You should judge a book by its cover

Judge a book by its cover

You shouldn’t Judge a book by its cover.

This is a phrase to which I take exception, and I do not know why this phrase has become so renowned as it seems so false to me. I am not talking about this phrase in its literal sense with regard to books; however, I still think it is false when talking about literal books. I have a degree in nutrition and food science, and there are thousands of books that I can judge by the cover and know they are trash and not worth my time. Time is a resource I do not wish to waste, so I will judge some books by their cover to save it.

Onto the more philosophical application of the phrase. The cover is all the information you have about someone whom you’ve never seen before. If you have already seen someone or something, you have already judged them/it at least once. One extreme example I have to evaluate this involves children or vulnerable people. Should you allow a child to interact with any random person as you should not judge them by their cover, or should you judge them and base your decision on all the visual cues you have?

As an adult I judge people, rightly or wrongly – here I am arguing that it is rightly– by their cover. If I am walking down the street and see some drunk men quarrelling, you can safely assume that cover will be judged harder than an autobiography by a reality TV star.

Why I think this phrase still has some credibility is that invariably whenever you meet someone, they are a good person. Should you judge a person as good before you’ve gotten to know someone? And is It even possible to not judge someone? I doubt it.

In fact, I would go further than saying you should judge a book by its cover; you continually judge by the cover. As you gain information, you should continually re-adjust your judgement as people can and do change.

There are a number of reasons as to why I do not understand this phrase and therefore, do not take it seriously. I imagine this could be a contentious issue and my opinion may be somewhat naive, so please educate me.

Apparently the phrase was first published in the mid 18th century, and frankly, that’s where it should have stayed.


Published by Louis

Spend less than you earn, Invest the surplus, avoid debt. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants

17 thoughts on “You should judge a book by its cover

  1. I agree; it’s impossible not to judge a book by its over. That’s okay, as long as – like you said – we continuously change our perception of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I wonder whether this qualifies as a heuristic? I suspect so. I am a useless judge of character anyway whether or not by the cover. I am ashamed to say that that I very often judge a book by its cover and usually (for my taste at least) end up having made a good choice.


  3. When it comes to people, their “cover” is something they choose themselves, be it by their hairstyle, wardrobe, expression, etc. People basically invite you to judge them based on their cover just by picking clothes out of a closet.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I thought the traditional aphorism was ‘Do not judge a book by it’s cover’ or ‘Never judge a book by it’s cover.’ These admonitions encourage people to look beneath the surface and ignore superficialities. This advice seems more reasonable.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “In fact, I would go further than saying you should judge a book by its cover; you continually judge by the cover. As you gain information, you should continually re-adjust your judgement as people can and do change”
    I like this and so true.
    I believe judging a book by it’s cover will save your life sometimes


  6. The only people I believe when they say they don’t judge books by their cover are the fans of romance novels. Those covers are terrible. You have to really believe in the contents to lean into the terribleness.


      1. I guarentee it will be so completely opposite to the works you read for your PhD that your mind will melt into a blob you’re not entirely sure you’re comfortable with. I implore you to savor that blobby reprieve. 😁


  7. I judge people by their actions- yes a pretty or handsome face might give someone the edge initially. It is how they behave that gives you an insight into who they are. As far as books go – give an author a break- so often they pour their hearts into writing a book but have no say into which cover the editorial team might choose.


  8. I’m not sure that phrase can be used across the board since today’s world offers so many takes on it. Yes, look beneath the surface for goodness even if you aren’t outwardly attracted, but you also have to be wary. As others have noted, people choose (some) of how they appear. They are choosing to send a certain message that different people will interpret different ways.

    I’ve had male friends that were scary-looking individuals, but nice and gentle as could be inside. Other people look outwardly scary, and are in fact scary inside as well. Ted Bundy was pleasant and ‘All-American boy’-looking, yet he murdered people. No one looking at Stephen Hawking (that didn’t know who he was) would immediately think ‘genius’.

    Whether a book or a person or anything else, we have to use sense and reason. And regardless of outward appearances, we need to allow the possibility that looks are deceiving. The beauty queen may be vacuous and hateful; the biker might have a heart of gold.

    That phrase doesn’t translate so well to people as it does to books. Maybe it did in the 18th Century, but the 21st Century is very different.


  9. From the view of a time-constrained consumer and a writer, book covers do tell me in a flash whether I want to investigate that particular book further. As for people, their behavior is the signpost. Thanks for sharing.


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