s a good moment to go back and fill in any missing pieces and odds…

81: <em>Fizz</em>

81: Fizz

October 24, 2011

This week I’m going to jump back to Germany in the 60s and 70s, and look at Fizz, an antiauthoritarian political paper which split with Agit 883. Editors from Agit…

80: <em>New Anarchist Review</em>

80: New Anarchist Review

October 17, 2011

About three years back I bought a small collection of cheap, but relatively handsome, UK Anarchist pamphlets under the title New Anarchist Review. They stretched from 1984 into the early…

79: <em>Agit 883</em>, part V

79: Agit 883, part V

October 10, 2011

Here’s the last batch of Agit883 covers! These all rely on some version of collage and montage, to varying effects…I’m actually up to my neck in a poster project for…

78: <em>Agit 883</em>, part IV

78: Agit 883, part IV

October 3, 2011

This week we’ve got more Agit 883. Like last week, I’m blitzed with other work and life issues, so I’m mostly going to just let these ride, and speak for…

77: <em>Agit 883</em>, part III

77: Agit 883, part III

September 26, 2011

Here’s week three of covers of the German anti-capitalist paper Agit 883. This week I want to look at the covers that use the conventions of popular comic books to…

76: <em>Agit 883</em>, part II

76: Agit 883, part II

September 19, 2011

Here’s week two of covers from the German 60s/70s publication Agit 883. Last week (HERE) I looked at the covers of the first 13 (of 88) issues, and broke the…

75: <em>Agit 883</em>, part I

75: Agit 883, part I

September 12, 2011

Continuing and expanding on last week’s post on the covers of Sabat, an ’80s German ultra-left magazine, this week I’m going to go way to the late 60s, and look…

74: <em>Sabot: Hamburger Info Sammlung</em>

74: Sabot: Hamburger Info Sammlung

September 5, 2011

I think I’ll keep exploring the covers of obscure ultra-left political journals for awhile! Although not exactly known for their graphic sensibilities, there are definitely some interesting looking antiauthoritarian political…

73: <em>The Ripening of Time</em>

73: The Ripening of Time

August 29, 2011

I’m trying to decide what feature this week while riding out this hurricane hitting the east coast. Hopefully I’ll get this up and posted before the power goes out (if…

68: <em>The Black Jacobins</em>

68: The Black Jacobins

July 25, 2011

I recently got the word from PM Press that I’m designing two covers for reprints of C.L.R. James books. It’s quite an honor, as James is one of those interesting…

65: <em>Mozambique Revolution</em>

65: Mozambique Revolution

July 4, 2011

I’m very excited to have a new studio, which will also be the home of Interference Archive, but between packing, moving, building shelving, and regular freelance work, I haven’t had…

64: <em>Insurrection</em>

64: Insurrection

June 27, 2011

I had intended to follow-up last weeks post about Elephant Editions Anarchist Pocketbook series (check it out HERE) with the covers of another of their popular book/pamphlet series, the eight…

55: B. Traven, part VII

55: B. Traven, part VII

April 25, 2011

By far the most response to this book cover blog over the past year was to the six-week installment about the covers of the mysterious German-born, Mexican-bound, antiauthoritarian novelist B….

50: Kropotkin, part V

50: Kropotkin, part V

March 21, 2011

Here’s the final installment of the Peter Kropotkin book cover series, 19 covers this week, 69 total over the five week series. Although what initially drew me to doing these…

49: Kropotkin, part IV

49: Kropotkin, part IV

March 14, 2011

Over the next couple weeks I’m going to dig through the rest of the Peter Kropotkin covers I’ve found. Most are beardless, and many are banal at best, but there…

48: Kropotkin, part III

48: Kropotkin, part III

March 7, 2011

No more beards, but this week I’ve found cool old-school Kropotkin covers, 19th Century to early 20th. The one above is a great Czech modernist cover for Anarchist Morality, designed…

47: Kropotkin, part II

47: Kropotkin, part II

February 28, 2011

Here is the next batch of Kropotkin beard covers. Like I mentioned last week, most covers of books by classic anarchist protagonists seem to focus on portraits, but since most…

43: Prisons, part V

43: Prisons, part V

January 31, 2011

Now I’m going to move into the next sub-collection of prison book covers, books about political prisoners in the U.S. Officially the U.S. does not acknowledge that it holds political…

42: Prisons part IV

42: Prisons part IV

January 24, 2011

About 3 or 4 years after I first got involved in the then-tiny prison activist movement, the movement began quickly growing on college campuses, and a new round of activist,…

41: Prisons, part III

41: Prisons, part III

January 17, 2011

The real game changing book for prison studies was Michael Foucault’s Discipline and Punish. Interestingly, the covers of the book in English, from the first hardback to the current paperback,…

40: Prisons, part II

40: Prisons, part II

January 10, 2011

I first became sensitized to the problems within the U.S. prison system in the early 1990s. A friend brought me to an event in Washington, DC about the political prisoner…

39: Prisons, part I

39: Prisons, part I

January 3, 2011

For the next month of so I’m going to focus on the covers of books about U.S. prisons. Something uplifting for the new year! I first became involved in prison-related…

34: John Heartfield, part V

34: John Heartfield, part V

November 29, 2010

This week we’ll look at some John Heartfield designed covers he did for publishers other than Malik-Verlag. The covers here are from two other Berlin publishing houses: Verlag für Literatur…

31: John Heartfield, part II

31: John Heartfield, part II

November 8, 2010

Here’s the next batch of Heartsfield’s Malik-Verlag covers. The one to the right is a favorite, Franz Carl Weiskopf’s Umsteigen ins 21. Jahrhundert: Episoden von einer Reise durch die Sowjetunion….

28: Futurist Books, part II

28: Futurist Books, part II

October 18, 2010

Here’s part two of the Futurist books. Marinetti’s books in particular get more violent and aggressive in this period, with references to bombs, words exploding across the page, etc. There…

JBbTC 26: <em>Action</em>

JBbTC 26: Action

October 4, 2010

Let’s stay in France this week, and check out the covers of Action, the newspaper developed by the Comités d’ Action during May 68. The first Comités were developed as…

22: <em>Radical America</em>

22: Radical America

September 6, 2010

Here’s another installment of covers of a periodical, this time Radical America, which began as an organ of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 1967, and then ran into…

21: <em>The Drama Review</em>

21: The Drama Review

August 30, 2010

Back at the end of June I was in Toronto, strangely at an academic performance art conference to talk about the Spectres of Liberty project, and their was a table…

20: Westerns

20: Westerns

August 23, 2010

Now for a slight break from the usual program. When I was out in Wisconsin a couple years back for a wedding we stumbled upon a small town library book…

17: B. Traven, part IV

17: B. Traven, part IV

August 2, 2010

Recapping last week: In the decade from 1931 to 1940, B. Traven published a series of six books known as his Jungle Novels: Government (1931), The Carreta (aka The Cart)…

10: Portuguese Modernism

10: Portuguese Modernism

June 14, 2010

I found this nice little collection of Portuguese modernist book covers in a friends academic office. They are from the 30s-60s. They designs are all hand painted, with the type…

5: Hebrew Modernism

5: Hebrew Modernism

May 10, 2010

Here’s a nice clutch of book covers from Hebrew volumes. Even though I took Hebrew school for a couple years, I mostly read comic books, so I have no idea…

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