Penguin’s Great Ideas series is back

It’s been ten years since the last set of Great Ideas books was published, but Penguin Classics has returned with 20 new additions to the series

Titles range from stirring feminist manifestos to musings on happiness, civil rights, anarchy and the power of language – all wrapped up in pocket-size editions. Sojourner Truth’s Ain’t I A Woman features the activist’s speeches, while Peter Singer’s Why Vegan explores the ethical questions around eating animals. How To Be A Stoic, which collects the words of three Stoic philosophers on how to face life’s difficulties, feels particularly relevant for right now.

Designers Phil Baines, Catherine Dixon, Alistair Hall, Felix Koeberlin and David Pearson have created the covers, working in partnership with art director Jim Stoddart. As with the previous Great Ideas covers, the books are largely typographic, drawing inspiration – and letterforms – from the time period, place and cultural events each book relates to.

“When I was given that first 20, my head was spinning a bit,” Pearson told CR of his previous work on the Great Ideas series. “I was a lot younger, and I wanted to settle on a formula or set of rules.

“The original idea was to hem myself in and limit my choices, because I like to box myself in sometimes in order to feel creative. So it’s been using a really limited set of tools to try and make them feel as varied and interesting as possible.

“I was looking at the period and the place the books were written, and taking my typographic inspiration from that. So if the list changes, as it has in this latest series, it’s refreshed naturally in terms of the look. There aren’t really any Renaissance or medieval-era books, so that knocks out a lot of the overt decoration and fanciful-looking covers. Straightaway you’ve got a bit of a gear shift.

“Some covers prescribe; some misguide; some are formal; some informal; some are minimal; some maximal; some shout and some whisper,” he adds. “Some are legible and some – let’s be honest – require a good deal of deciphering.”

The Great Ideas books are priced £5.99 each;