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
Krasznahorkai, László (Author), Mulzet, Ottilie (Translator)
New Directions


Unions: Two Stories
Musil, Robert (Author), Grill, Genese (Translator), Grill, Genese (Introduction)
Contra Mundum Press

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

Bachmann, Ingeborg (Author), Boehm, Philip (Translator), Kushner, Rachel (Introduction)
New Directions

The Prosecutor
Bastos, Augusto Roa (Author), Weldt-Basson, Helene Carol (Translator)
Fairleigh Dickinson University Press

Convalescent Conversations (Lost Literature)
Riding, Laura (Author), Fragopoulos, George (Editor)
Ugly Duckling Presse

Xun, Lu (Author), Turner, Matt (Narrator)
Seaweed Salad Editions

Experts Are Puzzled
Riding, Laura (Author), Fragopoulos, George (Editor)
Ugly Duckling Presse

Terry, Philip (Author)
Carcanet Press Ltd.

Love in the New Millennium (The Margellos World Republic of Letters)
Can Xue (Author), Wasmoen, Annelise Finegan (Translator), Myles, Eileen (Foreword)
Yale University Press

Bad Words: Selected Short Prose (The German List)
Aichinger, Ilse (Author), Wolf, Uljana (Translator), Hawkey, Christian (Translator)
Seagull Books

All That Is Evident Is Suspect: Readings from the Oulipo: 1963 - 2018
Monk, Ian (Translator), Levin Becker, Daniel (Translator), Duchamp, Marcel (Contributor), Perec, Georges (Contributor)
McSweeney's Publishing

Necropolis (Russian Library)
Khodasevich, Vladislav (Author), Vitali, Sarah (Translator), Bethea, David M. (Introduction)
Columbia University Press

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

The Revenger's Tragedy (Arden Early Modern Drama)
Minton, Gretchen E. (Editor), McMullan, Gordon (Series Editor), Jowett, John (Series Editor), Gossett, Suzanne (Series Editor)
The Arden Shakespeare

The White Devil (Arden Early Modern Drama)
Webster, John (Author), Robinson, Benedict S. (Editor), McMullan, Gordon (Series Editor), Jowett, John (Series Editor), Gossett, Suzanne (Series Editor)
The Arden Shakespeare

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

Japanese Ghost Stories
Hearn, Lafcadio (Author), Murray, Paul (Editor), Murray, Paul (Introduction)
Penguin Classics

The Labyrinth of Tender Force: 166 Love Stories (The German List)
Kluge, Alexander (Author), Hoban, Wieland (Translator)
Seagull Books

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

Rock, Paper, Scissors: And Other Stories (New York Review Books Classics)
Osipov, Maxim (Author), Dralyuk, Boris (Editor), Fleming, Alex (Translator), Jackson, Anne Marie (Translator), Alexievich, Svetlana (Preface)
NYRB Classics

The Magic: (October 1961-October 1967) Ten Tales by Roger Zelazny
Zelazny, Roger (Author), Delany, Samuel R. (Editor), Schweitzer, Darrell (Introduction)
Positronic Publishing

West-Eastern Divan: Complete, annotated new translation, including Goethe's "Notes and Essays" & the unpublished poems
von Goethe, Johann Wolfgang (Author), Ormsby, Eric (Translator)
Gingko Library

Abel and Cain (New York Review Books Classics)
von Rezzori, Gregor (Author), Dollenmayer, David (Translator), Neugroschel, Joachim (Translator), Yarbrough, Marshall (Translator), Cohen, Joshua (Introduction)
NYRB Classics

PURGATORY: Dante's Divine Trilogy Part Two. Decorated and Englished in Prosaic Verse by Alasdair Gray
Alighieri, Dante (Author), Gray, Alisdair (Translator)
Canongate Books

Krishna's Lineage: The Harivamsha of Vyasa's Mahabharata
Brodbeck, Simon (Translator)
Oxford University Press

The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison
Ellison, Ralph (Author), Callahan, John F. (Editor), Conner, Marc C. (Editor)
Random House


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

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

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

Composition and Cognition: Reflections on Contemporary Music and the Musical Mind
Lerdahl, Fred (Author)
University of California Press

Difference and Orientation: An Alexander Kluge Reader (signale|TRANSFER: German Thought in Translation)
Kluge, Alexander (Author), Langston, Richard (Editor)
Cornell University Press

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

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

Music of a Thousand Years: A New History of Persian Musical Traditions
Lucas, Ann E. (Author)
University of California Press

The Oulipo and Modern Thought
Duncan, Dennis (Author)
OUP Oxford

Sophocles: A Study of His Theater in Its Political and Social Context
Jouanna, Jacques (Author), Rendall, Steven (Translator)
Princeton University Press

A History of Art History
Wood, Christopher S. (Author)
Princeton University Press

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

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

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

Reading Backwards
John Crowley (Author)

The Essence of Tsongkhapa's Teachings: The Dalai Lama on the Three Principal Aspects of the Path
Dalai Lama, His Holiness the (Author), Russell, Jeremy (Editor), Lhakdor, Venerable (Translator)
Wisdom Publications

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

Rudolf Carnap: Early Writings: The Collected Works of Rudolf Carnap, Volume 1
Carus, A.W. (Editor), Friedman, Michael (Editor), Kienzler, Wolfgang (Editor), Richardson, Alan (Editor), Schlotter, Sven (Editor)
Oxford University Press

Frame by Frame: A Materialist Aesthetics of Animated Cartoons
Frank, Hannah (Author), Morgan, Daniel (Editor), Gunning, Tom (Foreword)
University of California Press

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

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

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

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

Knowing Our Limits
Ballantyne, Nathan (Author)
Oxford University Press

Kinship in Ancient Athens: Two-Volume Set: An Anthropological Analysis
Humphreys, S. C. (Author)
Oxford University Press

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

The Autobiography of Solomon Maimon: The Complete Translation
Maimon, Solomon (Author), Melamed, Yitzhak Y. (Editor), Socher, Abraham (Editor), Reitter, Paul (Translator), Freudenthal, Gideon (Afterword)
Princeton University Press

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

UNIX: A History and a Memoir
Kernighan, Brian (Author)

This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution
Wilson, David Sloan (Author)

Social Sciences

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

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

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

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

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

Economy and Society (2 Volume Set)
Weber, Max (Author), Roth, Guenther (Editor), Wittich, Claus (Editor)
University of California Press


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

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

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

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

The Life of Alcibiades: Dangerous Ambition and the Betrayal of Athens (Cornell Studies in Classical Philology (68))
Romilly, Jacqueline de (Author), Rawlings, Elizabeth Trapnell (Translator)
Cornell University Press

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

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

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


Reincarnation Stories
Deitch, Kim (Author)

Maggy Garrisson
Trondheim, Lewis (Author), Stéphane, Oiry (Illustrator)

Infinity 8 Vol. 3: The Gospel According to Emma
Vehlmann, Fabien (Author), Trondheim, Lewis (Author), Balez, Olivier (Artist)
Magnetic Press

Clyde Fans
Seth (Author)
Drawn and Quarterly

Trondheim, Lewis (Author), Chevillard, Hubert (Artist)
Magnetic Press

Bunjevac, Nina (Author)

The George Herriman Library: Krazy & Ignatz 1916-1918
Herriman, George (Author)

Petit: The Ogre Gods Book One
Boulard, Hubert (Author), Gatignol, Bertrand (Artist)
Magnetic Press

Half-Blood: The Ogre Gods Book Two
Boulard, Hubert (Author), Gatignol, Bertrand (Artist)
Magnetic Press

The Great Man: The Ogre Gods Book Three
Hubert (Author), Gatignol, Bertrand (Artist)
Magnetic Press

Kafkaesque: Fourteen Stories
Kuper, Peter (Adapter), Kafka, Franz (Author), Kuper, Peter (Translator)
W. W. Norton & Company

Heart of Darkness
Kuper, Peter (Adapter), Conrad, Joseph (Author), Jasanoff, Maya (Foreword)
W. W. Norton & Company