16 JUNE, 2011
By: Maria Popova
What 12 million human emotions have to do with iconic industrial design and the science of memes.
Last week, I came across this lovely post on beautifully designed typographic covers of books that aren’t about typography, and it made me realize that the covers of some of my own most beloved books are also minimalist and typographic. So, here are 10 of my favorites.
Clay Shirky‘s Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age landed atop my list of the best books in business, life and mind for 2010 and one of 7 must-read books on the future of the Internet. It takes a fascinating look at how new media and technology are transforming us from consumers to collaborators, harnessing the vast amounts of free-floating human potential to build on humanity’s treasure trove of knowledge and bring about social change.
TREE OF CODES
I was instantly taken with Jonathan Safran Foer‘s Tree of Codes, the most ambitious book project of 2010 — so ambitious, in fact, that nearly all bookbinders Foer approached deemed it unmakable — and a proud topper of my selection of the best art, design and photography books of 2010. It’s a visionary piece of literary remix, “analog interactive storytelling” created by cutting out chunks of text from Foer’s favorite novel, The Street of Crocodiles by Polish author Bruno Schulz, and rearranging the text to form an entirely different story.
LISTEN TO THIS
You may recall Listen to This by New Yorker music critic Alex Ross as one of these 7 must-read books on music, emotion and the brain. Though some say it doesn’t measure up to Ross’s remarkable The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (also a typographic-cover gem), it remains an outstanding effort to explain and understand the world through its musical proclivities, from European opera to Chinese classical music to Bjork.
If you’ve been reading closely enough, you’re probably raising your eyebrow at how I can be framing Nicholas Carr‘s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. And you’d be right to. But while I wildly disagree with most of Carr’s quasi-scientific arguments, I do agree with his contention that implicit to every technology is an “intellectual ethic,” which shapes how we discover, acquire, and debate information, so I maintain that his is one of the 7 most important books on the future of the Internet. Besides, it does have a magnificent cover, and that’s what we’re looking at today.
Originally published in 1976 by legendary Welsh novelist and critic Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society — one of these 5 must-read books for language lovers — offers a fascinating and timeless lens on language from a cultural rather than etymological standpoint, examining the history of over 100 familiar yet misunderstood or ambiguous words, from ‘art’ to ‘nature’ to ‘welfare’ to ‘originality.’
The book begins with an essay on ‘culture’ itself, dissecting the historical development and social appropriation of this ubiquitous and far-reaching semantic construct. It paints a living portrait of the constant transformation of culture as reflected in natural language. So seminal was Williams’ work that in 2005, Blackwell attempted an ambitious update to his text in New Keywords: A Revised Vocabulary of Culture and Society, though the cover design falls completely flat.
AND THEN THERE’S THIS
In 2009, senior Harper’s editor Bill Wasik did what no other book had intelligently done before: He formalized a great deal of research and thinking about the age of memes and viral information in And Then There’s This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture. Both the paperback…
…and hardcover are typograhic treats of the finest kind, though my vote is with the hardcover for the clever meta wink:
AS LITTLE DESIGN AS POSSIBLE
As Little Design As Possible: The Work of Dieter Rams is a fantastic new book about the greatest industrial designer of all time by British design historian Sophie Lovell, which I just reviewed in full last week. Its cover, clean, minimalist and to-the-point, pays proper homage to its subject and its title, illustrating in visceral terms that, indeed, “Good design is as little design as possible.”
HOW TO WRITE A SENTENCE
Sure, I’ve reviewed it before, I’ve included it in these 10 essential primers on culture, and still I keep coming back to How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One by New York Times columnist Stanley Fish — an inspired look at the beauty of language through its fundamental building block, the sentence. It doesn’t hurt that it sports an elegant typographic cover, either.
Negative space? Check. Typographic minimalism? Check. Black-white-red combo? Check. It hardly gets more designerly than the cover of Symbol by Steve Bateman and Angus Hyland — a visual morphology of 1300 classic and modern symbols, organized based on their visual characteristics and framed with contextual information on who the symbol was designed for, who designed it and when, and what it stands for.
WE FEEL FINE
We Feel Fine: An Almanac of Human Emotion by visionary artist-storyteller Jonathan Harris, based on the ongoing online experiment of the same name, visually explores 12 million human emotions recorded since 2005 through brilliantly curated words and images that make this massive repository of found sentiment incredibly personal yet incredibly relatable. From despair to exhilaration, from the public to the intimate, it captures the passions and dreams of which human existence is woven through candid vignettes, intelligent infographics and scientific observations.
Reviewed in full, with many images, here.
See more book cover candy on the relentlessly fascinating Book Cover Archive.