Summer reading: An ultimate list

James Riley
Editorial Director

Ho Ho Ho and Merry Christmas to all fellow travellers and happy campers! May you all get the holiday break you deserve after a hilarious and ridiculously busy 2017.

So much has happened in our industry that I can’t even remember what life looked like last January. Yes I know we’re all still talking about the same things – 457s, R&D Tax Incentives, NISA, digital transformation – but somehow it’s all different.

Same issues, I suppose, but we have new Ministers. So let’s start a whole new conversation.

All that’s left to do for the year is build a fence around the banana lounge to keep the kids out, and to fire up the blender to keep the mango cocktails on high rotation. And, of course, to crack open the books that have been sitting lonely on the shelf waiting for attention.

Before I launch into the recommendations, I will simply say thank you to all of our readers, to all of our policy-makers, to all of our parliamentarians, to our entrepreneurs, to our industry groups, to our luminaries and bright lights, and to our worker bees. Thank you everyone.

Yes, I know we have made some of you cranky at times. This is sometimes what happens. But in our defence I will simply say that we try to take the job seriously, and we endeavour to play a positive and constructive role in the Australian tech and innovation sectors.

It is easy to get lost in the detail of the day-to-day, and in the political fights to accompany the development of the industry. It is easy to lose sight of the big picture.

So in case we don’t point to the positives enough at, let us be clear on this last working day of the year: This is a remarkable industry full of extraordinary people that have made incredible strides in the past several years. The momentum that is building cannot be overstated.

All of us want it to be better, to continue to get stronger. As participants in this industry, we all know what’s at stake here.

But we can look back on 2017 with justifiable pride at a lot of hard work and some significant wins. As Ian Dury and his Blockhead mates used to say, there are reasons to be cheerful.

Of course it’s not enough. It never is. There is always another door to kick down tomorrow, and more names to take. But at the end of this immensely productive year, let’s celebrate the individuals and the companies that totally kicked arse.

You know who they are. Everyone has their favourites. Let’s produce more of them in 2018.

And so to the Summer Reading. I asked a bunch of tech industry luminaries three questions: What was the best industry book you read this year? What are you reading right now (and is it any good)? What are you looking forward to reading over Christmas?

Former Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation Angus Taylor got a promotion this week, rewarded with a full Ministry – for Law Enforcement and Cyber Security – in the Home Affairs super-portfolio.

The best industry book he read this year was The Square and the Tower by Niall Ferguson. He has given up on typical business books, having read too many as a management consultant. “The book is primarily historical, focused on how networks have driven major catalytic changes throughout history, including the modern social networks like Facebook and Twitter.”

The Minister is currently reading Phantom Terror by Adam Zamoyski, which tracks the use of propaganda, and other means, to control the masses in the wake of the French Revolution. He hasn’t decided what to get into over Christmas, but as an avid e-book reader, says he will be looking for inspiration in this column.

The shadow minister for the digital economy and employment services Ed Husic says he hasn’t read as much as he would have liked this year “but the upside is that, realising this, I now have a terrific opener for my 2018 new years’ resolutions.”

Over Christmas he will be ploughing through Steven Johnson’s Wonderland. He says he’s admired Johnson’s previous work and is looking forward to his views about how the pursuit of entertainment has helped fuel innovation and technological change.

He also has The River of Consciousness by Oliver Sacks on the list. “While I can’t wait to read it, it will be tough going knowing this was his final work and the circumstances in which he brought it together.

Finally, Ed wants to read Still lucky by Rebecca Huntley. Drawn from hours of listening to Australian from all walks of life, “I’ve been a big admirer of the way Huntley threads together observations in ways that can be applied practically and beneficially for the country.” And the author’s inate optimism is a treat to read.

Sydney-based incubator BlueChilli’s chief executive Sebastian Eckersley-Maslin says he finally got around to reading Peter Thiel’s From Zero to One, which he credits with helping think about the BlueChilli business, and “gave me some insights and inspiration in to how we re-structure our programs and process. It was quite instrumental in my changed thinking.”

Right now he is reading Scott Adams’ Win Bigly, “a provocative dissection of the psychology and tactics used by the Trump administration to get to power, against all odds.” And finally, Seb says he will be “geeking up” over Christmas, reading up on phased array radar technologies because the company is developing some tech in this area. So he’ll read Prakesh Bhatia’s classic Millimetre Wave Microstrip and Printed Circuit Antennas.

NSW Finance Minister Victor Dominello says he doesn’t have a favourite industry book this year, but has many Google alerts set to his specific areas of interest – currently data, mixed reality and artificial intelligence, among other things. In between Cabinet papers and studying for his Australian Institute of Company Directors course this year, his best book has been Shataram by Gregory David Roberts. Two Thumbs Up.

The Minister says his reading list for Christmas is long. But if he has only one choice, it is A History of Future Cities by Daniel Brook.

Industry commentator and ecosystem expert Sandy Plunkett takes her reading seriously and says The Elements of Power – Gadgets, Guns and the Struggle for a Sustainable Future in the Rare Metal Age by David S. Abraham is the best industry book she’s curled up with this year. “It’s an insider’s exploration of the role of rare metals in today’s tech and a view into the largely secret supply chains behind their extraction, sale and distribution.”

Under the heading of one is never enough, Sandy also highly recommends Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of the New Renaissance by Chris Kutarna and Ian Goldin – a terrific blending of history and futurism and a study of how disruption has been with us many times before.

Right now Sandy is reading Stephen Fry’s Mythos. She says A condensed flavour of this book was heralded in a speech Fry gave earlier this year at the Hay Festival. Over Christmas she will read Masha Gesson’s The Future is History – How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. Also planning to re-read William Golding’s Lord of the Flies because “I want my son to read it too.”

CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall says he’s been reading “too many briefs, and not enough books lately,” but did find time to re-read The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen and will read The Department of Mad Scientists by Michael Belfiore over Christmas.

He has also recommended a grab-bag of books for readers. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell is a great non-STEM book, Inside the Tornado by Geoffrey Moore is an excellent innovation management read, and Good to Great by Jim Collins on building excellence.

Larry also says his National Press Club address this year is worth a look!

Data61’s thoughtful chief executive officer Adrian Turner is recommending Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil – “There is a backlash brewing around the world against the global platform companies and their algorithmic decision making that impact our lives. I sense a shift coming, lots of opportunities.”

Adrian is currently reading Leonardo Da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson because he is fascinated by people who can traverse art and science. Over Christmas he is going to read Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson a favourite sci-fi author.

He is also looking forward to reading Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend. “My tween daughter is raving about it as the best book she’s ever read. For someone who reads several books a week and has read the Harry Potter series several times over, there’s something special here.”

PwC’s Asia Pacific Cyber Lead Steve Ingram recommends Nelson Mandela’s autobiography The Long Walk To Freedom as a leadership essential. “If only more of our business and political leaders could be half the Statesperson that Mandela was – you don’t need to always show personal victory. Victory at a higher level has a far greater and more positive societal impact.”

Over summer Steve says he will be reading Letters to my Teenage Self by Grace Halphen. “Times have changed and I need to keep mentally in touch with Ryan and Sara, my teenage children.” And as a must read, he recommends people have a look at PwC’s Cloudhopper Report because “we are in a new world and need to stay abreast of unlawful trends.” It’s an eye-popper on the subject of cyber espionage.

The Digital Transformation Agency’s Gavin Slater is recommending one article and one lecture instead of an industry book. Do yourselves a favour, he says, and read We stopped the conversation for two decades – AI is bringing it back by Marie Johnson, and listen to Genevieve Bell’s Boyer lecture Fast, smart and connected – how to build our digital future.

Right now Gavin is Finding Gobi by Dion Leonard. A cool book about human endeavour and resilience plus the added benefit of stopping at nothing to chase something you treasure….in this case a stray dog!

Over the Chrismas break he will re-read Tuesday’s with Morrie by Mitch Albom. “Perspective is one of my favourite words and this book offers it in spades.”

New South Wales Small Business Commissioner Robyn Hobbs doesn’t have an industry book recommendation. But she is a book lover – and has a heap of suggestions. She says A Question of Trust by Penny Vincenzi a wonderful story set around Word War II with lots of twists and turns and perfect for lazy reading.

The Attachment by Ailsa Piper and Father Tony Doherty is a charming series of letters between two people which developed into a wonderful friendship, and she will be reading The Epic City – The World on the Streets of Calcutta by Kushan Nava Choudhury because “I am holidaying in India in February and visiting Calcutta.”

Robyn says “this is an eclectic list, but all interesting!”

Former Assistant Minister for Innovation and current general manager of AI leader Afiniti Wyatt Roy is recommending Rise of the Machines – The lost history of Cybernetics by Thomas Rid as his must-read industry book.

Right now Wyatt is reading The Path to Power by Robert A.Caro, the first in an excellent series on President Lyndon Johnson. Over Christmas, he says he will be reading The Rainforest, by Victor w. Hwang and Greg Horowitt – a seminal book on developing innovation ecosystems.

And as a bonusm, for George Megalogenis fans (as Wyatt is one) he recommends The Longest Decade, an excellent account of Australia’s economic story.

Hypereal co-founder, Stone and Chalk expert-in-resident and former Digital Transformation Office CEO Paul Shetler also recommends Zero to One, by Peter Thiel. “I don’t normally read books on startups, and got this one a few years ago when I visited Palantir. I finally got around to reading it on the plane to London and wished I had read it earlier.”

Paul is currently Christ’s Resurrection in Early Christianity and the Making of the New Testament, by Markus Vinzent, and says if you are interested in the early Church, development of canon, Marcion and the emergence of Christianity, then this is a great read.

Over the summer he will be reading Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency, by Joshua Green.

The Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer Michelle Blum is offering an Iraeli flavour for industry book. Let There Be Water by Seth M. Siegel is an amazing story of how a tiny state that 60 per cent desert, has been leading the world in water innovation for decades and now exports more than $US2 billion in water-related tech annually.

Right now Michelle is reading Caroline Chisholm – an Irresistible Force, By Sarah Goldman – a fantastic biography of an extraordinary female leader and social activist in colonial Australia.

Over Christmas she is looking forward to Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari. After reading his first fascinating book Sapiens earlier this year, Harari’s second book has been sitting on my bedside table for too many months!

Uniseed investment manager Natasha Rawlings says the best industry book she read this year was How to Lead a Quest by Jason Fox. “It’s a recipe book for corporate innovation, witty and fun and truthful (after having been in startup and corporate innovation it really made a lot of sense to me.”

Natasha says she’s not reading a book right now, as she’s been doing a company director’s course. But over Christmas she is going to be reading The Uterus is a Feature Not a Bug by Pando’s Sarah Lacy, and recommended by Elaine Stead and ordered from Amazon.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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