I love beautiful books. Generally, I listen to books as an audiobook, read them as an ebook, or see what’s available at the library. But the pretty ones? I treat myself to a hardcover edition to hold, share with friends, and treasure on my bookshelves or coffee table.
For this post, I’ve focused on the most beautifully designed books I’ve ever read – with stunning covers, illustrations, binding, and attention to detail. But I’ve also thought about my top choices from posts I’ve shared before – especially, the most beautifully illustrated and beautifully written books, as well as the best books to give as gifts.
These are all books that feel special. They feel like books to give as gifts, to display on your coffee table, or at least to give the best location on your bookshelves.
Featuring some of the best books published by Penguin Clothbound Classics and Folio Society as well as indie publishers, here’s my shortlist of the most beautiful books in the world to treasure in your own library.
The most beautiful books in the world to treasure on your bookshelves
1. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer (Milkweed Editions, 2020)
Braiding Sweetgrass is a true love letter to the land, combining indigenous wisdom, science’s findings on the mysteries of nature, and the teachings of plants. Robin’s beautiful writing is gorgeously presented in this elegant hardcover by Milkweed Editions. This edition has lived on my bedside table for the last year; it’s the perfect book to read when you can’t sleep, want to soothe your nerves, or need a reminder of the beauty of life.
2. Every Color of Light by Hiroshi Osada (Enchanted Lion Books, 2020)
Every Color of Light is a spellbindingly beautiful illustrated children’s 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.
3. The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy (HarperOne, 2019)
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse brings together Charlie Mackesy’s unique 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 a book to treasure as a hardcover, but I also loved listening to the audiobook earlier this year. Charlie Mackesy’s narration is accompanied by a beautiful music score by Max Richter and wildlife sounds of rural England. (It’s fantastic.)
4. The Odyssey by Homer (Penguin Clothbound Classics, 2010)
There are 90 books in the Penguin Clothbound Classics series, and it’s hard to pick a favourite – they’re all stunning. But I’ve allowed myself to choose two of the most beautiful for this list, the first of them this gorgeous edition of The Odyssey. It was the first book I bought from the Penguin Clothbound Classics series, and I’m sure I’ll be turning back to it for years to come.
With an introduction by Peter Jones, this is the translation of E.V. Rieu with a revision by his son, D.C.H. Rieu.
5. The Body – Illustrated: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson (Penguin, 2022)
This remarkable new edition of Bryson’s fact-packed yet wonderfully accessible head-to-toe tour of the human body is a visual feast, accompanied by hundreds of stunning photographs and illustrations. Named a Sunday Times Science Book of the Year, this modern classic is a guide to the marvels of the human body, its functions, and its remarkable ability to heal itself.
6. The Cosmic Dance: Finding patterns and pathways in a chaotic universe by Stephen Ellcock (Thames & Hudson, 2022)
In The Cosmic Dance, image alchemist Stephen Ellcock does what he does best: bringing together remarkable images for a spellbinding, thematically-organized visual journey, in this case 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 to 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’.
7. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (Penguin Clothbound Classics, 2017)
My second pick from the 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.
8. How to be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery (Mariner Books, 2018)
How to be a Good Creature is another of my best-loved beautiful books – and illustrated books. This wholesome “memoir in thirteen animals” by Sy Montgomery makes for a perfect gift, celebrating the joy of sharing a life with animals with heartwarming illustrations by Rebecca Green. As we read it, we receive a gentle reminder of how to be a good creature in our own lives, too.
9. The Unwinding by Jackie Morris (Unbound, 2020)
I included The Unwinding in my selection of the best books to give as gifts in 2022, delicately crafted by the Kate Greenaway Medal-winning artist Jackie Morris. Here, Jackie bridges the magical land between awake and dreaming where fairytale characters explore and magnificent creatures dwell.
It’s a beautiful book designed to ease the soul and help you unwind for the day, unlocking a peaceful space where our imagination can stretch and quiet reflection can bring us tranquility.
10. Gratitude by Oliver Sacks
This little hardcover edition of Oliver Sacks’s last essays has brought me so much comfort over the last five years – and it’s travelled a lot, too. While living in Switzerland, I stumbled upon the book in a Zurich bookshop and also bought a copy for Iain, my then-boyfriend and now-husband. The book returned with me to the UK, and now, living together here in Denmark, Iain and I have a shared bookshelf for our favourite beautiful books, including Gratitude.
11. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (Folio Society)
This delicately crafted edition of the childhood classic brings Kenneth Grahame’s words to life with 83 wonderful illustrations by Charles van Sandwyk. Like every other beautiful book by the Folio Society, care has been lavished on every page and detail: from the pen-and-ink designs on the endpapers and slipcase, to the luxurious Modigliani paper, and the gold block printed cloth cover.
12. Lyra’s Oxford by Philip Pullman (Knopf Books, 2021)
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.
Here, 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.
13. Botanicum by Katie Scott and Kathy Willis (Big Picture Press, 2017)
Botanicum is on the shortlist of hardcovers I most enjoy picking up from my shelves here in Copenhagen and enjoying a few pages. As part of the Welcome to the Museum series, this is a world-class botanical exhibition in a book; celebrated as an educational children’s book, but just as fantastic for adults in love with the botanical world.
14. The Annotated Arabian Nights (WW Norton & Co, 2021)
Like Emily Wilson achieved for The Odyssey with her new translation in 2017, Yasmine Seale’s proficiency in (and poetic ear for) Arabic, English, and French shines through in this lyrical and accessible new translation of The Arabian Nights.
Accompanied by hundreds of stunning illustrations by Paulo Lemos Horta, this exquisite edition lets readers travel into the evocative dreamland of the stories and their history.
Enjoy more from me
- Retreat into my new book, Your Life in Bloom: Finding Your Path and Your Courage, Grounded in the Wisdom of Nature.
- I'm also the author of Mountain Song: A Journey to Finding Quiet in the Swiss Alps, a book about my time living alone by the mountains.
- If you love books, are feeling a little lost right now, and would love some gentle comfort and guidance, join The Sanctuary, my seven-day course to rebalance your life.