Don’t judge a book by its cover, goes the adage. All well and true, but how wonderful is a book with a cover as lovely and enticing as its insides? And how great is it when you choose a book based – don’t judge, everyone does it – on its irresistible cover and find that, in doing so, you have accidentally stumbled across a writer destined to be a favourite for ever? That’s how I first came to read The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett, and I will be forever grateful to the designer of the edition I idly picked up for introducing me to the addictive pleasures of hard boiled crime.

Which brings me to the Penguin Essentials, Mark Two (featuring, I’m happy to say, The Thin Man). What are the Penguin Essentials? Exactly what they say on the tin, that is to say, truly essential books. But what does that mean, I hear you ask, and what are the criteria for choosing these ‘essential’ titles? Well. These are books that have stood the test of time, that are still read and loved today, that will change the way you look at things, and linger in your mind long after you’ve turned the final page, redesigned with beautiful, unexpected new covers.


Richard Bravery and the Penguin General Art department did a fantastic job with the first set of Penguin Essentials last year and they have really pulled out the stops with our second Essentials collection. From In Cold Blood, Truman Capote’s chilling reconstruction of the brutal murder of a Kansas family to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark’s tale of a schoolmistress no-one will ever forget, there is a book here to appeal to everyone – with covers to die for, by a diverse and exciting group of artists, illustrators, and designers.

For obsessive hoarders like me, these are beautiful editions (and, ahem, affordable pieces of original art) that are crying out to be added to your bookshelf. And, for readers coming to these books for the first time, the Essentials offer the enviable chance to discover a whole bunch of new favourite books, with covers as wonderful and intriguing as their contents.


Sophie Missing
Assistant Editor, Fig Tree



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