Judging Philosophy Books By Their Covers


Don’t judge a book by its cover. Do, however, judge the cover.

[assorted philosophy book covers from bookworship]

Relatedly, but not the main point: don’t judge the author by the cover of their books, as book design is often not up to the author; do judge the publisher. (Sorry/you’re welcome publisher friends.)

Philosophers are people, too, and beauty and design are among the many things we should care about, particularly in regard to activities (like work) which take up so much of our time.

Recently, there was a request to open up a space here for people to post philosophy book covers they really like. Maybe the cover captures the ideas or questions of the book in a particularly interesting or creative way, maybe its just a beautiful image or a striking piece of design work, maybe it’s humorous (intentionally or not), maybe you don’t need me to suggest reasons.

We did this 7 years ago, just a few months into DN’s existence (here). The readership of the site is larger now, and comment functionality has improved, so let’s do it again (feel free to repeat your earlier suggestions on this post, if you’d like, but you’re welcome to add new ones, too).

Please honor these few requests:

  • one book cover per comment, and please don’t submit more than three comments on this post in a single day
  • include an image of the cover; to do this, click the little image icon in the bottom right corner of the comment box
  • include the title and author, and if you know it, the publisher and year

You’re of course welcome to explain what you like about the cover.

Posting your own book’s cover is allowed, but that doesn’t stop it from being tacky. Better to do that on your own social media when you share this post. (Was that tacky?)

OK, let’s see ’em!

click to learn more

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Ian
Ian
8 days ago

This has to be the winner, right?Report

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Joel Walmsley
Reply to  Ian
8 days ago

Especially since they evidently took pictures, at the same photo-shoot, for the cover of the non-dog-lovers’ edition:Report

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Last edited 8 days ago by Joel Walmsley
Alejandro Franco
8 days ago

Practical Ethics, Peter Singer.Report

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Spencer Jay Case
Spencer Jay Case
Reply to  Alejandro Franco
5 days ago

I didn’t know that Peter Singer and David Cross were the same person!Report

Siddharth
8 days ago

Mark Wilson’s Physics Avoidance has a wonderful cover that really captures his main argument: that physicists often have to rely on a whole range of strategies to navigate the treacherous task of getting a good handle on the world.Report

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Brandon
8 days ago

It’s a played-out classic, but Leviathan surely has one of the most epic covers/frontispieces in any work of philosophy.Report

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Hilary Kornblith
8 days ago

One of my favoritesReport

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Fritz McDonald
8 days ago

A Van Gogh painting… I always liked MIT Press designs in general. Their logo is really cool too.

The Rediscovery of the Mind, John Searle, The MIT Press 1992Report

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Max DuBoff
7 days ago

On What Matters: Volume Three, Derek Parfit, 2017Report

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James
7 days ago

Helen Steward’s A Metaphysics For Freedom (2012)

The cover expresses the theme of the book beautifully – https://oxford.universitypressscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199552054.001.0001/acprof-9780199552054Report

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Travis Timmerman
7 days ago

This is one of my recent favorites.Report

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Richard
7 days ago

I still haven’t read Heidegger’s *Being and Time*, but I bought the (2008?) HarpersCollins edition just because I liked the cover.Report

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Paul Taborsky
7 days ago

Dancy’s Epistemology book has a near perfect cover. Simple, but not obvious.Report

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preston
7 days ago

it just works for meReport

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Jen Morton
Jen Morton
Reply to  preston
6 days ago

I read much of this book while on the NYC subway. I got many quizzical looks and plenty of smirks.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  preston
6 days ago

Ah, yes, I remember that cover — it ties in well with the book (Schroeder keeps referring to two characters: one loves dancing, and one hates it).

I know the title is an appropriate reference to Hume, but the combination of the title and the cover image led my thoughts away from anything like that natural interpretation when I was reading it. As soon as I see the book, Bryan Ferry’s song ‘Slave to Love’ starts playing in my head, do as I will to stop it.Report

Michel
Michel
7 days ago

This is one of my favourites. It apparently comes from a poster a student drew up for one of Thi’s talks.Report

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Brian Donohue
7 days ago

Every volume of this particular edition of Copleston’s “History of Philosophy” is just… aggressively uglyReport

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Urstoff
7 days ago

I can’t say I entirely know what it’s going for here, but I like it nonetheless.

C.I. Lewis, Mind and the World Order, Dover 1956 (originally published 1929)Report

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Casey Enos
7 days ago

This always reminded me of a rejected Black Sabbath album cover or something.Report

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Patrick Lin
Reply to  Casey Enos
5 days ago

Nominated as the best comment here!Report

Charles Dyer
7 days ago

The Science of Meaning, 2018, OxfordReport

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Max
Max
7 days ago

Not technically philosophy, but theatre with lots of philosophical ideas. The cover nicely portrays the main play.Report

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Matt
7 days ago

I very much like the cover of Therese Scarpelli Cory’s Aquinas on Human Self Knowledge (Cambridge UP, 2014). The way the character (Mary Magdalene, in the original) is reflecting on herself in virtue of the light from both the candle and its mirrored reflection encapsulates aspects of Aquinas’s general approach to human self knowledge. It’s pretty nifty. Plus, it’s got a cool skull.Report

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Alan Nelson
Alan Nelson
Reply to  Matt
7 days ago

It also spookily rips off the original cover of Nagel’s –Mortal Questions.Report

Umayr
7 days ago

Nietzsche’s soul reflecting through his musical composition and pockmarked by his frenemies and nemeses, including himself.Report

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Kneeburr
7 days ago

A good one with only text. Mainly because of the background color choice.Report

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Kneeburr
7 days ago

I like the juxtaposition of barb wire and the crown of thorns.Report

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Kneeburr
7 days ago

There’s hope for climate change (at least when this came out – who knows about now)Report

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Kneeburr
7 days ago

Along with being an economist, Smith was a moral philosopher. Something often overlooked. And he’s hip.Report

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Paul Taborsky
7 days ago

Transforming Conciousness: Yogacara Thought in Modern China (Oxford, 2014).Report

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Cynthia Freeland
7 days ago

Cambridge Companion to Aristotle’s Biology, ed. Sophia Connell
Cambridge, 2021
Beautiful, dramatic, nicely historical (if not quite classical Athens)Report

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Jonathan Paul van Belle
7 days ago

“Well-Being & Death” (2009) by Ben BradleyReport

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Eamon
Eamon
Reply to  Jonathan Paul van Belle
7 days ago

Terrifically badReport

Nicolas Delon
7 days ago

Sarah Moss, Probabilistic Knowledge, OUP, 2018Report

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Patrick Lin
7 days ago

This isn’t about the book’s cover but its spine. Since the spine is usually the only thing you’d see in a bookstore shelf, I don’t know why more folks don’t try to maximize the use of that space. For B-Russell’s book here, the spine is basically an abstract!

Of course, these days, most books are bought online, so the spine matters a lot less… 🙁Report

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Neil Levy
7 days ago

Far be it from me to be be tacky, so I won’t post the cover of my new book. As I worked with the publisher to choose it, however, it occurred to me that I was going to a lot of trouble over something few people would see – not just because few people will read the book, but also because few of those who do read it will notice the cover. Increasingly, we read electronic copies of books. We would notice the cover of physical books, because they’d lie around shut when we’re not reading them. But I have little idea of the covers of the books I’ve read over the past few years So maybe this post is a glance back into philosophy’s past.Report

Travis Timmerman
7 days ago

I really like the cover art for this entire series.Report

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Nico
7 days ago

Slightly off topic, but here’s one of the worst covers on my shelfReport

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Trevor
7 days ago

Always liked this oneReport

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Jake Wojtowicz
6 days ago

This is a very strange (and maybe so bad that it’s good) cover.Report

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Ben B
Ben B
Reply to  Jake Wojtowicz
5 days ago

I’ve never seen that one before–it’s so unlike the other (much more tasteful & conventional, obviously) Williams covers. But it’s great thematically (is the question-mark–Theory–a burden someone forced him to carry, or a weapon?).Report

Thorsten Sander
6 days ago

Jason Stanley: How Propaganda Works, Princeton UP (2015)

What I really like about the design of that cover is that it’s clearly reminiscent of certain (Sowiet?) propaganda posters.Report

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Renata Arruda
6 days ago

Join the discussionReport

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giulia
6 days ago

Anthony Everett, The nonexistent, OUP, 2013Report

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tenure track
6 days ago

Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but I think the typical book on my shelf from before 1990 has a way better cover than the typical book since. The typical OUP book now is just a picture slapped on the front in the hope that the reader will see some connection between it and the theme of the book (or at least find it funny).Report

Hilary Kornblith
Reply to  tenure track
6 days ago

I disagree with this completely. The covers of philosophy books of a generation ago were often given little attention. Oxford had those solid black or brown covers with nothing else but the title and author. Cambridge’s important Studies in Philosophy series had a standard format which was little more than a little doddle that couldn’t have taken the designer more than two minutes to produce set against a flat white background. Now, many authors clearly give some thought to the covers of their books, and many of them are quite lovely. Obviously, no one will like all of them–I certainly don’t–but the contrast is striking. Compare the blandness of Stroud’s The Significance of Philosophical Skepticism with the gorgeous cover of his The Quest for Reality. Sosa has a number of Vermeers, and what’s not to like about that? Parfit’s covers are graced with his terrific photographs. I particularly like the one on Reasons and Persons. Nagel obviously puts thought into his covers: Mortal Questions and The View from Nowhere are just great. There are bad choices too, and ones which show an aesthetic sense which only some will find appealing. But I’ll take this any day over the formless covers of the past.Report

Patrick Lin
5 days ago

Maybe more iconic than creative?Report

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Daniel Swaim
Daniel Swaim
Reply to  Patrick Lin
5 days ago

The image reminds me of the animations for Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”Report

Patrick Lin
5 days ago

Any book cover by Raymond Smullyan is pretty good.Report

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Noah
5 days ago

Here’s a recent one I like.Report

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Patrick S. O'Donnell
5 days ago

Ilham Dilman, Freud, Insight and Change (Basil Blackwell, 1988). Not the best photo, but the only one I could find online.Report

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Patrick S. O'Donnell
5 days ago

Jon Elster, Ulysses Unbound: Studies in Rationality, Precommitment, and Constraints (Cambridge University Press, 2000)Report

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Patrick S. O'Donnell
5 days ago

Daniel D. Hutto, Folk Psychological Narratives: The Sociocultural Basis of Understanding Reasons (MIT Press, 2008)Report

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Neil Kalmanson
5 days ago

Cross-Cultural Existentialism – On the Meaning of Life in Asian and Western Thought by Leah Kalmanson; Bloomsbury Academic, 2021. Cover image by her husband, Christopher Chiavetta.Report

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Huseyin Gungor
5 days ago

Stephen Yablo – Aboutness. Never seen a book better summarized by its cover.Report

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Patrick S. O'Donnell
5 days ago

Constantine Sandis, Character and Causation: Humes Philosophy of Action (Routledge, 2020)Report

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Patrick S. O'Donnell
5 days ago

Daniel Perdue, The Course in Buddhist Reasoning and Debate: An Asian Approach to Analytical Thinking Drawn from Indian and Tibetan Sources (Snow Lion, 2014)Report

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Patrick S. O'Donnell
5 days ago

Joerg Tuske, ed. Indian Epistemology and Metaphysics (Bloomsbury Academic, 2017)Report

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Jenny
5 days ago

Thought in Action: Expertise and the Conscious Mind, Barbara Gail Montero, Oxford University Press 2016Report

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Matt LaVine
4 days ago

“Race, Gender, and the History of Early Analytic Philosophy”, Matt LaVine, Lexington Books, 2020

***THIS IS CLEARLY NOT MY FAVORITE, BUT I LIKE IT, AND HAVE WANTED TO EXPLAIN IT GIVEN VARIOUS CONVERSATIONS SINCE IT CAME OUT.***

Even though this book came out just a little over a year ago, I already believe there are LOTS of ways that I fucked up in it.  That said, the cover image is one of the few choices I’m very happy with.  And, one of the mistakes I realize I made was that I should have spent more time in my preface explaining the choice of the cover image.  So, I figured this was as good a space as any to do so.  

To begin with, the cover looks like the image below.

The photo is of graffiti protesting this barrier constructed by the Israeli government in the West Bank as part of their apartheid program against Palestinians.  I chose this photo for a large number of reasons.

(1)  The most obvious political motivation of the book was Black Lives Matter and the larger Movement for Black Lives.  The inspiration that this movement gave, and continues to give, me has been greatly connected to its ability to bring together the need for identity-specific conversations and an unwavering willingness to see connections of different liberation struggles around the world.  In particular, thanks to Angela Davis, I have always seen Black Lives Matter as a global movement trying to bring down global white supremacy and its manifestations in the United States, Israel, South Africa, Canada, and elsewhere (and that these ties are more than just theoretical, social, political, and emotional—e.g. “G4S is directly responsible for the ways Palestinians experienced political incarceration, as well as aspects of the apartheid wall, imprisonment in South Africa, prison-like schools in the United states, and the wall along the US-Mexico border” Davis 2016, p. 5).  I took the cover photo to be an attempt at a visual reminder of all of that.

(2) I think graffiti is an underappreciated form of political protest.  I’ve often thought that one of the best ways to know what’s actually going on in a place is to look at the graffiti in the surrounding area.  Furthermore, wonderful work by scholars and activists like Davis, Linda Martin Alcoff, Tommy Curry, Kristie Dotson, Lewis Gordon, Charles Mills, and many others have shown that the horrifically white supremacist world we live in requires us (especially white folx) to lie to ourselves constantly, to avoid saying certain things, to avoid using certain concepts, etc.  Because of this, I see graffiti as an essential tool for reminding us that those things are lies, for saying the unsayable, for getting us to see the possibility in certain concepts.  If you’re interested, I also developed some of my thoughts on graffiti, racial justice, and the philosophy of language in more detail at the 2021 Pacific APA session awesomely chaired by Dwight Lewis that had amazing contributions from Stephanie Rivera Berruz, Taina Figueroa, and Katie Howard https://apapacific21.secure-platform.com/a/gallery/rounds/8/details/1167 .

(3) Finally, I saw this cover photo as a response to Wittgenstein’s “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent”.  While it has been the least well-received chapter of the book, I try to argue in Chapter 4 that there is a particular approach to society, ethics, and politics wrapped up in Wittgenstein’s sentiment here that has been more influential than realized and contributes to analytic philosophy ignoring the real world around us.  I really want for that to change—so, again, I gave this desire space on the cover.  Pointing this out also gives me the opportunity to point out another one of my mistakes in the book.  I did not emphasize early and often enough that: “I do not want my focusing on the positive potential of early analytic philosophy to be mistaken for praising the institution of analytic philosophy. If anything, this is meant as a significant criticism of the field. The extent to which it has become disengaged, purely academic, and obtuse is disturbing to say the least. My point in focusing on the fact that a promotion of social justice was central to early analytic philosophy was to point out the fact that this change is not only disturbing but it actually misunderstands its own genesis as well. The proper inheritors of the tradition of Russell, Moore, Carnap, Neurath, Stebbing, Austin, and Barcan Marcus are folks like Liam Kofi Bright, Catarina Dutilh Novaes, Sally Haslanger, Quill Kukla, Charles Mills, Audrey Yap, Naomi Zack, and the like.”Report

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ehz
ehz
Reply to  Matt LaVine
3 days ago

The suggestion that the Israeli treatment of Palestinians is a manifestation of white supremacy is amusing for several reasons: (1) in the US, all Middle Easterners are considered white (in many contexts, at least), and that includes both Israelis and Palestinians; (2) many white supremacists do not see Jews as white — in fact, some of them see Jews as a threat to what they consider to be the white race (there are all kinds of conspiracy theories related to this); (3) the white/non-white distinction does not make a whole lot of sense in some contexts, and this seems one of those contexts — a substantial portion of Israeli Jews come from places such as Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, and Ethiopia, and it does not seem correct to classify them as white.Report

Last edited 3 days ago by ehz
chris
chris
Reply to  ehz
3 days ago

Yes, but as you probably know, there is a long history of changes in how people classify – Italians and Irish in the US were also variously considered “non-White” at points in the past; there has also been substantial discrimination in various places and times against those with darker skin than others even if both groups would be classified by most Americans as “Black” etc. So sure “White” is in many ways a social construct, and has taken on different definitions and meanings, but this doesn’t mean that such discriminatory practices can only be carried on in one way across different cultures and times… Is “white supremacy” going to mean the same thing across these different contexts? No. Might it still be useful as a category to explain certain discriminatory behavior? Perhaps so. That’s going to depend on the details, which are of course hard to get into in a blog comment. But there’s a ton of historical, empiricial, and philosophical work on these topics…Report

kitty
4 days ago

Raymond Geuss
Reality and its Dreams
2016

I like it because of the spooky skeleton with a crown.Report

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Jeremy
4 days ago

Re-Engineering Humanity by Brett Frischmann and Evan Selinger (Cambridge, 2018)

Great book and great cover!Report

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Hans Maes
4 days ago

Simple. Subtle. And so powerful.Report

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Justine Kingsbury
3 days ago

There is a later edition of this that has a completely irrelevant cover, but I think this one is good.Report

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Smith&Jones
3 days ago

Caspar Hare, ‘On Myself, and Other, Less Important Subjects’

One of the greatest titles of all time. Cover is also nice. The book begins with a description of one of the Sun King’s lavish and self-important daily rituals.Report

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Walter Horn
2 days ago

I kinda like this one.Report

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A. Paul O'gee
2 days ago

Sorensen all the way:Report

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R. J.
2 days ago

Hopefully, not too tacky?!Report

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Steven DeLay
1 day ago

Fans of Kandinsky are sure to like the cover of Michel Henry’s little phenomenological book on Kandinsky. A great title, too. And the book itself is very good, I might add.Report

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