Judging Greg Smith’s book by its cover

September 19, 2012
book by Greg Smith, Why I Left Goldman Sachs.

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We don’t know much about the new book by Greg Smith, Why I Left Goldman Sachs. But we do know what its cover looks like. And there’s no mistaking the fact that the font on the cover of the book is very similar to the font used in the Goldman logo:

The font in question is Bodoni. There are hundreds of different flavors of Bodoni, but I asked the lovely Josh Turk at Reuters to try to recreate both the book cover and the Goldman logo using Bodoni Bold Condensed. There’s no painstaking work here, just typing the words on a colored background. Here’s the cobbled-together logo, on the left, and the real one, on the right:


And here’s the cobbled-together book cover, on the left, and, again, the real one on the right.


Obviously Grand Central, the publishers of this book, didn’t use exactly the same kind of Bodoni: just look at the difference in the Ws. But what’s really striking to me, here, is how little Grand Central is really trying, given how high-profile this book is, and given the fact that it reportedly cost them a $1.5 million advance to acquire.

I was talking about this on Twitter last week, and Dealbook’s Peter Lattman pointed out that there isn’t just a resemblance to the Goldman logo, there’s also a resemblance to Neil Fujita’s legendary cover for In Cold Blood.


Now this cover, like the Goldman logo, is all hand-lettered. It’s based on Bodoni, or something very similar, but it’s condensed the right way — by hand, meticulously, rather than by simply selecting “condensed” from a drop-down menu in Illustrator. Look at the way the lower serif of the n connects with the upper serif of the l, for instance, or the lovely Tr ligature, or even the way the “Cap” runs together in “Capote”.

One thing you’d think would be quite easy to replicate is the very tight leading — the fact that there’s almost no space between the horizontal lines. You see that in the Goldman logo, to the point at which the G and the S end up mushed together. So it would have been quite natural for the designer of the Smith book to have done the same.

But that didn’t happen: while the Smith book designer happily copied the Goldman font, she ignored the tight leading, with the result that the cover seems a bit loose and jumbled. And although there’s one ligature on the cover — a standard ft ligature in “Left” — the rest of the letterspacing also seems a bit careless, especially between the h and the y in “Why”.

All of which is to say that Greg Smith’s relationship to Goldman Sachs, and even to Truman Capote, can be seen in typography alone.

Goldman Sachs and Truman Capote sweat the details, and present their name in a carefully hand-drawn and fastidious way, calling on very talented and expensive designers to do so. Smith, by contrast, and/or his publisher, is happy with a rough-and-ready approximation: something which seems similar or good enough at first glance.

The designers of the Greg Smith book could have had real fun with this, if they really wanted to play on the Goldman logo. They could have used a white-on-blue color scheme, they could have chopped the serifs off the bottom of the letters, and — most obviously — they could have brought the “Smith” up so close to the “Greg” that the G and the S ended up smooshed together. Instead, the only connotation of sophistication in this cover comes from taking the words “I Left” and putting them in gold.

So if you want access to some of the smartest bankers in the world, go to Goldman Sachs. If you want to read a classic piece of book-length nonfiction, pick up In Cold Blood. Greg Smith, by contrast, never seems to have got very far at Goldman, and — despite the fact that I haven’t read it — I doubt very much that his book will still be in print in 47 years’ time, either.


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