The best of the year The 10 best essays of the year: historical traumas and concerns for the future

In another exceptional year for essays in our country, an eclectic mix of philosophy and history, biography and thought, come together in our selection of the best of the year

The best of the year The 10 best essays of the year: historical traumas and concerns for the future

In another exceptional year for essays in our country, an eclectic mix of philosophy and history, biography and thought, come together in our selection of the best of the year. A list on which Álvaro Delgado-Gal, Manuel Florentín or Timothy Garton Ash could have been with dignity.

I Eugenio Trías Prize. Gutenberg Galaxy. 304 pages. €21.50 Ebook: €13.99You can buy it here.

"The shape of the multitude is an ambitious essay. Agustín Fernández Mallo (A Coruña, 1967) proposes a very well structured device to unravel the ins and outs of our time, monopolized by the religion of capitalism, Trinitarian in its structure to strengthen both contradictions and domains", explained Jordi Corominas about this 1st Eugenio Trías Essay Prize, whose jury highlighted the originality of the approach, the lucid and suggestive use of scientific knowledge applied to philosophical reflection and the analysis of contemporary identity.

All of this resonates in this essay in which the author traces a genealogy of an indefinitely expansive capitalism, starting from an idea of ​​being as an incomplete, dispersed and blurred entity. A reality that makes the tools of capitalism necessary, which is why, contrary to what one might think, it is today far from being deposed or overcome.

Where in this context are freedom, the relationship with the other or the construction of identity are the questions asked by the author, who delves "into the chiaroscuros of the neo-baroque hypothesis, announced in recent years by other intellectuals and "solvently explored with rigor by Fernández Mallo, concerned with revealing all the intangibles that end up building the Great Theater of our world."

Translation by Efrén del Valle and Gonzalo García. Criticism. 1,448 pages. €34.90 Ebook: €12.99 You can buy it here.

What differentiates this from other stories of humanity ranging from prehistory to the present, including Donald Trump's presidency, the Russian invasion of Ukraine or the reaches of Artificial Intelligence? In the world. A history of families, the historian Simon Sebag Montefiore (London, 1965) extends his idea of ​​"biographical history" to narrate this historical development through family sagas. "For Montefiore, the driving force of history is not curiosity or the ability to build networks, as Yuval Noah Harari proposes in his Sapiens, but power. History as a constant struggle of man for power," pointed out Ricardo Cayuela. "Power has two central instruments: violence and sex." As I said, a different story.

Harp. 448 pages. €22.90 Ebook: €14.99 You can buy it here.

Canonical translator of Goethe and National Translation Prize in 2021, Helena Cortés (Salamanca, 1962) takes a risky bet with this biography. As Pilar Gómez explained, "she is very present in the book with her forms and her style. Her proposal is an author's biography that seeks an unprejudiced perspective and in the manner of an intimate evocation of man." In the foreground, we see all the events that marked Goethe's life trajectory, but in the background are the author's evaluations and literary excursions into other genres. "A slippery slope for this genre unless you have translated Goethe's verses and are a full member of the German Academy of Language and Literature."

Peninsula. 328 pages. €21.90 Ebook: €9.99 You can buy it here.

Although Arcadio's Life was presented to us as an intimate report, written in the second person, in which the author's youth coincides with the equally naive and carefree youth of Spanish democracy, the book by the EL MUNDO journalist is much more than that. As he usually does in his columns, in his text, Arcadi Espada attempts a kind of review of the Transition and the ideologies and spirit that carried them out, to let the truth emerge, "however uncomfortable it may be." ". Because, as Jorge Bustos wrote, "only a man freed from any nostalgic attempt and any sentimental concession can undertake a study so raw - and so tender - about the one he was at the age of 20."

Espasa. 768 pages. €23.90 Ebook: €10.99 You can buy it here.

Roberto Villa has once again published one of those books that turn historiographical conventions on their head, demonstrating that the events of the past can be interpreted in very different ways. 1923. The coup d'état that changed the history of Spain is a reply to conventional historiography, maintaining that Alfonso XIII not only had nothing to do with the military uprising that led to the fall of the liberal monarchy, but he also did not help to implement or consolidate the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera.

After the persistent war in Europe, the book world has first begun to reflect and, later, to edit and republish titles that explore the uncertain geography of the continent, its turbulent history and the existence or not of the "European spirit." Among them stands out the personal story of Timothy Garton Ash, in Taurus, and the personal story of a girl, who was one in 1990, attesting to the end of the fall of the communist regime in Albania in 1990. Her name is Lea Ypi and she tells it in Free (Anagram). Ending 2023, Óscar Vara has exposed in The Future of the Old World (Ariel) the challenges that the continent, strangled between the great powers, will have to face if it wants to continue building a common history.

Imbued with European spirit, the year has seen the appearance of the Ladera Norte publishing house, with special attention to Arthur Koestler, 40 years after his death. He didn't have an anniversary, but it seemed like it, Stefan Zweig. What happened is that the publication rights of his works were released and Hermida, Arpa, Alma, Páginas de Espuma, Alianza and, of course, Acantilado launched to celebrate it in style with an avalanche of titles (He summed it up like no one else an Instagram post from the always interesting Dirty Works, which showed a group of characters around a mummy). However, the most valuable recoveries are those that offer different, unexplored faces of the old authors: there is the memorable edition of Lovecraft's letters rescued by Aristas Martínez and the aphorisms from his Notebook of Ideas, published by Periférica. More surprises: the recovery of part of Max Weber's legacy by Wendy Brown, one of the most influential political theorists in the Rag Tongue book.

In biography, Helena Cortés, with Goethe in Harp, and Noelia Adánez, with the tandem Doris Lessing and Kate Millet, in Galaxia Gutenberg, have made strong, brave, authorial bets. They are biographies of others, yes, but they have inserted shreds of skin and the hearts of those who sign them. DNA doesn't lie. Biographies of one, two... and four. Those of Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley and Iris Murdoch, the four Oxford philosophers who, although very different, had something in common: they were willing to stand up to their colleagues and the prevailing relativism. His story is told by Benjamin J. B. Lipscomb in The Oxford Quartet (Shackleton).

And so as not to forget that essay comes, obviously, from rehearsing, from risking: 1969, by Eduard Márquez, in Navona, who based on documents, recordings, reports - the pure wicks of the essay - builds a latent novel, in ellipsis that reading waters and grows only within the readers.

Deusto. 256 pages. €18.95 Ebook: €9.99 You can buy it here.

Laws are transformed into well-intentioned "manifestos" and "victim factories", in correspondence with this "populist moment" that we live in. For this reason, any claim is considered a right and the grievance is already an institution that creates identity. This is one of the theses defended by the professor of Public Law and Legal Philosophy at the Autonomous University of Madrid Pablo de Lora in his latest book, Rights in jest: the moralization of politics in liberal democracies.

Translation by Eduardo Berti. Impedimentary. 240 pages. 22.95 €You can buy it here.

"Jews and oil are our best export products," Nicolae Ceaucescu once said. At the end of the war, Romania had 350,000 citizens of Jewish origin and four decades later, there were fewer than 10,000. Shocking and almost incredible, the story that Sonia Devillers (Les Lilas, 1975) tells in Los exportados reveals, as Patricia Pizarroso explained, "a terrible story that, during communism, barely had any impact and that has forced the Romanian population to rethink their own past".

The Sphere of Books. 208 pages. €18.90 You can buy it here.

With In Praise of Philosophy, Gabriel Albiac provisionally closes an itinerary opened with On the Longing for the Power or Consolation of Philosophy (Hiperión, 1979) and described much later in the form of a memoir (In No Man's Land, The Sphere of Books, 2022): explaining the idea that has guided his career with unwavering coherence: intelligence is only an aspiration for a knowledge that is non-negotiable and refractory to myth, theology, and politics. The inverse of rhetoric, the opposite of a promise, the opposite of a consolation.

Taurus. 288 pages. €19.90 Ebook: €8.99 You can buy it here.

Can we define the history of a century from a single term? David Jiménez Torres (Madrid, 1986) answers the question in The Ambiguous Word, an essay in which he constructs a chronology, supported by numerous texts, quotes and ideas, starting from the word intellectual. "A word whose meaning is not limited to precise contours, but is open to interpretation," explained Gonzalo Gragera. "Balancing remarkable scholarship and fluid storytelling, this essay takes us through a key period in our cultural history."

Translation by Francisco Socas. Cliff. 4,336 pages. €148 You can buy it here.

Petrarch (1304-1374) was a mirror of poets and one of the great inventors of the self in literature. This monumental Epistolary is an ark of wonders of more than 4,300 pages that represents a heritage of forgotten good thinking. "His style, which draws from Roman sources, will determine the future of the genre until the 16th century," said Carlos Mármol. "And he offers the emotion that only great literature creates: telling us, with the same words we would use, but giving them a dazzling intensity, what we feel."

It is appropriate to ask ourselves if an era like ours, which suffers an eclipse of the word, can continue to be literary, that is, if it will ensure that books support the cultural backbone of our society. To this end, it is interesting to remember the speech that Jon Fosse read a few days ago at the Nobel Prize reception. The Norwegian writer reflected on the abyss that opens between oral and written language. If the first is rhetorical and poor, the second is capable of reflecting the nuances of human consciousness. In other words: without the echo of great stories, our intimacy is reduced to a black and white snapshot, suitable only for the PowerPoints of classroom educators, but not for the understanding of what substantially defines us. The written word thus constitutes the humus of any valuable culture. We have known it since ancient times.

How we will be able to recover the verbal record of intelligence is a question that should concern us. It is true that we live in the best of editorial times. It is published more and better than ever. It is also selling more than ever and our country's reading statistics improve from decade to decade. However, we are "poor in memorable stories," to use Walter Benjamin's famous expression. This affects both the novel and the essay. In both genres, ideology threatens to supplant the ambiguity characteristic of the true; that is, its mystery. And, in non-fiction, data analysis is also confused with truthfulness, which is another variant of the cult of the quantifiable. Authentic literature, on the other hand, represents one of the citadels of man.

In the great moment that the essay is experiencing - and this year has not been an exception -, irritating fashions coexist with the long-winded book, substitutes with the imperishable. The themes are imposed by current events - from the Ukrainian war to the climate apocalypse, from the woke repertoire to historical memory - but also by the curiosity of the writer and the need for a return to classical sources. When the two intersect - current affairs and a broad and generous view - we witness an authentic display of intelligence. It doesn't always happen that way, of course. The great privilege of freedom and a vigorous publishing market like ours is that it allows us to separate the good from the bad. It will be said that this is the work of the critic, but even more so of the reader. Culture is built by reading and reflecting, it is worth remembering that. Therefore, there is nothing more important for democracy than to always and wherever possible foster the cultivation of that great school of humanity that is literature.