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David Auerbach on literature, tech, film, etc.

David Auerbach’s Books of the Year 2017

While the world went mad this year, I retreated a bit and did more reading than I had in some time. I have seen the pendulum of public sentiment cycle from complacency to hysteria and back twice now, and I am more fatalistic than ever about such cycles having to take their course. (My description of Thomas Pynchon’s “decoherence events” applies just as well to the Trump presidency as it does to September 11, 2001.) Being part of the collective public discourse this year was unhealthier than in any time I have ever seen.

I believe all the titles below deserve attention. The top books have been chosen based on personal significance and relevance. Appiah’s As If is a plea for a cosmopolitan pluralism (of provisional viewpoints, not of truths) based on a reading of the great Hans Vaihinger. It is a theoretical work that has far more relevance to technology than it first appears, as I try to explain in my forthcoming Bitwise: A Life in Code. Földényi’s Melancholy is a Burton-inspired chronicle that bests a thousand other intellectual histories of its kind. It spoke to me of what it is to be the sort of person who feels the need and drive to read all these books in the first place, and of the intangible benefits I gain from them. And the purportedly final version of Tom Phillips’ A Humument is a thing of beauty, drastically different from its previous editions in many regards, and one of the deepest texts of our time, fifty years after its first publication.

The greatest novel I read this year was Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon, the right novel for the right moment, but not one published in 2017.

In an attempt to provide a bit more apparent order, I have created a few subcategories for nonfiction. These are quite approximate; some books could have easily gone under a different heading. They are there to break the lists down into more manageable chunks.

When it comes to books, my eyes are bigger than my…eyes. Books under “Of Interest” are there either because (1) they are too out of my areas of knowledge for me to feel comfortable recommending them, (2) I have sufficient reservations about their content but feel they are too significant to ignore, or (3) I just haven’t read enough of them. I would feel terrible not noting Slezkine’s The House of Government, but I did not have time to read most of its 1100 pages.

Be well, read much, take care.

BOOKS OF MY YEAR

As If: Idealization and Ideals

Price: $24.20

31 used & new available from $13.84

Melancholy (The Margellos World Republic of Letters)

Price: $31.50

10 used & new available from $26.90


A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel (Sixth)

Price: $29.95

14 used & new available from $19.45

 

LITERATURE

Into the Cyclorama

Price: $14.95

17 used & new available from $6.14


Symphony for Human Transport

Price: $6.82

7 used & new available from $6.82


The Golden Cockerel & Other Writings

Price: $12.96

22 used & new available from $1.74


Homesick for Another World: Stories

Price: $26.00

62 used & new available from $8.00


The World Goes On

Price: $17.74

39 used & new available from $8.95


The Manhattan Project

Price: $39.06

8 used & new available from $26.78


So Much Blue: A Novel

Price: $16.00

50 used & new available from $3.50


Katalin Street (New York Review Books Classics)

Price: $11.59

36 used & new available from $8.00


Beasts Head for Home: A Novel (Weatherhead Books on Asia)

Price: $25.00

23 used & new available from $19.19


Blackass: A Novel

Price: $11.59

44 used & new available from $2.08


The Essential Fictions

Price: $21.95

21 used & new available from $7.50

Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr

Price: $25.86

41 used & new available from $8.03

Gap Gardening: Selected Poems

Price: $15.26

32 used & new available from $10.95


Judgment: A Novel (Northwestern World Classics)

Price: $18.95

38 used & new available from $2.51



Remains of Life: A Novel (Modern Chinese Literature from Taiwan)

Price: $28.00

22 used & new available from $7.43


I Was Trying to Describe What it Feels Like: New and Selected Stories

Price: $17.63

45 used & new available from $3.78

Nest in the Bones: Stories by Antonio Benedetto

Price: $18.00

20 used & new available from $4.25


Newcomers: Book One

Price: $18.00

21 used & new available from $4.27


Nine Continents: A Memoir In and Out of China

Price: $9.09

51 used & new available from $1.97


Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life

Price: $12.00

33 used & new available from $6.50


Sisters of the Cross (Russian Library)

Price: $14.95

41 used & new available from $1.75


Frontier

Price: $18.50

6 used & new available from


The Construction of the Tower of Babel

Price: $14.95

18 used & new available from $8.50


The War Nerd Iliad

Price: $13.98

18 used & new available from $13.60


Drilling through Hard Boards: 133 Political Stories (The German List)

Price: $29.21

25 used & new available from $12.79



Balcony in the Forest (New York Review Book)

Price: $15.95

32 used & new available from $8.89


Go, Went, Gone

Price: $11.77

63 used & new available from $5.25



The Collected Poems of Li He (Calligrams)

Price: $22.95

9 used & new available from $17.04


Chinese Poetic Writing (Calligrams)

Price: $19.95

7 used & new available from $7.93


The Complete Old English Poems (The Middle Ages Series)

Price: $61.39

17 used & new available from $48.12


The Book of Disquiet: The Complete Edition

Price: $18.32

35 used & new available from $16.48

 

HUMANITIES

Melancholic Habits: Burton's Anatomy & the Mind Sciences

Price: $41.99

13 used & new available from $36.88



Dystopia: A Natural History

Price: $135.00

6 used & new available from $109.52


The Rift in The Lute: Attuning Poetry and Philosophy

Price: $67.23

9 used & new available from $45.98


David Jones

Price: $242.99

14 used & new available from $14.98

The Messages We Send: Social Signals and Storytelling

Price: $25.52

13 used & new available from $23.34

The Mind of the Book: Pictorial Title-Pages

Price: $39.73

11 used & new available from $35.75


Changing the Subject: Philosophy from Socrates to Adorno

Price: $29.95

16 used & new available from $26.96



Res Publica and the Roman Republic: 'Without Body or Form'

Price: $91.25

15 used & new available from $75.00


The Epic Distilled: Studies in the Composition of the Aeneid

Price: $63.87

16 used & new available from $59.89

I, Me, Mine: Back to Kant, and Back Again

Price: $44.95

8 used & new available from $20.00


Art and Myth of the Ancient Maya

Price: $65.00

1 used & new available from $65.00

Wilfrid Sellars and the Foundations of Normativity

Price: $84.88

1 used & new available from $84.88

The Subject of Experience

Price: $14.57

1 used & new available from $14.57


The Emotions in Early Chinese Philosophy (Emotions of the Past)

Price: $81.75

13 used & new available from $78.47

Hercules Segers: Painter, Etcher, A Catalogue Raisonn

Price: $221.01

4 used & new available from

 

SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst

Price: $14.99

1 used & new available from $14.99



After Digital: Computation as Done by Brains and Machines

Price: $31.95

6 used & new available from $29.86


The Lazy Universe: An Introduction to the Principle of Least Action

Price: $40.95

12 used & new available from $35.57



 

THE SOCIAL SCIENCES

Prisoners of Reason

Price: $25.33

17 used & new available from $24.31



Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion

Price: $9.96

29 used & new available from $9.96



The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class

Price: $11.70

38 used & new available from $4.03


Marx's Inferno: The Political Theory of Capital

Price: $32.00

23 used & new available from $17.56


A Brief History of Economic Thought

Price: $61.52

16 used & new available from $53.51


Paths to Fulfillment: Women's Search for Meaning and Identity

Price: $24.75

23 used & new available from $18.56


The Timeliness of George Herbert Mead

Price: $52.00

1 used & new available from $52.00


The Enigma of Reason

Price: $78.74

13 used & new available from $49.99


Shame: A Brief History (History of Emotions)

Price: $24.95

20 used & new available from $17.00


The Truth about Language: What It Is and Where It Came From

Price: $30.00

36 used & new available from $3.53


 

HISTORY AND POLITICS


Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A.

Price: $5.98

125 used & new available from $2.00


The Water Kingdom

Price: $14.18

7 used & new available from $11.97


False Dawn: Protest, Democracy, and Violence in the New Middle East

Price: $24.45

36 used & new available from $12.50



The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America

Price: $16.49

1 used & new available from $16.49


The Causes of War and the Spread of Peace: But Will War Rebound?

Price: $32.56

12 used & new available from $24.66


A History of Judaism

Price: $47.00

2 used & new available from



One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps

Price: $12.98

61 used & new available from $4.19


The Habsburg Empire: A New History

Price: $13.17

1 used & new available from $13.17


What You Did Not Tell: A Russian Past and the Journey Home

Price: $10.00

38 used & new available from $2.14

The Transformation of American Liberalism

Price: $24.31

17 used & new available from $24.31


Politics in the Roman Republic (Key Themes in Ancient History)

Price: $65.99

8 used & new available from $65.98



Sold People: Traffickers and Family Life in North China

Price: $51.50

13 used & new available from $41.99



Lenin: The Man, the Dictator, and the Master of Terror

Price: $12.99

1 used & new available from $12.99


Classical Greek Oligarchy: A Political History

Price: $26.20

28 used & new available from $22.77


Russia in Revolution: An Empire in Crisis, 1890 to 1928

Price: $14.39

1 used & new available from $14.39


The Cold War: A World History

Price: $28.99

7 used & new available from $24.97

 

COMICS

Poppies of Iraq

Price: $16.44

27 used & new available from $9.89


Satania

Price: $16.69

17 used & new available from $12.00


It Don't Come Easy

Price: $22.95

13 used & new available from $7.47


The Green Hand and Other Stories

Price: $24.95

21 used & new available from $13.11


Voices in the Dark

Price: $21.31

41 used & new available from $6.99


My Favorite Thing Is Monsters

Price: $20.98

53 used & new available from $14.99

Pascin

Price: $20.37

18 used & new available from $9.55


Beanworld Volume 4: Hoka Hoka Burb'l Burb'l

Price: $16.99

16 used & new available from $4.78


The Interview

Price: $17.73

45 used & new available from $6.01


Yvain: The Knight of the Lion

Price: $14.99

51 used & new available from $2.23


Demon (4 Book Series)

Price: $39.96

1 used & new available from $39.96


Olympians: Artemis: Wild Goddess of the Hunt (Olympians (9))

Price: $9.19

48 used & new available from $4.99


The Customer is Always Wrong

Price: $16.00

26 used & new available from $7.50


The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir

Price: $17.98

66 used & new available from $6.87

 

OF INTEREST





How the Mind Comes into Being

Price: $53.00

11 used & new available from $29.00




Herder's Hermeneutics: History, Poetry, Enlightenment

Price: $24.00

1 used & new available from $24.00





Capitalism without Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy

Price: $23.18

47 used & new available from $5.00


The Quantum Revolution in Philosophy

Price: $45.94

6 used & new available from $43.38


Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941

Price: $24.73

25 used & new available from $5.92


Pompey, Cato, and the Governance of the Roman Empire

Price: $76.89

12 used & new available from $51.70


The Allure of Battle: A History of How Wars Have Been Won and Lost

Price: $33.49

31 used & new available from $17.15





The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution

Price: $27.44

59 used & new available from $9.86




No Future: Punk, Politics and British Youth Culture, 1976-1984

Price: $49.65

30 used & new available from $32.60



The Sorcerer's Apprentice: An Anthology of Magical Tales

Price: $12.80

36 used & new available from $2.42

3 Comments

  1. Thomas Pynchon is always great. I loved Bleeding Edge, which I read twice (your article is outstanding and I’m glad to having read it). FOr “Mason & Dixon” I’m waiting for a better state of mind.
    Your definition of the world does fit very well. And the pendulum of complacency and hysteria is a good description of what’s been going on also in other countries. I write from Italy and we live in a bubble of mystification from every point of view (including food hysteria, but this is another point…). I hope to read “Melancholy” soon – on the theme I have read Jean Starobinsky in Italian some time ago, it’s devoted to melancholy in literature and Burton is quoted everywhere. I look forward to reading your article Bitwise.

  2. Nice, I’ve gotten some good recommendations from you in the past and am sure I will again. I’ve only read a handful of these (Amadae, Abe, Nagle and The Manhattan Project) so far.

    Liked Beasts Head for Home but man, we really need a full translation of Kabe, not just the excerpt in Beyond the Curve. Look forward to reading Ottessa Moshfegh’s last two books, McGlue is one of my favorites of the decade so far.

    Prisoners of Reason was a slog (repetitive and esoteric in its thoroughness) but well worth it. I think Amadae’s criticism of the conceptual fuzziness surrounding neoliberalism somewhat misses the point (my inexpert opinion is that its distinction from neoclassicism is fuzzy because both responded to the collapse of the thirty-year compromise over new deal policies and the subsequent party realignment. Her focus also leaves little role for the backlash against the civil rights movement). Relatedly her intellectual history often feels more like straight up philosophy, for example where she takes at face value that NUTS won out over MAD as policy mostly because its internal logic was stronger. (I’m sorry if these critiques seem random, for a comparison when I read Objectivity Is Not Neutrality it always struck me that Haskell consistently took philosophers seriously while remaining firmly grounded in doing history and historiography.) On the other hand there’s a lot to be said for really getting inside the theory to take it apart. The central thesis, about the importance of Cold War Grand Strategy and its underlying assumptions about rational agency to the current condition of the state and the social contract, is convincing and as far as I can tell, original.

    One thing I found very interesting is how little she talks about libertarianism. At first I suspected that this is partly because Amadae herself identifies as a (lower case) classical liberal and wants to save her heavy ammunition for the authoritarian implications of modelling everything as a prisoner’s dilemma, but my current reading is that she’s left a lot of ground for a reassessment of what libertarianism actually is, apart from how it’s often represented by its followers. Maybe this work has already been done and I just don’t know about it yet, but I for one had previously mostly taken it at face value when libertarian or an-cap acquaintances and writers identified as “Classical Liberals” while largely subscribing to the homo strategicus concept of rationality. I can no longer do that, thanks to this book.

    One last thing, her dismantling of Richard Posner is my favorite part, and is no less devastating for how polite she is.

  3. You read all these?! Front to back?! You are my hero; can we be friends? So our reading of the past year didn’t actually overlap that much, but damn we’re in the same ballpark. Thoroughly enjoying second volume of AR Ammons Collected Poems right now. But David Jones’Dillworth, Krasznahorkai, Everett, Erpenbach, Pessoa (in that great new edition)…and now I have War Nerd Illiad book and Tower of Babel one back on my ‘must look at’ list. Can I urge you to look at Trebuchet by Danniel Schoonebeek, and Prose Architectures by Renee Gladman?

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