Ho Ho Ho: Our ultimate guide to Summer Reading

James Riley
Editorial Director

In keeping with long-standing tradition and to get us into a Ho Ho Ho vibe for the Christmas break, I present to you the annual InnovationAus.com Summer Reading List.

For our final newsletter, we ask our industry leaders to divulge their favourite books of the year, and to reveal what they will be reading over the summer. The recommendations are quite revealing, and always interesting.

This article is always my last act of the year. As soon as I hit ‘send’ on this story, I will be taking a giant chillaxative and climbing into a hammock, with only a mojito for company.

Thank you to all of our readers from across this wonderful innovation community. I wish you and your families a happy, safe and relaxing holiday period. And to our InnovationAus commercial partners and to our friends across the industry, a huge thank you for your support.

It has been a massive year, with a federal election and a change of government. 2022 has been a difficult year on the international front with Russia’s shocking invasion of Ukraine, and the subsequent war of resistance.

Increased ‘great power’ competition has added an unsettling uncertainty to world affairs, just as the fractured supply chains and energy crisis delivered by Putin’s folly has shaken economies.

The next year will be challenging, making it all the more important to make the most of your break from work to recharge the batteries.

So, let’s get this show on the road.

Leading our recommendations this year is Australia’s Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic, who has put forward bunch of books about tech and innovation, including Dr Catherine Ball’s Converge. “Loved it,” he says.

“Other books I devoured in rapid order: System Error by Rob Reich, Mehran Sahami and Jeremy Weinstein, The Fate of Food by Amanda Little and Genius Makers by Cade Metz. I particularly enjoyed the Fate of Food and Amanda Little’s insights into the smart thinking and innovation needed to transform and sustain agriculture,” Mr Husic said.

For the best non-industry books, he says that during a bout of Covid earlier this year he binged on a few WWII documentaries, which reminded him about the need to finally read Stalingrad by Antony Beevor, which he describes as “truly grim but valued”. Lisa Genova’s Remember was also a fascinating read.

Over the summer, the minister is looking forward to reading Alex von Tunzelmann’s Fallen Idols, which examines twelve statues of modern history, their stories and why they were pulled down. His other ‘light’ summer reading is The Sword and The Shield by Peniel E. Joseph (about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King) plus Richard Holden and Rosalind Dixon’s From Free to Fair Markets.

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland says the best industry book she read in 2022 was Regulating Platforms by Terry Flew, which delves into the ever evolving online world discussing how we can best design regulations to both support the digital economy, and keep people safe.

As a non-industry book, Ms Rowland enjoyed Skin Deep by Phillipa McGuinness, a book about skin, our biggest organ. The book traces issue from race and disease to cosmetics. “It provides insight into how skin factors into Australian culture, and I was privileged to contribute my own experience to Phillipa to include in her work,” the minister said.

Over the summer, Ms Rowland plans to read The Why Axis by Uri Gneezy, a book that investigates innovative ways to make positive policy changes in everyday life.

The federal Member for Bradfield Paul Fletcher holds what might be the longest title in Australian politics. In addition to being the Manager of Opposition Business in the House, Mr Fletcher is the shadow minister for government services and the digital economy, and the shadow minister for science and the arts.

Mr Fletcher, who was a long-serving Communications minister until the change of government, says the best industry book he read in 2022 was Good Data: An Optimist’s Guide to Our Digital Future by Sam Gilbert.

His favourite non-industry book for the year was Energy: A Beginner’s Guide by Vaclav Smil. And in what might be a surprise to some, over the summer break Mr Fletcher plans to read Bob Hawke: Demons and Destiny by Troy Bramston.

NSW Minister for Customer Service and Minister for Digital Government Victor Dominello was already one of the busiest men in politics when the Premier earlier this year gave him two additional roles, as Minister for Small Business and Minister for Fair Trading.

The highly-regarded Mr Dominello says (only half-joking) that “the sheer work load has meant I’ve only been able to read government briefs this year!”

But what I do plan to read over summer is The End of the World Is Just the Beginning (Mapping the Collapse of Globalization) by Peter Zeihan.

Telecommunications giant Verizon’s most senior executive in the Asia Pacific Rob Le Busque’s best industry book for 2022 is Sandworm by Andy Greenberg, which is especially pertinent right now in Australia given the high public profile of cybercrime, data breaches and ransomware.

“Fast paced and completely enthralling, it tracks the hunt for some of the most dangerous, elite cyber criminals and provides a very scary insight into the tools and tactics of these underground groups,” Rob says. “The chapter on the Aurora test alone makes it worth the read; if it doesn’t scare you, then nothing will!”

Rob also recommends Made By Humans by Australian academic and author Ellen Broad. “This book, written in simple prose, is a great companion for anyone remotely interested in understanding where artificial intelligence, ethics and the human condition meet, and how we are going to collectively navigate this new world.”

Over the summer he will be reading Faith, Hope and Carnage by Nick Cave and Sean O’Hagan, having first seen Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at the tiny Metropolis bar in Brisbane nearly thirty years ago. “A club nestled under a shopping mall was not where I expected to experience the visceral, almost religious fervour of a Nick Cave show. But I did, and I’ve been a devoted follower since.”

Outgoing CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall says he really enjoyed the Importance of Being Interested by Robin Ince, as a real adventure into the world of scientific curiosity and wonder. He says it’s a reminder of how lucky he is to lead an organisation of 5,500 people.

Larry favourite non-industry book this year was Ian McEwen’s Machines Like Me. “It’s about the future but it’s set in the recent past of an alternative 1980s UK where Alan Turing is still alive, and the internet, social media, self-driving cars and AI already exist.”

And finally, Larry says he will be spending the summer reading final drafts of a book on innovation that he has co-authored “that builds on a lifetime of experience and goes straight to the challenges, the opportunities and what we need to be doing to build a uniquely Australian innovation eco-system.”

Adrian Beer is chief executive officer at METS Ignited, the federal Industry Growth Centre for the mining equipment, technology and services sector. He says he didn’t get a lot of time this year to read outside of work, but says the best ‘book’ this year was The Innovation Papers, published by InnovationAus (thank you Adrian). As a non-industry book Adrian nominates ‘The Book Of Roads And Kingdoms’.

For summer reading Adrian says he is itching to get into The Titanium Economy by McKinsey. “While all the cool IT companies get recognised in our national ambition for things like the 1.2 million tech jobs – we completely overlook our industry technology sector which is bursting with opportunity. I hope this book helps us shed some light on the huge local potential we have here down under, before we lose more and more of our local innovation offshore,” he says.

Cicada Innovations CEO Sally-Ann Williams says she enjoyed Innovation in Real Places by Dan Breznitz this year, a recommendation she picked up from Roy Green’s contribution to the list last year. “It gives a much more nuanced view of what ecosystems really need to drive innovation vs the typical copycat narrative that we get which doesn’t take into account local strengths, capabilities, customs and culture. It’s also very much a systems theory book which is my natural way of viewing the world,” Sally-Ann says.

The best non-industry book she read this year was Not Now, Not Ever, by Julia Gillard. “The reflections of her memory of that day and moment give you a great insight into the kind of leader she is, and focus she has on contributing to a broader change in society.”

Over the summer, Sally-Ann will be reading The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, by Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka. “My husband was born in Sri Lanka and has just finished the book so it’s my turn to get lost in the pages.”

Tech industry consultant and commentator Sandy Plunkett puts forward Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology by Chris Miller as the best industry book she has read this year.

“With all the noise and twitterpation around the power of today’s search engines and social media companies, it is easy to overlook how much our late 20th and 21st Century world relies on computer chips. Most of the world’s GDP is produced with devices that rely on semiconductors,” Sandy says.

“But until Covid and escalating geopolitical tensions between the US and China, political leaders hadn’t thought much about the state and future of this ever-critical technology in decades. Economic historian Chris Miller provides a highly readable account of the ascent of the US and global chip industry, the very real battle to control its future and what it means for economic, military and geopolitical power in the modern world. Buckle-up!”

Sandy says an excellent companion to this book is The Elements of Power by David S Abraham (2015) which chronicles the mysterious, complex and often dirty world of rare earth metals exploration, mining and monopoly.

She is split on her choice of best non-industry book; Firstly The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government by David Talbot is a deeply researched and extremely confronting portrait of the first CIA chief, Allen Dulles, his unchecked power, and the rise of the national security state post World War.

Secondly, Free Speech and Why it Matters by Andrew Doyle: “There is a good reason why writers of dystopian fiction portray their tyrannical regimes as hostile to free speech above all things. It is to the despot’s advantage that his critics are muzzled. This small book by the Northern Irish poet, playwright, satirist and creator of the parody Twitter account Titania McGrath, packs a new punch in the digital age. An insightful study of the many outrages and hypocrisies weaponised in the current battles between free-speech purists and the woke, cancel culture generation.”

Over the summer break, Sandy is planning to get her annual dose of Stephen King by reading Fairy Tale King’s latest “dark fantasy”. “And, speaking of doses… am planning to devour Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind: The New Science of Psychedelics – the book, not the psychedelics. Have never been brave enough to partake, but maybe this will change my mind.”

Silicon Quantum Computing’s president and CIO Ian Hill says the best industry book he read in 2022 was Working Backwards by Colin Bryar and Bill Carr. Amazon insiders showcase the practices and principles that vaulted Amazon from small, online book-seller to global, cloud-services juggernaut. “The book is full of practical advice to help any company trying to innovate and scale. The book avoids cookie-cutter solutions and instead, attempts to explain the most replicable mindsets and thought-processes any company can use to increase value.”

Ian’s favourite non-industry book of the year was Slouching Towards Utopia by Brad de Long, an economic history that looks over the last 150 years of economic growth and attempts to pinpoint the most important drivers over that period. “The book calls out this period for being the first in human existence to elevate people, on a global scale, above pure subsistence. The book also foreshadows signs that this period of growth is already ending, as these drivers start to weaken.”

Over the summer he will be reading Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein, who is one of those rare editorialists who seeks complete, almost scientific understanding of an issue before offering his opinions. “In this book he looks for the root causes behind our current era of political polarisation and then offers a prescription.”

AisBiotech chief executive Lorraine Chiroiu’s favourite industry book for the year is DNA: The Secret of Life by James Watson from 2003. “It marked the 50 Anniversary of the Nobel Prize-winning discovery that changed our world and spawned the biotechnology industry. Watson, along with Francis Crick discovered the double helix structure of DNA and paved the way for ‘explosive scientific achievement of extraordinary importance’. Realising the book was almost 20 years old, it was fascinating to read Watson’s view on the future, which was uncannily close to the mark.”

Lorraine’s best non-industry book is The Uncaged Sky by Kylie Moore-Gilbert, “an extraordinary tale of human spirit in the face of unimaginable adversity, from a woman who lived and worked in my home city.” She is planning to read three books over the summer: Bodies of Light by Jennifer Down, Jesustown by Paul Daley, and Freezing Order by Bill Browder (“I was transfixed by Red Notice, his previous book.”)

Port of Newcastle chair and innovation luminary Professor Roy Green is another who recommends Brad DeLong’s Slouching towards Utopia. “In focusing on the transformative impact of the industrial research lab, the modern corporation and globalisation, primarily driven by ever cheaper transport and communication, DeLong picks up the theme of Bob Gordon’s Rise and Fall of American Growth but with a literary nod to Yeats’ poem holding out the prospect of redemption.”

For works of fiction, Roy says “Cormac McCarthy caught my eye with not one but two new works The Passenger and Stella Maris. I cannot but agree with the reviewer who noted that ‘Nowadays his sentences have the solidity of stones and the clarity of diamonds’.”

Over summer, he says that after devouring Nikki Savva’s inside story of our last unlamented government in Bulldozed (possibly accompanied by a drink or two), he plans to get his teeth into Gary Gerstle’s Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order. “This will complete the trilogy of contributions to economic history, that tell us as much about today’s trials as yesterday’s tribulations.”

Minderoo Fire and Flood Resilience lead Adrian Turner‘s best industry book of the year is Capitalism without Capital by Jonathan Haskel and Stain Westlake. “In 1975, intangible assets accounted for 17 per cent of the market capitalisation of the S&P500, today intangible assets account for 90 per cent of company value. This book is a fascinating and comprehensive account of the rise of intangible assets and the implications for economies. Intangibles are assets are things you cannot touch including knowledge, know-how, brand equity etc. Our economics and policies for managing the world today are still rooted in assumptions of tangible assets and need to be reset. This area will only get more important.”

Adrian’s favourite non-industry book is The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. “After reading this, you will never look at a tree the same way again. The author lays out beautifully how trees communicate with each other underground and above ground via fungi, even communicating impending danger to each other as well supporting each other by creating ‘friendships’. The book also describes how some trees can agree collectively when to bloom to ensure survival. This is a thoroughly enjoyable if not whimsical read that is also incredibly humbling. I highly recommend it.”

He says he will read The Genesis Machine: Our Quest to Rewrite Life in the Age of Synthetic Biology by Amy Webb and Andrew Hessel over the summer. “This book describes the opportunities and risks associated with Synthetic Biology (Synbio). Some say that as much as 60 per cent of the world’s GDP inputs into the global economy could, in principal be produced biologically. This is an enormous opportunity for Australia given our strong research sector and track record in biotech.”

The executive chairman of Singapore-based Padang & Co Adam Lyle says the best industry book this year was Speed & Scale : A Global Action Plan for Solving Our Climate Crisis Now by legendary venture capitalist John Doerr, written as a terrific action plan to cut emissions. “He tells it like it is and what needs to be done – now.”

Over the summer Adam is planning to read The Superpower Transformation: Making Australia’s zero-carbon future edited by Ross Garnaut, which builds on his bestseller Superpower, where he outlines Australia’s potential to become an economic superpower. Here Ross Garnaut and contributors share the how.

Adam confesses that he has not read a non-industry book this year. “A self indictment. A sad reminder to do better next year.”

And finally, as I wish everyone a joyful Christmas and New Year season, here are my own favourites for the year:

When McKinsey Comes to Town: The Hidden Influence of the World’s Most Powerful Consulting Firm is a surprisingly detailed expose of terrible behaviour at the secretive global management consultants McKinsey and Co. That’s terrible behaviour in a business-as-usual kind of way. I also loved 2018’s Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas.

I enjoyed Beartown by Fredrick Bachman, a novel set in a tiny ice hockey town in remote Sweden which starts with a heinous crime. Bachman is good with exploring human motivation and small-town politics. The book is basically like a novel from Australia’s Chris Hammer – this year I read Hammer’s latest book The Tilt – but with more snow.

Over summer, I will read And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle by Jon Meacham and try to re-establish an understanding of the American experiment. And to draw faith.

Other books I loved this year:

  • Flying Blind – The 737 MAX Tragedy and the Fall of Boeing by Peter Robson. This book chronicles the shockingly bad outcomes of financialisation over engineering for a much-diminished corporate giant.
  • The Lords of Easy Money: How the Federal Reserve Broke the American Economy by Christopher Leonard. This book explains a lot about where the world is right now. Highly recommend.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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