The Daily Heller: An Ode to Two of George Giusti’s Book Cover Designs

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I overheard two people talking at the Rizzoli bookstore in Manhattan the other day. “I don’t know the author,” said one, holding a paperback. “Nor do I,” said the other, “but I love the cover. Give me a good cover, and I’ll try reading the book.”

What else can a publisher ask for? Unless supported by a strong PR campaign, most titles sold in the few brick-and-mortar shops left are designed for browsers who don’t know a book by its cover, but are compelled by that very thing to buy it.

A true test of that principle is if a book that’s now long out of print is as eye-catching as when it was first published. And I’m often finding vintage books that do just that. Two of my favorites of late are these by George Giusti (1908–1990), whose minimalist representational illustrative designs for books, records, periodicals and ads dominated the late ’50s and ’60s popular media.

The two volumes shown here were on my high school reading list. At the time I had no idea who the authors were or what the books were about—and to this day I’d have trouble providing a viable summary without having to totally reread them—but I can say they are memorable to me because of their visually reductive yet thought-inspiring covers that struck a chord that’s lasted over 50-some years.

“Giusti is taken up with the discovery of pictures for things that are not accessible to the normal visual powers of the human eye,” wrote Georgine Oeri in Graphis 26 (1949), “jobs in which a pictorial interpretation has to be found for the revelations of modern science.”