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.
E kettő kell nekem.
Az életet, Szabadságért föláldozom Szerelmemet.
Liberty and love
These two I must have.
For my love I’ll sacrifice
For liberty I’ll sacrifice
Books of the Year
The Last Wolf & Herman
Krasznahorkai, László (Author), Batki, John (Translator), Szirtes, George (Translator)
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
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
Sfar, Joann (Author), Gauvin, Edward (Translator)