Back in mid-December, The Grattan Institute – a Melbourne-based Australian “think tank” – launched it’s annual “Summer Reading List for the Prime Minister”, which for those of you unfamiliar with Australia is Tony Abbott.
It’s a cute concept, and is based on the rationale that:
Summer is a great time to relax with friends and family, to take a holiday, to reflect on the year past – and to read. During the year it can be hard to find time for reading. Our ministers and MPs have less free time than the rest of us…. The list contains books and articles that we believe the Prime Minister – or indeed any Australian – will find stimulating over the break. They’re all good reads that say something interesting about Australia, the world and the future.
This year’s list includes five books and one article:
– Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics, by Michael Ignatieff, Harvard political scientist and historian, and “failed” Canadian politician – a fascinating read for those of us who have ever entertained the thought of entering politics, with the pitfalls painfully detailed.
– Anzac’s Long Shadow: The Cost of Our National Obsession, by James Brown, a defense analyst and former army officer who is critical of the ANZAC legend.
– A Rightful Place: Race, Recognition and a More Complete Commonwealth, by Noel Pearson, national Indigenous leader.
– The Golden Age, by Joan London, a love story set in a Perth polio clinic – a new novel.
– The Wife Drought: Why Women Need Wives and Men Need Lives, by Annabel Crabb, one of Australia’s top political reporters and broadcasters, who has marked herself out as both incisive but and yet good-humoured. The title pretty much says it all.
– “The Inequality Puzzle”, a short journal article by Lawrence H. Summers, former President of Harvard University, his review of Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”, published in Democracy Journal; see full article here.
I am critical of this last choice, not because I disagree with Summers, but why not recommend the whole book? If we are going to recommend essays for our Prime Minister to read, there are many better contemporary essays than this one. I have described this concern with inequality as a “zeitgeist moment”, with lots of attention here in Australia. Every couple of weeks there are additional analyses. Not long ago, Bill Gates (Microsoft founder) wrote a review of the book. In May, The Economist summarised Piketty’s thesis in a pithy (four paragraph) article. Also in May, The Economist explained (“Le French Touch”) why Piketty’s book is more popular in the USA and places like Australian than in his native France: some believe that it is not sufficiently left-wing to appeal to French intellectuals. So the last is truly an odd and misleading choice. Isn’t the whole idea of reading books during the summer (for those too busy during the year) actually to read the whole (or most of) the book?
Enough criticism. What would you include on your list? And what would you nominate for your national leader’s summer list, if you live in the USA, Canada, the UK, New Zealand or elsewhere? (Okay, it’s only summer in New Zealand at the moment, but the idea is the same.)