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

Literature

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


Malina
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


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


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


Dictator
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)
Gollancz



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

Humanities

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)
Subterranean



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

Science

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)
Pantheon


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

History



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

Comics

Reincarnation Stories
Deitch, Kim (Author)
Fantagraphics


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


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


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


Bezimena
Bunjevac, Nina (Author)
Fantagraphics




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



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