Choosing books for a friend or an acquaintance is a real treat; it gives you an opportunity to think about that person’s character, what they mean to you and what they might enjoy learning about. The Prime Minister’s Summer Reading List is personal, but it is also about public good – what does the Prime Minister of New Zealand need to know or think about as we move into 2020 – the year of perfect ’20/20′ vision?
The gift of a book tends to say a lot about the giver as well as the receiver, and a collection of books says even more. We rarely choose similar books, instead we look for a range of different formats (e.g. image, data and narrative-based texts) or intensities (e.g. deep and narrow books tend to be written by a subject specialist versus broad and general books which are often written by a thinker). But we also look for gender diversity and a variety of topics (e.g. science, politics, social issues). I always aim to add a fun book: something that warms my heart and gives me hope. Finally, I always like to showcase some great New Zealand books, particularly those that are quirky and original.
For me, the choice of books define what I am thinking about and what I am worried about. The whole process, from thinking to selecting, is important as it also helps to shape the Institute’s work programme. Since we started selecting a list of summer reading books with the Prime Minister in mind, we were looking to put together a collection that would shed light on the challenges that might eventuate. We work year-by-year; although we generally have a sense of direction, we are not limited to deliverables. We may sometimes change direction throughout the year in response to new information, people or events.
With these in mind, the texts we gave to the Prime Minister and other political party leaders are:
- We Are Here: An Atlas of Aotearoa, Chris McDowall and Tim Denee
- The Narrow Corridor, Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson
- #NoFly, Shaun Hendy
- Mindf*ck: Inside Cambridge Analytica’s Plot to Break the World, Christopher Wylie
- Where Power Stops: The Making and Unmaking of Presidents and Prime Ministers, David Runciman
- Protest Tautohetohe: Objects of Resistance, Persistence and Defiance, Stephanie Gibson, Matariki Williams and Puawai Cairns
- KiMuaNZ: Exploring climate futures, McGuinness Institute
- Revisiting Tomorrow newspaper, McGuinness Institute
We Are Here: An Atlas of Aotearoa by Chris McDowall and Tim Denee (2019)
I have selected this beautiful book partly because I am a great believer in the power of design to communicate complex ideas and partly because I am a great believer in the importance of understanding our history. I found the approach of We Are Here particularly interesting because of its presentation of such a wide range of data.
Read a review of We Are Here on The Spinoff by Aaron Schiff here.
The Narrow Corridor: States, Societies and the Fate of Liberty by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson
This is another insightful book from the authors of Why Nations Fail (2012). Acemoglu and Robinson state in the preface that:
Our argument in this book is that for liberty to emerge and flourish, both state and society must be strong. A strong state is needed to control violence, enforce laws, and provide public services that are critical for a life in which people are empowered to make and pursue their choices. A strong, mobilised society is needed to control and shackle the strong state.
Sabeel Rahman says in his review for Washington Post:
In their latest book, The Narrow Corridor: States, Societies, and the Fate of Liberty, political economists Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson hark back to an earlier tradition of postwar social science, asking a fundamental question: What explains the rise and fall of democracy and dictatorship? In so doing, they offer a provocative framework for analyzing our current moment of democratic crisis.
At the heart of Acemoglu and Robinson’s argument is a central insight that for liberty to flourish, societies require both a strong state and a strong civil society. As the authors write, ‘A strong state is needed to control violence, enforce laws, and provide public services that are critical for a life in which people are empowered to make and pursue their choices.’ […] [W]e need a strong enough state to protect against various forms of social and economic domination and unfreedom — but we need that state to be democratically accountable to ensure that we don’t fall subject to new forms of political domination instead. This framework offers a powerful starting point for understanding the many perils facing aspirations for democracy and liberty today. […] Structures are durable until they aren’t, and we are in a moment of sudden plasticity, when our political structure can tip toward freedom or further away from it. While Acemoglu and Robinson do not offer a playbook for today’s reformers, their book raises important questions that we will all have to grapple with.
Read the rest of the review in full here.
#NoFly: Walking the Talk on Climate Change by Shaun Hendy (2019)
Including #NoFly on the list was important to me because it offers an antidote to the negativity of much the discourse surrounding climate change. It is pragmatic and honest about the realities of how our lifestyles will need to change in the transition to a low emissions economy. Shaun Hendy observes on the flight shaming movement, for example:
The flying shaming movement never felt right to me. You tend to think of people flying as privileged business people, people jetting off to Bali to get a suntan. But actually, the most common reason for flying is to see friends and family. Our relationships and family bonds are spread out now, and we can’t undo that. It’s a terrible thing to ask people to not take the grandchildren to meet their grandparents. So I think it is about flying less.
Mindf*ck: Inside Cambridge Analytica’s Plot to Break the World by Christopher Wylie (2019)
Given 2020 is election year it seems appropriate to look back at the lessons that can be learnt from Cambridge Analytica. No country is immune and New Zealand needs to be on guard. I hope the Electoral Commission is sufficiently well resourced and highly sceptical when reviewing the inputs and processes next year. In his epilogue ‘On Regulation: A Note for Regulators’, Wylie puts forward some ideas for consideration ‘or at the very least to provide thought’ and concludes that ‘principle-based rather than technology-based regulation should be created so that we are careful not to embed old technologies or outdated business models into regulatory codes.’
Read a review of Mindf*ck on The Guardian by John Naughton here.
Where Power Stops: The Making and Unmaking of Presidents and Prime Ministers by David Runciman (2019)
This essay collection by David Runciman reminded me why we need to reflect on what makes and unmakes our leaders. One of the books the Institute is hoping to publish in 2020, tentatively called Nation Voices, is a book on New Zealand Prime Ministers – examining their characters and their words. I thought the the chapter on Tony Blair might be of particular interest to the Prime Minister, given that she worked in Blair’s Cabinet Office in 2006. This book provides an interesting insight into the challenges and opportunities for those in or interested in pursuing a political career.
Read a review of Where Power Stops on the Financial Times by Giles Wilkes here.
Protest Tautohetohe: Objects of Resistance, Persistence and Defiance by Stephanie Gibson, Matariki Williams and Puawai Cairns
Protest Tautohetohe, published by Te Papa, traces memories and histories of 200 years of flashpoints and protests in Aotearoa New Zealand’s through the objects ‘made by protesters to proclaim and symbolise their causes and their struggles’.
As chasms continue to form between different demographics and groups, it is important to recognise that citizens have the power to instigate change. In times of uncertainty, social unrest and increased levels of distrust, particularly towards government, this book seems pertinent in understanding how New Zealanders have shaped our history and changed the thinking and policies of central government. Throughout Aotearoa’s history people have been adept at mobilising around causes, whether it be the felling of the flag at Kororāreka, fighting for women’s rights, the anti-nuclear movement, or the current struggle at Ihumātao.
Stephanie Gibson and Puawai Cairns discuss some of the selected objects on RNZ here.
KiMuaNZ: Exploring climate futures by KiMuaNZ workshop participants (2019)
Every year we host a workshop for young people (18–25 years of age). Adapted from the Foreword: The KiMuaNZ workshop (1–3 July 2019) brought together 40 young people with connections to the Pacific who were prepared to tackle the issue of climate change. The workshop was a chance to raise the voices of Pacific-connected young people, and to hear their thoughts and concerns about the impact of climate change. Over the workshop, KiMuaNZ participants learnt how to develop scenarios for a range of challenging climate futures. In certain scenarios we face the loss of the Pacific Islands and, by extension, Pacific culture. The booklet showcases the participants’ developed scenarios, poetry and waiata composed during the workshop, and closing words at the finale event at Government House.
For more about the KiMuaNZ workshop, see here.
Revisiting Tomorrow newspaper, McGuinness Institute
Adapted from ‘About Revisiting Tomorrow’:
Just as in 1976, New Zealand has now reached a new turning point. As the world faces increasing uncertainty, particularly when navigating issues such as climate change, it is vital that New Zealand moves towards embedding foresight and long-term thinking into robust public policy. The panel discussion at the 30 October 2019 event and this newspaper were designed with these aims in mind. The Revisiting Tomorrow newspaper, a combination of McGuinness Institute work and news articles from the 1970s–1990s, is a retrospective look into the Commission for the Future and the New Zealand Planning Council and how they attempted to embed foresight into New Zealand public policy.
For more about the Revisiting Tomorrow: Navigating with Foresight event, see our blog post here.
A big thank you to Marcus and the team at Unity Books for helping us with this year’s selection.
The Institute team is an exceptional group of young people who I am spoilt to work with. They inspire me, keep me on track and work hard to make our research and workshops the very best they can be.
The McGuinness Institute closes for 2019 on 20 December, and reopens for 2020 on 21 January. On behalf of the team, I would like to wish you a very relaxed summer holiday, some quiet time as well as great conversations with friends and family.
All the best for the summer season,