Judging Countries By Their Covers: US vs UK Book Jackets


They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but can you judge a country by the kind of covers it puts on its books? We’ve always found the cover changes between US and UK editions of the same books pretty interesting – they must be reflective of our different cultures in some way incomprehensible to us. After all, book jacket designers are trying to capture the attention and imagination of their target populace, so it’s fascinating to see what the experts think will attract a Brit versus what they think might attract an American. Inspired by the annual US vs UK book cover comparison of Rooster contenders over at The Millions, we decided to make a list of our own, comparing the covers of our favorite books from last year — and, just for fun, a few of our favorite books from years past. Click through to see the comparisons and our picks for the winners, and let us know what you think in the comments!

C, by Tom McCarthy

The UK cover is certainly arresting, and speaks to the cosmic thread in the novel, but the US cover is one of the best and most original we’ve seen this year, incorporating McCarthy’s fixation on the duality of silence and constant connectivity as well as capturing the sepia-colored mood of much of the book. Winner: US

Reality Hunger , by David Shields

We think the US cover would have been more apropos if the praise wasn’t attributed, but of course Shields couldn’t have that – it might hurt sales. However, the UK cover looks like it’s going to be a book about teenage drug use and/or club culture. The “real” Skins? Winner: US

The Master and Margarita , by Mikhail Bulgakov

This book, being a classic, has been released with a myriad of different cover treatments, but this seems to be the prevailing US version. It certainly works – blood red sky, shadowy cat overlooking the city – but the UK version blows it out of the water. Mostly because a lot of people don’t realize that Russian literature, and particularly this book, is freaking hilarious. Behemoth, you’ve never looked better. Winner: UK

The Imperfectionists , by Tom Rachman

Though the UK cover is a bit more spot-on to the story, we’d just rather pick up the US one. Which, after all, is the goal of any book jacket. Winner: US

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet , by David Mitchell

We always thought that the US cover of this novel was a little too serene for the happenings of the book, and the UK cover is satisfyingly less-so, though we do find that we miss the sunset colors in its limited palate. Honestly, we don’t think either jacket adequately represents this novel – we dream of a typeset-based cover, where Japanese characters melt into Dutch words, some natural violence suggested in the background. Just a thought. Winner: Tie

A Visit From the Goon Squad , by Jennifer Egan

These are both very nice. The US version is simple and clean, which we like, but the UK version’s faux distressed concert poster is charming too. Ultimately, though we prefer our covers with less praise. We’ll decide whether this is the smartest book we got our hands on last summer (yes, it definitely was). Winner: US

Room , by Emma Donoghue

Both of these covers are menacing in their own right. Again, however, we have to go with the simplest design solution, the manic crayon on white. Winner: US

Freedom , by Jonathan Franzen

We were never that fond of the US cover, no matter what anyone has said about it. But a big fat F? No one likes that. Winner: US

Super Sad True Love Story , by Gary Shteyngart

The UK version is cool, but it kind of looks like it should be the cover of an 80s-era Bret Easton Ellis novel. The US cover is simply great. Winner: US

The Ask , by Sam Lipsyte

We quite like both of these, and for once, the quote on the cover of the UK version enhances it for us. But we think the man standing alone in a field of nothingness, shouting out a black bubble of his thoughts and wishes represents the book much better than the hand reached out for money or approval. Winner: US

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao , by Junot Diaz

While the US cover is interesting, we always wanted something a little more evocative. And this kid in the wrestler’s mask is definitely it. Winner: UK

Pastoralia , by George Saunders

Though we like the fact that the UK paperback cover has tried to nod to the generous humor in Saunders’ work, we still take him a little more seriously than that. But, not as seriously as the US cover takes him. Maybe it’s ironic? Winner: US, by a hair

Lowboy , by John Wray

This is almost no contest. The UK cover looks like the cover of a book that was turned into a movie and then slapped with a scene from the movie after the fact as a way to sell more copies. And the US cover is simple and brilliant. Winner: US

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned , by Wells Tower

Both of these are quite nice. But we like the UK version’s rugged, stamped feel, which seems a little more evocative and representative of Tower’s stories than the more oblique US cover. Winner: UK

Mr. Peanut , by Adam Ross

These both reek of computers, but again, we think the winner is clear. The UK cover looks like a skateboard company logo or something. Winner: US

Parrot and Olivier in America , by Peter Carey

Both covers are somewhat whimsical and interesting, and both make us want to read the book at first glance. The US cover utilizes a pretty brilliant trompe d’oeil technique, while the UK cover just looks fun and appealing, and makes use of that playful labeling technique we kind of can never get enough of. Hmm. Winner: Tie

Luka and the Fire of Life , by Salman Rushdie

The US cover is undoubtably much more beautiful than the UK cover. But for this book, which is basically a children’s story, the UK cover makes more sense. Come on America, you don’t have to take him so seriously. He’s not going to yell at you. Winner: UK