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David Auerbach on literature, tech, film, etc.

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

Destruction and Sorrow beneath the Heavens: Reportage (The Hungarian List)
Krasznahorkai, László (Author), Mulzet, Ottilie (Translator)
Seagull Books

Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary
Goodstein, Elizabeth S. (Author)
Stanford University Press

Fiction

Between Dog and Wolf (Russian Library)
Sokolov, Sasha (Author), Boguslawski, Alexander (Translator)
Columbia University Press

Fragments of Lichtenberg (French Literature)
Senges, Pierre (Author), Flanders, Gregory (Translator)
Dalkey Archive Press

Bottom's Dream (German Literature)
Schmidt, Arno (Author), Woods, John E. (Translator)
Dalkey Archive Press

The Last Wolf & Herman
Krasznahorkai, László (Author), Batki, John (Translator), Szirtes, George (Translator)
New Directions

Zama (New York Review Books Classics)
Di Benedetto, Antonio (Author), Allen, Esther (Translator), Allen, Esther (Preface)
NYRB Classics

Bright Magic: Stories (New York Review Books Classics)
Doblin, Alfred (Author), Searls, Damion (Translator), Grass, Gunter (Introduction)
NYRB Classics

Iza's Ballad (New York Review Books Classics)
Szabo, Magda (Author), Szirtes, George (Translator), Szirtes, George (Introduction)
NYRB Classics

The Dispossessed: A Novel
Borbely, Szilard (Author)
Harper Perennial

Berlin-Hamlet (NYRB Poets)
Borbély, Szilárd (Author), Mulzet, Ottilie (Translator)
NYRB Poets

Loving (New York Review Books Classics)
Green, Henry (Author), Robinson, Roxana (Introduction)
NYRB Classics

Caught (New York Review Books Classics)
Green, Henry (Author), Wood, James (Introduction)
NYRB Classics

Back (New York Review Books Classics)
Green, Henry (Author), Eisenberg, Deborah (Introduction)
NYRB Classics

The Invisibility Cloak (New York Review Books Classics)
Fei, Ge (Author), Morse, Canaan (Translator)
NYRB Classics

The Gradual
Priest, Christopher (Author)
Titan Books

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

A Book to Burn and a Book to Keep (Hidden): Selected Writings (Translations from the Asian Classics)
Li, Zhi (Author), Handler-Spitz, Rivi (Editor), Lee, Pauline (Editor), Saussy, Haun (Editor)
Columbia University Press

The Lights of Pointe-Noire: A Memoir
Mabanckou, Alain (Author), Stevenson, Helen (Translator)
The New Press

We Need Silence to Find Out What We Think: Selected Essays
Hazzard, Shirley (Author), Olubas, Brigitta (Editor)
Columbia University Press

The Letters of Samuel Beckett: Volume 4, 1966-1989
Beckett, Samuel (Author), Craig, George (Editor), Fehsenfeld, Martha Dow (Editor), Gunn, Dan (Editor), Overbeck, Lois More (Editor)
Cambridge University Press

Soft City: The Lost Graphic Novel
Pushwagner, Hariton (Author), Ware, Chris (Introduction), Herbert, Martin (Afterword)
New York Review Comics

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

Pascin
Sfar, Joann (Author), Gauvin, Edward (Translator)
Uncivilized Books

Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir
Hart, Tom (Author)
St. Martin's Press

Mickey's Craziest Adventures (Mickey Mouse)
Trondheim, Lewis (Author), Keramidas, Nicolas (Artist)
IDW Publishing

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

 

Nonfiction

The Face of the Buddha
Empson, William (Author), Arrowsmith, Rupert (Editor)
Oxford University Press

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness
Godfrey-Smith, Peter (Author)
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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

Recollections: The French Revolution of 1848 and Its Aftermath
Tocqueville, Alexis de (Author), Zunz, Olivier (Editor), Goldhammer, Arthur (Translator)
University of Virginia Press

Ancient Worlds: A Global History of Antiquity
Scott, Michael (Author)
Basic Books

Memory and the Self: Phenomenology, Science and Autobiography
Rowlands, Mark (Author)
Oxford University Press

The Voynich Manuscript
Clemens, Raymond (Editor), Harkness, Deborah E. (Introduction)
Yale University Press

Wilfrid Sellars and the Foundations of Normativity
Olen, Peter (Author)
Palgrave Macmillan

China’s Crony Capitalism: The Dynamics of Regime Decay
Pei, Minxin (Author)
Harvard University Press

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right
Russell Hochschild, Arlie (Author)
The New Press

Europe since 1989: A History
Ther, Philipp (Author), Hughes-Kreutzmüller, Charlotte (Translator)
Princeton University Press

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

Rise of the Machines: A Cybernetic History
Rid, Thomas (Author)
W. W. Norton & Company

In the Darkroom
Faludi, Susan (Author)
Metropolitan Books

Toward Democracy: The Struggle for Self-Rule in European and American Thought
Kloppenberg, James T. (Author)
Oxford University Press

The Cultural Revolution: A People's History, 1962—1976
Dikötter, Frank (Author)
Bloomsbury Press

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

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

America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History
Bacevich, Andrew J. (Author)
Random House

Politics against Domination
Shapiro, Ian (Author)
Harvard University Press

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

The Poet's Voice in the Making of Mind
Meares, Russell (Author)
Routledge

Law in American History, Volume II: From Reconstruction Through the 1920s
White, G. Edward (Author)
Oxford University Press

Reality and Its Dreams
Geuss, Raymond (Author)
Harvard University Press

The Seven Pillars of Statistical Wisdom
Stigler, Stephen M. (Author)
Harvard University Press

The Ways of the World
Harvey, David (Author)
Oxford University Press

Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion
Jacoby, Susan (Author)
Pantheon

The Sleeping Sovereign (The Seeley Lectures)
Tuck, Richard (Author)
Cambridge University Press

Capitalism: Competition, Conflict, Crises
Shaikh, Anwar (Author)
Oxford University Press

Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government (Princeton Studies in Political Behavior)
Achen, Christopher H. (Author), Bartels, Larry M. (Author)
Princeton University Press

Democracy: A Life
Cartledge, Paul (Author)
Oxford University Press

Individuality and Entanglement: The Moral and Material Bases of Social Life
Gintis, Herbert (Author)
Princeton University Press

The Cambridge History of Japanese Literature
Shirane, Haruo (Editor), Suzuki, Tomi (Editor)
Cambridge University Press

Alchemist in Literature: From Dante to the Present
Ziolkowski, Theodore (Author)
Oxford University Press

All the Kremlin's Men: Inside the Court of Vladimir Putin
Zygar, Mikhail (Author)
PublicAffairs

Medieval Europe
Wickham, Chris (Author)
Yale University Press

The Great Convergence: Information Technology and the New Globalization
Baldwin, Richard (Author)
Harvard University Press

Experimental Music Since 1970
Gottschalk, Jennie (Author)
Bloomsbury Academic

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

Thought in Action: Expertise and the Conscious Mind
Montero, Barbara Gail (Author)
OUP Oxford

The Framers' Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution
Klarman, Michael J. (Author)
Oxford University Press

Bananaworld: Quantum Mechanics for Primates
Bub, Jeffrey (Author)
OUP Oxford

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow
Harari, Yuval Noah (Author)
Harper

Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White
Tisserand, Michael (Author)
Harper

3 Comments

  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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