I have read a lot of books in the past year. But in the rush to get our Summer Reading List into the last newsletter of 2020, I did not get to make recommendations of my own. Which gives me sad face because some of the books I devoured last year were so brilliant. I am in awe of these authors.
And then there are the recommendations of others that I did not get into the original reading list. So here we are in this wet January, and I present Part Two of our annual Summer Reading List. Enjoy.
My favourite industry book of the year was Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy by Matt Stollard. This is the story of the trusts, the monopolists and the politicians and policies that fought them. From railways to retail to oil and banks and telecommunications to Big Tech – this is both a ripping yarn and a call to action.
In particular, Stollard is able to expose the relationship between the levels of concentrated commercial, financial and industrial power on the one hand, and the rise of populism and political autocracy on the other.
At a time when concentrated market power has become a massive problem for societies across the world – energy, media, healthcare, retail, finance – this is a timely book. It also comes at a time when monopoly power is on the rise (to say nothing of the largely unchallenged domination of the tech giants).
I suppose I can call Malcolm Turnbull’s A Bigger Picture and Christopher Pyne’s The Insider “industry” books, given that Turnbull was the PM and Pyne was the industry minister when the National Innovation and Science Agenda was launched in 2015.
I enjoyed both books very much. The Insider is extremely funny in parts – as you would expect – although I was expecting more bodies (given that Mr Pyne surely knows where so many are buried!!!) Malcolm Turnbull is an excellent writer, and always entertaining.
For anyone looking for non-industry, non-fiction, The Splendid and The Vile by Eric Larson is an extraordinary account of Winston Churchill from the first day of his prime ministership until the end of the war.
The Splendid and The Vile is filled of very human insights into that ghastly period. Gloriously written. Outstanding first-hand accounts, from diaries of Churchill, his family and political contemporaries. (Hat-tip Charles Nightingale from the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce for putting me on to this).
I listened to Barack Obama’s A Promised Land on audible. I am sure this will generate eye-rolls. But its enjoyable, especially the personal, day-to-day revelations of life in the White House (with kids). The Audible is a 29-hour investment and only gets halfway through the Obama Presidency. Australia is very noticeably absent – I cannot recall a single mention – which may be a clue as to our humble nation’s importance in world affairs.
Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism by Anne Case and Angus Deaton is an incredible piece of research and serves as a shocking explainer for the decades-long trendlines that define the decline of the American dream. It also chronicles anger and pain, and highlights giant cracks in the social and economic structures that people are falling through.
Life expectancy in the US has fallen for three years in a row (and will drop sharply in 2020 and 2021 with COVID) in part because of the rise in what the authors call deaths of despair – drug overdoses (including via alcohol), suicides and alcoholic liver disease. Written by two Princeton researchers (one a Nobel Prize winner), this book explains a lot of about the US.
Other books I would highly recommend: When America Stopped Being Great by Nick Bryant, a senior BBC foreign correspondent, a book that traces the difficulties in the US not to a single man (Donald Trump) but political trendlines that date at least 40 years to the Reagan Administration. Also Team of Five by Kate Andersen Brower, a book about the most exclusive club in the world – the five ex-presidents of the US in the early years of the Trump presidency.
Meanwhile Frederic Kerrest, the San Francisco-based co-founder and executive vice-chairman of digital ID firm Okta reckons he read more in 2020 than in any other year. He’s got five recommendations:
Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin. This is a must-read book for founders in any year, but especially in 2020. Goodwin explores if leaders are born or made, and the impact of adversity on leadership growth. She studies the experiences of U.S. presidents Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson to impart lessons on how to welcome opposing opinions, rally support around strategic targets, and what I found most interesting, find time and space to think. Time is your most valuable resource — don’t cheat yourself on it.
Dear Chairman by Jeff Gramm is a great book about boardroom battles and the rise of shareholder activism… an important reminder that investors and management are not always aligned, going back 100 years. Also it’s a good reminder that if you’re going to be a public company, you want to maintain voting control of your company if you want to fulfil your long-term vision, which is very pertinent to Okta obviously.
The American story by David Rubenstein, which is an amazing crash course on some of the greatest leaders in the development of the United States, with the expert offers on the topic each being interviewed by Rubenstein himself.
Dreams of El Dorado by HW Brands, an amazing history of the American west and great reminder of the spirit of Entrepreneurship and frontiers of travel and development… We forget that California is only 150 years old!
Bonus book is Born Standing Up by Steve Martin, an amazing comedian and frankly musician as well. The story of how he got into stand-up comedy and then movies is amazing.
And finally, I have to include some book recommendations from InnovationAus’ Melbourne-based senior reporter and bibliophile Denham Sadler.
First up is Another Now by Yanis Varoufakis. “There is lots of interesting discussion around the potential role of tech and innovation in this one by the Greek politician and economist,” Denham says.
“Using an interesting fictional narrative device, the book explores different, more equitable ways to build societies and distribute resources, based around if a different approach had been taken following the GFC. Recent enough to include references to COVID-19 too.”
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is a sprawling epic covering several generations of a Korean family, while also incorporating insights into the ongoing tensions between South Korea and Japan, and the impact of Japanese colonisation, Denham says. “The book is being adapted into a TV series by Apple, with the main cast announced late last year. Very hard to put down so maybe save up for a long weekend.”
Lastly, Denham puts forward Truth Hurts by Andrew Boe. “An autobiography by the criminal defence lawyer, Truth Hurts covers Boe’s experiences in representing the likes of Pauline Hanson and Ivan Milat, along with the pro-bono work he does with Indigenous communities. A fascinating exploration of criminal justice through the cases that have stuck with Boe across the years. Very well written and insightful.”