Relax, take it easy: Here’s our Summer Reading List 2021


James Riley
Editorial Director

As readers prepare to tuck into their Christmas pork – especially those lucky Australians who live in a marginal electorate – we bring you tidings of great joy. And also a swag of book recommendations for your reading pleasure over the summer.

This is my final act of the year. When I press ‘publish’ on this story, my work is done for the year. (Unless of course there is some epic ‘taking out the trash’-style Christmas Eve announcement shocker, in which case my collaborators Denham Sadler, Joe Brookes and I will be back on the tools, writing another newsletter).

To all our readers and to everyone in this fabulous Australian innovation ecosystem, have a wonderful break. I hope everyone gets the opportunity to reflect on their successes, and to get re-charged for a very busy 2022.

There is a lot to cheer about in the year that has passed, and so much more to come. I love it that much of this industry is self-driving these days. Wherever possible, no-one is waiting on government. They are just getting on with it, pushing ahead.

Summer reading list 2021

Which does not mean that there isn’t a massive and positive role that government can and should rightfully play. This is where InnovationAus tries to contribute through its reporting.

With an election early in the year, it will be full speed ahead.

InnovationAus publisher Corrie McLeod and I will be moving to Canberra in mid-January with our children (for yes indeed we are married) to set up a home.

I will be working from the Parliamentary Press Gallery, with our National Affairs Editor Denham Sadler working from Canberra during sitting weeks to raise the volume of the national innovation conversation.

Corrie will set up an InnovationAus commercial presence in Canberra, as well as for the broader Hello Espresso companies. The Sydney office will of course remain, and Corrie will be travelling there regularly.

It’s a great privilege to write about Australians doing amazing things.

And so to our summer reading list. Kick back and have a look at the books some of your industry peers loved this year.

The federal Minister for Superannuation, Financial Services and the Digital Economy Jane Hume confesses to being the “most notoriously unreliable member of the most fabulous book group” and that a backlog of books form a tower on her bedside table.

Senator Hume’s summer fiction priorities for the summer are Still Life by Sarah Winman and Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy. For industry-reading, Senator Hume will be taking a look at Invisible Women – Exposing data bias in a world designed for men by Caroline Criado Perez, a book at the intersection of her Digital Economy and Women’s Economic Security portfolios.

Shadow Industry minister Ed Husic says the best industry book he read this year was Scott Galloway’s The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google “on how multinational tech came to dominate in so many countries. While there’s been a lot said and written this year about ‘Big Tech’, I thought this – along with Rana Foroohar’s Don’t Be Evil: The case against Big Tech – were among the more comprehensive pieces to dive into how they came to wield so much influence.

Ed Husic’s favourite non-industry book of the year was Truganini by Cassandra Pybus, which retraces the life of a woman who was one of the last of the Nuenonne clan. “Pybus writes with the personal aspect of being a descendant of colonists who took one of the largest free land grants within the country of that clan,” he sayd.

And over summer? Besides finishing Alec Ross’ The Raging 2020s, and Genius Makers by Cade Metz, I am looking forward to Eric Willmot’s 1987 novel Pemulwuy: The Rainbow Warrior and David Goodhart’s Head Hand Heart.

Verizon’s Asia Pacific regional vice-president Rob Le Busque says his favourite industry book of the year was Negotiating the Nonnegotiable: How to Resolve Your Most Emotionally Charged Conflicts by Daniel Shapiro. This guy is the oracle of negotiation strategy, having advised everyone from hostage negotiators, Fortune 500 CEO’s and even warring heads of state. “This book is essential for anyone who needs to resolve any type of conflict; which is all of us!”

Rob’s best non-industry book is The Premonition: A Pandemic Story by Michael Lewis, one of the great non-fiction writers (Moneyball, The Big Short etc) “This book chronicles a small group of people who anticipated, traced and hunted the Coronavirus. Told in his fast paced and engaging style, this is absolutely a book for the world right now.”

Over summer Rob is going to read Love Stories by Trent Dalton. “I love the genesis of this book; Trent Dalton, (a solid Queenslander), sat outside a train station for two months with a typewriter and asked passers-by to tell him a story about love. It seems to me that after the hardship, stress and worry of the last two years, we could all do with a little more love in our lives.”

Cicada Innovations chief executive officer Sally Ann Williams says her favourite industry book of 2021 was Decoding the World: A Roadmap for the Questioner by Po Bronson and Arvind Gupta. “It’s an adventure of the potential of Deep Tech to solve some of the most pressing problems we face in the world. This is a book of hope and science, not a work of science fiction.”

Sally’s favourite non-industry book is Upstream: How to Solve Problems Before They Happen by Dan Heath. “It’s a book that moves your thinking from one of continually responding to crises and challenges to one that moves your thinking upstream to challenge and fix the systems that cause the problems.”

Squiz founder and executive chairman John-Paul Syriatowicz says the best book he can recommend this year is Soil by Matthew Evans: “I’ve got into regenerative farming, the capacity to meaningfully mitigate the impact of climate change by sequestering carbon in the soil by making some relatively minor changes to farming practices. I’m implementing those practices at my farm in the Hunter.”

JP says Sam Elsom, the CEO of Sea Forest – one of the Australian Hero award recipients in 2021 – is a part of this picture.

Rachael Falk is the CEO of the Cyber Security CRC says Artificial Intelligence, Robots and the Law by Australian academics Prof Lyria Bennett Moses and Michael Guihot “definitely appealed to the lawyer in me. The book unpacks critical ethical and legal issues associated with AI and robots and helps explain the application of law to new and emerging circumstances in areas such as tort, criminal and contract law.”

Rachael say easily the best non-industry book she read this year was Gotta Get Theroux This: My Life and Strange Times in Television by Louis Theroux. Over summer, Barack Obama’s A Promised Land. But she says the thing she will keep returning to is the Reform of Australia’s electronic surveillance framework Discussion Paper recently released by Home Affairs.

“A bit sad, I know, but this review, that comes off the back of the Richardson Review’s recommendations, will help inform the most significant reforms to Australia’s surveillance laws in decades,” she says.

Technology Council of Australia chief executive Kate Pounder recommends Buy now, Pay Later: The extraordinary story of Afterpay by James Eyers and Jonathan Shapiro as a well-researched and punchily written account of Afterpay’s founding and growth,” as well as how regulatory frameworks can adapt with new business models and technologies.”

On the non-industry side, she recommends Lead from the Outside by Stacy Abrams, a leadership book for people from non-traditional leadership backgrounds. “It’s based on Abrams incredible personal story of rising from a poor family to become the leader of opposition in the Georgian legislature, a successful lawyer, entrepreneur and writer, as well as famously and successfully tackling voter suppression in the US,” she says.

Port of Newcastle chair and UTS emeritus professor Roy Green recommends Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism by Mariana Mazzucato.

“Mazzucato argues that it is only public institutions in partnership with but not in thrall to the private sector that can set ambitious long-term goals and missions like the early moonshots to transform our economy and society, and indeed to build an efficient and equitable healthcare system capable of dealing with the very challenges we now face,” Roy says.

Roy says his favourite non-industry book was Stalin’s Wine Cellar by John Baker and Nick Place – a ripping yarn about “a couple of adventurous Double Bay wine merchants in search of Czar Nicholas II’s opulent wine cellar, which was said to be transferred during the war by Stalin ahead of advancing German troops for ‘safe-keeping’.” A hugely enjoyable real life detective story, he says.

Over summer he is reading Innovation in Real Places: Strategies for Prosperity in an Unforgiving World by Dan Breznitz, a book written from the premise “ that ‘cities and regions have wasted trillions of dollars on blindly copying the Silicon Valley model of growth creation’.”

Adrian Beer is the CEO of the industry growth centre METS Ignited, focused on new innovation and new value in the mining equipment, technology and services sector. The best book he read this year was The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail by Clayton Christensen.

“In line with trying to uncover why great innovation often fails to reach the market, and yet great innovative companies lose the innovative engine which has been our theme this year. Greatest value was around traditional business models and the markets they serve, vs keeping up with change. An important piece of the commercialisation puzzle.”

Adrian’s favourite non-industry book was Jacinda Ardern, by Michelle Duff, saying there is a lot to be gained from her story, and from the insights into her personal values. Over the summer Adrian will be reading A life on our planet by David Attenborough. He hat-tips Beth Comstock for this recommendation and has been waiting for enough timeout and headspace to fully absorb this book.

The Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre chief executive Jens Goennenmann was reminded in a Spiegel Online article what a great book Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom is. “Given the ‘Great Resignations’ (which I am not buying) and people post-Covid reflecting and seeking purpose, this is a highly relevant book I find,” Jens says.

“Another very good one is Prisoners of Geography: 10 Maps That Explain Everything About the World by Tim Marshall. It helps to understand why certain countries and their leaders do what they do.”

And finally, here are my recommendations.

Bean Counters: The triumph of accountants and how they broke capitalism by Richard Brooks tells the story of the rise of the Big Four accountancy firms and their move into management consulting and professional services. We spent a lot of 2021 writing about the over-reliance of government on outside consultants and the hollowing out of public sector capability. This book is eye-popping. Power Play: Elon Musk, Tesla and the bet of the century by Tim Higgins is also terrific.

For a non-industry book, Car Crash: A Memoir by Lech Blaine is a superbly written portrait of life and death, and grief, and youth and coming-of-age growth. It is insightful on class in Australia and our social constructs. This is a great companion read to Blaine’s Quarterly Essay, Top Blokes: The larrikin myth, class and power. Lech Blaine is an incredible young writer. Literally stunning.

A couple of other books I loved this year were Empire of Pain – The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe (it’s eye-popping) and An Ugly Truth – Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination by Sheera Frenkel and Cecelia Kang (also amazing).

Over summer I will be reading Sean Kelly’s The Game: A Portrait of Scott Morrison.

That’s all for 2021. Merry Christmas everyone. Have an inspired and safe holiday season.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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