I read a lot. To try to avoid buying hundreds of books a year, I generally listen to audiobooks, read ebooks, or see what’s available at the library.
But the pretty books? That’s a whole other story. I can’t resist beautiful books, and I usually treat myself to a hardcover edition to admire, share with friends, and display on my shelves.
For this post, I’ve focused on the most beautifully designed books I’ve ever read, offering stunning covers, illustrations, binding, and attention to detail.
Featuring some of the best books created by publishers including Penguin Clothbound Classics and The Folio Society, here’s my shortlist of the most beautiful books in the world to treasure or share as special gifts.
The most beautiful books for gifts or your shelves
The Hobbit: Illustrated by the Author by J.R.R. Tolkien
When I’m craving nostalgia and comfort reading, I pick up The Hobbit. There are so many beautiful editions of this classic available, including a stunning hardcover by The Folio Society (illustrated by Eric Fraser) which enjoys pride of place on my shelves.
For another of the best versions to treasure, this edition published by William Morrow for 2023 is simply beautiful. Complete with stunning full-color illustrations by J.R.R. Tolkien, it’s a wonderfully thoughtful gift for yourself or a loved one who adores Middle-earth.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Harper Muse Painted)
The Harper Muse Painted Editions series includes some of the most beautiful classic editions published in recent years, with each of the pretty books featuring an evocative painted cover. I especially love this edition of The Great Gatsby.
With a spellbinding cover twinkling with the colours of twilight and a wonderfully well-made interior, this is one of the beautiful books I’ve included in my book gift guide for 2023.
Island Dreams: Mapping an Obsession by Gavin Francis
Full of stunningly beautiful maps, the hardcover edition of Island Dreams is a delight, clothbound and with delicate gold leaf embossing.
This is Gavin Francis’s project to “map an obsession” and dive into our collective fascination with islands, blending stories of his own travels with psychology, philosophy, and the great voyages of history.
The Cosmic Dance: Finding Patterns and Pathways in a Chaotic Universe by Stephen Ellcock
In The Cosmic Dance, image alchemist Stephen Ellcock does what he does best: bringing together remarkable images for a spellbinding, thematically-organized visual journey, here exploring the ancient belief that the cosmos is reflected in all living things.
Spanning the entire history of art, this adventure begins with the microscopic and the elemental, continues with representations of the human body as a cosmos in miniature, and finally revels in the colossal, celestial, and infinite.
It’s a book to marvel at and inspire deeper contemplation, allowing us in the words of William Blake, to “see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour”.
Emma by Jane Austen (Marjolein Bastin edition)
With dainty floral illustrations and a romantic color palette evoking days in the garden, these exquisite editions illustrated by Marjolein Bastin are a treat for any Jane Austen fan.
While Emma is airy and pink with peonies, the Bastin edition of Pride and Prejudice illustrates purple-blue hydrangeas on a twinkling nocturnal background. If you’re looking for the best book gifts for Jane Austen fans, any of these books would be a fantastic choice.
Every Color of Light by Hiroshi Osada
How could I not mention at least one picture book? Every Color of Light is a spellbindingly beautiful illustrated book by Hiroshi Osada, Ryōji Arai, and translator David Boyd, offering a gorgeous celebration of light in all its forms.
Illuminating the wonders of life for readers young and grown, it’s a book to treasure for years to come as well as a gentle companion to inspire rest before bed.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
There are many lovely editions of Little Women, but the best I’ve found so far is this charming hardcover by The Folio Society, offering a treat for the eyes with exquisite endpapers and gold-blocked binding.
Like all of the publisher’s creations, this is a book designed for gifting as well as a conduit for mindful and joyful reading, complete with delicately wholesome illustrations by Rebecca Green that perfectly complement this classic cozy comfort read.
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
One of my favourite books from the beloved Penguin Clothbound Classics series is this beautiful edition of War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – which, conveniently, also contains my favourite translation by Anthony Briggs.
I recommend this beautiful hardcover a lot here on Tolstoy Therapy; with its marriage of Tolstoy’s writing with such a gorgeous design, it’s a deserving choice for every bookshelf.
How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery
A wholesome “memoir in thirteen animals” by Sy Montgomery, How to Be a Good Creature is a life-affirming treat for all friends of our planet’s good creatures. Accompanied by beautiful illustrations by Rebecca Green, this delightful read celebrates the joy of sharing a life with animals, but offers something more, too; as we read it, we receive a gentle reminder of how to be a good creature in our own lives.
The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy
One of the most beloved books of the last decade, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse brings together Charlie Mackesy’s characteristic pen and ink drawings with a gentle fable that shows the beauty of a life well-lived, intertwining the two with so much joyful simplicity.
It’s chiefly a book to treasure as a hardcover, but I also loved listening to the audiobook that blends Charlie Mackesy’s narration with a music score by Max Richter and wildlife sounds of rural England. This is a tale you can enjoy time and again through different formats, without losing its magic. What better sign of a good story?
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (MinaLima Edition) by J.K. Rowling
For Harry Potter fans, exploring Hogwarts doesn’t get much better than with these captivating hardcovers by MinaLima, complete with vibrant full-color illustrations on nearly every page, a gold embossed cover, and interactive paper craft elements.
Three of the MinaLima books are out so far, including this dazzling new addition to the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which has just been released in October 2023. Here’s my review of these wonderfully nostalgic books.
The Unwinding by Jackie Morris
A bedside book crafted with love by the Kate Greenaway Medal-winning artist Jackie Morris, The Unwinding offers a balm for weary souls and kindling for the imagination.
Here, Jackie bridges the magical land between awake and dreaming where fairytale characters explore and magnificent creatures dwell.
With a story led by pictures, it’s a beautiful book to calm your mind and help you unwind for the day, unlocking a peaceful space where our creativity can stretch and quiet reflection can bring us tranquility.
Lyra’s Oxford by Philip Pullman
Philp Pullman’s books are some of the most beautifully illustrated books in the world – just look at the stunning metallic clothbound Folio Society edition of The Secret Commonwealth, or the hardcover edition of Serpentine.
Today, I’ve chosen this special edition of Lyra’s Oxford as my top pick: a delightfully gift-worthy book with full-colour illustrations by renowned print-maker Chris Wormell, printed with foil, embossing, and a place-marker ribbon.
As a perfect companion to His Dark Materials trilogy, Lyra’s Oxford brings you back to Pullman’s magical world to share the story of Lyra in the years after the events of The Amber Spyglass.
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
With a charming cover illustration by Anna Bond from Rifle Paper Co, this pretty edition is the perfect way to enjoy the story of five-year-old Heidi as she grows up among the goats and birds, surrounded by awe-inspiring mountains in the Alps.
If you love collecting pretty books, I’ve also shared this round-up of the best classic book collections of all time. Enjoy!