It’s raw. It’s stark. It’s simple. The cover of Nicotine speaks volumes. Let’s dissect it…


The cross-section of a cigarette evokes a sense of disgust and fascination that is deeply visceral. It looks so much like a clogged artery that I feel clogged up just looking at it. The contrast between the clean filter and the plug of tobacco—their textures, their colors, their volumes—enhances the mystery of both…how they work in tandem in a neatly packaged product. We aren’t used to seeing cigarettes in this way; slitting one open makes us see how simple it is, which subtly implies how complex the ingredients must be to affect human behavior the way they do.

On a white background, the effect is spare to the point of appearing clinical. And, paired with black text, we expect facts, hard truths, a clear-headed report…not wild, celebratory ravings from a drug junkie. It is, in fact, a memoir.

The black and all caps creates a straightforward, impersonal, and serious look, with the hard angles and the crisp line they form. This understatement in the type choices, compared to the visually complex stuffings of the cigarette, allows the spotlight to stay with the image. I’d be curious to see a version with the words in a deep yellow burned into the background paper like stains of long-term cigarette use, but I suspect that black is the stronger choice.

Rotated vertically, the title and author name in all caps emphasize the shape of the cigarette—not only are they bars, but they also create phantom white bars across the space. The introduction credit line is handled skillfully—notice that the size of the text gets smaller with each successive step down in importance.

Perhaps the O-R and H-E in “GREGOR HENS” could have been kerned a smidge more tightly, but overall, there’s a lot that I like about this cover. In some ways, it reminds me of the Slow Burn cover with burnt matches that I shared at the end of this post.

The designer behind Nicotine is John Gall, who has a fascinating portfolio of book cover designs. I am additionally impressed by his work on Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman and Levon Biss’ Microsculpture: Portraits of Insects.