Relax! Your 2023 Summer Reading List has arrived 😊

James Riley
Editorial Director

Ho, ho, ho dear readers, it’s time for my favorite column of the year. In the past month, we have sent an army of email elves to the far-flung reaches of the Australian continent in search of book recommendations.

We have interrogated leaders and luminaries from across the different parts of our beautiful and complex innovation landscape. From government ministers and institutional researchers to startup CEOs and business leaders, we have got an incredible mix of views and interested represented here.

The Summer Reading List is the best-read story of the year, and in 2023 the list is a stunner. So relax everyone, we’ve got your summer holidays all sorted!

Every year in December we ask a bunch of leaders three simple questions:

  • What was the best industry book you read in 2023?
  • What was the best non-industry book (fiction or non-fiction) book of 2023?
  • What do you plan to read over the summer break?

We have included the list of 19 people that have provided recommendations at the top to make it easier to find your peeps. These are all incredibly interesting and accomplished people. I love hearing what kind of books they’re into.

I am going to start with recommendations of my own. But before I do, I wanted to wish all of our readers a happy and hopefully relaxing Christmas and New Year holiday. And thank you all for the energy and enthusiasm that you put into Australia’s tech and innovation system, making its such a great place to be a reporter.

You’re all legends. Enjoy your downtime.

Ok, off we go. I will get the ball rolling with my own recommendations.

My favourite industry book of the year was Elon Musk by Walter Isaacson. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Yes, the SpaceX founder is complex, and yes he is polarising. But he is absolutely the entrepreneur of his generation. This book puts three-dimensional context to a man who is often portrayed as a cartoon.

For me, the best non-industry book this year was The Fall: The End of the Murdoch Empire by Michael Wolff. The Fall is a razor sharp dissection of the Murdoch empire and the intrigue of succession “planning”. Speaking of which, the narrator in the Audible version of this book sounds like Roman Roy from the popular TV show Succession, which is hilarious and adds layers to its appeal.

Over the summer, I will be reading Your Face Belongs to Us: The Secretive Startup Dismantling Your Privacy by Kashmir Hill, which explores the controversial US facial recognition startup Clearview AI, founded by Australian entrepreneur Hoan Ton-That.

The full list of our contributors for this year’s Summer Reading List. You can find their recommendations in the story below:

  • Minister Ed Husic, Minister for Industry and Science, Australian Government
  • Deputy Premier Susan Close, Deputy Premier, Minister for Education and Minister for Innovation, South Australian Government
  • Minister Anoulack Chanthivong, Minister for Innovation, Science and Technology, NSW Government
  • Senator Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Manufacturing, Assistant Minister for Trade
  • Kate Pounder, CEO, Technology Council of Australia
  • Toby Walsh, Chief Scientist at UNSW’s AI Institute; Laureate Fellow UNSW
  • Kersti Eesmaa, Ambassador of Estonia to Australia
  • Andrew Dzurak, CEO & Founder, Diraq
  • Dr Sarah Jones, CEO, Sydney School of Entrepreneurship
  • Professor Nicholas Opie, founding director, Synchron
  • Professor Emily Hilder, Head of Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator (ASCA), Department of Defence
  • Doug Hilton, CEO, CSIRO
  • Dr Cathy Foley, Australian Government Chief Scientist
  • Rob Le Busque, Regional Vice-President, Asia-Pacific, Verizon Business Group
  • Tanya Monro, Chief Defence Scientist, Department of Defence
  • Sandy Plunkett, Industry consultant and author
  • April Parmerlee, CEO, American Chamber of Commerce in Australia
  • Abu Odigie, Founder & CEO, Tendertrace
  • Adam Gilmour, CEO, Gilmour Space Technologies
  • Bronwyn Le Grice, CEO, ANDHealth
  • Julia Spicer, Queensland Chief Entrpreneur

Leading off our Summer Reading List is the nation’s industry leader, federal Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic, who has put forward two recommendations for best industry book of the year.

“I loved Kate Crawford’s Atlas Of AI, which has some critical perspectives on the topic of the year,” Mr Husic said.

“[And then], after reading Chris Miller’s Chip War (who didn’t read it?), I got the notion to then read Only The Paranoid Survive, by former Intel chief executive, Andy Grove.”

“While largely focusing on how he and Gordon Moore had to make big calls shifting the direction of Intel, it was really interesting to compare his takes and predictions on the direction of technology to where we’ve landed. Very impressive.”

Mr Husic has put forward three non-industry books: Fallen Idols by Alex Von Tunzelmann; Madam Speaker by Susan Page and The Rise (of Kobe Bryant) by Mike Sielski.

And over the summer the Minister says that he is “always grateful for book recommendations, so I’m keen to power through Sally Williams’ recommended Innovation in Real Places by Dan Breznitz, and new CSIRO chief Doug Hilton’s recommendation of Joel Gertner’s The Idea Factory, focused on the impact of Bell Labs on American innovation.”

South Australian Deputy Premier and Minister for Innovation Susan Close says the best industry book she read this year was Doppelganger by Naomi Klein.

“This book is a challenge to all of us who operate in the social media environment – and who are affected by the attitudes of those who do,” Ms Close said.

“Irritated by being mistaken for Naomi Wolf by online commentators outraged by the latter’s views, Naomi Klein explores the mirror world to traditional communication, one where strangers interact anonymously, frequently untethered from standards of truth, evidence and civility, and thereby shape governments, scientific endeavor, health policy and technological developments.”

The deputy premier’s best non-industry book was Dead in the Water by Richard Beasley: “This was my top-reread this year. A simultaneously angry, hilarious and forensically accurate book about the plight of the Murray-Darling Basin and the appalling political decisions that placed its sustainability at risk, this is my top recommendation to anyone interested in the environment, politics or humour.”

Over the summer, Ms Close will read The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, because it is “full of astonishing facts about the way forests are a social network of trees communicating with and supporting each other, it promises to be a reminder of the wonder of nature.”

The NSW Minister for Industry and Trade and Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation Anoulack Chanthivong’s favourite book in 2023 was Survival of the City by Ed Glaesar and David Cutler. “As the title suggests, it’s about how global cities thrive, survive or decline.”

Minister Chanthivong recommends Ghost Empire by Richard Fidler as a non-industry book: “A personal journey telling the rich history of the Byzantine Empire centred around the ancient city of Constantinople or modern day Istanbul.”

Over the summer, he plans to read The Abuse of Power: Confronting injustice in public life by former British Prime Minister Theresa May.

The federal Assistant Minister for Trade and Assistant Minister for Manufacturing Senator Tim Ayres recommends a page-turner from the Centre for Economic Policy Research titled New Economics of Industry Policy by Dani Rodrik, Reka Juhasz and Nathan Lane as his industry book of the year, and puts forward The White Girl by Tony Birch as his favourite non-industry book.

Over the summer, Senator Ayres has two books on his reading list: The Big Con by Mariana Mazzucato and Rosie Cottington, and Rory Medcalf’s The Contest for the Indo Pacific.

Tech Council of Australia chief executive Kate Pounder is a prolific reader. She has put forward three favourites for 2023: Power and Prediction by Ajay Agrawal, Joshua Gans, Avi Goldfarb; Rebooting AI by Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis; and Chip War by Chris Miller.

“These three books together shaped my thinking on AI. Power and Prediction is good for understanding the relationship between AI and productivity, Rebooting AI was helpful to ground truth the technical capability and limitations of AI technologies, and Chip War contextualised the supply chains and geopolitics shaping AI development,” Ms Pounder said.

She recommends Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin as 2023’s best non-industry book (I agree, it is fabulous). “It’s a smart, funny novel about the relationships formed building a startup. Billed as a love story but not a romance, it brilliantly captures the energy, creativity and tension that define these relationships,” she says.

And finally, Ms Pounder says she plans to read Cogs and Monsters by Diane Coyle, a book on the future of economics in the context of digital innovation.

UNSW’s AI Institute Chief Scientist and Laureate Fellow Professor Toby Walsh says the best industry book he read this year was Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology and Prosperity by Daron Acemoglu and Simon Johnson.

“This is a bold and meaty book that looks at a thousand years of history, showing that progress depends on the choices we make about how we use new technology,” Professor Walsh says. “Technological change can either serve the narrow interests of an elite or become the foundation for widespread prosperity. It’s up to us. Funny enough, that’s the message from my new book too!”

His best non-industry book is The Hummingbird Effect by Kate Mildenhall, “a fascinating novel that will leave you a little disturbed. It explores the future of humanity through the lives of some amazing women, zeroing in on issues around capitalism, AI and violence.”

Over the summer, the Professor is going to read Tim Winton’s Blueback. “I expect it will make me sad for what we are doing to this beautiful planet we happen to share with all the other life.”

Ambassador Kersti Eesmaa is the representative of Estonia to Australia, based in Canberra. Estonia is of course the best practice leader in all things digital, so it is no surprise that the Ambassador’s favourite industry book was Digital Government Excellence: Lessons from Effective Digital Leaders by Siim Sikkut.

“We often tend to think that successful digital transformation depends on availability of money and technology. That’s wrong! This book demonstrates that more than anything, it takes excellent leadership,” Ambassador Eesmaa said.

The best non-industry book of the year was Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, “a must-read for all the young women out there who may be struggling to prove that our brains function equally to that of the opposite sex.”

Over the summer, the Ambassador will read The Sound of One Hand Clapping by Richard Flanagan. The Ambassador is making her first-ever trip to Tasmania and says that with a little bit more time on her hands “I always try to find a book that is connected to my destination”.

Professor Andrew Dzurak is an ARC Laureate Fellow and UNSW and the founder and CEO at the quantum company Diraq. Given his special interest in building a quantum based on standard silicon chip-making techniques, it is not surprising he loved Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology by Chris Miller.

“Besides being one of the best reviews of the development of the semiconductor industry from the 1950s to the present, it describes the geopolitical impacts of semiconductor technology – from the past – to the present day,” Professor Dzurak said.

“The CHIPS Act handed down by the Biden administration last year is just the latest in the decades-long effort to control the balance of “semiconductor power” in the world. As CEO of a company developing the new technology of quantum computing, these lessons from history are well worth understanding.”

The best non-industry book was Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen: “I’ve been a Boss fan since I was a teenager, so this had been on my list for a long time.” And over summer the Professor plans to read A Promised Land by Barack Obama.

Sydney School of Entrepreneurship chief executive Dr Sarah Jones’ favourite industry book for 2023 is When Brains Meet Buildings: A conversation Between Neuroscience and Architecture by Michael A. Arbib.

“This book brings a valuable perspective of the interplay between the architectural environment and human beings, exploring the design and experience of architecture in relation to perception, memory, imagination, and emotion,” Dr Jones said. “Some good tips for our urban planners, architects and politicians to ponder!”

Dr Jones’ best non-industry book is The Tall Man: Death and Life on Palm Island by Chloe Hooper: “An intelligently sensitive and nuanced inquiry into the nature of the death of Aboriginal man Cameron Doomadgee on Palm Island in 2004, and the world in which that death takes place. A powerful book and a provocation to action; especially when read in the context of the (now failed) Referendum.”

Over summer, Dr Jones has two books she wants to read: Supernatural Environments in Shakespeare’s England: Spaces of Demonism, Divinity, and Drama, by Kirsten Poole and Nature and Economic Society: A Classical-Keynesian Synthesis, by Tony Aspromourgos.

“Both books invite exploration of human interactions with space, place, and identity, and the environment and nature,” she said.

Professor Nicholas Opie, the founding director at brain-human interface startup Synchron, says the best industry book of 2023 was former Australian Government chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel’s Powering Up.

“Great read on the current state of climate change technologies and what we need to do to transition to clean energy. Sure, we have a lot to do, but I was impressed and encouraged by what Australia has done so far,” Professor Opie said.

The year’s best non-industry book was Everyone On This Train is a Suspect by Benjamin Stevenson, he says: “Highly enjoyable and entertaining book that I couldn’t put down. Original and humorous writing style with great characters and twists”

Over the summer, Professor Opie is going to revisit some science fiction classics: Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, Philip K Dick’s Collected Short Stories, and the HG Wells’ Collection.

“I’ll head back in time and read a bunch of books from sci-fi. Great stories to escape to a place that doesn’t (yet) exist. Might even learn a few things about the future while I’m there,” he said.

The Department of Defence’s interim Head of the Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator (ASCA) Professor Emily Hilder’s favourite book this year was The Origins of Victory: How Disruptive Military Innovation Determines the Fates of Great Powers by Andrew Krepinevich.

“Not just relevant to the US military but also to the Australian context, through historical case studies Krepinevich challenges how embracing disruptive innovation will allow militaries to gain asymmetric advantage,” Professor Hilder said.

The best non-industry book for the year was Lola in the Mirror by Trent Dalton, she says. “This book took me on an exhilarating emotional rollercoaster ride that I didn’t want to end. Dark, challenging, humorous and ultimately a story of hope for the future.”

Over summer, Professor Hilder will be reading Question 7 by Richard Flanagan. “A story of love and chain reactions, a melding of dream, history, place and memory set partially in the wilderness of Tasmania that will always be home to me. Flanagan is one of my favourite authors and I’ve been looking forward to this book for some time.”

The national science agency CSIRO’s chief executive Dr Doug Hilton’s best industry book of the year was The ‘First Knowledges’ series, edited by Margo Neale, the Indigenous curator at the National Museum of Australia.

“This might not be an ‘industry’ book in the traditional sense but I’m in awe of a people who have thrived on this land for millennia by doing science – asking questions of the universe about them, seeking answers through observing the natural world, the relationships between animals, plants, place and time, and refining and communicating those answers in ways that transcend generations and allow communities to flourish,” Dr Hilton said.

“When, as researchers or academics or innovators, we consider impact, that to me is the benchmark.”

Dr Hilton’s best non-industry book for the year was Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi, which he describes as a beautiful, gentle, hopeful book built around the simple, yet not so simple question: What would you change if you could go back in time?

“This book really got me thinking about some of those moments I wished had turned out differently, but also the generosity of people you meet along the way, who owe you nothing, yet have a big impact on your life,” he said.

Dr Hilton is planning to read A Clear Flowing Yarra – Visions of Melbourne’s river as it is and could be by Harry Saddler over summer. “I grew up on, in and around the Yarra in Warrandyte, 30 kms or so from Melbourne, and in a way, it shaped me just as it has shaped the landscape and community. This book is a sort of love letter to the river.”

The Australian Government Chief Scientist Dr Cathy Foley says she read many great books this year, but the standout was Olive Kitteridge, by US author Elizabeth Strout. The book is set in a fictional Maine town and follows its residents’ lives through the eyes of a retired schoolteacher who is grumpy and not particularly nice – because she’s honest.

“It brings out the idea of the importance of authenticity in relationships and to avoid being insincere while appearing nice,” Dr Foley said. “Olive cuts through with her honesty to positively impact on peoples’ lives when they are at their lowest.”

Over the summer, she plans to read The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams. “I saw the Sydney Theatre Company production last month and loved it!

The Dictionary of Lost Words centres on the experiences of Esme Nicholl in Victorian England. Her father is working with a team on the first edition Oxford English Dictionary and as she watches him work feels compelled to save the words left out, forgotten, or not considered worthy of inclusion by the men compiling it.

“It made me realise how bias is so deeply embedded in society. And makes me wonder how we will manage generative AI, a contemporary equivalent which also has bias from those who created it,” Dr Foley said.

Verizon Business Group regional vice-president Asia Pacific Rob Le Busque is another who put Chip War: The fight for the world’s most critical technology by Chris Miller at the top of his industry book favourites. (It’s true, this is an incredible book.)

“Future wars, technological advancement and prosperity could all come down to nanometers. This is an enthralling read about the history and the future of the silicon chip industry,” Mr Le Busque said. “Essential reading for anyone in the tech or AI sector. Turns out, a distance little more than the size of a virus is where all the action is!”

His best non-industry book is Lola in the Mirror by Trent Dalton (like Rob, a Queenslander). “This is a driving and empathetic story of love, loss, family, identity and class set in modern Brisbane,” he said.

“The story also sits against a backdrop of the modern scourge of our cities and towns; the housing crisis. An excellent example of art and narrative crafting serious social comment and creating a platform for serious discourse.”

Over the summer, Rob Le Busque will be reading Ten Remarkable Australians by former federal Industry minister Ian Macfarlane.

A series of biographical essays about Australians who made their mark on the world but have since been forgotten,” he said. “Unabashedly Australian with small bite sized chapters, this looks like a perfect summer read and it’s written by a former governor of the reserve bank – what more would you ask for!”

Chief Defence Scientist Professor Tanya Monro’s favourite industry book in 2023 was Toolkit for Turbulence by Graham Winter and Martin Bean: “Three-time chief psychologist for the Australian Olympic Team Graham Winter and former vice-chancellor of RMIT Martin Bean explore how leaders help their organisations navigate through turbulent times and adapt at pace.”

“The book provides some gripping stories as well as very practical tools, and it was a privilege to play a small role in its creation.

Professor Monro is another Kawaguchi fan. Her favourite non-industry book was Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi.

“This is the first book in a four-book series which explores time travel in the context of Japanese society,” she said. “It’s a touching exploration of human connection through short stories that ponder the question Kawaguchi asks: ‘Who would you visit if you could travel through time?’.”

Over the summer Professor Monro will be reading Directed Energy System Performance by Graham Weinberg.

“Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG) is full of extraordinary scientists, typically working on highly classified research to support the Australian Defence Force,” she said. “So, when one of those scientists publishes a book, it’s a wonderful opportunity to get immersed in the frontier of Defence science. This book explores the performance required from directed energy systems to neutralise uncrewed systems and swarms.”

Sandy Plunkett is an industry consultant and author, who has worked over a long career in the tech sector starting as a reporter and editor for business magazines, and as a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley.

She contributes insightful industry columns to Sandy’s has put forward a best and worst industry book of the year. The best is Walter Isaacson’s Elon Musk and the worst is Michael Lewis’ Going Infinite: The rise and Fall of a New Tycoon.

The best non-industry book Sandy recommends is End Times by Peter Churchin. (This is an amazing book that I read at Sandy’s suggestion – it is confronting. If you want to know what happens to societies with an “over-supply of elites” this book will tell you. It’s very good. Somewhat scary.)

And over Christmas? “On my Xmas List is the fictional novel, Trust by Hernan Diaz – ‘a sweeping, unpredictable novel about power, wealth and truth, set against the backdrop of a turbulent 1920s New York’,” she says.

American Chamber of Commerce in Australia (AmCham) chief executive April Palmerlee says that hands-down the winner for best industry book of the year – or ever, she says – is Freedom’s Forge by Arthur Herman.

“The author engagingly describes how the Allies were propelled to victory by the ‘arsenal of democracy’ – businesses across America, led by automobile magnate William Knudsen and shipbuilder Henry J. Kaiser,” Ms Palmerlee says.

The best non-industry book for 2023 she says was A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell. “The subject of this gripping book is Virginia Hall, dubbed ‘the most dangerous of all Allied spies’ by the Gestapo.”

“A socialite from my home state of Maryland, she didn’t let her prosthetic leg or the lack of women deployed behind enemy lines deter her from leading the French resistance in a victorious guerilla campaign.”

And over summer? The Bill of Obligations: The Ten Habits of Good Citizens, by Richard Haass: “I am intrigued by his hypothesis that American have spent too much time securing the rights of individuals and not enough on promoting their duties as citizens.”

Procurement data intelligence startup Tendertrace’s founder and chief executive Abu Odigie says the best industry book this year was Kick Some SaaS by Stewart Marshall.

“Kick Some SaaS has been a game-changer for me this year. Running a SaaS startup is no joke, and the book has been like my go-to guide,” Mr Odigie says. “Stewart gets right into the nitty-gritty of what it’s like for us SaaS founders and gives some killer advice on tackling those tough challenges. It’s been pretty much glued to my hand these past months!”

The best non-industry book? Number9Dream by David Mitchell. “It’s got this Murakami vibe, with its non-linear storytelling about a son in search of his dad he never knew. Reading it hit close to home, helping me deal with my dad’s passing a couple of years back.”

Over the summer Mr Odigie will be reading Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami.

“On meeting my goal of reading all of Murakami’s translated books, I somehow missed Hard-Boiled Wonderland. The novel is all about the weird and wonderful mishmash themes of reality, subconsciousness and metaphysics. My kind of novel!”

It is hardly a surprise that Gilmour Space Technologies chief executive officer Adam Gilmour’s favourite book for 2023 would follow a celestial theme: He liked When Heavens the Went On Sale by Ashlee Vance, a book that tracks the rapid development of the commercial launch industry.

“A very entertaining read and I related a lot of the problems the other space companies found on their journey,” he says.

Adam has had a busy year. He’s a couple of months away from the launch of Gilmour Space Technologies first orbital test flight from its facility near Bowen, in Queensland. He says he hasn’t read a non-industry book.

But over the Christmas break he intends reading The Premonition by Michael Lewis. “A really interesting read about the discovery of the COVID-19 outbreak from before it even started,” he says.

ANDHealth chief executive Bronwyn Le Grice recommends Invent and Wander by Jeff Bezos.

“As someone with career-long interest in the relationships between companies and their investors, Bezos’ shareholder letters are a masterclass in investor relations and long-term strategy,” Bronwyn says. “Plus, there’s lots of learnings for leaders from the Amazon journey – and Jeff’s personal journey – around people, decision making and culture.”

She says the best non-industry book for 2023 was Ben Macintyre’s A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal. “The espionage stories of World War II are almost universally a case of truth being stranger than fiction.

“I came across this book and then binge-read everything written by Ben Macintyre who takes meticulously researched facts and presents them in un-put-downable prose.”

Over the summer it’s back to business. Bronwyn says she plans to read Move Fast and Fix Things: The Trusted Leader’s Guide to Solving Hard Problems by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss.

“If you’ve listened to the Fixable podcast, you would know Frances & Anne have a unique way of breaking down the challenges faced by leaders and organisations,” she said.

“Moving fast is usually associated with breaking things, so, as someone who tends to move at speed, I’m keen to understand their theory of moving swiftly and with urgency to improve outcomes.”

Our final book recommendations for 2023 come from Queensland Chief Entrepreneur Julia Spicer, who puts forward Chapter One: You have the Power to Change Stuff by Daniel Flynn as her industry book of the year and Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking can Save the World by Tyson Yunkaporta

Her best non-industry book of the year was Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus: “I loved the book and very much looking forward to the screen adaptation,” Julia says.

Over the summer Julia Spicer intends reading Head & Heart: The Art of Modern Leadership by Kirstin Ferguson.

That’s a wrap! I hope you are inspired to put your feet up and bury your head in a book. To all of our readers and partners, we wish you a peaceful and relaxing Christmas and New Year.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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