David Auerbach on literature, tech, film, etc.

David Auerbach’s Books of the Year 2018

To be a true reader or writer today is to exist primarily in a state of longing and loneliness (sehnsucht, in the German term), because the vast majority of one’s closest associates are dead. Over the course of the 20th century the world of letters separated rather violently from the world of consequence, and so loving writing as writing requires either myopic self-delusion or an absurd appreciation for the spiritual residue of artistic impact. I don’t have the former in me, so it is the latter that drives me.

A remarkable amount of excellent archival issues came out this year, particularly in fiction and literature. The two placed in the pole position are not necessarily more deserving than many others. Rather, I chose them because they seemed to be most resonant with this year, despite being written decades ago. Both are very unorthodox Cold War retrospectives, both vaguely “documentary”-like, and yet animated by almost opposite sensibilities.

Ironically, I found Anniversaries to be a gloomier tale than Kolyma Stories, in the same way that gray is a gloomier color than black, or Faith is more enervating than Closer. Likewise, Johnson’s self-appearance in Anniversaries is more despairing than Shalamov’s varied appearances in Kolyma, because there is a certain abdication of moral authority Johnson took on in writing Anniversaries that is either disingenuous or terrifying. I think it’s the latter.

I have retained last year’s subcategories for nonfiction. They remain approximate. They are there to break the lists down into more manageable chunks. The books that posed the biggest dilemma were those on mind and cognition, which got divided between Humanities and Science depending on whether the bent was more theoretical or empirical.

Special notice must go to Jan Ziolkowski for choosing to publish the six volumes of The Juggler of Notre Dame and the Medievalizing of Modernity under Creative Commons and free for all to download. Like Adrian Piper’s Kantian study Rationality and the Structure of the Self, Ziolkowski’s book is a good deal closer to what academic work should be–visionary, monumental, singular–than most of what gets published by academic presses, and I hope that their publishing choice will help spread their work further.

You will notice one hell of a ringer after the top picks. After debating repeatedly, I decided to include my own book because I did spend more time with it than any other, and so it deserves to be called a book of my year. I could say more but I think I have already said it all here.

Books under “Of Interest” are there due to one or more of the following caveats: (1) I lack sufficient domain knowledge 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.

The picture above is by the wonderful Ella Baron.

Be well, read much, take care.


Kolyma Stories (New York Review Books Classics)
Shalamov, Varlam (Author), Rayfield, Donald (Translator)
NYRB Classics


Bitwise: A Life in Code
Auerbach, David (Author)


The Rehearsals (Dedalus Europe)
Sharov, Vladimir (Author), Ready, Oliver (Translator)
Dedalus Limited

The Collected Stories of Machado de Assis
de Assis, Joaquim Maria Machado (Author), Costa, Margaret Jull (Translator), Patterson, Robin (Translator), Wood, Michael (Foreword)

Collected Stories
Schulz, Bruno (Author), Galchen, Rivka (Foreword)
Northwestern University Press

The Novel of Ferrara
Bassani, Giorgio (Author), McKendrick, Jamie (Translator), Aciman, André (Foreword)
W. W. Norton & Company

My Year of Rest and Relaxation
Moshfegh, Ottessa (Author)
Penguin Press

Drndic, Daša (Author), Hawkesworth, Celia (Translator)
New Directions

Daša Drndic (Author)
Istros Books

The William H. Gass Reader
Gass, William H. (Author)

The Chandelier
Lispector, Clarice (Author), Moser, Benjamin (Translator), Edwards, Magdalena (Translator)
New Directions

Cathay: A Critical Edition
Pound, Ezra (Author), Billings, Timothy (Editor), Bush, Christopher (Introduction), Saussy, Haun (Foreword)
Fordham University Press

Letters, Dreams, and Other Writings
Varo, Remedios (Author), Carson, Margaret (Translator), Carson, Margaret (Introduction)
Wakefield Press

Stream System
Murnane, Gerald (Author)
FSG Adult

A Hundred and One Nights (Library of Arabic Literature, 10)
Fudge, Bruce (Translator), Irwin, Robert (Foreword)
NYU Press

Doting (New York Review Books Classics)
Green, Henry (Author), Gorra, Michael (Introduction)
NYRB Classics

Nothing (New York Review Books Classics)
Green, Henry (Author), Prose, Francine (Introduction)
NYRB Classics

Greg Egan (Author), Gregory Manchess (Illustrator)

The Sacerdotal Owl and Three Other Long Tales
Bishop, Michael (Author)
Fairwood Press


Lions (The German List)
Blumenberg, Hans (Author), Driscoll, Kári (Translator)
Seagull Books

Questioning Minds: The Letters of Guy Davenport and Hugh Kenner
Davenport, Guy (Author), Kenner, Hugh (Author), Burns, Edward M. (Editor)

Keith Rowe: The Room Extended
Olewnick, Brian (Author)
powerHouse Books

Things That Bother Me: Death, Freedom, the Self, Etc.
Strawson, Galen (Author)
New York Review Books

Elements of Surprise: Our Mental Limits and the Satisfactions of Plot
Tobin, Vera (Author)
Harvard University Press

If Not Critical
Griffiths, Eric (Author), Johnston, Freya (Editor)
Oxford University Press

The Printed Voice of Victorian Poetry
Griffiths, Eric (Author)
OUP Oxford

Knowledge and Truth in Plato: Stepping Past the Shadow of Socrates
Rowett, Catherine (Author)
Oxford University Press

Almost Nothing: The 20th-Century Art and Life of Józef Czapski
Karpeles, Eric (Author)
New York Review Books

Shakespeare's Theatre: A History
Dutton, Richard (Author)

Naked: The Dark Side of Shame and Moral Life
Thomason, Krista K. (Author)
Oxford University Press


The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect
Pearl, Judea (Author), Mackenzie, Dana (Author)
Basic Books

Statistical Inference as Severe Testing: How to Get Beyond the Statistics Wars
Mayo, Deborah G. (Author)
Cambridge University Press

The Order of Time
Rovelli, Carlo (Author)
Riverhead Books

The Third Lens: Metaphor and the Creation of Modern Cell Biology
Reynolds, Andrew S. (Author)
University of Chicago Press

The Emotional Foundations of Personality: A Neurobiological and Evolutionary Approach
Davis, Kenneth L. (Author), Panksepp PhD, Jaak (Author), Solms, Mark (Foreword)
W. W. Norton & Company

The Neuroscience of Emotion: A New Synthesis
Adolphs, Ralph (Author), Anderson, David J. (Author)
Princeton University Press

Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray
Hossenfelder, Sabine (Author)
Basic Books

Reinventing Capitalism in the Age of Big Data
Mayer-Schönberger, Viktor (Author), Ramge, Thomas (Author)
Basic Books

The Philosophy of Quantitative Methods: Understanding Statistics
Haig, Brian D. (Author)
Oxford University Press

Mind the Body: An Exploration of Bodily Self-Awareness
de Vignemont, Frédérique (Author)
OUP Oxford

The Consciousness Instinct: Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind
Gazzaniga, Michael S. (Author)
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Energy, Entropy, and the Flow of Nature
Sherman, Thomas F. (Author)
Oxford University Press

The Deep Learning Revolution (The MIT Press)
Sejnowski, Terrence J. (Author)
The MIT Press

Re-Engineering Humanity
Frischmann, Brett (Author), Selinger, Evan (Author)
Cambridge University Press

The Politics of Autism
Siegel, Bryna (Author)
Oxford University Press


The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity
Appiah, Kwame Anthony (Author)

Inhuman Land: Searching for the Truth in Soviet Russia, 1941-1942 (New York Review Books)
Czapski, Jozef (Author), Lloyd-Jones, Antonia (Translator), Snyder, Timothy (Introduction)
NYRB Classics

Power, Pleasure, and Profit: Insatiable Appetites from Machiavelli to Madison
Wootton, David (Author)
Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press

Broken Lives: How Ordinary Germans Experienced the 20th Century
Jarausch, Konrad H. (Author)
Princeton University Press

The Minard System: The Complete Statistical Graphics of Charles-Joseph Minard
Rendgen, Sandra (Author)
Princeton Architectural Press

Marx and Marxism
Claeys, Gregory (Author)
Bold Type Books

W. E. B. Du Bois's Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America
The W.E.B. Du Bois Center at the University of Massachusetts (Author), Battle-Baptiste, Whitney (Editor), Rusert, Britt (Editor)
Princeton Architectural Press

Economy and Society: Selected Writings
Polanyi, Karl (Author), Thomasberger, Claus (Editor), Cangiani, Michele (Editor)

The Great Flowing River: A Memoir of China, from Manchuria to Taiwan (Modern Chinese Literature from Taiwan)
Pang-yuan, Chi (Author), Balcom, John (Translator)
Columbia University Press

A History of Judaism
Goodman, Martin (Author)
Penguin Press

Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War
Scharre, Paul (Author)
W. W. Norton & Company

Jewish Materialism: The Intellectual Revolution of the 1870s
Stern, Eliyahu (Author)
Yale University Press

Napoleon: The Spirit of the Age: 1805-1810
Broers, Michael (Author)
Pegasus Books

From Humanism to Hobbes: Studies in Rhetoric and Politics
Skinner, Quentin (Author)
Cambridge University Press

Asperger's Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna
Sheffer, Edith (Author)
W. W. Norton & Company

Consciousness Demystified (The MIT Press)
Feinberg MD, Todd E. (Author), Mallatt PhD, Jon M. (Author)
The MIT Press


Mort Cinder (The Alberto Breccia Library)
German Oesterheld, Hector (Author), Breccia, Alberto (Author), Breccia, Alberto (Artist)
Fantagraphics Books

Mattotti, Lorenzo (Author), Kramsky, Jerry (Author), Mattotti, Lorenzo (Artist), Kramsky, Jerry (Artist)
Fantagraphics Books

Baudoin, Edmond (Author), Madden, Matt (Translator)
New York Review Comics

The Song Of Aglaia
Simon, Anne (Author), Simon, Anne (Artist)
Fantagraphics Books

Weegee: Serial Photographer
de Radiguès, Max (Author), Mannaert, Wauter (Illustrator), Dascher, Helge (Translator)
Conundrum International

Von Spatz
Haifisch, Anna (Author)
Drawn and Quarterly

About Betty's Boob
Cazot, Vero (Author), Rocheleau, Julie (Illustrator)

The New World: Comics from Mauretania
Reynolds, Chris (Author), Seth (Editor), Park, Ed (Foreword), Seth (Designer)
New York Review Comics

Lutes, Jason (Author)
Drawn and Quarterly

All The Answers
Kupperman, Michael (Author)
Gallery 13


A Nation Like All Others: A Brief History of American Foreign Relations
Cohen, Warren I. (Author)
Columbia University Press

The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South
Balko, Radley (Author), Carrington, Tucker (Author), Grisham, John (Foreword)

Physics Avoidance: and other essays in conceptual strategy
Wilson, Mark (Author)
Oxford University Press

Searching for Boko Haram: A History of Violence in Central Africa
MacEachern, Scott (Author)
Oxford University Press

The Grand Strategy of the Habsburg Empire
Mitchell, A. Wess (Author)
Princeton University Press

Orphic Tradition and the Birth of the Gods
Meisner, Dwayne A. (Author)
Oxford University Press

The Secret World: A History of Intelligence (Henry L. Stimson Lectures)
Andrew, Christopher (Author)
Yale University Press

The British in India: A Social History of the Raj
Gilmour, David (Author)
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life
Quammen, David (Author)
Simon & Schuster


  1. These are great. I’m so glad you put both Vera and Eli on your list!

  2. Wow. What a great list! I hope you do one for this year, too.

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