Do Judge Books By Their Covers!

by James Wallace Harris, Sunday, November 6, 2016

I created a page for the Classics of Science Fiction where readers could shop for the books at Amazon. And because I love book covers, I listed the books by cover images. However, those are their current covers, and not the ones I grew up seeing. I thought many of the modern covers were ugly, uninspired or garish. So I decided for my blog to collect the covers that I remembered and loved best. Many are the covers I first saw at libraries in the 1960s. That was a long time ago, when I was still a kid. So maybe it’s just nostalgia. But to me, these older covers seem more enticing. Which ones would make you want to buy the books?

Now for some honesty. As I searched for the covers I remembered, I realized for the most part the covers that I feel best are the ones I first discovered when young. Does that mean they are better covers? I don’t know. Y’all decide. Maybe I’m remembering the past better than it was. Or maybe covers that came out in the 1980s and 1990s imprinted on young people the same way covers imprinted on me when I was a teen in the 1960s. I was lucky, because my favorite library, at Homestead Air Force Base, had many of the Gnome and Shasta titles from the 1950s.
















26 thoughts on “Do Judge Books By Their Covers!”

          1. No, I wouldn’t pick End of Eternity because it’s too familiar. It’s the cover on my copy of End of Eternity, which I got from the SFBC many decades ago. As for the Foundation covers, they’re not that good, but I disliked the other two more.

            Which are your least favorites?

          2. I picked these because I liked them. The ones I didn’t like were on this page:


            For example, I think the one for Childhood’s End is especially unappealing. The one for The Man in the High Castle isn’t much of anything. The cover for Rendezvous with Rama is just yuck. Most of the covers on that page don’t appeal to me. The modern version of City is nice though. The one for Camp Concentration is particularly pitiful. I get the feeling that publishers don’t care about covers unless they think the book is going to get a lot of physical exposure at a bookstore.

  1. The only covers I recognize are those from “Childhood’s End” and “Hyperion”. I own many of the other novels, but they have different covers.

    The Left Hand of Darkness:
    The Martian Chronicles:
    Foundation and Empire:
    Second foundation:
    Stranger in a Strange Land: and
    More Than Human:
    Lord of Light:
    The Moon is a Harsh Mistress:
    Starship Troopers: and
    Way station:
    Double Star:
    The End of Eternity:


        1. That link still didn’t work. But I cut off the number in the URL and got to your albums. And I did find one for science fiction covers.


          Is that the one you wanted me to see?


      1. Hi Jim, there’s also an album called “book covers sf (selectie voor Jim Harris)”. I put all relevant book covers in there.

  2. Hi James

    An interesting cross-section. I am in the process of putting some of my older SF paperbacks in bags to protect them, okay I’m retired. This means I have been pulling them off the shelf and admiring the Powers ( I have always liked his More Than Human cover ), and Lehr (I like The Stars My Destination you posted) but also others like my Burroughs books with the Krenkel covers. I agree I do not like the Double Star and The End of Eternity you showed although I often like the SFBC covers and the Heinlein Juveniles from Scribners (Space Cadets, Red Planet, Starman Jones etc are quite fun). Gnome Press covers are normally great as are most Shasta, Fantasy Press, Arkham House and FPCI of the same period. This may be an age thing but that said, I see covers I love all the time, on new books The Windup Girl is a great example. I have to admit cover art is a large part of the reason I am not interested in converting my library to ebooks. As you can probably tell I quite enjoyed the post and I got a break from all the dust.

    Happy Reading

  3. I’m laughing so hard at the Ringworld cover. I recognize it so I’ve seen it before perhaps when I was 13 and read it for the first time. I’ve read it a few times since, more discerningly, and only now realized that the artist got it all wrong. The mountains shown would be half a million miles high. Indeed the real Ringworld mountains would be 1000 miles high and reach for the star. The two ranges would be on the outer edges. As pictured, down would feel like it is in the direction of the side of a mountain. And Niven specifically says while in the spaceship the crew sees the bottom of Ringworld and instead of seeing rectilinear things, they see bulges for rivers and lakes and oceans and indents for hills and mountains.

    1. Even though the Ringworld cover has a lot of technical problems, I still love it. I remember getting this paperback when it came out and thought the cover was stunning.

  4. Most of these covers are too retro for my tastes, and I’m not far behind you in years. 🙂 I’m partial to late 70s and on artists, like Whelan, Maitz and more recently Harris.

  5. My favorite covers, back in the day, were usually found on Ace paperbacks from the mid-60’s – Edgar Rice Burroughs and Andre Norton books almost always had good, evocative covers. I didn’t, and still don’t, like the abstract ones like your Man in the High Castle example. I don’t remember any hardcover covers, though I liked the Heinlein juveniles’ interior illustrations. In any event, I still have all my the books I bought in the 60’s 70’s & 90’s, so they’re not in the realm of memory yet. (Which is a good thing, since given my memory, they’d be lost.)

    Today, covers don’t seem to matter very much to me. I like the Windup Girl cover which evokes the story, but many of covers are just guys and gals with big guns and/or explosions in space. The graphic ones can be interesting – I like the five Jonathan L Howard Cabal series covers – especially the last one, The Fall of the House of Cabal, but most are not very evocative of the story. However, since I can read a sample in the Kindle app, I don’t need to judge the book by the cover anymore. That said, I read that covers still sell books, at least that’s what they’re telling would be self-publishing authors. But they’re also telling them to study the covers of the best selling books in the genre and copy them as close as they can – which explains a lot.

    1. The only books I have from the 1960s are the 12 Heinlein juveniles. When I got my first job at 16, in 1967, I ordered all 12 from Charles Scribner in hardback. They were only $3.33 apiece. If I kept every book I bought I’d be buried in books. But I often wish I still had a particular book, often because of the cover.

      1. I counted my SF books last night — 525 or so, of which 450 plus are mostly mass market paperbacks from the 60’s. A few hardcovers, since I was a member of the SF Book Club for a while — but the monthly release of paperbacks was pretty much how I read SF. (Besides borrowing books from the library, but I don’t remember a lot of the hardcover books you’ve mentioned being in our library.) Starman Jones was my favorite SF book in my teen years. Looking back over the collection is rather strange. Some books I can remember reading, if not the plot. I can even remember reading Tanar of Pellucidar in my aunt and uncle’s basement on vacation, and getting Andre Norton’s Catsye from the school’s Scholastic Reading program, and yet so many of them I look at and can’t believe I ever read them at all. I must have, I bought books to read, but they’re complete strangers to me now. But then, so is most of my past life, since I don’t remember it. Luckily, I’ve got sisters that do that for me.

        1. Starman Jones was one of my favorites too. My sister shocks me sometimes by her memory. She remembers things I don’t remember at all.

          I didn’t save my books – except for the 12 Heinlein juveniles. So when I joined in 2002, I’ve been buying the science fiction I read way back then to reread on audio. It’s worked out wonderful. I discovered that I was a terrible reader, especially when I was young because I raced through the novels to get to the end. Now, I travel leisurely through what I “read” – at the pace of a great narrator. What’s fascinating is some books I loved back then, I don’t now. But other books, ones that bored me back then, I love now. One example is The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov.

  6. I’ve never tried audio books. My dad read books to us as kids and I read to my kids, but I think I’d find it too slow, and I’m not sure I could stay focused. A lot of my background music sort of disappears into the background, unnoticed. Still, the local library has plenty of old fashioned audio books, so maybe I’ll give one a try some day.

    1. Strangely enough, I tell people they have to learn to listen to audio books like they have to learn to read. I had been listening to audio books a couple years when I realized that I had gotten good at listening. It helps to listen when you’re doing something mindless. Like walking, driving or cooking. Something that doesn’t require internal words, but keeps you active. Just sitting and listening puts most people to sleep. Try and find a book you love already to start with.

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