My top pick is not surprising. Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming, László Krasznahorkai’s self-declared completion to his life’s work, is a monumental portrait of catastrophe, and though published in Hungarian in 2016, it feels absolutely of the moment, a depiction of a scattering world in which everything is devalued and no one has the resources to make sense of things. I wrote about it at great length for Music & Literature, and while I avoid the present trend of deeming any and every work of writing to be essential and crucial, I do think that Krasznahorkai’s quartet of novels will endure.

Otherwise, it seemed a bit of a lean year for books compared to the riches of 2018, and some of the best books below, like the two Laura Ridings from Ugly Duckling Presse, actually date from 2018. It’s wonderful to see another book from the always-brilliant Barbara Maria Stafford, and some very strong archival work in philosophy and classics appeared. (Sara Humphreys’s book on Athenian kinship is magisterial.) Melanie Mitchell’s book on artificial intelligence is perhaps the best survey of the state of the field I have read and is strongly recommended to all.

Many powerful forces encourage us to devalue knowledge, and to devalue even the very pursuit of knowledge. In an age of fear and encroaching chaos, this pressure grows stronger. It is my article of faith that whatever meaning can be gleaned from life nonetheless resides in expanding our epistemological horizons as far as they can go, and confronting the new frontiers even if we tremble in so doing. It is the only antidote to the myopia of lived experience.

Book of the Year

Baron Wenckheim's Homecoming
László Krasznahorkai
(New Directions)

Literature

Unions: Two Stories
Robert Musil
(Contra Mundum Press)


And Go Like This: Stories
John Crowley
(Small Beer Press)


Malina
Ingeborg Bachmann
(New Directions)


The Prosecutor
Augusto Roa Bastos
(Fairleigh Dickinson University Press)


Convalescent Conversations (Lost Literature)
Laura Riding
(Ugly Duckling Presse)


Experts Are Puzzled
Laura Riding
(Ugly Duckling Presse)


Dictator
Philip Terry
(Carcanet Press Ltd.)






Necropolis (Russian Library)
Vladislav Khodasevich
(Columbia University Press)


The Best of R. A. Lafferty
R. A. Lafferty
(Gollancz)




The White Devil (Arden Early Modern Drama)
John Webster
(The Arden Shakespeare)


Where Reasons End: A Novel
Yiyun Li
(Random House)


Japanese Ghost Stories
Lafcadio Hearn
(Penguin Classics)



World-Changing Rage: News of the Antipodeans (The German List)
Georg Baselitz, Alexander Kluge
(Seagull Books)





Abel and Cain (New York Review Books Classics)
Gregor von Rezzori
(NYRB Classics)





The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison
Ralph Ellison
(Random House)

Humanities

Ribbon of Darkness: Inferencing from the Shadowy Arts and Sciences
Barbara Maria Stafford
(University of Chicago Press)


Catastrophizing: Materialism and the Making of Disaster
Gerard Passannante
(University of Chicago Press)


A History of Ambiguity
Anthony Ossa-Richardson
(Princeton University Press)





Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs
Camilla Townsend
(Oxford University Press)


Cassius Dio (Ancients in Action)
Jesper Majbom Madsen
(Bloomsbury Academic)



The Oulipo and Modern Thought
Dennis Duncan
(OUP Oxford)



A History of Art History
Christopher Wood
(Princeton University Press)


I, the Poet: First-Person Form in Horace, Catullus, and Propertius
Kathleen McCarthy
(Cornell University Press)


Inside Arabic Music: Arabic Maqam Performance and Theory in the 20th Century
Johnny Farraj, Sami Abu Shumays
(Oxford University Press)


Magic in Ancient Greece and Rome
Lindsay C. Watson
(Bloomsbury Academic)


Reading Backwards
John Crowley
(Subterranean)




Nietzsche's Free Spirit Works: A Dialectical Reading
Matthew Meyer
(Cambridge University Press)




Frame by Frame: A Materialist Aesthetics of Animated Cartoons
Hannah Frank
(University of California Press)


Chaucer: A European Life
Marion Turner
(Princeton University Press)



Imitating Authors: Plato to Futurity
Colin Burrow
(Oxford University Press)


The Cypria (Hellenic Studies Series)
Malcolm Davies
(Center for Hellenic Studies)



How to Read a Japanese Poem
Steven D. Carter
(Columbia University Press)


Knowing Our Limits
Nathan Ballantyne
(Oxford University Press)






Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes
Timothy Raylor
(OUP Oxford)



The Autobiography of Solomon Maimon: The Complete Translation
Solomon Maimon
(Princeton University Press)



Hermann Cohen: An Intellectual Biography
Frederick C. Beiser
(OUP Oxford)


Tragedy, Ritual and Money in Ancient Greece: Selected Essays
Richard Seaford
(Cambridge University Press)


Ptolemy's Philosophy: Mathematics as a Way of Life
Jacqueline Feke
(Princeton University Press)

Science

Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Thinking Humans
Melanie Mitchell
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)



Good Enough: The Tolerance for Mediocrity in Nature and Society
Daniel S. Milo
(Harvard University Press)


Mind in Motion: How Action Shapes Thought
Barbara Tversky
(Basic Books)





The Emotional Mind: The Affective Roots of Culture and Cognition
Stephen T. Asma
(Harvard University Press)


Becoming Human: A Theory of Ontogeny
Michael Tomasello
(Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press)


UNIX: A History and a Memoir
Brian Kernighan
()



Social Sciences

Psychiatry and Its Discontents
Andrew Scull
(University of California Press)





Capitalism, Alone: The Future of the System That Rules the World
Branko Milanovic
(Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press)


Creatures of Cain: The Hunt for Human Nature in Cold War America
Erika Lorraine Milam
(Princeton University Press)


The Ideas That Made America: A Brief History
Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen
(Oxford University Press)



To See Paris and Die: The Soviet Lives of Western Culture
Eleonory Gilburd
(Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press)



Economy and Society (2 Volume Set)
Max Weber
(University of California Press)

History



The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans
David Abulafia
(Oxford University Press)



Arabs: A 3,000-Year History of Peoples, Tribes and Empires
Tim Mackintosh-Smith
(Yale University Press)


Iran Rising: The Survival and Future of the Islamic Republic
Amin Saikal
(Princeton University Press)



A History of Twentieth-Century Germany
Ulrich Herbert
(Oxford University Press)




Emperor: A New Life of Charles V
Geoffrey Parker
(Yale University Press)





The Bookshop of the World: Making and Trading Books in the Dutch Golden Age
Andrew Pettegree, Arthur der Weduwen
(Yale University Press)


Eric Hobsbawm: A Life in History
Richard J. Evans
(Oxford University Press)

Comics

Reincarnation Stories
Kim Deitch
(Fantagraphics)


Maggy Garrisson
Lewis Trondheim
(SelfMadeHero)


Infinity 8 Vol. 3: The Gospel According to Emma
Fabien Vehlmann, Lewis Trondheim
(Lion Forge)


Clyde Fans
Seth
(Drawn and Quarterly)


Stay
Lewis Trondheim
(Lion Forge)


Bezimena
Nina Bunjevac
(Fantagraphics)






Petit: The Ogre Gods Book One
Hubert Boulard
(Lion Forge)


Half-Blood: The Ogre Gods Book Two
Hubert Boulard
(Lion Forge)



Kafkaesque: Fourteen Stories
Franz Kafka
(W. W. Norton & Company)


Heart of Darkness
Joseph Conrad
(W. W. Norton & Company)