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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.



Books of the Year


The Last Wolf & Herman
László Krasznahorkai

The Dispossessed: A Novel
Szilard Borbely

Berlin-Hamlet (NYRB Poets)
Szilárd Borbély

The Gradual
Christopher Priest

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

Joann Sfar

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



The Face of the Buddha
William Empson

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

In the Darkroom
Susan Faludi

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

Reality and Its Dreams
Raymond Geuss

The Ways of the World
David Harvey

Democracy: A Life
Paul Cartledge

Medieval Europe
Chris Wickham

The Great Convergence
Richard Baldwin


  1. Thanks for the list! I know that Lu Xun wrote an influential essay on Petőfi alongside other European poets, but there’s not a complete English translation so I don’t know which poems he included. Where did you find the reference to Fu Yin? It’s not a name I’ve found anything for, unless it’s an alternate transliteration for Yan Fu.

    • See this Stack Exchange exchange.

      Yin was one of the Five Martyrs of the League of Left-Wing Writers executed by the KMT in 1931. Yin was only 21. Lu Xun was a Communist affiliated with the group, and others in that group like Bai Mang translated Petőfi as well. Lennart Lundberg’s bibliography of Lu’s 208 translations lists 5 poems by Petőfi, none of which are “Freedom, Love.”

      The Batt/Zitner anthology from this year contains one single poem by Yin. I’m not sure whether this is a consequence of his short lifespan or a declining critical reputation.

  2. How do you get to read this many books from machine learning textbooks to eastern literature? Is this a common thing in some circles?

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