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Judging a cover a by its book.

Posted by sfharris on November 19, 2005 at 12:13 PM PST

It's been said that you can't judge a book by its cover. But can you judge a cover by its book? Sometimes, yes.

Publishers of technical books often use a theme when designing book covers. Doing so gives books from that publisher a sort of instant recognition.

For example, O'Reilly's has it's animals. Manning has, well ... people in unusual garb from the pages of an illustrated book published in 1805 by Sylvain Marechal.

O'Reilly's Learning Emacs sports a Gnu on the cover; there is a very ugly frog on Windows Annoyances; a powerful and majestic tiger adorns Java in a Nutshell. Obvious choices in my opinion. But what about Learning Perl? What is the significance of the llama? I'm sure there was a good reason why that animal was chosen but its not quite so obvious (I guess it looks better than an oyster??).

The choice of illustration for Addision-Wesley's Java Series is even more interesting to try and figure out. Each book in that series has a scene on the cover. Like the protagonist in the Da Vinci Code, it helps to be a symbologist in order to figure out what the various symbols depicted in the scene have to do with the content of the book.

I recently received a copy of The Java Programming Language Fourth Edition by Ken Arnold, James Gosling, and David Holmes. The cover shows an office in a state of extreme disarray. It's obvious that the office belongs to a software engineer as is evident from the technical manuals on the desk, the computer screen displaying some Java code (with javadoc generated by IntelliJ IDEA), and the tell-tale can of JIT Cola. But who's office is it?? One of the author's perhaps?

Continuing to look for clues I noticed a yellow post-it note on the far wall with the words "Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed ...". Okay, so somebody is into printing. No help here.

Next to the post-it note is a poster for some event that happened in Chicago that started on September 16th and ended on ... darn can't see it. It's covered up by the post-it note.

Next to the poster is a post card that says "Greetings from Down Under". Definitely a reference to David Holmes, who hails from Australia, is it his office perhaps?? ...

Then I saw it. The clue I had been searching for. Tucked away in the lower left hand corner of the illustration, a foot resting on the desk.

I interviewed for a position at Sun Microsystems in 1999. The second engineer to interview me was Ken Arnold. I remember walking into his office, nervous and hell bent on making a good impression in my blue suit, white shirt, and conservative tie.

I met Ken at the door of his office. The first thing I noticed was that his office was in a state of extreme disarray. The second thing I noticed was that Ken was not wearing any shoes. Later, working with Ken, I would come to understand that walking around the office barefoot was something that Ken did often.

Yep, that's Ken Arnold's office on the cover alright. I'd recognize those toes anywhere.