Cover to cover

The colors of
NYRB Classics

The New York Review of Books' “Classics” series is known for promoting overlooked literature with distinctive design.

The solid-colored spines and striking covers, designed by Katy Homans, have inspired a devoted following.

This summer NYRB released the 500th book in the series, “Sand,” by German author Wolfgang Herrndorf.

To mark the occasion, we collected the complete set. A computer helped analyze each book's cover and contents.

Let's walk through what we found.

Nearly half the series is translated from another language. French is most common.

That's thanks in part to 11 books from Belgian noir novelist Georges Simenon, the most published author.

Simenon's covers vary, but tend toward dark blues and grays.

NYRB's solid-colored spines and matching title boxes come in hundreds of shades. Here are all 500, in order of release.

Sort them by hue and they span the rainbow.

Look closer and you find they aren't evenly distributed.
Browns, blacks and reds show up the most.

The top color is this pure red.

It appears on the spine and title box of 13 different books, ranging across time, country and genre.

While some spine colors are shared, each cover features a unique work of art. We examined them all and found nearly 75% are portraits of individuals or crowds.

Rural and urban landscapes rank second.

A few feature sculptures.

Some are more abstract.

The art for English novelist Kingsley Amis is the most uniform. The same artist, Eric Hanson, drew all nine works.

A computer determined the dominant color in all 500 works of cover art. Here they are, in order of release.

In 2004 and 2012, darker shades held sway.

In those years, art filled with blacks, browns and dark blues prevailed.

In 2002 and 2016, the covers brightened.

NYRB continues to expand its horizons. This year it published its first Romanian translation.

And the 10 most recent books each introduced a new spine color. Even with today's technology, we still can't judge a book by its cover. But at least there’s always something new to read.