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.



Books of the Year

Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary
Elizabeth Goodstein Stanford University Press


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 (NYRB Poets)
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

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



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

China's Crony Capitalism: The Dynamics of Regime Decay
Minxin Pei Harvard University Press

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

The Sleeping Sovereign (The Seeley Lectures)
Richard Tuck Cambridge 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

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

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


  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?

Leave a Reply

© 2019 Waggish

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑