Progressive Summer Reading 2015

December 23, 2015


We’ve got some great progressive reading suggestions to keep you busy over summer.

Our thanks to Ideas at Per Capita subscribers and the Per Capita Circle for these suggestions.

Glover An Economy is not a Society Winners and losers in the new Australia, Dennis Glover (2015, Black Inc books)

A wonderful and personal account of the “winners and losers” in the new Australian economy. Glover takes aim at our policymakers and political leaders who prize productivity above all else, while paying scant attention to what happens to communities.  Economic rationalists have reduced communities to nothing more than economic inputs. Through the story of the decline of his own community of Doveton, Glover calls for a broader conversation about the kind of society we want to be – what kind of lives, jobs and communities to we want to build.

80s The Eighties: The decade that transformed Australia, Frank Bongiorno (2015, Black Inc)

It’s a decade full of big characters and big events that many of us remember well – Hawke, Keating, Kylie, INXS, The America’s Cup, The Bicentenary, high-flying entrepreneurs, debates over land rights, the advent of AIDs, rallies against nuclear weapons, Joh for Canberra, The Australia Card.  Bongiorno argues it was a formative decade and still casts its shadow over our lives: “The songs fill our journeys, its fashions live in our nightmares”, and the decade stalks debate about the poor quality of our present politics and politicians.

Thanks to Emily Millane for this suggestion

Robots 3 The Rise of the Robots: Technology and the threat of a jobless future, Martin Ford(2015, Basic Books)

A sobering assessment of how technology of how technology is reshaping our labour market.  Ford tracks a fundamental shift in our economy as work shifts from being performed by humans to being done by machines.  This will profoundly effect how income and wealth is distributed in our society, and Ford calls for enlightened political and policy leadership to construct a world where we can all benefit from it.

Tingle Political Amnesia: How we forgot to govern, Laura Tingle (2015, Quarterly Essay 60)

Tingle looks at the importance of history and memory, and argues that a lack of institutional memory is at the heart of how our politics has become “ugly and dangerous”. She sees changes in the public service over the last few decades as crucial to this shift. Public servants have declining influence over policymaking while the influence of politically appointed advisors has increased. In addition, the 24-hour news cycle focuses on immediacy rather than in-depth reporting.  Tingle highlights that short-term thinking is not just chronic among politicians, but also pervades the public service and the media.

watson Worst Words: A compendium of contemporary cant; gibberish and Jargon, Don Watson (2015, Vintage)

With his usual wit, Watson returns to mock the ridiculous in English language usage. The book is an A-Z anthology  of the jargon and cliches used regularly in politics, bureaucracy, business, education, that strip the language of any real meaning. The examples make you laugh and cringe, here’s a sample of the kind of absurd language he takes aim at: “In the recent evaluation by the Australian Council for Educational Research, school and community members reported that Direct Instruction was having a positive impact on student outcomes, but the researchers were not yet able to say whether or not the initiative has had an impact on student learning.” Watson calls on us to resist the urge to use this kind of meaningless language, I mean, to action optimum communications options going forward.

Ronson So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed?, Jon Ronson (2015, Pan Macmillan)

Ronson looks at the other side of the participatory net: the revival of public shaming. Ronson’s examples show that, while we see the Internet as a means for giving citizens a platform to strike back, this power, like any other, is open to abuse. When a “shaming event” happens online, it appears to have all the characteristics of a mob. In the book, one of the victims says we are now living in a world where the smartest way to survive online is to be bland – never say anything that could be taken the wrong way, or is controversial or unfunny, a far cry from the free creative space the Internet is imagined to be.

Thanks to Allison Orr for this suggestion

Bishop Minding Her Own Business: Colonial businesswomen in Sydney, Catherine Bishop (2015, New South Books)

This book brings out the otherwise hidden or forgotten stories of the entrepreneurial businesswomen in colonial Sydney. She gives several examples where the contributions of women have been ignored or even written out when they in fact built businesses from scratch or stepped in to take over the reins when husbands died, or sent a company into bankruptcy.  Bishop presents us with stories of shopkeepers, publicans, butchers, milliners, saddlers – women at the heard of the colonial economy – and sources show that there was nothing extraordinary or shocking about a woman running a business.

mega Australia’s Second Chance: What our history tells us about our future, George Megalogenis(2015, Penguin)

Following on from the terrific The Australian Moment, Megalogenis asks, who are we and who do we want to be?  This is looked at largely through the lens of our fraught relationship with immigration.  Xenophobia has a long history in this country, but Mega sees it as distinct from racism, and puts it in the context of economic uncertainty – fear of unemployment and foreign competition, unhelpfully backed up by media misinformation.  He argues against accepting a fortress society, as it has rarely correlated with success or prosperity in our history.

cicero Dictator, Robert Harris(2015, Hutchinson)

Ancient history that reads like a political thriller, this is the third book in Harris’ Cicero series, told through the eyes of his slave and amanuensis, Tiro.  In this book, Cicero returns from exile and is back on the political stage after the assassination of Caesar.  The book combines contemporary language with Latin vocabulary, with Harris blending Cicero’s own words with his own to create conversations which brings to life this politician and philosopher from the ancient world.

Thanks to Dennis Glover for this suggestion

pier Watson’s Pier: Josh Funder(2015, Melbourne University Press)

The story of Stan Watson, who was in charge of building a pier at Anzac Cove used in the evacuation of Australian soldiers in December 1915, as told by his great-grandson.  Funder weaves fiction with historical research to bring the story to life.  It brings a human face to one of Australia’s most enduring national stories.

james A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James(2015, Riverhead Books)

The unanimous winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, this novel explores the failed assassination attempt of Bob Marley in the late 1970s.  The gunmen were never brought to justice, and James takes the few known facts and weaves a story of seven assassins and follows their fictional deaths over the coming years. The story has a huge number of characters, some fictional, others based on real people, giving it a diverse collage of voices.  It is an impressive feat of storytelling.