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ANZSOG Summer Reads list 2023

13 December 2023

News and media


It’s been a busy year for everyone in government and the public sector and we hope you are able to take some time off and lie on a beach over Christmas and New Year. While summer is a great time to relax, it’s a good chance to expand your horizons and learn something new.

The ANZSOG team has put together a list of recent non-fiction and fiction books we’ve enjoyed this year, covering public administration, science, politics, and some novels you can get your teeth into.

Happy reading, and we’ll see you next year!

Non-fiction Summer Reads

Eve by Cat Bohannon

A summary of 200 million years of evolution of the female body, answering questions like: How did wet nurses drive civilization? Are women always the weaker sex? Is sexism useful for evolution? And are our bodies at war with our babies? This myth-busting book puts women at the centre of evolutionary history.

Right Story, Wrong Story: Adventures in Indigenous Thinking by Tyson Yungkaporta

Tyson Yunkaporta’s bestselling debut Sand Talk, cast an Indigenous lens on contemporary society. His new book extends his exploration of what we can learn from Indigenous thinking and the idea that our relationship with land is inseparable from how we relate to each other. Right Story, Wrong Story is a sequence of thought experiments, which are, as Yunkaporta writes, ‘crowd-sourced narratives where everybody’s contribution to the story, no matter how contradictory, is honoured and included…the closest thing I can find in the world to the Aboriginal collective process of what we call “yarning”.’

How Big Things Get Done by Bent Fylvbjerg and Dan Gardner

From renovating a kitchen to hosting the Olympics, the majority of projects go over time and over budget, and under deliver. This book identifies the errors in judgment, decision-making and over-confidence that lead projects, both big and small, to fail and what we can all learn from the few that succeed. It advises project managers to plan slow and act fast, understand their odds and master the unknown unknowns.

Wifedom: Mrs Orwell’s invisible life by Anna Funder

An innovative biography of the almost forgotten first wife of one of most influential writers of the 20th century, Anna Funder uncovers the life of Eileen O’Shaughnessy, and her role in her husband’s career, as her literary brilliance shaped his career and her practical nous saved his life. The book is also a meditation on what it takes to be a writer, and what it takes to be a wife.

The Careless State by Mark Considine

The lives of all Australians are, have been or will be affected by the quality of our social services. This book ties together the failures in Australia’s aged care, employment services, vocational education and training and criticises the ‘choice model’ that has been the driving force behind reforms of the last 30 years. He outlines a way to move beyond current systems that have seen private business interests prioritised over the common good.

End State: 9 Ways Society is Broken and How We Fix It by James Plunkett

As societies move beyond COVID, cracks are widening, and dissatisfaction with the current political and economic systems are growing. Former UK government adviser and economist James Plunkett argues this moment can be a chance to reform fundamental institutions and change the relationship between the citizen and the state. He outlines an optimistic vision that explores nine ways our social settlement can be upgraded to harness the power of the digital age.

Law: the Way of the Ancestors by Marcia Langton and Aaron Corn

Marcia Langton and Aaron Corn show how Indigenous law has enabled people to survive and thrive in Australia for more than 2000 generations. Law is the foundation of all Indigenous societies in Australia, giving them the tools to respond and adapt to major environmental and social changes. But law is not a thing of the past. These living, sophisticated systems are as powerful now as they have ever been, if not more so. Law: The Way of the Ancestors challenges readers to consider how Indigenous law can inspire new ways forward for us all in the face of global crises.

Politics on the Edge by Rory Stewart

Former Conservative MP and one-time Prime Ministerial aspirant Rory Stewart provides an insiders view of the last ten years of British politics. Taking readers throughn his disillusionment and growing realisation of how hollow politics and government had become, this candid and darkly humorous book is a remarkable portrait of a turbulent decade.

Material World by Ed Conway

The six most crucial substances for humanity’s past, present and future are sand, salt, iron, copper, oil and lithium. We take for granted their role in powering our computers and phones, building our homes and offices, and creating life-saving medicines. This book travels the globe to show where these substances come from, how they are turned into products, and how the geopolitical battles to control them will shape our future.

Fiction Summer Reads

Stone Yard Devotional by Charlotte Wood

A woman abandons her city life and marriage to return to the place of her childhood, holing up in a small religious community hidden away on the stark plains of the Monaro. She does not believe in God, doesn’t know what prayer is, and finds herself living this strange, reclusive life almost by accident. Her tranquil life is disturbed in surprising ways in this novel that explores forgiveness, grief and what it means to be ‘good’.

Kawai: For Such a Time as This by Monty Soutar

This epic adventure written by a respected historian immerses you in the Māori culture of pre-colonial Aotearoa New Zealand. This novel explores the thrilling story of the legendary warrior Kaitanga and describes a culture that ishighly sophisticated, adaptable and lives harmoniously within the natural world; but also contains a brutal undercurrent of violence and inter-generational vengeance, witchcraft and cannibalism. Kawai reveals the role of colonisation in shaping Aotearoa New Zealand, balanced with an honest appraisal of the country in pre-colonial times.

Edenglassie by Melissa Lucashenko

Melissa Lucashenko won the Miles Franklin Award for Too Much Lip and her new book looks at the history of Brisbane by telling two intertwined stories five generations apart. Starting in the 19th century when the Saltwater people still outnumbered the British and continuing to the present day, thsi grimly funny book explores the links between colonists and Aboriginal people, and the resilience of First Nations peoples and stories.

Fraud by Zadie Smith

Set in 1873, Fraud is a kaleidoscopic work of historical fiction about who gets to tell their story—and who gets to be believed. Set against the real-life “Tichborne Trial” – where a disreputable lower-class butcher from Australia claimed he was in fact the rightful heir of a sizable estate and title – this novel features the stories of Mrs. Eliza Touchet, the housekeeper of a once-famous novelist, and Andrew Bogle, a former Jamaican slave who becomes the trial’s star witness. An entertaining and absorbing story about truth and fiction, Jamaica and Britain, fraudulence and authenticity and the mystery of “other people.”

Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton

A psychological thriller set in Aotearoa New Zealand by a Booker Prize winning author, Birnam Wood tells the story of the head of a guerilla gardening group that hatches a plan to seize a seemingly abandoned farm. When the farm’s owner – a billionaire setting up a bunker for future social collapse – finds out he agrees to work with them despite their clash of ideals and ideologies. A brilliantly constructed consideration of the human impulse to ensure our own survival and the intentions, actions, and consequences that flow from it.

The Bee Sting by Paul Murray

A hilarious look at the unravelling of the Barneses, a once prosperous Irish family, in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. Dickie’s once-lucrative car dealership is going under, and while his wife is frantically selling off her jewellery on eBay, he’s busy building an apocalypse-proof bunker in the woods. And let’s not get started on their teenage children. This sprawling and elaborately plotted novel looks at ordinary lives caught up in global events.

And finally, some summer viewing.

This video from Dr Andrej Karpathy, OpenAI’s deep learning and computer vision specialist, provides an accessible introduction to how Large Language Models, the basis of Artificial Intelligence tools such as ChatGPT actually operate. Responding to the rapid growth of AI and incorporating it into the work of government will be a major challenge for public services. This is a great starting point if you want to understand the basis of the tools everyone is talking about.