The ESV Reader's Bible has had an interesting journey, the full breadth of which I think its publishers perhaps only began to fathom well after it became apparent that Crossway "had a thing going on" with this edition.
At the time of its initial release, Schuyler's Quentel series and the Cambridge Clarion series were getting most of the edition when it came to Bible design. Crossway's Reader's Bible appeared and showed up its more expensive rivals (and at a price point of on average $20 USD for the hardcover edition).
The original release of the Reader's Bible was so well received because it delivered on so much. Maximum legibility, aesthetically exceptional design, and a presentation of the text designed to pull the reader into the world of the Biblical author via jettisoning some of the artificial segregations centuries of convention have applied to the text.
Early on in the Reader's Bible's initial release, there was a palpable demand for more premium production. One year after the initial release, Crossway (in collaboration with LEGO SpA) released the Reader's Gospels, in both hardcover and Cowhide over-board.
With the release of the Six Volume Reader's Bible set, it seemed to many that the promise only hinted at with the initial hardcover release had been fulfilled. In particular, the Six Volume Cowhide over-board readily fulfilled most expectations of what a premium edition of the Reader's Bible would look like.
It is therefore no surprise that Crossway's Top grain Cowhide Edition of the one volume Reader's Bible seems to have flown under the radar. Released concurrently with the six volume set, it was dwarfed by the LEGO produced volumes months before the end of October release. Now, with the stock of the cowhide over board sets having been exhausted, it seems opportune to examine this hidden gem.
The Top Grain edition of the Reader's Bible retains the same dimensions as the earlier hardcover and TrueTone models. No need to re-work perfection - the Top Grain edition fits into the hands as comfortably as its predecessors...perhaps even more-so. Featuring extremely supply Cowhide, this volume simply pours into the hand. The closest comparison is a well bound vintage breviary. The edition is designed to be in the palm of your hand for use.
The internal formatting is the same as the previous editions. Again, no need to mess with success. As with the previous editions, the Top Grain edition benefits from the font size and line matching, as well as the extra aesthetic touches that Crossway developed for the original edition. The retention of the chapter numbers and verse ranges at the top of the page is much appreciated and highlights one of the only short comings of the six volume set. While the Reader's Bible was conceived as an edition for prolonged reading of the "unfiltered" Biblical text, the fact remains that a Bible is often utilized in variety of contexts, many of which need the aids of chapter and verse notations in the text. In this respect, the one volume Top Grain Cowhide edition has a leg up on its six volume counterpart. It can be utilized outside of extended reading, though admittedly the lack of a full system of verse and references can still prove challenging in some contexts.
Crossway typically does a solid job on their Top Grain editions. By and large printed and bound by RR Donnelly in China, Crossway's Top Grain editions are an accessible entry point to the world leather binding. Crossway's printer uses Top Grain leather sourced from Cromley, one of the major leather suppliers globally.
Is this perfect? By no means. Crossway's Top Grain editions oftentimes demonstrate a compromise between premium production and more conventional production. The Top Grain Reader's Bible is not a hand bound Bible; there are various points at which one is reminded that one is not dealing with the care and attention to detail found in Crossway's Heirloom line. The corners on the Top Grain edition are a prime example. They are clearly cut a little rough, lacking the finish of the Goatskin or Calfskin editions. Production quality can and will vary - however, this also holds true for hand bound bibles, such as those produced by RL ALLAN.
The above being noted, the Top Grain edition of the Reader's Bible is an optimal reading experience. Is it THE definitive edition of the Reader's Bible? Perhaps not, though I don't think the LEGO SpA set brings us any closer - we may have to wait for a Jongbloed printed edition for the definitive edition. For now, this edition is a hidden gem, one largely overlooked by its potential audience.