Summer Reading Bonanza 2019

James Riley
Editorial Director

Ho Ho Ho merry readers and welcome to your ultimate guide to summer reading. It’s bloody hot outside Australia! So keep yourselves well hydrated – I recommend mango daiquiris – grab a book, and let the chillax creep in.

It is a pleasure writing for InnovationAus. I love the work and I am incredibly grateful to have to opportunity to interact with an amazing bunch of committed Australians pushing ahead with ambition, toiling away at their own personal innovation agendas.

There is amazing talent in this country and tremendous goodwill within our innovation ecosystem, with lots of people doing great work across industry and government and academia, from startups to VCs, from student researchers to middle-aged entrepreneurs.

lady reading on beach

It’s time to put the tools down and have a break. InnovationAus will be back in action in the new year. In the meantime I wish all of our readers a Merry Christmas and a wonderful new year.

Give yourselves a pat on the back for the progress we have all made this year, and get yourselves well rested for a massive year for Australia in 2020.

To ease you into your holiday mood, we present InnovationAus’ Fourth Annual Summer Reading List. Enjoy!

We’ll start with a couple of quick ones. Industry Minister Karen Andrews has just read and loved “The First Lady” by James Patterson and recommends this political thriller for summer relaxation. Over the summer she is planning to finish the biography of Neil Armstrong, “First Man” by James R. Hansen. Given the Minister is responsible for the Australian Space Agency – and following her recent visit to NASA – it’s got an added layer of excitement!

Shadow innovation minister Clare O’Neil says that “Educated” by Tara Westover was the best book that she has read this year (a book that made Bill Gates’ Top Ten recommendations in 2018). She currently has two books on the go – Craig Emerson’s autobiography “The Boy From Baradine” and “Plots and Prayers” by Nikki Savva. Clare don’t usually read too much about politics because it takes up so much of the rest of her life, but that happens to be the current state of affairs.

Over summer, Clare has a huge stack of books to tackle including “Secular Stagnation” by Larry Summers and Malcolm Gladwell’s “Talking to Strangers”. The best non-industry book read this year was “Righteous Mind” by Jonathon Haidt.

NSW Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello told us that “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari is one of the best books he has read for a long time as a succinct exposition of the past, present and future.

Right now he is reading “A World of Three Zeros” by Muhammad Yunus, which explores the economics of zero poverty, zero unemployment and zero carbon emissions. “It was given to me years ago. I’m always on the look-out for new ideas on how we can improve the lot of those less fortunate,” the Minister said.

Over Summer Mr Dominello plans to read Salesforce founder Marc Benioff’s “Trailblazer”. The best non-industry book he read this year was M Scott Peck’s classic “The Road Less Travelled”.

Labor MP and tech advocate Ed Husic made an effort to double the amount of books he read this year and was successful, thanks to listening to audiobooks on his many flights and long drives to Canberra.

In this job you feel like you’re either reading/delivering soundbites or have to crash through one legislative brief after another.  Reading outside of the routine definitely frees the mind,” he said.

 “I just think you have to make the time to take in the breadth of someone’s complex ideas and challenging argument.”

Some of his favourites this year were “Janesville” by Amy Goldstein, Kai-Fu Lee’s “AI Superpowers” and “The Signals Are Talking” by Amy Webb.

In terms of non-industry books, Ed also recommended Educated, along with “The Colonial Fantasy” by Sarah Maddison. 

“It really tests our assumptions about what’s needed to reach reconciliation with Aboriginal Australia.  Seriously confronting and highly recommended as a read.”

Ed is currently reading “Gigged” by Sarah Kessler, a “sharp counterpoint to all the chipper takes about what the gig economy has done for employment” and is planning to read “Alpha Girls” by Julian Gutherie over summer.

Adrian Turner has a big summer of reading ahead of him, having stepped down from the CEO role at the CSIRO’s Data61 and as he spools up a stealthy science-based startup to take to the world. The best book Adrian read this year was “Against the Gods” by Peter L. Bernstein. It’s not a new book, but one he comes back to. It deals with the history of and measurement of risk, first in games and then in trade and ultimately financial markets.

“It’s a great read that also covers the limitations of risk quantification and modelling in chaotic systems. Extremely relevant as we move to a networked society and become more dependent on algorithmic decision making to help protect us against future and variable risks, often relying on models that are approximations of the real world at best,” Adrian said.

He is currently reading “Sand Talk” by Tyson Yunkaporta, saying didn’t know what to expect from the book but is thoroughly enjoying being challenged into looking our global systems through new eyes and from an indigenous perspective. The book has been likened to “Sapiens”, by Yurav Noah Harrari in part.

“No single book could do justice to indigenous ways of living and culture, but the stories and framing in this book are leaving me wondering how best can we carry forward elements of different cultures in ways that combine the best and leave behind the worst, ensuring we never lose sight of our universal connection to others and the land in the process. I am also intrigued by time and how our concept of it and relationship to it is changing with the rapid adoption of technology,” says Adrian

Over the summer break he plans to read “Deadliest Enemy” by Michael T. Osterholm and Mark Olshaker. The book covers future global challenges around infectious disease and new methods required to respond. It’s highly topical as we begin moving from programming computers to programming life with genomics and synthetic biology.

The best non-industry book was “Wayne Thiebaud” by John Wilmerding. Thiebaud is a well-known Californian artist born in 1920 who depicts everyday objects like pies, pastries, toys and the winding streets of San Francisco, painted in bright colours.

Tech23 and AgileAus founder Rachel Slattery says the book that impacted most on the way she approached work this year was Cal Newport’s “Deep Work” which challenges the culture of persistent connectivity and has made me think about how to feel comfortable resisting distractions.

“I am currently reading Mariana Mazzucato’s “The Value of Everything” which is worth reading it if you are interested in questioning who creates value and who extracts value. Mazzucato has also written on ethical capitalism, technology and the possibility of a green future with 80 year-old economic historian Carlota Perez who is keynoting at AgileAus20 in Melbourne in June 2020.

My favourite book this year and definitely one I recommend for under-umbrella reading is “Boy Swallows Universe” by Trent Dalton which consoles me that imagination might really save us all!”

Dr Jens Goennemann, Managing Director of the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre says that his three favourite books for the year were “Factfulness” by Hans Rosling, “The Accidental Superpower” by Peter Zeihan and “Black Box Thinking” by Matthew Syed.

Jens also caught up with books he says that he should have read before; they are more the usual suspects that he enjoyed tremendously. There were Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari, “The Life Changing Experience of Tidying” by Mary Kondo (especially over the holiday break when you have time to get rid of stuff) and finally “Man and Manners: Essays, Advice and Considerations”. This book is comprised of short essays, shorter interviews, and lists of guidelines for men of all ages, this book provides an honest, playful, and humorous look at the conflicted state of manners today (perfect preparation for family Christmas lunches!)

“Eccentric Orbits: The Iridium Story” by John Bloom is a book recommended to me recently by Gilmour Space Technologies founder and CEO Adam Gilmour – he says it’s an incredibly story of technical and entrepreneurial brilliance. I have it on order and plan to read it in January.

Sandy Plunkett started the year with Shoshana Zufoff’s superbly researched and highly confronting “Age of Surveillance Capitalism” and ended with Edward Snowden’s cogent autobiography, “Permanent Record”, as well as Brian Toohey’s “Secret: The Making of Australia’s Security State”. These are three very different books, but Sandy draws some over-riding conclusions from each.

“It’s’ beginning to look a lot like … both Orwell and Huxley were right. While we’ve been binge-watching Netflix and tweet-storming all manner of social justice causes and outrages, we have slept-walked into a techocratic 21st century that is a mutant hybrid of 1984 and Brave New World; one where privacy is nostalgia; civil liberties are being fast eroded and Australian “sovereignty” is pretty much an illusion,” Sandy says.

“It’s also stunning to me that while we rail against Big Tech – however righteously – we still pay so little mind to Big Tech’s literal Big Brother, the global security and surveillance system. They are clearly the most disturbing double-act of our times.”

Sandy is currently reading Kevin Williamson’s “The Smallest Minority: Independent Thinking in the Age of Mob Politics”. “It’s an erudite, scathing and often LOL funny polemic on our social media age and the rise of mob rule, or Ochlocracy, which is a word I had never come across before but predict will be hearing a lot more in 2020. Williamson draws on classical literature, philosophy and the social sciences and beseeches us to escape the herd and think for ourselves.”

Best non industry book was “In Byron’s Wake: The Turbulent Lives of Lord Byron’s Wife and Daughter” by Miranda Seymour. “A dual portrait of two amazing women, Annabella Milbanke and Ada Lovelace (credited as being the world’s first computer programmer who ‘saw the poetry of math’) and how they survived and thrived despite the overwhelming presence of the ‘mad, bad and dangerous’ Lord Byron.”

Over the summer break Sandy plans to dive into “Exhalation” by Ted Chiang – a collection of short science fiction stories about the material effects of time travel.

Inventor and entrepreneur Ric Richardson is enjoying an excellent read at the moment, which he says is an absolute must! “Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries”.

“This book separates artists and innovators from soldiers and doers and spells out how to organise around their different natures. It shows how the most effective organisations have both but keep them separate but communicating via an interpreter/evangelist. The writer cites this success as being responsible for 50 per cent of the US GDP in the last century.”

CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall is recommending to anyone who will listen that they read some of the insightful reports written by the science agency in 2019 – especially for people keen to understand our innovation opportunity.

“From the Australian National Outlook 2019, to the Australian Government’s Artificial Intelligence Roadmap, to Hydrogen Research, Development and Demonstration, we’ve laid out the steps we need to take to secure a bright future for our nation,” Larry said.

“This year we celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing and Australia’s role in sharing the TV images of this ‘giant leap’. I can still remember sitting on the floor of my classroom watching, spellbound along with 600 million people around the world as Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the Moon. As the race begins again for next voyages to the moon and beyond I was inspired to read the book “Shoot for the Moon”, which talks about the space race and the extraordinary voyage of Apollo 11 by James Donovan.

Another book I have been reading is “The Value of Everything” by Mariana Mazzucato. It rigorously scrutinises how we determine economic value and reveals how the difference between value creation and value extraction has become increasingly blurred. It is a fascinating read redefining how we measure value in our society.

“2019 marks 250 years since the birth of Alexander von Humboldt, the 18th/19th century scientist who changed the way we understand our relationship with the world. He’s credited with being the first person to document climate change and has the most ‘things’ named after him of any human – from the Humboldt Current to the Humboldt Squid (which swims in that current!) to the Humboldt Crater on the Moon! So I’ve got a copy of Andrea Wulf’s award-winning bio, “The Invention of Nature” on the pile to read.”

“This year I read John Kretschmer’s book, “Sailing to the Edge of Time”. As I will spend much of my time over the break sailing; there is much to say about being on the open water far from the shackles of land. To live adventurously is to live more fully and this book is full of adventures and self-discovery on some great ocean voyages.”

And now to my own recommendations for the year.

The book I enjoyed most this year was “Rocket Men” by Robert Kurson, a dramatic telling of the Apollo 8 story, the first time man broke the gravitational bonds of mother earth as it performed a figure-of-eight journey around the moon. Set against a backdrop of Cold War drama, the space race, Vietnam protests and the Summer of Love. This book made me happy that Australia is back into space!

What am I reading right now? “Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber” by Mike Isaac. Loving it. Follows the massive fortunes and giant problems of Uber all the way up to its 2019 IPO. The portrait of Travis Kalanick is fascinating. Much more than the two-dimensional character he has been portrayed as.

What am I reading this summer? “Eccentric Orbits: The Iridium Story” by John Bloom. This book was recommended to me recently by Gilmour Space Technologies founder and CEO Adam Gilmour – he says it’s an incredibly story of technical and entrepreneurial brilliance. I have it on order at my local book store.

Best non-industry book? This year I read Cormac McCarthy’s “Border Trilogy”. I am in awe. All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing and Cities of the Plain are each superb. Maybe it’s because I was born in Texas and have some weird yearning going on, but I just loved these books.

Special Mention: “Surveillance Capitalism” by Shoshana Zuboff. This is a frankly scary illumination of Big Tech economic models, horrifying behaviours, and an exposition of the yawning gap between regulation and reality.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

1 Comment
  1. Gerry 4 years ago

    Yep that certainly was a bonanza of reading options. Interesting to see the choices from another part of the world.

Leave a Comment

Related stories