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)
Varlam Shalamov
(NYRB Classics)


Bitwise: A Life in Code
David Auerbach


The Rehearsals (Dedalus Europe)
Vladimir Sharov
(Dedalus Limited)

The Collected Stories of Machado de Assis
Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis

Collected Stories
Bruno Schulz
(Northwestern University Press)

The Novel of Ferrara
Giorgio Bassani
(W. W. Norton & Company)

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

Daša Drndic
(New Directions)


(Istros Books)

The William H. Gass Reader
William H. Gass

The Chandelier
Clarice Lispector
(New Directions)

Cathay: A Critical Edition
Ezra Pound
(Fordham University Press)

Letters, Dreams, and Other Writings
Remedios Varo
(Wakefield Press)

Stream System: The Collected Short Fiction of Gerald Murnane
Gerald Murnane
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Doting (New York Review Books Classics)
Henry Green
(NYRB Classics)

Nothing (New York Review Books Classics)
Henry Green
(NYRB Classics)

Greg Egan

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


Lions (The German List)
Hans Blumenberg
(Seagull Books)

Questioning Minds: The Letters of Guy Davenport and Hugh Kenner
Guy Davenport, Hugh Kenner

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

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

If Not Critical
Eric Griffiths
(Oxford University Press)

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

Shakespeare's Theatre: A History
Richard Dutton

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


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

The Order of Time
Carlo Rovelli
(Riverhead Books)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Politics of Autism
Bryna Siegel
(Oxford University Press)


The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity
Kwame Anthony Appiah

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

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

Marx and Marxism
Gregory Claeys
(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
(Princeton Architectural Press)

A History of Judaism
Martin Goodman
(Penguin Press)

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

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

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

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

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


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

Lorenzo Mattotti, Jerry Kramsky
(Fantagraphics Books)

Edmond Baudoin
(New York Review Comics)

The Song Of Aglaia
Anne Simon
(Fantagraphics Books)

Weegee: Serial Photographer
Max de Radiguès
(Conundrum International)

Von Spatz
Anna Haifisch
(Drawn and Quarterly)

About Betty's Boob
Vero Cazot

The New World: Comics from Mauretania
Chris Reynolds
(New York Review Comics)

Jason Lutes
(Drawn and Quarterly)

All The Answers
Michael Kupperman
(Gallery 13)


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

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

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

The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life
David Quammen
(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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