Through no deliberate effort or plan, I have three books in my library with remarkably similar covers. That may not sound too interesting. Publishers often produce thematic collections with unified cover designs. Some topics, published by different companies, can have shared design traits as well. True-crime mass market paperbacks are almost always black with red accents. Books of the Nazis or Hitler are likewise black and red and you will need to look very carefully to find a book about Hitler that does not also have his recognizable mug on the cover.
The three books I have lack that strong thematic or temporal similarity. That’s why it’s so odd to have three books, each treating a fairly abstract part of history, with very similar covers.
These three books, while sharing a general interest in the study of violence as a historical phenomenon, also share the same cover theme—the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. While being the first of many unpleasant acts of violence in the old testament, it is also the first murder in Judeo-Christian literature. It is the first act of fratricide, and Elie Wiesel called it “the first genocide: half of mankind kills the other half.”1
I looked through the rest of my collection for similar themes and found two more pairs. One makes sense, thematically. Steven Pinker and Terry Eagelton, each writing about violence in different ways, picked a popular alternate from the Biblical cabinet of brutality, and used Abraham’s abortive sacrifice of Issac.2
Another matched pair, but with less thematic relevance, is Aaronovitch and MacMillan. I think this similarity has more to do with unimaginative designers than anything else. At least they are different publishers so they aren’t just recycling their own ideas.
I’m sure if I wanted to look I could find many more books with the two Biblical episodes featured in similar ways, but I think we get the point.
1 Wiesel is paraphrased in Russell Jacoby, Bloodlust: On the Roots of Violence from Cain and Abel to the Present (New York: Free Press, 2011), 82. They analogy is potent, but Wiesel’s math is off. It’s closer to one-quarter of mankind killing another quarter, as at this point, the population of post-expulsion earth is four (three men, one women). Just for clarity, the entire episode takes place in Genesis, 4, 1-15, in the vulgate.
2 Genesis, 22, 1-18.