The Cover of My Book on the NMTs

by Kevin Jon Heller

Oxford has sent me the initial version of the book cover.  Here it is:

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The painting, “The Red Stairway,” is by Ben Shahn, a Lithuanian-born American artist who painted between the 1920s and the 1950s.  In 1942 and 1943, Shahn created propaganda posters for the Office of War Information (OWI); his poster about the destruction of Lidice is an absolute masterpiece.  The OWI considered a number of his other posters to be insufficiently patriotic — i.e., too overtly left-wing — and refused to issue them.  “The Red Stairway” itself was painted in 1944 to illustrate the futility of war.  Here is Shahn’s own description of the painting, which I had on my wall when I was 12 (funny how stable one’s aesthetic tastes are!):

It showed a crippled man walking up an endless stair, and then when he came to the top of that stair he went down again. And the whole thing was in a ruin of rubble and burned-out buildings. To me this is both the hope of man and the fate of man, you know. It’s obvious almost, that he seems to recover from the most frightful wars, the most faithful plagues, and goes right on again when he knows full well that he’s going into another one; but that’s that eternal hope in the human being.

I hope readers like the cover.  My only question is whether the “Oxford” belongs on the top or bottom (with everything moved up if it’s on the bottom).  Any thoughts?

12 Responses

  1. I prefer it on the top (set off in a small rectangular or square patch of color as it is on several of my other Oxford titles).

    And I think the painting is an exquisite choice for the cover. 

  2. Examples of the “patch” thing (pictures available at Amazon): James Gordley’s Foundations of Private Law… (2006) and Philip Allott’s Eunomia: New Order for a New World  (pbk., 2001).

  3. Agree. At the top in white (like the other text) against a dark background.

  4. Thanks, Patrick and Andrew!

  5. Andrew,

    So white text in a black or darker blue box?  Is that what you mean?

  6. Hello, and Happy New Year.  The cover is lovely.  I vote for placing the Oxford logo at the bottom. I think that it will centre the picture, which is beautiful and sets the the tone for your piece: complex, yet hopeful.   The picture also grabs the reader’s eye. I prefer the logo without the darker box, and I like how it is simple in black lettering. 

    Either way, kudos to a published piece.

  7. Congrats, Kevin, looks beautiful!

  8. One of my favorite Oxford covers is that of Hew Strachan’s book on the First World War: To Arms.  It has a similar light blue background — although not as pure blue as yours — and uses a painting heavy with red (this time the color of the pants of French soldiers heading to the front).  They place Oxford at the bottom of the cover page and I agree with MP that, in your case, it would center the page.  And no patching.

    An example of the cover I mentioned is here:

    I look forward to purchasing the book.  Hopefully it won’t be priced prohibitively expensive for those of us without access to an academic research library.

  9. Bottom it is. Small letters look weird on top, leave it to big ones!

  10. Very nice cover.

    I’ll vote for putting Oxford at the bottom as well.

  11. Great picture. Put ‘Oxford’ at the bottom. The eye is thrown off by the small text – large text – large picture -small text. Less disruptive visually to have ‘Oxford’ at the bottom in black text.

  12. Congratulations, Kevin! I agree with Patrick O’Donnell’s suggestion: the “patch” at the top. Anyway, regardless of top or bottom, great cover.

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