The Best Book Covers of 2020

Amid a pandemic, my expectations of a book cover became simpler. It either needed to signal the book’s intent to explore mortality, which we spend our lives struggling to make peace with, or it had to take the opposite route and remind a prospective reader — loudly, if possible — that the possibilities of curiosity, wonder, exploration, beauty, art and life still mattered in a year roundly dominated by hand sanitizing while doomscrolling.

For a designer, moving in either of these directions is harder than it sounds. Though much of what used to be the normal day-to-day stopped cold this year, the barrage of updates, warnings, flashes, posts, tweets and links featuring compounded local and global emergencies continued apace, often with accompanying images, all competing for our attention, all the time. The covers that made lasting impressions this year did so on account of each one’s ability to survive in the mind just as we all sought to survive 2020. That the cover of a book — something produced with a finite shelf life — could grip us throughout such a bitter, caustic year is either a triumph of artistry or a sign that our collective alarm bells are still not ringing loudly enough. Maybe it’s both.

You Will Never Be Forgotten

By Mary South
Designed by Alex Merto
Embroidery by Alex Stikeleather

The Art of War

By Sun Tzu
Designed by Jaya Miceli

Red Pill

By Hari Kunzru
Designed by John Gall


By Roddy Doyle
Designed by Sarahmay Wilkinson


By Catherine Lacey
Designed by Thomas Colligan

Tokyo Ueno Station

By Yu Miri
Designed by Lauren Peters-Collaer

Ain’t I a Woman

By Sojourner Truth
Designed by David Pearson


By Amina Cain
Designed by June Park

Talking Animals

By Joni Murphy
Designed by Na Kim
Photo by Daniel Gebhart de Koekkoek

Michael Kohlhaus

By Heinrich von Kleist
Designed by Paul Sahre

True Love

By Sarah Gerard
Designed by Joanne O’Neill

Cool for America

By Andrew Martin
Designed by Rodrigo Corral
Photo by Jason Fulford

Matt Dorfman is the art director of the Book Review.

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