Who Has the Better Book Covers: U.S. or U.K.?

Gabe Habash -- November 8th, 2012

During a stop at Dublin’s Hodges Figgis, I was struck by two things as an American reader. One: most U.K. paperbacks have cheap binding. Two: the covers of most books on the other side of the Atlantic differ drastically from what we see in the States. With the exception of Penguin Classics and a few other publishers that are in both markets, a trip through a U.K. bookstore is an altogether different experience.

Here are 10 books, U.K. on the left and U.S. on the right. Which do you prefer?

1. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Under the Dome by Stephen King

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Astray by Emma Donoghue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. Capital by John Lanchester

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. Lionel Asbo: State of England by Martin Amis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8. Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9. This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10. Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

 

 

36 thoughts on “Who Has the Better Book Covers: U.S. or U.K.?

  1. Tina

    Preferences
    1. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole — American cover (though sentiment may have something to do with this)
    2. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood — US, 100%
    3. Under the Dome by Stephen King — US
    4. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach — US
    5. Astray by Emma Donoghue — US
    6. Capital by John Lanchester — UK, hands down
    7. Lionel Asbo: State of England by Martin Amis — toss up: I like the clever tabloidy-ness of the US cover, but the UK is clearer
    8. Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel — UK — the US one is too generic
    9. This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz — neither
    10. Brighton Rock by Graham Greene — oooh — UK one. More sinister

  2. Dona Lee

    Confederacy of Dunces………………US……………………….close but the illustration on US was a little more fitting
    HandMaiden’s Tale…………………….US……………………….UK would have been better if the background were contrasting but the illustrations fade and blend into background so it is hard to make out image
    Under the Dome,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,US………………………..no contest
    The Art Of Fielding……………………..UK………………………..US book was beyond bland
    Astray………………………………………..UK………………………..US does not incite any curiousity
    Capital……………………………………….US………………………..Seemed more fitting
    Lionel Asbo……………………………….FAIL……………………….Both were poor covers, no indication what the book is about, the US mentioned the State of England but neither would have me picking up the book
    Bring Up the Bodies………………….Tie………………………….I’m guessing historical fiction, falconeering and royalty involved, similar color scheme
    This Is How You Lose Her…………UK…………………………..UK seemed to validate the title, the other seemed like a gamer’s cover, Pong is far to ancient
    Brighton Rock…………………………FAIL…………………………They both stink, neither creates any interest

    So four for the US, three for the UK, one tie and two fails for both. Conclusion: Some cover illustrators in both countries are good, some are fair, and some stink.

  3. Lisa Giordano

    Like many art students in the US, I was taught that the UK *always* had the design edge on the US. Looking back, it seems this was just a trendy assertion. It’s really is a case-by-case thing. I liked both covers of Lionel Asbo for different reasons.

  4. Louise

    1. Confederacy — UK.
    2. Handmaid’s Tale — US
    3. Under The Dome — US for definite. The UK one looks like Danielle Steel novel
    4. Art of Fielding — Very close, maybe US by just a tiny margin
    5. Astray — UK,
    6. Capital — UK is so much better!
    7. Lionel Asbo — I like the US one, looks a bit like the cover of a tabloid
    8. Bring Up The Bodies — UK
    9. This Is How You Lose Her — Can’t decide. I like both.. maybe the UK
    10. Brighton Rock — Neither grabbing me

  5. Jan Cadle

    To be honest, mostly I liked the US ones the most, particularly found “Bring Up The Bodies” much more appealing in the US version. As for the rest: A Confederacy of Dunces (UK Version), Under the Dome (US Version) A Handmaids Tale (US Version), Under the Dome (US Version), The Art of Fielding (neither) Astray (UK Version) Capital (US Version) Lionel Asbo (UK Version) This is How You Lose Here (neither) Brighton Rock (UK Version)

  6. Wando wande

    #1 UK. Definitely UK
    #2 tie. I like the simplicity of the US cover, but the zaniness of the UK is something special.
    #3 US. A picture of a old guy really does nothing.
    #4 UK obviously. The US cover is an atrocity of crazy font.
    $5 US. The american cover is more eye catching than a picture of keys.
    #6 UK. although both of the covers are equally lackluster. The US cover is much too ordinary.
    #7 they both suck.
    #8 UK. I understand the mentality behind the US cover. Historicals tend to have pictures of women in historically inaccurate attires in the States. But the UK manages to be both eye-catching, creatively abstract, and yet capture perfectly the dark tenor of the novel.
    #9 UK. Eye catching, although I see the book being labeled chic-lit because of the vivid color contrasts and loopy font. But the US cover is just drab.
    10. US. What is that on the UK cover???

  7. Michael Giltz

    Fun item. I’ve often wandered UK bookstores looking at covers myself. I’d say overall it’s a toss-up. No clear winner on either side. To be specific:
    1. Confederacy — UK.
    2. Handmaid’s Tale — US by a mile (much more vivid and capturing spirit of dystopian story)
    3. Under The Dome — US by a mile (UK one seems to have nothing to do with anything)
    4. Art of Fielding — tie, don’t really think either captures the book
    5. Astray — UK, but might change mind if I’d read book
    6. Capital — UK by a mile (the US is generic and dull)
    7. Lionel Asbo — close but Uk because it’s easier to read title and get info; US confusing though vivid
    8. Bring Up The Bodies — US, but could easily imagine a more vivid cover but UK too vague
    9. This Is How You Lose Her — close. UK immediately better but more reductive, maybe.
    10. Brighton Rock — UK but not a fan of either.

  8. Pablo

    It strikes me how often the American publishers feel the need to add the (cautionary?) notice “A novel” to their covers. Seriously, do you need that for “Under the Dome”?

  9. Alex Pieske

    I’ve never read The Confederacy of Dunces even though I know it’s exactly the kind of book I usually like, and I suspect it’s because I really don’t like the American cover, which is the only one I had ever seen. But I love the English cover and I might try to find it somewhere. The same for the Amis book and The Handmaid’s Tale. I do prefer the American version of the Diaz, Greene, and Donoghue, but I don’t like either version of the King, Harbach, or Mantel.
    The thing I dislike in so many book covers today is that they look like they were created on a computer, rather than a piece of paper or canvas by an artist. They seem to highlight the fact that these are mass produced commodities made by corporations, rather than a work of art.

  10. Diana Manley

    The artist in me likes the more graphic U. K. covers, but I think the U.S. ones (most) relate more to the the book’s theme/content.

  11. Geoff Wisner

    Toole, Atwood, King, Lanchester, and Diaz are better in the US editions. Harbach, Donoghue, Amis, Mantel, and Greene are better in the UK editions. I would conclude that US designers generally do a better job with US writers, and UK designers do better with UK writers.

  12. Melissa Larigan

    The covers from the US are much flashier, slicker than they are from the UK. Its nice to see how books are “marketed” to the public in both countries.

  13. Sabrina

    It’s a toss up. I really love the more abstract covers (this holds true in general). The covers with real people or real landscapes seem too literal (yeah, obviously), and this is off-putting to me. My favorite of this bunch is “The handmaid’s tale” (UK).

    1. A Jackson

      I am the opposite — I like realistic looking covers and really like covers that are reproductions of famous painting of the period in which the book is set. Signet Classics is famous for this. The problem that arises is when the editor picks a cover that is not true to the time period, such as selecting a painting from the Georgian period of English history and art and putting it on a book set in Tudor England, for example. For the most part, I think the U.S. covers are superior — especially for Capital, The Hand Maiden’s Tale, and Bringing Up the Bodies.

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