Penguin’s Great Ideas series


A good idea costs nothing. Well, in the case of Penguin’s Great Ideas series, each one will set you back £4.99, but as an intellectual investment, these beautifully presented works of philosophy should put you well into the black.

Over the last five years, Penguin has published 100 works of philosophy, stretching back in time from the Roman stoicism of Seneca and Marcus Aurelius to the revolutionary works of Niccolo Machiavelli, Karl Marx and Thomas Paine (the latter’s Common Sense helped spark the American War of Independence). The ideas in these slimline books have changed history for good – sparking debate, instigating wars and providing solace with nothing more than the written word. As Penguin says of these essays: “They have transformed the way we see ourselves – and each other. They have inspired debate, dissent, war and revolution. They have enlightened, outraged, provoked and comforted. They have enriched lives – and also destroyed them.”
This is reason alone to publish these collected works, but what makes this series so special is the way in which each volume is presented. Every single cover is exquisitely designed, often taking quotes from the author’s text and fashioning into something that is resonant of the period in which it was written. Nowhere else has the fusion between art, design and literature been better executed. Even if you have no interest in what’s written inside, you can’t fail to be inspired by the sheer thoughtfulness that has gone into the cover art.
Design works best, not for its own sake, but to encourage individuals to engage with an idea or an object. On the cover of these 100 books it does exactly that. Which one is your favourite?

This article first appeared in Umbrella Magazine Issue #2. You can view it online here.

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