We all know the saying… “Never judge a book by its cover”, but how much does this idea hold true?

One might argue, well yes, this is particularly true, a book might have a wonderful story inside, despite having a very plain cover. A good example of this would have to be the original: “A Christmas Carol”, by Charles Dickens. This book is now considered widely famous and is often studied at GCSE Level or in Secondary Education in the United Kingdom. Despite its rather plain casing, this book is exciting, keeps the reader hooked as the story progresses and has clear moral values that can be taken from it, with even small children reading adaptations in Primary School. At the present day, there are also many animated and live-action film renditions of this story, which goes to show just how loved Dickens’ writing is all these years on.

However, in modern times, the mindset of people as a whole has changed drastically, likely due to commercialism and advertising becoming all the more “flashy” and “vibrant”. Psychology, today, says that we, as humans, judge another person, subconsciously in the space of 30 seconds. So what does that say about our tendency to judge in general. If we consider some of the most popular books circling around at the moment, and notice their front covers, they all seem to have one thing in common, colour, vibrancy even. For example, “It Ends With Us” by Colleen Hoover, as shown below.

Even books such as “Harry Potter”, another widely famous and somewhat recent in comparison with Charles Dickens, have covers that grasp the attention of the shopper, and paint a picture of the story that will be told upon reading.

However, with that being said, J.K. Rowling herself expressed that, she struggled initially to get her book known. This seems contradictory to the colourful and gripping cover the cloaks the first rendition of this series that would go on to become a best seller and pave the pathway go making one of the best cinematic franchises of all time.

Like many first-time authors, Rowling struggled to get her first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone published. (The name was changed to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the United States.) The book was left untouched by over a dozen publishers. After a considerable amount of time, a British publisher, Bloomsbury, agreed to helping her publish her book. Bloomsbury found potential in the book as the chairman of the publishing house gave the first chapter to his, at the time, 8-year-old daughter, Alice, to read. After reading for a while, she excitedly demanded the rest of the book. After more critics began reading this peculiar book, Rowling’s work gained popularity rapidly and it soon became a bestseller after years of struggling to become noticed. Since, her first rendition of the Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone has fetched £69,000 at an auction!

So it just goes to show that sometimes the best work, is not reflective of the cover that encapsulates it, whether it be vibrant and exciting, or simple and colourless.

However, according to evolutionary psychology, ‘judging a book by its cover’ is, in fact, an in-built human trait which dates back thousands of years and is a natural instinct based on survival. Studies have shown that during the first year of our lives, our natural instinct draws us to people we see as a friendly face. In this way, it can be hard not to be draw to more positive, vibrant looking books, and jumping to the conclusion that the story must also be this way. Though, naturally, this is what one would assume.

Overall, it’s really down the how you interpret the cover. Some may say that the cover gives a very good insight into what the story is about, and the genre and type of book that you’re going to read, but this does not account for lousy writing or an uninteresting story despite the genre being typically this way. What do you think? Should we judge a book by its cover ?

Thanks for reading!

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