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.
E kettő kell nekem.
Az életet, Szabadságért föláldozom Szerelmemet.
Liberty and love
These two I must have.
For my love I’ll sacrifice
For liberty I’ll sacrifice
Books of the Year
Destruction and Sorrow beneath the Heavens: Reportage (The Hungarian List)
Krasznahorkai, László; Mulzet, Ottilie (Translator)
Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary
Goodstein, Elizabeth; Goodstein, Elizabeth (Contributor)
Between Dog and Wolf (Russian Library)
Sokolov, Sasha; Boguslawski, Alexander (Translator)
Fragments of Lichtenberg (French Literature)
Senges, Pierre; Flanders, Gregory (Translator)
Bottom's Dream (German Literature)
Schmidt, Arno; Woods, John E. (Translator)
The Last Wolf & Herman
Krasznahorkai, László; Batki, John (Translator); Szirtes, George (Translator)
Zama (New York Review Books Classics)
Di Benedetto, Antonio; Allen, Esther (Translator); Allen, Esther (Preface)
Bright Magic: Stories (New York Review Books Classics)
Doblin, Alfred; Searls, Damion (Translator); Grass, Gunter (Introduction)
Iza's Ballad (New York Review Books Classics)
Szabo, Magda; Szirtes, George (Translator); Szirtes, George (Introduction)
The Dispossessed: A Novel
Berlin-Hamlet (NYRB Poets)
Borbély, Szilárd; Mulzet, Ottilie (Translator)
Loving (New York Review Books Classics)
Green, Henry; Robinson, Roxana (Introduction)
Caught (New York Review Books Classics)
Green, Henry; Wood, James (Introduction)
Back (New York Review Books Classics)
Green, Henry; Eisenberg, Deborah (Introduction)
The Invisibility Cloak (New York Review Books Classics)
Fei, Ge; Morse, Canaan (Translator)
The Doomed City (Rediscovered Classics)
Strugatsky, Arkady; Strugatsky, Boris; Andrew, Bromfield; Glukhovsky, Dmitry; Glukhovsky, Dmitry (Foreword); Andrew, Bromfield (Translator)
A Book to Burn and a Book to Keep (Hidden): Selected Writings (Translations from the Asian Classics)
Li, Zhi; Handler-Spitz, Rivi (Editor); Lee, Pauline (Editor); Saussy, Haun (Editor)
The Lights of Pointe-Noire: A Memoir
Mabanckou, Alain; Stevenson, Helen (Translator)
We Need Silence to Find Out What We Think: Selected Essays
Hazzard, Shirley; Olubas, Brigitta (Editor)
The Letters of Samuel Beckett: Volume 4, 1966-1989
Beckett, Samuel; Craig, George (Editor); Fehsenfeld, Martha Dow (Editor); Gunn, Dan (Editor); Overbeck, Lois More (Editor)
Soft City: The Lost Graphic Novel
Pushwagner, Hariton; Ware, Chris (Introduction); Herbert, Martin (Afterword)
The One Hundred Nights of Hero: A Graphic Novel
Sfar, Joann; Gauvin, Edward (Translator)
Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir
Mickey's Craziest Adventures (Mickey Mouse)
Trondheim, Lewis; Keramidas, Nicolas (Artist)
Dungeon: Monstres – Vol. 6: The Great Animator
Sfar, Joann; Trondheim, Lewis; Stanislas; Keramidas, Nicolas
The Face of the Buddha
Empson, William; Arrowsmith, Rupert (Editor)
Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness
Deep Learning (Adaptive Computation and Machine Learning series)
Goodfellow, Ian; Bengio, Yoshua; Courville, Aaron
Recollections: The French Revolution of 1848 and Its Aftermath
Tocqueville, Alexis de; Zunz, Olivier (Editor); Goldhammer, Arthur (Translator)
Ancient Worlds: A Global History of Antiquity
The Voynich Manuscript
Clemens, Raymond (Editor); Harkness, Deborah E. (Introduction)
Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right
Russell Hochschild, Arlie
Europe since 1989: A History
Ther, Philipp; Hughes-Kreutzmüller, Charlotte (Translator)
Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900
Beiser, Frederick C.
Rise of the Machines: A Cybernetic History
In the Darkroom
Toward Democracy: The Struggle for Self-Rule in European and American Thought
Kloppenberg, James T.
The Cultural Revolution: A People's History, 1962—1976
Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization
The Path: A New Way to Think About Everything
Puett, Michael,Gross-Loh, Christine
America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History
Bacevich, Andrew J.
Politics against Domination
The Origin and Nature of Life on Earth: The Emergence of the Fourth Geosphere
Smith, Eric; Morowitz, Harold J.
The Ancient Origins of Consciousness: How the Brain Created Experience (The MIT Press)
Feinberg, Todd E.; Mallatt, Jon M.
The Poet's Voice in the Making of Mind
Reality and Its Dreams
The Seven Pillars of Statistical Wisdom
Stigler, Stephen M.
The Ways of the World
Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion
The Sleeping Sovereign (The Seeley Lectures)
Capitalism: Competition, Conflict, Crises
Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government (Princeton Studies in Political Behavior)
Achen, Christopher H.; Bartels, Larry M.
Democracy: A Life
The Cambridge History of Japanese Literature
Shirane, Haruo (Editor); Suzuki, Tomi (Editor)
Alchemist in Literature: From Dante to the Present
All the Kremlin's Men: Inside the Court of Vladimir Putin
The Great Convergence
This Vast Southern Empire
Experimental Music Since 1970
Loft Jazz: Improvising New York in the 1970s
Heller, Michael C.
Thought in Action: Expertise and the Conscious Mind
Montero, Barbara Gail
The Framers' Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution
Klarman, Michael J.
Bananaworld: Quantum Mechanics for Primates
Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow
Harari, Yuval Noah
Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White
Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets