A Brief History of Animals on O'Reilly Book Covers

Original author: Edie Freedman
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I think that none of the users of Habrahabr need to present O'Reilly publishing house and its books, which attract the eye with graphic images of the most diverse and, as a rule, very strange-looking animals on their covers. imageEdie Friedman, creative director of O'Reilly Media, posted a small post on animals.oreilly.com telling how these animals got on the covers of the publisher’s books.

How the lions, tigers and tarsiers bounced

In the mid-80s, O'Reilly publishing house (also known as O'Reilly & Associates) was selling short books on various directories related to Unix through mail directories. The pages of these books, known as Nutshell Handbooks, were stapled together, and the books themselves had plain brown covers.
Original “Quick Guide”
Over time, Tim O'Reilly decided to sell books in regular bookstores and hired a graphic designer to develop new covers. These covers were used in the first two books sold in bookstores, but Tim was unhappy with this design.

My neighbor, who worked at O'Reilly as a technical writer and marketer, showed me the covers drawn by the publisher and asked me if I had a better idea. At that time, I was immersed in the world of DEC's VAX / VMS as an executive producer of slides and video presentations; I heard about Unix, but with great difficulty I imagined what it was - I never saw a Unix programmer and never tried to edit text in vi. Even the terms associated with Unix - vi, sed and awk, uucp, lex, yacc, curses - seemed strange, they sounded like some words from the world of Dragons and Dungeons, a popular game among geeks (mainly male).

Thin loris that I used in the cover of one of the very first animal books about sed and awk
Sometimes, when thinking over a design, an idea comes up without any effort - everything immediately falls into place, as if it had always been so. When I started looking for suitable images on the cover of books, I came across 19th-century engravings that depicted some strange looking animals that seemed very suitable for these strange-sounding terms of the Unix world; besides, it seemed to me that they look exotic enough to attract the attention of programmers. As I studied the characteristics of these real animals, I quickly discovered an intriguing similarity between animals and technology, and that feeling grew as I learned more and more about animals and technology. I was so excited and inspired by this feeling that I worked on the covers all weekend without breaks for sleep and rest,

Some people in O'Reilly were amazed: it seemed to them that these animals looked too strange, ugly and creepy, but Tim immediately realized what was happening - he liked these bizarre images that should highlight their books on the shelves among the offers of other publishers - and his feelings did not disappoint: since then we have published hundreds of books with animals and this brand is now known everywhere.

What we realized over the years

Chimpanzees have no tails.
Once I read the engraving signature incorrectly and mistakenly named some kind of chimpanzee monkey. We got a whole bunch of letters telling us that chimpanzees are completely tailless (that’s the whole point of our readers).

People are ready for a mile to bypass animals unpleasant to them.
One of our readers complained that we used the image of a spider on the cover and in the text of one of our books - Webmaster in a Nutshell . The spiders terrified his wife, so he had to go through the whole book and cover the images of the spider at the beginning of each chapter so that she would not be so scared to read the book. Our other client sent us an angry email in which he said that on our site there is a page that he will never go to, because there is a snake. It turned out that this was the “How to Buy a Book” page, so we had to replace the snake with a prettier rabbit.

People like animals with faces.
The pictures that we used in the design of the books contained images from the entire animal kingdom, from large mammals like tigers or elephants, to fish, birds, insects and invertebrates. We found that our customers liked animals most of all, which 1) had a pronounced face and 2) looked directly at the reader.
Three covers

Animals are in trouble.
While studying animals for O'Reilly book covers, designer Karen Montgomery and I became very sensitive to the plight of wild animals around the world. Many of the animals that appeared on our covers are in critical condition - for example, tarsiers from Learning the vi & Vim Editors , loris from sed & awk , bisza (sea turtle) from Getting Started with CouchDB , tiger from Running Mac OS X Tiger and many others. Most of the engravings were done in the 19th century; the wild world was then in perfect order; now the destruction of habitats, hunting, poaching and other conflicts with humans, illegal trade and much more have done their job, and species that flourished a hundred years ago today are on the verge of extinction.

We hope that the coverage on the O'Reilly Animals website of animal protection and protection projects - large and small, from the most primitive to the most high-tech - will not only help to raise interest in what is already being done, we may also be able to inspire smart, technically savvy people ( such as you) in search of new ways to preserve and protect wild animals of the world. It seems to us that this is a very worthy occupation.

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