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David Auerbach’s Books of the Year 2016

2016 was a year of chaos for me as it was for many others. This list is provisional rather than a source of eternal endorsements. No, I did not read all of Anwar Sheikh’s Capitalism, but what I did read seemed serious and substantive enough to make it worthy of mention. Despite the inconsistencies of John Hands’ Cosmosapiens, I find it makes enough points about the traps of scientific orthodoxy to make it a provocative and worthy read. And there are books like Alec Ash’s Wish Lanterns that I simply didn’t get to.

I chose three books above all others as those that helped me get the most distance and perspective from the immediate tumult. Each of them did so in a very different way. Goodstein’s Simmel study is one of the few serious philosophical studies of Simmel and a major work, dedicated to showing his obscured influence through the 20th century and placing him alongside Musil as an eerily prescient prophet. It made a suitable epilogue to my commentary on Simmel’s Philosophy of Money.

Trentmann’s Empire of Things is an absorbing attempt to apply Annales-style ecological analysis to modern history and particularly the process of consumer consumption. It crosses Braudel with Veblen, yet the result sometimes approaches Simmel in its portrait of the self-reinforcing drives of consumption. As a portrait of larger ecological processes guiding our world, it pulled me away from the enveloping yet wholly reactive world of news and politics.

And Krasznahorkai’s chronicle of his travels in China is also a provider of needed distance, walking the path he has charted out that weaves between order and chaos, familiar and foreign, human and inhuman, beauty and suffering, profound knowledge and profound ignorance. He mentions Hungarian revolutionary Sándor Petőfi’s poem “Freedom, Love,” written with Hungarian which in Fu Yin’s translation (the book claims Lu Xun, but I believe this is inaccurate) became one of the most well-known poems in Communist China. With that irony in mind, it seems fitting to quote it here.

Szabadság, szerelem!
E kettő kell nekem.
Szerelmemért föláldozom
Az életet, Szabadságért föláldozom Szerelmemet.

Liberty and love
These two I must have.
For my love I’ll sacrifice
My life.
For liberty I’ll sacrifice
My love.

生命诚可贵,
爱情价更高。
若为自由故,
两者皆可抛。

 

Books of the Year

Destruction and Sorrow beneath the Heavens: Reportage (The Hungarian List)
Krasznahorkai, László (Author), Mulzet, Ottilie (Translator)
Seagull Books

Georg Simmel and the Disciplinary Imaginary
Goodstein, Elizabeth S. (Author)
Stanford University Press

Fiction

Between Dog and Wolf (Russian Library)
Sokolov, Sasha (Author), Boguslawski, Alexander (Translator)
Columbia University Press

Fragments of Lichtenberg (French Literature)
Senges, Pierre (Author), Flanders, Gregory (Translator)
Dalkey Archive Press

Bottom's Dream (German Literature)
Schmidt, Arno (Author), Woods, John E. (Translator)
Dalkey Archive Press

The Last Wolf & Herman
Krasznahorkai, László (Author), Batki, John (Translator), Szirtes, George (Translator)
New Directions

Zama (New York Review Books Classics)
Di Benedetto, Antonio (Author), Allen, Esther (Translator), Allen, Esther (Preface)
NYRB Classics

Bright Magic: Stories (New York Review Books Classics)
Doblin, Alfred (Author), Searls, Damion (Translator), Grass, Gunter (Introduction)
NYRB Classics

Iza's Ballad (New York Review Books Classics)
Szabo, Magda (Author), Szirtes, George (Translator), Szirtes, George (Introduction)
NYRB Classics

The Dispossessed: A Novel
Borbely, Szilard (Author)
Harper Perennial

Berlin-Hamlet (NYRB Poets)
Borbély, Szilárd (Author), Mulzet, Ottilie (Translator)
NYRB Poets

Loving (New York Review Books Classics)
Green, Henry (Author), Robinson, Roxana (Introduction)
NYRB Classics

Caught (New York Review Books Classics)
Green, Henry (Author), Wood, James (Introduction)
NYRB Classics

Back (New York Review Books Classics)
Green, Henry (Author), Eisenberg, Deborah (Introduction)
NYRB Classics

The Invisibility Cloak
Fei, Ge (Author), Morse, Canaan (Translator)
NYRB Classics

The Gradual
Priest, Christopher (Author)
Titan Books

The Doomed City (Rediscovered Classics)
Strugatsky, Arkady (Author), Strugatsky, Boris (Author), Andrew, Bromfield (Author), Glukhovsky, Dmitry (Author), Glukhovsky, Dmitry (Foreword), Andrew, Bromfield (Translator)
Chicago Review Press

A Book to Burn and a Book to Keep (Hidden): Selected Writings (Translations from the Asian Classics)
Li, Zhi (Author), Handler-Spitz, Rivi (Editor), Lee, Pauline (Editor), Saussy, Haun (Editor)
Columbia University Press

The Lights of Pointe-Noire: A Memoir
Mabanckou, Alain (Author), Stevenson, Helen (Translator)
The New Press

We Need Silence to Find Out What We Think: Selected Essays
Hazzard, Shirley (Author), Olubas, Brigitta (Editor)
Columbia University Press

The Letters of Samuel Beckett: Volume 4, 1966–1989
Beckett, Samuel (Author), Craig, George (Editor), Fehsenfeld, Martha Dow (Editor), Gunn, Dan (Editor), Overbeck, Lois More (Editor)
Cambridge University Press

Soft City: The Lost Graphic Novel
Pushwagner, Hariton (Author), Ware, Chris (Introduction), Herbert, Martin (Afterword)
New York Review Comics

The One Hundred Nights of Hero: A Graphic Novel
Greenberg, Isabel (Author)
Little, Brown and Company

Pascin
Sfar, Joann (Author), Gauvin, Edward (Translator)
Uncivilized Books

Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir
Hart, Tom (Author)
St. Martin's Press

Mickey's Craziest Adventures (Mickey Mouse)
Trondheim, Lewis (Author), Keramidas, Nicolas (Artist)
IDW Publishing

Dungeon: Monstres – Vol. 6: The Great Animator
Sfar, Joann (Author), Trondheim, Lewis (Author), Stanislas (Author), Keramidas, Nicolas (Author)
NBM Publishing

 

Nonfiction

The Face of the Buddha
Empson, William (Author), Arrowsmith, Rupert (Editor)
Oxford University Press

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness
Godfrey-Smith, Peter (Author)
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Deep Learning (Adaptive Computation and Machine Learning series)
Goodfellow, Ian (Author), Bengio, Yoshua (Author), Courville, Aaron (Author)
The MIT Press

Recollections: The French Revolution of 1848 and Its Aftermath
Tocqueville, Alexis de (Author), Zunz, Olivier (Editor), Goldhammer, Arthur (Translator)
University of Virginia Press

Ancient Worlds: A Global History of Antiquity
Scott, Michael (Author)
Basic Books

Memory and the Self: Phenomenology, Science and Autobiography
Rowlands, Mark (Author)
Oxford University Press

The Voynich Manuscript
Clemens, Raymond (Editor), Harkness, Deborah E. (Introduction)
Yale University Press

Wilfrid Sellars and the Foundations of Normativity
Olen, Peter (Author)
Palgrave Macmillan

The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography
Gordon, Edmund (Author)
Chatto & Windus

China’s Crony Capitalism: The Dynamics of Regime Decay
Pei, Minxin (Author)
Harvard University Press

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right
Russell Hochschild, Arlie (Author)
The New Press

Europe since 1989: A History
Ther, Philipp (Author), Hughes-Kreutzmüller, Charlotte (Translator)
Princeton University Press

Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900
Beiser, Frederick C. (Author)
Oxford University Press

Rise of the Machines: A Cybernetic History
Rid, Thomas (Author)
W. W. Norton & Company

In the Darkroom
Faludi, Susan (Author)
Metropolitan Books

Toward Democracy: The Struggle for Self-Rule in European and American Thought
Kloppenberg, James T. (Author)
Oxford University Press

The Cultural Revolution: A People's History, 1962—1976
Dikötter, Frank (Author)
Bloomsbury Press

Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization
Milanovic, Branko (Author)
Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press

The Path: A New Way to Think About Everything
Puett, Michael,Gross-Loh, Christine (Author)
Viking

America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History
Bacevich, Andrew J. (Author)
Random House

Politics against Domination
Shapiro, Ian (Author)
Harvard University Press

The Origin and Nature of Life on Earth: The Emergence of the Fourth Geosphere
Smith, Eric (Author), Morowitz, Harold J. (Author)
Cambridge University Press

The Poet's Voice in the Making of Mind
Meares, Russell (Author)
Routledge

Law in American History, Volume II: From Reconstruction Through the 1920s
White, G. Edward (Author)
Oxford University Press

Reality and Its Dreams
Geuss, Raymond (Author)
Harvard University Press

The Seven Pillars of Statistical Wisdom
Stigler, Stephen M. (Author)
Harvard University Press

The Ways of the World
Harvey, David (Author)
Oxford University Press

Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion
Jacoby, Susan (Author)
Pantheon

Capitalism: Competition, Conflict, Crises
Shaikh, Anwar (Author)
Oxford University Press

Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government (Princeton Studies in Political Behavior, 1)
Achen, Christopher H. (Author), Bartels, Larry M. (Author)
Princeton University Press

Democracy: A Life
Cartledge, Paul (Author)
Oxford University Press

Individuality and Entanglement: The Moral and Material Bases of Social Life
Gintis, Herbert (Author)
Princeton University Press

The Cambridge History of Japanese Literature
Shirane, Haruo (Editor), Suzuki, Tomi (Editor), Lurie, David (Editor)
Cambridge University Press

Alchemist in Literature: From Dante to the Present
Ziolkowski, Theodore (Author)
Oxford University Press

All the Kremlin's Men: Inside the Court of Vladimir Putin
Zygar, Mikhail (Author)
PublicAffairs

Medieval Europe
Wickham, Chris (Author)
Yale University Press

The Great Convergence: Information Technology and the New Globalization
Baldwin, Richard (Author)
Harvard University Press

Experimental Music Since 1970
Gottschalk, Jennie (Author)
Bloomsbury Academic

Loft Jazz: Improvising New York in the 1970s
Heller, Michael C. (Author)
University of California Press

Thought in Action: Expertise and the Conscious Mind
Montero, Barbara Gail (Author)
OUP Oxford

The Framers' Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution
Klarman, Michael J. (Author)
Oxford University Press

Bananaworld: Quantum Mechanics for Primates
Bub, Jeffrey (Author)
OUP Oxford

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow
Harari, Yuval Noah (Author)
Harper

Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White
Tisserand, Michael (Author)
Harper

David Auerbach’s Books of the Year 2015

I was dissatisfied with my 2015 reading. A number of projects and situations contrived to cut down my reading time drastically, and so this list feels even more provisional than most years, a grab-bag of things that stood out for me stood out for me personally rather than a considered ranking. I think in a better world we would all do books of a given year 5 to 10 years down the line, and the resulting lists would be far more well-considered. Maybe 25 or 50 years would be even better.

I was pulled into a number of projects and situations that obliterated both my concentration and reading time, the biggest being my Facilitated Communication investigation, which consumed an entire quarter of the year. That would not have been so bad by itself but a handful of other similar matters made it difficult to do as much comprehensive reading as I would have liked. I’ve resolved to change that this year.

So, wish a bit of disappointment and shame, I am attaching a “Promising Nonfiction” section of books I haven’t yet assessed. These are books that due to their subject matter, pedigree, author, or some other factor struck me as being worth investigating, but which I didn’t have time to do so. Note that it is entirely possible that some of these books are terrible–they just merit a look in my mind. (Example: Cesar Hidalgo’s Why Information Grows would have been on the promising list, but I did get time to take a look at it and it did not fulfill its promise. On the other hand, I am near-certain Noel Malcolm’s latest tome of scholarship is brilliant, but simply didn’t have time to get to a work so far outside outside my current area of focus.) If any readers have opinions on them, please chime in.

Book of the Year

Fiction

Thought Flights

Price: $20.00

21 used & new available from $13.63

The Blizzard: A Novel

Price: $11.99

1 used & new available from $11.99

The Complete Works of Primo Levi

Price: $41.57

53 used & new available from $11.09

Horse of a Different Color: Stories

Price: $12.61

26 used & new available from $3.28

The Librarian

Price: $27.54

24 used & new available from $1.76

A School for Fools (New York Review Books Classics)

Price: $14.95

48 used & new available from $9.66

Our Spoons Came from Woolworths

Price: $14.19

58 used & new available from $2.16

Thus Were Their Faces: Selected Stories (NYRB Classics)

Price: $14.90

52 used & new available from $8.37

A General Theory of Oblivion

Price: $16.23

37 used & new available from $3.09

The Wake: A Novel

Price: $13.29

99 used & new available from $2.54

Kvachi (Georgian Literature)

Price: $7.55

20 used & new available from $6.39

Eyes: Novellas and Stories

Price: $16.06

60 used & new available from $3.45

Book of Numbers: A Novel

Price: $41.27

24 used & new available from $4.00

The Door (NYRB Classics)

Price: $11.29

144 used & new available from $1.93

Callimachus: The Hymns

Price: $35.95

18 used & new available from $31.95

Silvina Ocampo (NYRB Poets)

Price: $14.00

26 used & new available from $4.99

Eileen: A Novel

Price: $11.99

1 used & new available from $11.99

A Brief History of Seven Killings: A Novel

Price: $13.99

1 used & new available from $13.99

The Tale of Genji

Price: $14.72

1 used & new available from $14.72

Macbeth: Third Series (The Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Price: $12.95

58 used & new available from $4.93

Mr. Kafka: And Other Tales from the Time of the Cult

Price: $14.95

52 used & new available from $4.24

Incidents in the Night Book 2

Price: $19.95

19 used & new available from $4.35

Dungeon: Monstres – Vol. 5: My Son the Killer (5)

Price: $14.99

20 used & new available from $8.19

Melody: Story of a Nude Dancer

Price: $18.24

46 used & new available from $6.69

The Eternaut

Price: $43.40

25 used & new available from $30.25

Fatherland: A Family History

Price: $15.00

71 used & new available from $2.41

Nonfiction

World Philology

Price: $11.44

18 used & new available from $11.44

Chaos Imagined: Literature, Art, Science

Price: $43.09

23 used & new available from $5.92

The Boy Who Could Change the World: The Writings of Aaron Swartz

Price: $14.52

40 used & new available from $1.98

The Pseudo-Platonic Seventh Letter

Price: $59.68

6 used & new available from $59.68

The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution

Price: $54.88

18 used & new available from $19.48

Physics: a short history from quintessence to quarks

Price: $16.66

23 used & new available from $3.51

Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology

Price: $24.88

74 used & new available from $1.49

Forgetting: Myths, Perils and Compensations

Price: $19.00

1 used & new available from $19.00

Massacre: The Life and Death of the Paris Commune

Price: $29.99

35 used & new available from $9.18

The World the Game Theorists Made

Price: $115.00

4 used & new available from $103.36

Persius: A Study in Food, Philosophy, and the Figural

Price: $58.89

8 used & new available from $37.50

European Intellectual History from Rousseau to Nietzsche

Price: $83.68

15 used & new available from $4.51

Orientation and Judgment in Hermeneutics

Price: $42.99

1 used & new available from $42.99

The Occupiers: The Making of the 99 Percent Movement

Price: $28.97

37 used & new available from $3.00

Sometimes an Art: Nine Essays on History

Price: $12.99

1 used & new available from $12.99

Darkness Visible: A Study of Vergil's "Aeneid"

Price: $26.00

9 used & new available from $21.57

The Computing Universe: A Journey through a Revolution

Price: $30.00

50 used & new available from $5.03

Greek Models of Mind and Self (Revealing antiquity ; Book 22)

Price: $15.12

1 used & new available from $15.12

Track-Two Diplomacy Toward an Israeli-Palestinian Solution, 1978-2014

Price: $44.95

19 used & new available from $23.35

Promising Nonfiction

The Scholar Denied: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology

Price: $27.62

53 used & new available from $15.23

Database of Dreams: The Lost Quest to Catalog Humanity

Price: $11.42

1 used & new available from $11.42

A Sense of Power: The Roots of America's Global Role

Price: $19.66

47 used & new available from $9.78

Between Debt and the Devil: Money, Credit, and Fixing Global Finance

Price: $16.10

50 used & new available from $2.40

Realpolitik: A History

Price: $25.99

20 used & new available from $3.45

Two Arabs, a Berber, and a Jew: Entangled Lives in Morocco

Price: $91.22

4 used & new available from $74.39

Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception

Price: $9.99

1 used & new available from $9.99

Shadows of Revolution: Reflections on France, Past and Present

Price: $18.83

23 used & new available from $8.99

Blood Oil: Tyrants, Violence, and the Rules that Run the World

Price: $19.95

34 used & new available from $4.49

The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945

Price: $16.99

1 used & new available from $16.99

The Black Mirror: Looking at Life through Death

Price: $15.98

27 used & new available from $4.95

Violence All Around

Price: $23.33

1 used & new available from $23.33

Barbarism and Religion: Volume 6, Barbarism: Triumph in the West

Price: $96.98

15 used & new available from $96.98

KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps

Price: $12.99

1 used & new available from $12.99

Pagans: The End of Traditional Religion and the Rise of Christianity

Price: $12.99

1 used & new available from $12.99

China Under Mao: A Revolution Derailed

Price: $15.04

1 used & new available from $15.04

Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle for Israel, 1917-1947

Price: $22.94

62 used & new available from $2.94

The Third Reich in History and Memory

Price: $20.45

50 used & new available from $5.00

The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East

Price: $21.41

69 used & new available from $4.99

State Power in Ancient China and Rome (Oxford Studies in Early Empires)

Price: $80.74

15 used & new available from $78.47

The Rise and Fall of Neoliberal Capitalism

Price: $31.16

1 used & new available from $31.16

The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution

Price: $59.95

30 used & new available from $3.79

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World

Price: $71.34

49 used & new available from $2.71

Universal Man: The Lives of John Maynard Keynes

Price: $25.52

61 used & new available from $1.75

The Country of First Boys And Other Essays

Price: $13.26

32 used & new available from $3.05

The Book of Yokai: Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore

Price: $17.38

1 used & new available from $17.38

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