Should we judge a book by the cover?

Yes and no…

I think it depends on the situation and your personality. Here are arguments both ways!

Yes! “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is bad advice

We often judge books and other things by how they look—it’s impossible not to. And that’s okay.

We never have all the information in the universe, but we still have to make decisions. If you are in a book store considering whether you want to buy a certain science-fiction novel, the only way to be sure you want to buy it is to read the whole thing. That’s not practical. You need to make a decision using some limited information based on how the book seems. Likewise, if you are in a restaurant trying to decide what to order, you have to choose a dish without tasting it. If you are lucky, there will be photographs of the dishes on the menu, and you can decide whether the food looks delicious.

Sometimes we are experts about appearances. If you read a lot of science-fiction books, you are familiar with the kinds of covers your favorite stories have on them. If you buy a book that has a similar cover, you are likely to enjoy that book when you read it. Similarly, if you eat a lot of ramen, you will be able to look at a menu and easily decide whether a Japanese restaurant makes the kind of ramen you enjoy eating.

Sometimes the appearance of something is specifically created to help us make good decisions. Book publishers know that readers select books to purchase by looking at what is on the outside of the book. Therefore, they make sure that the cover of the book will tell you what kind of book it is so that you won’t buy it and later be disappointed. Meanwhile, restaurants know that unhappy diners are unlikely to return and order more food, so they often illustrate their menus so that you will have an accurate idea about whether you will enjoy the food before you order, or even before you enter the restaurant!

It can be dangerous to judge how something is, rather than how it looks. Nature has given our bodies senses that we don’t fully understand. If a situation looks dangerous, you’ll feel scared even before you know for sure that you’re in danger. In such cases, the best judgment is to rely on the unsafe appearance and run away! It’s risky to wait for more information.

It’s a good idea to make judgments based on appearances. We can—and should—judge books by their covers. If you refuse to judge things by how they look, you’ll fall victim to ‘analysis paralysis’ in spite of clues meant to guide you. You could even wind up stuck in a dangerous situation when it would be better to leave. Be decisive! Trust your evaluation of the available clues and get on with your life.

Happy reading!


No, don’t judge a book by the cover!

We often judge books and other things by how they look—but we can do better than that!

Although we never have all the information in the universe, we should do our due diligence. We should always make an effort to find out whatever we need to know to make a good decision, otherwise we’ll be at the mercy of our own knee-jerk reactions. If you are in a book store considering whether you want to buy a certain science-fiction novel, you’re probably there because you saw a positive review of it, or a friend recommended it to you, or you’ve read other books by the same author. Likewise, in restaurants we often rely on our friends, other diners, the chef, the waitstaff, and our own past experience eating in restaurants when choosing which dish to order, not just the photos on the menu.

Our excessive confidence in our ability to judge by appearances makes us overgeneralize. I’m sure you can think of numerous incidents of discrimination by race, age, and sex. When we make assumptions about an individual person based on the common characteristics of others in his or her demographic group, there is huge potential for error and injustice. We also run some risk of overgeneralization when pre-judging books and food: just because you haven’t liked many science-fiction novels in the past doesn’t mean that you won’t like the next one; maybe this restaurant’s waffles will be disappointing even though you like waffles in general.

Sometimes the appearance of something is specifically created to mislead. Book publishers want to sell books. If making The Bell Jar look like chick-lit will sell more copies, someone will absolutely make it look like chick-lit. Likewise, restaurant chains spend thousands of dollars on professional food photography, which employs a significant amount of fakery to get the most appealing result. Don’t be naïve: what comes to your table won’t look like what’s on the menu. Beware bait-and-switch.

We can’t be afraid of our own shadows or run from every risk in life. Appearances can be deceiving: something may seem scary at first glance, but ‘scary’ is not the same as ‘dangerous’. Evolution has equipped us with hair-trigger defenses. Don’t be a cat afraid of cucumbers! Not every long skinny thing on the ground is a snake. Take another look. Many things are worth second-guessing; ugly or plain books have more to offer than meets the eye; a modest restaurant menu may belie a delicious meal.

It’s never a good idea to make judgments based solely on appearances. Sure, we could judge books by their covers, but why would we rely on covers when we have so many other ways to form opinions? If you judge things by how they look, you’ll be missing critical information that could lead to better decision-making, you’ll misfile everything (even people!) into the wrong pigeonholes, you’ll fall victim to every unscrupulous marketing message, and you’ll never overcome an even slightly intimidating challenge because at first glance it doesn’t seem worth the effort.

Happy reading!