“What a year 2022 has been. We hope you enjoy a well deserved and relaxing break. To help you on your way, we at ACOLA wanted to share some fun, thought-provoking and interesting research-based reading, watching and listening for wherever your holidays take you. Enjoy, and congratulations for getting to the finish line. We look forward to seeing you in 2023.”
Ryan Winn, CEO of ACOLA
At the end of each year, ACOLA develops a summer reading list to promote interesting, insightful and provocative interdisciplinary research and thinking, as well as inspire and entertain us as we all take some well-needed rest. We also aim to promote high-quality and engaging research and science writing for a non-specialist audience. For 2022, ACOLA is pleased to collaborate with The Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS) at the ANU to create the list.
The list is the culmination of the listening and reading habits of many of Australia’s research leaders and science communicators over the last 12 months. It includes a mix of fiction and non-fiction books, interesting articles and podcast episodes and series for you to enjoy on the couch, as you drive, walk the dog, cycle or laze by the beach.
Books – non fiction
Braiding sweet grass is a beautifully written book through which layers of Indigenous ways of being and doing are revealed through the author’s Indigenous and western botanical knowledge. This book blends a personal history, cultural education and a story of colonization. Be prepared to reconsider how you understand bays.
Recommender: Dr Kate Herriden
As the parent of a young woman with a disability I found this book really helpful in understanding the experience of school and family life for children with autism.
Recommender: Professor Cathie Sherrington FAAHMS
An exploration of how prescribed and illict drugs can influence people’s emotions, sexual attractions and romantic relationships. I was amazed by the wide range of potential applications for love and anti-love drugs, from helping couples repair their relationships to chemically castrating sex offenders. It is interesting, and also concerning, how a single pill can change not just our emotions, but also our social relations.
If you’ve ever wanted a place to start understanding Australia’s complex agricultural landscape – this is the book. A broad, nuanced and balanced exploration of farming in Australia that hammers home how important strategic thinking around our food is, and why we should all have a stake in what lands on our plates.
Recommender: Susannah Eliott
So, this is a provocative book whose key thesis about how governments need to fund stuff that the private sector won’t (Apollo program) …or when it does, it badly perverts (pace Musk and Bezos) is great. And yet, it also makes we worry about how we fund basic science and tech in general as ‘moonshots’ that give us ‘spinoffs’…not sure about that, but I’ve enjoyed thinking about it a lot.
Recommender: Drew Clarke AO PSM FTSE
David Graeber is my hero. He died in 2020, so this represents his last book, completed by his co-author David Wengrow and released this year. Together they explore the ways our understandings of early human history so often reflect the shallow thinking and ideological gazes of the present. But that makes it sound boring! This is a great read, packed with moments that radically change how you think about how human societies work, and what they could be.
The Whisperers is a groundbreaking account of daily life in the chaotic and paranoid atmosphere of Stalinist Russia. Exploring the inner life of a Russia where everyone was afraid to talk and society spoke in whispers, whether to protect friends and family – or to betray them – Orlando Figes tells the story of how Russians tried to endure life under Stalin’s Terror.
File not found: A generation that grew up with Google is forcing professors to rethink their lesson plans
This astonishing (and uncomfortably relevant) article explores how young people understand files and folder (hint: they don’t!) and what this means for people who teach them. I’ve recommended it to so many people this year!
From 2018, but fantastic, and I remember reading it while watching the glittering water that summer, and I remember it every summer since. She’s very funny.
The subhead to this article is just perfect: “You can make a thing so perfect that it’s ruined.” It explores the role of analytics in contemporary thinking… and what it means for all of us.
America’s long lost weekend reflects on the period from 1991 (the end of the Cold War) until 2008 (the beginning of the financial crisis) and how we didn’t realize what a golden era this was at the time, what opportunities we lost, and what the future holds compared to those years.
Prof Richard Holden FASSA
Podcasts – episodes and series
Capitalisn’t is a podcast about “what is working in capitalism, and what isn’t” with world renowned economist Luigi Zingales and prize-winning financial journalist Bethany McLean.
Prof Richard Holden FASSA
Stuart Russell explores the future of AI and asks: how can we get it right? I listened to this while walking the dog on a beach a few months ago, and Russell’s insights have stuck with me. There is a path through the challenges presented by AI that allow us to also achieve a just, sustainable, human oriented world.
An episode of the Planet Money podcast from 2021 on the original Netflix Prize for a better prediction engine for user ratings of movies. I’ve revisited the transcript countless times and sent it on to a lot of other academics, it’s just really great.
Tech Zero, podcast written and hosted by Peter Ker from the Australian Financial Review. Deep dive discussions with Australian entrepreneurs leading the transition to zero. A highly edited, documentary-style production.
Dr Alan Finkel AO FAA FTSE FAAHMS
Books – Fiction
This book blew me away as it tells the story of a black woman in contemporary London who has ‘assembled’ a life that most would envy but it is actually layered with hatred and the residue of centuries of abuse… and she is not even sure if it is what she wants. Fabulous dialogue and internal monologue and observation. I read it about 3 times, each in one sitting.
I found this historical novel absolutely fascinating and eye-opening, and I’m speaking as someone with little to no interest in horseracing. Horse weaves modern science into a story that tackles racism in the United States in a subtle but deeply thought-provoking way. It’s a novel that makes you think about your own use of language and the importance of getting it right.
This… might not be for everyone. But if you asked an award winning poet and viral tweeter to document the emotional journey of a family health crisis via the deluge literary style of the modern internet, this is what you’d get. I can’t remember a book making me laugh more.
A Finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award (2022). This decidedly weird fiction novel explores humanity’s response to finding another species, and questions what ‘winning’ even looks like.
This book follows Sadie and Sam, two young video game designers in the ‘90s as they explore the realities of realising a dream. It is a moving and insightful novel about love, business, transitions and starting over—and a testament to a life lived in parallel with the worlds we explore in games.
Long, detailed, yugely epic and weirdly compelling.
A TV series based on the wonderful book by William Gibson. The series juxtaposes two futures – small town Alabama-ish America in 2032 (before the climate change has ruined everything), and London in 2099 (after we’ve perhaps picked up the pieces). It asks fascinating questions about technology and causality, but also rests on beautifully classic storytelling.
What if we could leave our work thoughts… at work? Is this a sociology of meaningless work? Or exploration of the costs of our worklives on our souls? Whatever – it’s compelling TV asking great questions about what we should all be doing with our lives.
While from 2020, the feel and style of this show, combing real-world science and interviews with an intriguing fictional story set in 2033 to colonise Mars is very engaging summer watching. A nicely choreographed piece of work while exploring the technical, socio, economic and political issues of space colonisation.
Acknowledgments and thanks
Firstly, thank you for all the Fellows, experts and other research leaders who contributed ideas and suggestions to the 2022 reading list.
Importantly, ACOLA very much welcomes the collaboration with the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS). As Australia’s first science communication centre, they play an important role in training and supporting new research and science communicators, in addition to the Centre’s own research and activities. This work builds on previous activities with CPAS, with a number of their graduates now having worked with ACOLA on its research and policy outputs.
The Centre’s mission is to encourage a confident democratic ownership of modern science nationally and internationally by increasing science awareness in the community, fostering public dialogue about science, and improving the communication skills of scientists.