You’ve seen them on the shelves of your local bookstore or through your preferred online vendor: standout book covers from such acclaimed authors as Stieg Larsson, Robert Reich, Judy Budnitz, Steven Millhauser, Max Hastings, Jung Chang and Martin Amis. Add to the mix fresh interpretations of classics from the likes of Plato, Kafka, Nabokov, Joyce and Foucault, and you have one of the most respected cover designers working today: Knopf associate art director Peter Mendelsund.Mendelsund_Cover

Since we could barely read, we have been told not to judge a book by its cover (solid advice), and cover designers and art directors, despite their importance to the book-buying process, often labor in relative anonymity. For years, Mendelsund has been producing eye-catching images that grab readers’ attention and often persuade them to purchase a certain book. For my money, the less-is-more approach is the best, and Mendelsund’s subtle but iconic designs always capture just the right tone for each book he designs. (For examples, visit

In his new book, What We See When We Read, which Kirkus called a “brilliant amalgam of philosophy, psychology, literary theory and visual art,” the author produces a kaleidoscopic, immersive experience that successfully combines text, graphics, illustrations, cover images and more into a cohesive whole. It’s a book to be read, reread, shown to perspective graphic designers and shared with anyone who would appreciate a “quirky, fresh and altogether delightful meditation on the miraculous act of reading.” —Eric Liebetrau

Eric Liebetrau is the nonfiction and managing editor at Kirkus Reviews.