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Progressive summer reading list 2011

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 for these suggestions. Most are from 2011, but some suggestions from recent years were so interesting we included them too, including one from the archives from Dennis Glover.

On Politics and democracy...

Contesting Democracy: Political Ideas in Twentieth-Century Europe
Jan-Werner Muller
(2011, Yale University Press)

Anyone who wishes to understand Western political ideologies should read this book. A distinguished scholar, Jan-Werner Muller offers in this book the first major account of political thought in the twentieth-century since the end of the Cold War. Contesting Democracy is a sophisticated and rewarding study of communism, fascism, liberalism, social democracy and Christian democracy in Europe.

Heroes and Villains: The Rise and Fall of the Early Australian Labor Party
Nick Dyrenfurth
(2011, Australian Scholarly Publishing)

This year the Australian Labor Party celebrated its 120th anniversary. Historian Nick Dyrenfurth does an admirable job in Heroes and Villains, a finely textured book documenting the fortunes of the ALP from the 1890s through to the end of the First World War. His thesis that the key to Labor's early successes lies in its culture as a movement will have resonance for anyone reflecting on the ALP's current challenges.

The Net Delusion: How Not to Liberate the World
Evgeny Morozov
(2011, Penguin)

There is something troubling with a lot of the technological utopianism that passes for media commentary. Evgeny Morozov examines the dangers of cyber-utopian ideology and the ambivalent effects of the internet on democracy. This book is a reminder that the internet, far from a universal liberator, is actually being used to buttress authoritarian regimes and more insidiously to manipulate and pacify citizens.

On China
Henry Kissinger
(2011, Penguin)

This is a highly informative and typically erudite trip through Chinese political and social history from an author whose experience dealing with successive generations of Chinese leaders is probably unmatched by any living scholar. Like many outsiders, Kissinger is clearly fascinated with the Middle Kingdom and he brings an obvious passion to his writing.

Thanks to Adam Clancy for this recommendation.

On economy and environment...

Too Much Luck: the mining boom and Australia's future
Paul Cleary
(2011, Black Inc)

The most important book written about Australia in 2011. In a fact-filled and tightly argued analysis, Cleary warns the country is dangerously complacent about the risks inherent in our once-in-a-century boom. We must respond with higher savings and smarter regulation if we are to emulate the resource successes of Chile, East Timor and Norway rather than the disasters of Nauru and Zambia.

The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability
James Gustave Speth
(2008, Yale University Press)

It's a couple of years old now, but is almost becoming more relevant with each failed UNFCCC conference and with every headline about carbon tax this, carbon tax that. Written by anyone else, it might be easy to read the blurb of this book and dismiss it, but when a figure as respected, credible and credentialled as Speth tells us this, we should listen.

Thanks to Nicholas Aberle for this recommendation.

On philosophy and ideas...

The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen
Kwame Anthony Appiah
(2010, Norton)

Kwame Anthony Appiah is one of the world's most influential philosophers and is always worth reading. In his latest book, Appiah revisits the idea of honour and explains how moral revolutions happen. He shows that honour, far from an antiquated idea, still has relevance for ethics and morality today.

Where Good Ideas Come From: the natural history of innovation
Steven Johnson
(2010, Riverhead Books)

A great myth-busting read on how human organisations and communities develop better social and scientific tools. Johnson has gathered together a compelling range of real-world stories which show that social or collective genius (not that of the gifted individuals) is the most powerful source of innovation.

Thanks to Tim Watts for this recommendation.

A couple of novels...

Fear Index
Robert Harris
(2011, Hutchinson)

What happened when Congress cut funding to the Desertron (America's version of the Large Hadron Collider) in the 1990s to save $10 billion? The sacked mathematicians got jobs as quants on Wall Street, which has so far cost the world trillions. A case of penny wise, pound foolish, as a Geneva hedge fund meets Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The Sense of an Ending
Julian Barnes
(2011, Random House)

This wonderful, short book explores the conflicting dimensions of remorse, memory and time, and shows us how our perspectives can differ so greatly from others who have experienced the same events. A worthy winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize.

... and one from the archive

Strange Death of Liberal England
George Dangerfield
(1935, Stanford University Press)

Originally published in 1935, it's the story of how a progressive party of government (the pre-Great-War Liberals) lose their way and are supplanted as the main party of opposition by an obscure collection of left-wing radicals (the British Labour Party). A warning from history.