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The Verificationist

EW looks at cover designs through the years

There’s nothing wrong with judging a book by…well, you know the rest. At least that’s what Rutgers graphic-design/art history professors Ned Drew and Paul Sternberger say in By Its Cover (Princeton Architectural Press, $29.95), an illustrated history of American dust-jacket design from 1924-2004. Here are five of the pair’s beloved book covers.

THE MAN WHO DIED (1950) This Alvin Lustig cover design is Drew and Sternberger’s favorite. ”It’s like a Jackson Pollock painting,” says Drew. ”Once you understand it, it becomes that much more of a rich commentary about the book.”

THE GIRL BENEATH THE LION (1958) Roy Kuhlman’s design is a ”nice blend of photographic imagery and typography,” says Sternberger. Kuhlman wasn’t given much time, ”but he had complete freedom, so there’s this quick, playful, improvisational design.”

THE STRESS OF LIFE (early ’60s) Sternberger praises the simplicity of Rudy de Harak’s cover. ”That bold, high-contrast image of the knot is all he needs to communicate the topic of the book,” he says. ”It’s brilliantly straightforward.”

SEXUAL SLANG (1995) Finally, one from the last decade: a witty, slightly raunchy Chip Kidd design. ”There was a female version that was even more risqué,” says Drew. ”A balloon around her genitalia with a beaver and two around her breasts with owls — hooters.”

THE VERIFICATIONIST (2000) The authors adore ”underrated and overlooked” designer John Gall (who also did the cover for By Its Cover). Says Drew: ”It’s a brilliant solution to the book itself, which talks about this individual who floats above conversation.”

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