Star has just emailed me to say, “The art department wants to know if you have any ideas about art for the front.” He thinks that an action scene of some sort would be preferable, since it goes along with the story-telling style of the book.

Any ideas? The book ends, by the way, with Constantine at the Milvian Bridge, which I’m arguing is the end of the old idea of Rome (as opposed to the traditional sacking of the city by barbarians). So we can’t use anything that happens after 312 AD.

Nor do I want one of those covers with Greek marbles on it. They’re just not very active. And not very colorful.

My best idea right now is to use a later painting of the Battle of Milvian Bridge itself. The front-runner so far as I’m concerned is this 1613 Pieter Lastman:

Lastman, 1613

Great color and movement. But maybe a little gory? Anyway, please make some suggestions here. What would make you pick up the book?

Showing 22 comments
  • Janie

    Well, memorable history IS gory in a weird sort of way. Lastman’s painting has the action, is colorful, and depicts the book’s ending. Looks like a good choice to me.

    I often buy books because of the covers. So ‘eye-catching’ would do for me. Of course, your name blazened across the front is a definite selling point. I thought about author’s names on their books last night as I read David McCullough’s Brave Companions. His name is obviously much larger on the front and the spine than the title.

    Thanks for bouncing ideas off us TWTM groupies!

  • Diane

    Here’s a link to a close-up of Constantine at the Battle of Milvian Bridge by Raphael. It’s got color and some swords, but not as gory. But, I don’t think the above one is too gory (maybe the effect of mothering three sons?)

    Love the excerpt. Great, great work!!


  • Michele T. in WA

    I admit it–I often judge a book by it’s cover. I really like the Lastman painting. In spite of the gore it is really very beautiful. It is colorful and full of action, and if someone thinks it’s too gory then the text is probably too gory for them, too. Or they can use a book cover. 🙂

  • Melora

    I like it. I asked ds, age 7, what he thought, and he doesn’t think it is too gory. (And yes, I know it isn’t for a children’s history, but he is enjoying your Story of the World books, so I figured he would enjoy having some input on this one.) Definitely eye catching.

  • PariSarah

    Gory? Mmm. . . it doesn’t seem that bad. Nothing spurting or gushing or hanging by a thread.

    What about a drawing/painting of a building scene? (A la David Macaulay?) They could be active without being warlike.

  • leslie

    What about something from the beginning of the book? Creation- maybe Michelangelo-ish? But then, I like classic book covers- a pretty pattern, leatherlook, or plain fabric-like background with a nice font for the title. This seems so timeless to me and would be something I would like on a bookshelf in my livingroom. Just my thoughts.

  • Susan in TX

    I like the painting, but it’s only one small part of the story that you are telling. What about a “collage” of things something along the lines of what one of the ladies did for a notebook cover for the ancients at ?
    I like a cover that draws me in, and one that instantly reminds me of what I’ve read when I glance at it a few months/years later.
    Maybe that’s asking a lot of a cover. 🙂

  • Amy in NH

    The Lastman is beautiful, but I think that unless the picture is going to be large it is a little too busy. Visually overwhelming = mentally overwhelming? For that reason I like the Raphael better. But I like the collage idea best of all.

  • JFS in IL

    I agree with Leslie…..perfer “classic” book covers. This painting actually strikes me as a tad too busy for a book cover.

    Now – if you could slip a teenage wizard onto the cover, I am sure sales would rocket upwards! Or…maybe have a red leather cover, with lettering in golden runes….. nab various unsuspecting readers, then lure them into real history with your narrative-weaving abilities.

    Actually….Tolkienish line-art drawings of various history artifacts
    might be cool……

    have a quote on the cover..”Learn about the REAL Scorpion King…!”

  • Mika in NC

    Previous posters have made excellent points. I, too, would think that unless there’s a cover large format to work with that the Lastman painting might not be large enough to enjoy the detail. (but maybe that’s not an issue at 250K+ words, huh? *grin*)

    Personally, I think the idea of a collage is grand, especially if some engaging non-Western art could be included to represent the parallel history threads.

  • Lynn in WI

    How about using the Lastman painting for the endpapers or the frontispiece? Could Norton afford that?

    If your heart is set on using it for the cover, I like the idea of zooming in on one scene and not trying to convey the whole piece. Or presenting it in a grey-scale format with portions of your choice slightly colored. Just brainstorming.

    Since you asked, I like simple and elegant for a cover. My simple choice would be to use a ‘Rosetta Stone’ format and do the title in the ancient scripts (of your choice) on the cover. Simple, I know, but when I think of the ancients nothing communicates the time period more to me than seeing their writing.

    Plus, it would make everyone thankful, once again, for the printing press. 🙂

    This sort of project would consume me. As I sit here, I’m overwhelmed with your options, particularly if you choose real art for the cover. I would just take a step back and decide if your cover needs a “message” (besides “Buy me!”) and then choose the best means of conveying it, a la the Lastman piece. If the message is simply, “I’m a really smart book that needs to be on your shelf in your home!” then you have lots of options for making it smart and attractive. That’s when you simply tell the art department “I want smart and attractive!”.

    Oh goodness, I’ve gone on and on. In the end, we’ll be buying it because your name is on the cover, in Sanskrit, perhaps. 🙂

  • Janice in NJ

    We WTM’ers are probably the wrong crowd to ask. We will buy the book if you printed it out on scrap paper and shipped it to us in an old grocery sack.

    Since this will hopefully develop into a series, have you thought about which paintings you would like to use for the other editions? Are you headed somewhere with this choice?

    I’m looking at a couple of history and science hardcovers from the libary that are laying here on my coffee table. Several of them do have painting on the front. They are more visually appealing than the plainer books. I also notice that many of them pick up a small portion of the painting and work it into the spine. (David McCullough’s 1776 has added just the portion of the painting that includes Washington on his horse and had added it to the spine.) This attracts because I already have a connection with Washington; I know who he is. When I look at the spine and then the front of the book, I feel like I already know something about this topic so I’m inspired to open it. It’s probably not over my head, eh? I’m not sure how you’de do that with this painting as none of the characters are particularly well known.

    Honestly? I’ve never seen this Battle at the Bridge painting. It means nothing to me, and while it might give me some clue as to what the book is about, it doesn’t really look like a book that I would be inspired to read. Is the book primarily a military history? Is that one of its strong points? Do you feel like that’s really the story that you are trying to tell? What IS IT that you are trying to convey about the ancient world to your readers? What do you want them to walk away with? What are you trying to inspire in them? What are you trying to get them to see about themselves? When I look at that painting I think, “Sheesh! Thousands of years of effort has come to this! What a waste. What a drag! They might as well have stayed in bed for their whole LIVES.” Not trying to be harsh – just my knee jerk reaction.

    If you are thinking in terms of a four book series and are planning a cover that screams “Redemption!” then this cover might be cool. I’m not sure what you are thinking.

    Will Norton invest the money in this in order to promote it among the chain book stores so that it will be displayed facing out on an end cap or will it be shelved? (I’ve heard that publishers do this. It could just be a rumor; I’m really clueless about this kind of thing. I first saw TWTM facing out on an end cap at B&N; I was drawn to it. This was before ANYONE I knew had ever heard of it.) If its going to be shelved, then you need to really think about the spine. Maybe a trip to the book store is in order. Which spines attract? The ones with the mini picture of something that I’m already connected with encourage me to slide the volume off the shelf and look at the cover. Who is your demographic? Men? Women? Age group?

    Just thoughts. Have to run.

  • mull-berry

    What an opportunity! Since this is a “four-volume history,” try thinking of all four covers at once and making all artwork similar in tone. Personally, I like the illustration you have chosen. As far as gore, it’s not any worse that LOTR, etc.

    Last of all, use what you love. Good Luck!

  • Kolbi

    Exactly. It was the year 2001 and I had been homeschooling for 6 months and then all of a sudden I walked into a BooksaMillion and saw TWTM facing *out* (so as to see the whole front cover) and I grabbed it and literally sat down on the floor and read it and cried for joy. And then bought it, of course.

    TWTM and TWEM have brilliant covers. I like their simplicity. In their simplicity they are profound and my eyes are drawn to them. I also really love the idea of the four-volume history with all of the covers sort of matching in theme.

    Are you going to also work the pictures of pieces of artwork into the book? Gosh that would be neat. I would love to see what forms of art you would choose to discuss from that stretch of time and why.

    I like the _His Excellency_ cover (Joseph Ellis) a whole lot. Simplistic, profound, beautiful.

  • Gina

    I think focusing on a small portion of the Lastman painting would be best. I think the painting as a whole would be too much for a book cover. I was going to say to crop out everything but the bridge and man on the white horse (is that Constantine?). Doing that eliminates much of the color though.

  • LB

    I agree with Janice in NJ. I’d get it if it were printed on birch bark. I will be buying this book because you wrote it, and I love your writing style, and your ability to make hostory reading fun and enjoyable, not because the cover art is intriguing or engaging.

    I also agree with Lynn in Wisc., that simple and elegant works well on a book cover. I think a Rosetta Stone format and simple title would be quite striking.

    Have fun picking whatever works for you. I will buy it regardless!

  • Kate

    How about something like this, but time period appropriate?

    I love the bold clarity and color. I like the picture you chose, but it does not stand out to me as much different than many histories I have seen. I also like the idea of a montage of items from different people groups of that time that would change, of course, as you touched the different time periods.

    It is exciting to see the back end of your work. I really look forward to seeing the finished product!


  • Colleen

    As several others have noted, I find Lastman’s work far too busy for a book cover. In fact, I think it would likely blend in with the multitude of other books on the store shelves for this very reason. A simple, classic cover is much more likely to catch my eye.


  • Kate

    For whatever reason my link did not work so here it is – I hope. :+)


  • Gena Suarez

    Gory? No, that’s not gory. Last night’s National Geographic was gory. A lion was eating an elk or some poor pitiful creature – and the thing was still alive. Now that was gory. I’ll spare you the gross details, like the entrails trailing quite beyond the elk. Never mind. Anyway, I really love the painting above; something about the bridge is appealing, almost symbolic, “from here to there” (history). I love it.


  • Julie in Austin

    I don’t like that painting because it is jumbled, busy, and confusing and I’d worry that your book would be the same way! (Based on the cover, that is! In reality, I know that I will love this book and I can’t wait for it to come out!)

    On the other hand, if you were to take 5-10 smallish paintings and have them, all the same size, in a row on the cover, that would lead me to believe that the book was manageable–little chunks, you know?

  • shanmar

    I actually like the picture quite well…

    I have an image in my head of a cover with a line of gold embossed boxes 2/3 rds of the way down. Inside each box is a portion of different pieces of artwork, which will be found inside the book. The cover itself is brown, with either a map or ancient writing showing lightly in dark brown. The title and your name are in black 1/3rd of the way down. Or the other way around, pictures on top and the title on the lower end.

    (Thanks for letting me pretend I have something to do with this project!)

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