2014 was a great year for books all around, but academic publishing in particular branched out, with quality works in philosophy, poetry, fiction, and history. This was, of course, the year of Piketty’s broad, sweeping economic tome Capital, but it was also the year of smaller books like Kristeva’s The Severed Head and Cecilia Corrigan’s excellent debut Titanic. For many readers, it’s too easy to forget academic presses, especially as more and more book purchasing goes online, but I hope this list will give you reason to seek out books by these amazing publishers.
Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty (Harvard University Press
While it may fall short of the ambitions of its title, and certainly it is not flawless, Piketty’s Capital is a must-read and good one. It’s been written ad nauseum that the book reads like a 19th century novel. This may be pushing it a bit, but the book is still the best written work of economic writing you’ll find for years. It deserves the accolades and debates that swarm around it.
Titanic, Cecilia Corrigan, (Lake Forest College Press)
I was forced to exclude this from my list of this year’s best independent works of fiction and poetry on the grounds that it was technically (apparently) released by an academic press. But it’s is one of the most impressive debut works of poetry in 2014. It melds several registers, discourses, and styles into one unmistakable Ur-style that signals where poetry may be headed in the future.
Sex, or the Unbearable, Lauren Berlant, Lee Edelman (Duke University Press)
As I wrote earlier this year, this book technically came out in December of 2013, but it didn’t reach me until 2014, so I will include it on this list. It brings together two topics that consistently prove their pairing: sex and the unbearable.
Globes, Peter Sloterdijk (Semiotext(e) / Distributed by MIT)
The most important work of philosophy released in 2014. It’s the second volume of Sloterdijk’s Spheres trilogy, which could be retitled Being in Space, and it’s even better than the first.
Suspended Sentences: 3 Novellas, Patrick Modiano (Yale University Press)
Yale was both prescient and fortunate to release these novellas by the unexpected winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature just one month after he was awarded the prize. They help prove that he deserved the award, even if Americans (like me) were clueless about him.
When Mystical Creatures Attack!, Kathleen Founds (University of Iowa Press)
I don’t know how else to describe this crazy book other than to quote this:
Ms. Freedman’s high school English class writes essays in which mystical creatures resolve the greatest sociopolitical problems of our time. Students include Janice Gibbs, “a feral child with excessive eyeliner and an anti-authoritarian complex that would be interesting were it not so ill-informed,” and Cody Splunk, an aspiring writer working on a time machine. Following a nervous breakdown, Ms. Freedman corresponds with Janice and Cody from an insane asylum run on the capitalist model of cognitive-behavioral therapy, where inmates practice water aerobics to rebuild their Psychiatric Credit Scores.
The Severed Head: Capital Visions, Julia Kristeva (Columbia University Press)
This is a pretty simple equation. After curating an exhibition on the subject for the Louvre, Julia Kristeva wrote about severed heads throughout history. Amazing.
Essays and Reviews 1959-2002, Bernard Williams (Princeton)
This is a great introduction to the moral philosopher Bernard Williams, whom I like because of his rejection of thoroughgoing scientism. I hope this book bridges some of the divide between British and American philosophy.
The Soul of the World, Roger Scruton (Princeton)
Frankly, I loathe this defense of the sacred, and I wholeheartedly disagree with it. But sometimes you have to read books you know you will disagree with in order to broaden your own intellectual terrain. This is probably the best written conservative book of the year.
Laughter in Ancient Rome: On Joking, Tickling, and Cracking Up, Mary Beard (University of California Press)
What made the Romans laugh? It’s an incredible, almost childlike thought to have. But in this characteristically brilliant book by Mary Beard, this simple thought becomes a mental projection that conjures up the world of Rome as well or better than any book in recent memory.