The Australia Institute Essential Reading List 2017

As the year draws to a close, the Australia Institute team has compiled a list of essential reads looking at the big issues and big ideas that helped shape 2017.

Curing Affluenza by Richard Denniss

by Richard Denniss
with special contributions from Bob Brown • Kumi Naidoo • Marilyn Waring • John Quiggin • Leanne Minshull • Jim Stanford • Bill McKibben • Craig Bennett

A truly modern affliction, affluenza is endemic in Western societies, encouraged by those who profit from a culture of exploitation and waste. So how do we cure ourselves?

“Affluenza is that strange desire we feel to spend money we don’t have to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t know . . .”

In this sparkling book of ideas, Richard Denniss shows we must distinguish between consumerism, the love of buying things, which is undeniably harmful to us and the planet, and materialism, the love of things, which can in fact be beneficial. We should cherish the things we own — preserve them, repair them, and then gift or sell them when we no longer need them. We must foster new ways of thinking and acting that do not squander limited resources, and which support the things we value most: vibrant communities and rich experiences.

At once a lucid explanation of a critical global issue and a stirring call to action, Curing Affluenza will change the way you think about your place in the world.

‘Richard Denniss is the freshest economic thinker I know, brimming with ideas, challenging old views and finding new opportunities for progress. In this path-breaking book he shows how we can stop abusing the natural environment without great economic cost.’ — Ross Gittins

No is Not Enough by Naomi Klein

by Naomi Klein

An ordinary person’s guide to hope.

Naomi Klein — award-winning journalist, bestselling author of No Logo, The Shock Doctrine and This Changes Everything, scourge of brand bullies and corporate liars — gives us the toolkit we need to survive our surreal, shocking age.

This is a look at how we arrived at this surreal political moment, how to keep it from getting a lot worse, and how, if we keep our heads, we can flip the script.

Remember when love was supposed to trump hate? Remember when the oil companies and bankers seemed to be running scared? What the hell happened? And what can we do about it?

Naomi Klein shows us how we got here, and how we can make things better.

No Is Not Enough reveals, among other things, that the disorientation we’re feeling is deliberate. That around the world, shock political tactics are being used to generate crisis after crisis, designed to force through policies that will destroy people, the environment, the economy and our security.

Losing Streak by James Boyce

by James Boyce

  • Winner, People’s Choice Award at the 2017 Tasmania Book Prize
  • Longlisted, 2017 Walkley Book Award

A jaw-dropping account of how one company came to own every poker machine in Tasmania — and the cost to democracy, the public purse and problem gamblers and their families.

It is a story of broken politics and back-room deals. It shows how giving one company the licence to all the poker machines in the most disadvantaged state in the country has led to several hundred million dollars of profits (mainly from problem gamblers) being diverted from public use, through a series of questionable and poorly understood deals.

Losing Streak is a meticulous, compelling case study in governance failure, which has implications for pokies reform throughout Australia.

Game of Mates by Cameron K. Murray & Paul Frijters

by Cameron K. Murray and Paul Frijters

“James is our most mundane villain. His victim is Bruce, our typical Aussie, who bleeds from the hip pocket because of James’ actions.”

Game of Mates tells a tale of economic theft across major sectors of Australia’s economy, showing how James and his group of well-connected Mates siphon off billions from the economy to line their own pockets.

In property, mining, transport, banking, superannuation, and many more sectors, James and his Mates cooperate to steal huge chunks of the economic pie for themselves.

If you want to know how much this costs the nation, how it is done, and what we can do about it, Game of Mates is the book for you.

Breaking the Mould by Angela Pippos

by Angela Pippos

Sport is integral to Australian life and identity, and we’re rightly proud of our sporting achievements. But less glorious is the fact that, when it comes to the games we play, half of the population doesn’t get a look-in.

Pick any sport and it’s easy to find examples of stark gender inequality and double standards so glaring that they’re almost laughable. But an extraordinary transformation is taking place, and nobody is better placed to call it than veteran sports journalist Angela Pippos.

In Breaking the Mould, Pippos charts a powerful awakening across Australian life; from suburban footy fields to stadium cage fights, female athletes are changing the status quo through fierce determination and undeniable performances.

Through candid and often hilarious personal tales from a life spent in and around sport, Pippos calls out the systems that have kept women on the sidelines, and challenges us to keep working towards a level playing field where any young woman can become her sporting best.

Talking to My Country by Stan Grant

by Stan Grant

  • Winner of the Walkley Book Award 2016

Paperback edition released 2017

An extraordinarily powerful and personal meditation on race, culture and national identity.

As the debate over Adam Goodes being booed at AFL games raged and got ever more heated and ugly, Stan Grant wrote a short but powerful piece for The Guardian that went viral, not only in Australia but right around the world, shared over 100,000 times on social media. His was a personal, passionate and powerful response to racism in Australian and the sorrow, shame, anger and hardship of being an Indigenous man.

‘We are the detritus of the brutality of the Australian frontier’, he wrote, ‘We remained a reminder of what was lost, what was taken, what was destroyed to scaffold the building of this nation’s prosperity.’

Stan Grant was lucky enough to find an escape route, making his way through education to become one of our leading journalists. He also spent many years outside Australia, working in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa, a time that liberated him and gave him a unique perspective on Australia. This is his very personal meditation on what it means to be Australian, what it means to be Indigenous, and what racism really means in this country.

Talking to My Country is that rare and special book that talks to every Australian about their country — what it is, and what it could be. It is not just about race, or about Indigenous people but all of us, our shared identity.

Cardinal by Louise Milligan

by Louise Milligan

  • Winner of the Walkley Book Award 2017

[Note: not available for purchase in Victoria]

George Pell is the most recognisable face of the Australian Catholic Church.
He was the Ballarat boy with the film-star looks who studied at Oxford and rose through the ranks to become the Vatican’s indispensable ‘Treasurer’. As an outspoken defender of church orthodoxy, ‘Big George’s’ ascendancy within the clergy was remarkable and seemingly unstoppable.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse has brought to light horrific stories about sexual abuse of the most vulnerable and provoked public anger at the extent of the cover-up. George Pell has always portrayed himself as the first man in the Church to tackle the problem. But questions about what the Cardinal knew, and when, have persisted.

The nation’s most prominent Catholic is now the subject of a police investigation into allegations spanning decades that he too abused children. Louise Milligan is the only Australian journalist who has been privy to the most intimate stories of complainants.

Milligan pieces together a series of disturbing pictures of the Cardinal’s knowledge and his actions, many of which are being told here for the first time.

Climate Wars by Mark Butler

by Mark Butler

As the consequences of climate change become perilously close to the point of no-return, time-wasting wars over what to do distract us from taking real action.

Mark Butler, the Opposition Minister for Climate Change and Energy, makes a forceful case for using less and cleaner energy as part of global action to save the planet.

Doing so will also make Australia attractive for the massive global market of investors and create new jobs in clean energy.

Adults in the Room by Yanis Varoufakis

by Yanis Varoufakis

What happens when you take on the establishment? In this blistering, personal account, world-famous economist Yanis Varoufakis blows the lid on Europe’s hidden agenda and exposes what actually goes on in its corridors of power.

Varoufakis sparked one of the most spectacular and controversial battles in recent political history when, as finance minister of Greece, he attempted to re-negotiate his country’s relationship with the EU. Despite the mass support of the Greek people and the simple logic of his arguments, he succeeded only in provoking the fury of Europe’s political, financial and media elite. But the true story of what happened is almost entirely unknown — not least because so much of the EU’s real business takes place behind closed doors.

In this fearless account, Varoufakis reveals all: an extraordinary tale of brinkmanship, hypocrisy, collusion and betrayal that will shake the deep establishment to its foundations.

As is now clear, the same policies that required the tragic and brutal suppression of Greece’s democratic uprising have led directly to authoritarianism, populist revolt and instability throughout the Western world.

Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner

by Marc Reisner

“The definitive work on the West’s water crisis.” — Newsweek

The story of the American West is the story of a relentless quest for a precious resource: water.
It is a tale of rivers diverted and dammed, of political corruption and intrigue, of billion-dollar battles over water rights, of ecological and economic disaster.

In his landmark book, Cadillac Desert, Marc Reisner writes of the earliest settlers, lured by the promise of paradise, and of the ruthless tactics employed by Los Angeles politicians and business interests to ensure the city’s growth. He documents the bitter rivalry between two government giants, the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in the competition to transform the American West.

Based on more than a decade of research, Cadillac Desert is a stunning expose and a dramatic, intriguing history of the creation of an Eden — an Eden that may only be a mirage.

The Long Goodbye by Anna Krien

by Anna Krien

The Great Barrier Reef is dying. Extreme weather is becoming all too familiar. Yet when it comes to action on climate change, division and paralysis rule the land.

In this vivid, urgent essay, Anna Krien explores the psychology and politics of a warming world. She visits the frontlines of Australia’s climate wars — the Reef, the Galilee and Bowen basins, South Australia. She investigates the Adani mine, with its toxic politics and controversial economics.

Talking to power workers and scientists, lobbyists and activists, she considers where climate change is taking us, and where effective action is to be found.

“This was Turnbull’s moment, and the Liberal Party’s too. Not just the Snowy 2.0, but the whole thing — an ailing and dysfunctional grid, a complex issue, something for the ‘adults’ to take responsibility for. But instead of leadership, Australians got politics as usual. Cheap shots, culture-war baiting, bad and good ideas lobbed like hot potatoes and lost in the trash talk of low-grade politics. After the ten-day policy spree, Turnbull resumed his poker face, continuing with his grim role of negotiating with the vipers in his nest.”
— Anna Krien, The Long Goodbye

Without America by Hugh White

by Hugh White

America is fading, and China will soon be the dominant power in our region. What does this mean for Australia’s future?

In this controversial and urgent essay, Hugh White shows that the contest between America and China is classic power politics of the harshest kind. He argues that we are heading for an unprecedented future, one without an English-speaking great and powerful friend to keep us secure and protect our interests.

White sketches what the new Asia will look like, and how China could use its power. He also examines what has happened to the United States globally, under both Barack Obama and Donald Trump — a series of setbacks which Trump’s bluster on North Korea cannot disguise.

White notes that we have got into the habit of seeing the world through Washington’s eyes, and argues that unless this changes, we will fail to navigate the biggest shift in Australia’s international circumstances since European settlement. The signs of failure are already clear, as we risk sliding straight from complacency to panic.

“For almost a decade now, the world’s two most powerful countries have been competing. America has been trying to remain East Asia’s primary power, and China has been trying to replace it. How the contest will proceed — whether peacefully or violently, quickly or slowly — is still uncertain, but the most likely outcome is now becoming clear. America will lose, and China will win.”
— Hugh White, Without America

From all of the team at The Australia Institute, thanks for reading.
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