David Auerbach on literature, tech, film, etc.

Category: Books of the Year (page 2 of 2)

David Auerbach’s Books of the Year 2022: Literature

Scheduling constraints mean this year’s list is going to come out in stages, with the overall top at the end. It was a very busy year for me, focusing on my forthcoming book Meganets. Of the literature, Ottessa Moshfegh, Yiyun Li, and Alta Ifland all came in with very, very strong new novels, and Percival Everett and John Crowley were reliably excellent. Moshfegh’s is probably her best to date. I have not finished Goytisolo’s Antagony, but it’s too major not to list.

Lapvona: A Novel
Moshfegh, Ottessa (Author)
Penguin Press

Flint and Mirror
Crowley, John (Author)
Tor Books

The Book of Goose: A Novel
Li, Yiyun (Author)
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Speaking to No. 4
Ifland, Alta (Author)
New Europe Books

Dr. No: A Novel
Everett, Percival (Author)
Graywolf Press

A Very Old Man: Stories (New York Review Books Classics)
Svevo, Italo (Author), Randall, Frederika (Translator), Rich, Nathaniel (Introduction)
NYRB Classics

Peter the Great's African: Experiments in Prose (New York Review Books Classics)
Pushkin, Alexander (Author), Chandler, Robert (Editor), Chandler, Robert (Translator), Dralyuk, Boris (Translator), Chandler, Elizabeth (Translator)
NYRB Classics

After (NYRB Poets)
Narayanan, Vivek (Author)
NYRB Poets

The Best of Lucius Shepard, Vol. 2
Shepard, Lucius (Author)
Subterranean Press

Antagony (Spanish Literature)
Goytisolo, Luis (Author), Riley, Brendan (Translator)
Dalkey Archive Press

Memories of Starobielsk: Essays Between Art and History (New York Review Books Classics)
Czapski, Jozef (Author), Valles, Alissa (Translator), Gross, Irena Grudzinska (Introduction)
NYRB Classics

Blind Owl
Hedayat, Sadeq (Author), Tabatabai, Sassan (Translator), Tabatabai, Sassan (Introduction)
Penguin Classics

Late Fragments: Flares, My Heart Laid Bare, Prose Poems, Belgium Disrobed (The Margellos World Republic of Letters)
Baudelaire, Charles (Author), Sieburth, Richard (Translator)
Yale University Press

Telluria (New York Review Books)
Sorokin, Vladimir (Author), Lawton, Max (Translator)
NYRB Classics

Their Four Hearts (Russian Literature)
Sorokin, Vladimir (Author), Klassen, Gregory (Illustrator), Lawton, Max (Translator)
Dalkey Archive Press

Spadework for a Palace (Storybook ND Series)
Krasznahorkai, László (Author), Batki, John (Translator)
New Directions

A Mountain to the North, a Lake to the South, Paths to the West, a River to the East
Krasznahorkai, László (Author), Mulzet, Ottilie (Translator)
New Directions

Homeward from Heaven (Russian Library)
Poplavsky, Boris (Author), Karetnyk, Bryan (Translator)
Columbia University Press

The Cambridge Centenary Ulysses: The 1922 Text with Essays and Notes
Joyce, James (Author), Flynn, Catherine (Author)
Cambridge University Press

The Poems (The Swiss List)
Walser, Robert (Author), Pantano, Daniele (Translator), Pantano, Daniele (Afterword)
Seagull Books

David Auerbach’s Books of the Year 2020

In this chaotic, surreal, and trying year, books as always provided a source of steadiness and continuity, when there was enough time and space to give them full attention.

My two books of the year are both superior anthologies suffused with the editor/translators’ love and reverence for their authors–inspiring feats in themselves. The third volume of Musil translated by Genese Grill and published by Contra Mundum is a massive and masterful anthology of Musil’s plays and theater writings, the most substantial new Musil volume in years, expertly rendered and annotated. Hannes Bajohr, Florian Fuchs, and Joe Paul Kroll collectively perform an even greater feat in drawing together Blumenberg’s essays across the breadth of his career and finally producing an approachable entry point to his work in English. The introductions to both volumes are superb. The works are old, but Grill, Bajohr, Fuchs, and Kroll are their animating spirits today.

The same goes for Steve G. Lofts’s new translation of Ernst Cassirer’s Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, a massive undertaking of an underappreciated work by an underappreciated philosopher, the third Davos participant who saw more widely than Carnap and more humanely than Heidegger. A more affordable edition is warranted. And the long-awaited reissue of Klibansky, Panofsky, and Saxl’s Saturn and Melancholy, done with immense care and comprehensiveness, is a model example of cultural history at a level of depth and intimacy that has always been rare, and is perhaps becoming rarer.

Fantagraphics’s reissues of Alberto Breccia’s stunning work also deserve more attention. I read part of Perramus when Fantagraphics issued it 30 years ago and was blown away by Breccia’s singular style; its’ good to have the whole thing finally. His version of The Eternaut is also remarkable.

I hesitate to mention too many other books for fear of neglecting the others, but I will say that of the science and technology books, several deal with subjects that are currently inundated with popularizations. In my eye, those below are notably superior to the rest of their crowd, though the marketplace of ideas has apparently and frustratingly failed to raise these books above their brethren. To a lesser extent, the same applies to history and politics.

Jacob Burckhardt said that the 20th century would be the age of oversimplification. The 21st has so far been the age of increasingly desperate and defensive oversimplification, across all domains of knowledge. Here’s to the fight against it.

(Final note: for an anthology of short plague-related stories, please check out my little project The Enneadecameron, featuring worthy tales by John Crowley, Irina Dumitrescu, Genese Grill, Alta Ifland, and many more.)


Theater Symptoms: Plays and Writings on Drama
Musil, Robert (Author), Grill, Genese (Translator), Grill, Genese (Introduction)
Contra Mundum Press

History, Metaphors, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader (signale|TRANSFER: German Thought in Translation)
Blumenberg, Hans (Author), Bajohr, Hannes (Translator), Fuchs, Florian (Translator), Kroll, Joe Paul (Translator)
Cornell University Press and Cornell University Library


Eros, Unbroken
Kim, Annie (Author)
Word Works

The Long White Cloud of Unknowing
Samuels, Lisa (Author)
Chax Pr

The Bern Book: A Record of a Voyage of the Mind (American Literature)
Carter, Vincent O. (Author), McCarthy, Jesse (Introduction)
Dalkey Archive Press

Peach Blossom Paradise (New York Review Books Classics)
Fei, Ge (Author), Morse, Canaan (Translator)
NYRB Classics

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk: Selected Stories of Nikolai Leskov (New York Review Books Classics)
Leskov, Nikolai (Author), Chandler, Robert (Translator), Rayfield, Donald (Translator), Edgerton, William (Translator), Rayfield, Donald (Introduction)
NYRB Classics

Alexandria: A Novel
Kingsnorth, Paul (Author)
Graywolf Press

Impostures (Library of Arabic Literature, 65)
al-Ḥarīrī (Author), Cooperson, Michael (Translator), Kilito, Abdelfattah (Foreword)
NYU Press

Rogomelec (The Envelope-silence, 6)
Fini, Leonor (Author), Skwersky, Serena Shanken (Translator), Kulik, William T. (Translator), Eburne, Jonathan P. (Introduction)
Wakefield Press

Meaning a Life: an Autobiography
Oppen, Mary (Author), Yang, Jeffrey (Introduction)
New Directions

The Lost Writings
Kafka, Franz (Author), Stach, Reiner (Editor), Hofmann, Michael (Translator)
New Directions

Collected Stories
Hazzard, Shirley (Author), Olubas, Brigitta (Editor), Heller, Zoë (Foreword)
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Surviving: Stories, Essays, Interviews (New York Review Books Classics)
Green, Henry (Author), Yorke, Matthew (Editor), Updike, John (Introduction), Yorke, Sebastian (Afterword)
NYRB Classics

Lame Fate | Ugly Swans (36) (Rediscovered Classics)
Strugatsky, Arkady (Author), Strugatsky, Boris (Author), Strugatsky, Boris (Author), Vinokour, Maya (Author)
Chicago Review Press

The Third Walpurgis Night: The Complete Text (The Margellos World Republic of Letters)
Kraus, Karl (Author), Bridgham, Fred (Translator), Timms, Edward (Translator), Perloff, Marjorie (Foreword)
Yale University Press

Death in Her Hands: A Novel
Moshfegh, Ottessa (Author)
Penguin Press

I Live in the Slums: Stories (The Margellos World Republic of Letters)
Can Xue (Author), Gernant, Karen (Translator), Chen, Zeping (Translator)
Yale University Press

Other Moons: Vietnamese Short Stories of the American War and Its Aftermath
Ha, Quan Manh (Translator), Babcock, Joseph (Translator)
Columbia University Press

Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow (Russian Library)
Radishchev, Alexander (Author), Reyfman, Irina (Translator), Kahn, Andrew (Translator)
Columbia University Press

A Lover's Discourse
Guo, Xiaolu (Author), Guo, Xiaolu (Author), Guo, Xiaolu (Author)
Grove Press

The Selected Poems of Tu Fu: Expanded and Newly Translated by David Hinton
Fu, Tu (Author), Hinton, David (Translator)
New Directions

Egan, Greg (Author)
Greg Egan

The Evidence
Priest, Christopher (Author)

Clarke, Susanna (Author)
Bloomsbury Publishing

Egan, Greg (Author)
Subterranean Pr

Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas: A Novel
de Assis, Joaquim Maria Machado (Author), Costa, Margaret Jull (Translator), Patterson, Robin (Translator)


Saturn and Melancholy: Studies in the History of Natural Philosophy, Religion, and Art
Klibansky, Raymond (Author), Panofsky, Erwin (Author), Saxl, Fritz (Author), Despoix, Philippe (Editor), Leroux, Georges (Editor)
McGill-Queen's University Press

Michelangelo’s Design Principles, Particularly in Relation to Those of Raphael
Panofsky, Erwin (Author), Panofsky-Soergel, Gerda (Editor), Spooner, Joseph (Translator), Panofsky-Soergel, Gerda (Introduction)
Princeton University Press

The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Volume 1: Language
Cassirer, Ernst (Author), Gordon, Peter E. (Foreword), Lofts, Steve G. (Translator)

The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Volume 2: Mythical Thinking
Cassirer, Ernst (Author), Gordon, Peter E. (Foreword), Lofts, Steve G. (Translator)

The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Volume 3: Phenomenology of Cognition
Cassirer, Ernst (Author), Gordon, Peter E. (Foreword), Lofts, Steve G. (Translator)

Inky Fingers: The Making of Books in Early Modern Europe
Grafton, Anthony (Author)
Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press

A Companion to Ancient Greek and Roman Music (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World)
Lynch, Tosca A. C. (Editor), Rocconi, Eleonora (Editor)

Wisdom as a Way of Life: Theravāda Buddhism Reimagined
Collins, Steven (Author), McDaniel, Justin (Editor), Hallisey, Charles (Introduction)
Columbia University Press

Time in Ancient Stories of Origin
Walter, Anke (Author)
OUP Oxford

Anger: The Conflicted History of an Emotion (Vices and Virtues)
Rosenwein, Barbara H. (Author)
Yale University Press

Who Needs a World View?
Geuss, Raymond (Author)
Harvard University Press

Comparing the Literatures: Literary Studies in a Global Age
Damrosch, David (Author)
Princeton University Press

Classical Indian Philosophy: A history of philosophy without any gaps, Volume 5
Adamson, Peter (Author), Ganeri, Jonardon (Author)
Oxford University Press

Frank Ramsey: A Sheer Excess of Powers
Misak, Cheryl (Author)
Oxford University Press

Early Modern German Philosophy (1690-1750)
Dyck, Corey W. (Author)
Oxford University Press

Alexander von Humboldt and the United States: Art, Nature, and Culture
Harvey, Eleanor Jones (Author), Sues, Hans-Dieter (Preface)
Princeton University Press


The Light Ages: The Surprising Story of Medieval Science
Falk, Seb (Author)
W. W. Norton & Company

Predict and Surveil: Data, Discretion, and the Future of Policing
Brayne, Sarah (Author)
Oxford University Press

How the Brain Makes Decisions
Boraud, Thomas (Author)
Oxford University Press

The Phantom Pattern Problem: The Mirage of Big Data
Smith, Gary (Author), Cordes, Jay (Author)
Oxford University Press

Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind
Godfrey-Smith, Peter (Author)
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Darwin's Psychology: The Theatre of Agency
Bradley, Ben (Author)
OUP Oxford

The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn
Richard W. Hamming (Author), Bret Victor (Foreword)
Stripe Press


The Invention of China
Hayton, Bill (Author)
Yale University Press

China’s Good War: How World War II Is Shaping a New Nationalism
Mitter, Rana (Author)
Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press

Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe
Herrin, Judith (Author)
Princeton University Press

Superpower Interrupted: The Chinese History of the World
Schuman, Michael (Author)

Away from Chaos: The Middle East and the Challenge to the West
Kepel, Gilles (Author), Randolph, Henry (Translator)
Columbia University Press

Illuminating History: A Retrospective of Seven Decades
Bailyn, Bernard (Author)
W. W. Norton & Company

Has China Won?: The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy
Mahbubani, Kishore (Author)

The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History
Mikaberidze, Alexander (Author)
Oxford University Press


France before 1789: The Unraveling of an Absolutist Regime
Elster, Jon (Author)
Princeton University Press

The Blind Storyteller: How We Reason About Human Nature
Berent, Iris (Author)
Oxford University Press

What’s Wrong with Economics?: A Primer for the Perplexed
Skidelsky, Robert (Author)
Yale University Press


The Eternaut 1969 (The Alberto Breccia Library)
German Oesterheld, Hector (Author), Breccia, Alberto (Artist)
Fantagraphics Books

Perramus: The City and Oblivion (The Alberto Breccia Library)
Breccia, Alberto (Author), Sasturain, Juan (Author), Mena, Erica (Translator)

The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud
Tsurita, Kuniko (Author), Holmberg, Ryan (Translator)
Drawn and Quarterly

Marzocchi, Leila (Author), Marzocchi, Leila (Artist)
Fantagraphics Books

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

Infinity 8 Vol.7: All for Nothing (INFINITY 8 HC)
Trondheim, Lewis (Author), Boulet (Author), Kennedy, Mike (Editor), Boulet (Artist)
Magnetic Press

Infinity 8 vol.8: Until the End (INFINITY 8 HC)
Trondheim, Lewis (Author), Killoffer (Artist)
Magnetic Press

Barnaby Volume Four (BARNABY HC)
Johnson, Crockett (Author), Johnson, Crockett (Artist)
Fantagraphics Books

Winter Warrior: A Vietnam Vet's Anti-War Odyssey
Gilbert, Eve (Author), Camil, Scott (Author)

The George Herriman Library: Krazy & Ignatz 1919-1921 (GEORGE HERRIMAN LIBRARY HC)
Herriman, George (Author), Herriman, George (Artist)
Fantagraphics Books

The Daughters of Ys
Anderson, M. T. (Author), Rioux, Jo (Illustrator)
First Second

Philip Guston: A Life Spent Painting
Storr, Robert (Author)
Laurence King Publishing

Philip Guston Now
Guston, Philip (Artist), Cooper, Harry (Contributor), Godfrey, Mark (Contributor), Greene, Alison de Lima (Contributor), Nesin, Kate (Contributor), Fischli, Peter (Contributor), Hancock, Trenton Doyle (Contributor), Kentridge, William (Contributor), Dean, Tacita (Contributor), Ligon, Glenn (Contributor), Roberts, Jennifer (Contributor)
D.A.P./National Gallery of Art

Year of the Rabbit
Veasna, Tian (Author), Dascher, Helge (Translator)
Drawn and Quarterly

The Phantom Twin
Brown, Lisa (Author)
First Second

Solutions and Other Problems
Brosh, Allie (Author)
Gallery Books

Stuck Rubber Baby 25th Anniversary Edition
Cruse, Howard (Author), Bechdel, Alison (Introduction)
First Second

Paying the Land
Sacco, Joe (Author)
Metropolitan Books

Albrecht Dürer
Metzger, Christof (Editor)

Glass Town: The Imaginary World of the Brontës
Greenberg, Isabel (Author)
Harry N. Abrams

Anselm Kiefer in Conversation with Klaus Dermutz (The German List)
Kiefer, Anselm (Author), Dermutz, Klaus (Author), Lewis, Tess (Translator)
Seagull Books

Exploring the Invisible: Art, Science, and the Spiritual – Revised and Expanded Edition
Gamwell, Lynn (Author), Tyson, Neil deGrasse (Foreword)
Princeton University Press

David Auerbach’s Books of the Year 2019

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

Price: $23.80

44 used & new available from $3.93

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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.

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David Auerbach’s Books of the Year 2017

While the world went mad this year, I retreated a bit and did more reading than I had in some time. I have seen the pendulum of public sentiment cycle from complacency to hysteria and back twice now, and I am more fatalistic than ever about such cycles having to take their course. (My description of Thomas Pynchon’s “decoherence events” applies just as well to the Trump presidency as it does to September 11, 2001.) Being part of the collective public discourse this year was unhealthier than in any time I have ever seen.

I believe all the titles below deserve attention. The top books have been chosen based on personal significance and relevance. Appiah’s As If is a plea for a cosmopolitan pluralism (of provisional viewpoints, not of truths) based on a reading of the great Hans Vaihinger. It is a theoretical work that has far more relevance to technology than it first appears, as I try to explain in my forthcoming Bitwise: A Life in Code. Földényi’s Melancholy is a Burton-inspired chronicle that bests a thousand other intellectual histories of its kind. It spoke to me of what it is to be the sort of person who feels the need and drive to read all these books in the first place, and of the intangible benefits I gain from them. And the purportedly final version of Tom Phillips’ A Humument is a thing of beauty, drastically different from its previous editions in many regards, and one of the deepest texts of our time, fifty years after its first publication.

The greatest novel I read this year was Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon, the right novel for the right moment, but not one published in 2017.

In an attempt to provide a bit more apparent order, I have created a few subcategories for nonfiction. These are quite approximate; some books could have easily gone under a different heading. They are there to break the lists down into more manageable chunks.

When it comes to books, my eyes are bigger than my…eyes. Books under “Of Interest” are there either because (1) they are too out of my areas of knowledge for me 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. I would feel terrible not noting Slezkine’s The House of Government, but I did not have time to read most of its 1100 pages.

Be well, read much, take care.


As If: Idealization and Ideals

Price: $12.84

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Melancholy (The Margellos World Republic of Letters)

Price: $35.00

25 used & new available from $19.94

A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel

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40 used & new available from $15.68



Into the Cyclorama

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Symphony for Human Transport

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The Golden Cockerel & Other Writings

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Homesick for Another World: Stories

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27 used & new available from $4.64

The World Goes On

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The Manhattan Project

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So Much Blue: A Novel

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Katalin Street (New York Review Books Classics)

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Beasts Head for Home: A Novel (Weatherhead Books on Asia)

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Blackass: A Novel

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The Essential Fictions

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Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr

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Gap Gardening: Selected Poems

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Judgment: A Novel (Northwestern World Classics)

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Remains of Life: A Novel (Modern Chinese Literature from Taiwan)

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I Was Trying to Describe What it Feels Like: New and Selected Stories

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Nest in the Bones: Stories by Antonio Benedetto

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Newcomers: Book One

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Nine Continents: A Memoir In and Out of China

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Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life

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Sisters of the Cross (Russian Library)

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The Construction of the Tower of Babel

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The War Nerd Iliad

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Drilling through Hard Boards: 133 Political Stories (The German List)

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Balcony in the Forest (New York Review Book)

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Go, Went, Gone

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The Collected Poems of Li He (Calligrams)

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Chinese Poetic Writing (Calligrams)

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The Complete Old English Poems (The Middle Ages Series)

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The Book of Disquiet: The Complete Edition

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Melancholic Habits: Burton's Anatomy & the Mind Sciences

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Dystopia: A Natural History

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The Rift in The Lute: Attuning Poetry and Philosophy

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David Jones

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The Messages We Send: Social Signals and Storytelling

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The Mind of the Book: Pictorial Title-Pages

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Changing the Subject: Philosophy from Socrates to Adorno

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Res Publica and the Roman Republic: 'Without Body or Form'

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The Epic Distilled: Studies in the Composition of the Aeneid

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I, Me, Mine: Back to Kant, and Back Again

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Art and Myth of the Ancient Maya

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Wilfrid Sellars and the Foundations of Normativity

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The Subject of Experience

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The Emotions in Early Chinese Philosophy (Emotions of the Past)

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Hercules Segers: Painter, Etcher, A Catalogue Raisonn

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Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst

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After Digital: Computation as Done by Brains and Machines

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The Lazy Universe: An Introduction to the Principle of Least Action

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Prisoners of Reason: Game Theory and Neoliberal Political Economy

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Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion

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The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class

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Marx's Inferno: The Political Theory of Capital

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A Brief History of Economic Thought

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Paths to Fulfillment: Women's Search for Meaning and Identity

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The Timeliness of George Herbert Mead

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The Enigma of Reason

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Shame: A Brief History (History of Emotions)

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The Truth about Language: What It Is and Where It Came From

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Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A.

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