David Auerbach’s Books of the Year 2016

2016 was a year of chaos for me as it was for many others. This list is provisional rather than a source of eternal endorsements. No, I did not read all of Anwar Sheikh’s Capitalism, but what I did read seemed serious and substantive enough to make it worthy of mention. Despite the inconsistencies of John Hands’ Cosmosapiens, I find it makes enough points about the traps of scientific orthodoxy to make it a provocative and worthy read. And there are books like Alec Ash’s Wish Lanterns that I simply didn’t get to.

I chose three books above all others as those that helped me get the most distance and perspective from the immediate tumult. Each of them did so in a very different way. Goodstein’s Simmel study is one of the few serious philosophical studies of Simmel and a major work, dedicated to showing his obscured influence through the 20th century and placing him alongside Musil as an eerily prescient prophet. It made a suitable epilogue to my commentary on Simmel’s Philosophy of Money.

Trentmann’s Empire of Things is an absorbing attempt to apply Annales-style ecological analysis to modern history and particularly the process of consumer consumption. It crosses Braudel with Veblen, yet the result sometimes approaches Simmel in its portrait of the self-reinforcing drives of consumption. As a portrait of larger ecological processes guiding our world, it pulled me away from the enveloping yet wholly reactive world of news and politics.

And Krasznahorkai’s chronicle of his travels in China is also a provider of needed distance, walking the path he has charted out that weaves between order and chaos, familiar and foreign, human and inhuman, beauty and suffering, profound knowledge and profound ignorance. He mentions Hungarian revolutionary Sándor Petőfi’s poem “Freedom, Love,” written with Hungarian which in Fu Yin’s translation (the book claims Lu Xun, but I believe this is inaccurate) became one of the most well-known poems in Communist China. With that irony in mind, it seems fitting to quote it here.

Szabadság, szerelem!
E kettő kell nekem.
Szerelmemért föláldozom
Az életet, Szabadságért föláldozom Szerelmemet.

Liberty and love
These two I must have.
For my love I’ll sacrifice
My life.
For liberty I’ll sacrifice
My love.

生命诚可贵,
爱情价更高。
若为自由故,
两者皆可抛。

 

Books of the Year

Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary
Elizabeth S. Goodstein
Stanford University Press

Fiction

Between Dog and Wolf (Russian Library)
Sasha Sokolov
Columbia University Press

Fragments of Lichtenberg (French Literature)
Pierre Senges
Dalkey Archive Press

Bottom’s Dream (German Literature)
Arno Schmidt
Dalkey Archive Press

The Last Wolf & Herman
László Krasznahorkai
New Directions

Zama (New York Review Books Classics)
Antonio Di Benedetto
NYRB Classics

The Dispossessed: A Novel
Szilard Borbely
Harper Perennial

Berlin-Hamlet
Szilárd Borbély
NYRB Poets

Loving (New York Review Books Classics)
Henry Green
NYRB Classics

Caught (New York Review Books Classics)
Henry Green
NYRB Classics

Back (New York Review Books Classics)
Henry Green
NYRB Classics

The Gradual
Christopher Priest
Titan Books

The Doomed City (Rediscovered Classics)
Arkady Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky, Bromfield Andrew, Dmitry Glukhovsky
Chicago Review Press

The Lights of Pointe-Noire: A Memoir
Alain Mabanckou
The New Press

We Need Silence to Find Out What We Think: Selected Essays
Shirley Hazzard
Columbia University Press

The Letters of Samuel Beckett: Volume 4, 1966-1989
Samuel Beckett
Cambridge University Press

Soft City: The Lost Graphic Novel
Hariton Pushwagner
New York Review Comics

The One Hundred Nights of Hero: A Graphic Novel
Isabel Greenberg
Little, Brown and Company

Pascin
Joann Sfar
Uncivilized Books

Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir
Tom Hart
St. Martin’s Press

Mickey’s Craziest Adventures (Mickey Mouse)
Lewis Trondheim
IDW Publishing

Dungeon: Monstres – Vol. 6: The Great Animator
Joann Sfar, Lewis Trondheim, Stanislas, Nicolas Keramidas
NBM Publishing

 

Nonfiction

The Face of the Buddha
William Empson
Oxford University Press

Deep Learning (Adaptive Computation and Machine Learning series)
Ian Goodfellow, Yoshua Bengio, Aaron Courville
The MIT Press

Recollections: The French Revolution of 1848 and Its Aftermath
Alexis de Tocqueville
University of Virginia Press

The Voynich Manuscript

Yale University Press

The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography
Edmund Gordon
Chatto & Windus

Europe since 1989: A History
Philipp Ther
Princeton University Press

Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900
Frederick C. Beiser
Oxford University Press

Rise of the Machines: A Cybernetic History
Thomas Rid
W. W. Norton & Company

In the Darkroom
Susan Faludi
Metropolitan Books

Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization
Branko Milanovic
Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press

The Path: A New Way to Think About Everything
Michael,Gross-Loh, Christine Puett
Viking

Politics against Domination
Ian Shapiro
Harvard University Press

The Origin and Nature of Life on Earth: The Emergence of the Fourth Geosphere
Eric Smith, Harold J. Morowitz
Cambridge University Press

Reality and Its Dreams
Raymond Geuss
Harvard University Press

The Seven Pillars of Statistical Wisdom
Stephen M. Stigler
Harvard University Press

The Ways of the World
David Harvey
Oxford University Press

Capitalism: Competition, Conflict, Crises
Anwar Shaikh
Oxford University Press

Democracy: A Life
Paul Cartledge
Oxford University Press

Alchemist in Literature: From Dante to the Present
Theodore Ziolkowski
Oxford University Press

The Pursuit of Power: Europe, 1815-1914
Richard J. Evans
Allen Lane

Medieval Europe
Chris Wickham
Yale University Press

The Great Convergence
Richard Baldwin
Harvard University Press

This Vast Southern Empire
Matthew Karp
Harvard University Press

Experimental Music Since 1970
Jennie Gottschalk
Bloomsbury Academic

Loft Jazz: Improvising New York in the 1970s
Michael C. Heller
University of California Press