Like any good tech, I have a number of O’Reilly’s technical books on my shelves. Whenever I see the books, I have two thoughts cross my mind:
- “Man, I should really use _(book topic)_ more.”
- “I wonder what the story is for the animals that adorn the covers of these books.”
Since I can’t do much about the first thought unless I was able to free up a lot of time magically or dropped a bunch of obligations, I skim down to the second thought – about the animals. I finally looked into it and was pleased to find that O’Reilly actually has a few pages detailing their trademark covers.
The short answer is that Edie Freedman, now Creative Director at O’Reilly, was hired to design the book covers. Some of those Unix tools sounded fantastical to her, like Dungeons & Dragons. With that image in her head, she came upon the Dover Pictorial Archives with 18th and 19th century wood and copperplate engravings of animals and made the connection between the animals and the titles.
Even the short version of the story has some humor to it:
I also hear from readers who have phobias about certain animals, particularly spiders, snakes, and cats. The husband of one reader complained about our use of a spider on and in Webmaster in a Nutshell. Spiders terrified his wife. He went through the entire book and put white tape over the graphic on the first page of every chapter so she wouldn’t have to confront the spider. Another customer sent angry email telling us he’d never go to one of the pages on our web site because it had a snake on it. Because it was our “How to Order” page, we changed it.
I find the story very interesting, so I also recommend reading the longer article with artist Lorrie LeJeune. It gets into some of the designing process and complications that come with trying to come up with and reproduce animals in the perfect pose for the book covers.
While it isn’t always quite evident why a particular animal was chosen for a topic, you can find a table that details each book, the title, and the animal that adorns its cover at oreilly.com/animals.html