Albo’s holiday reading list: Six books to keep the PM busy at the beach
By Jason Steger
It’s been a pretty busy year for Anthony Albanese. What with becoming prime minister at the federal election, a G20 meeting, APEC and ASEAN summits, not to mention trying to put our tense relationship with China back on a more even keel, he wouldn’t have had much time for reading much besides budget papers and briefing documents.
But the Grattan Institute is banking on Albanese having a bit of downtime over the summer holidays and has prepared him a list of essential books it thinks he should read. It’s an exercise the independent public policy think tank has been doing for prime ministers since 2009.
Grattan chief executive Danielle Wood says she is not aware of Albanese’s tastes in reading and the list is compiled for a generic Australian PM. “We’ve learnt the lesson that we don’t think about any particular PM so much as the archetypal PM who cares about the direction of the country and is engaged with broad policy challenges. Once you start trying to fit the books to any particular personality you get yourself in all sorts of trouble.”
Four years ago, the recommendations for then PM Scott Morrison included former asylum seeker and Manus Island detainee Behrouz Boochani’s No Friend But the Mountains, which probably wouldn’t have gone down well at The Lodge.
This year, Grattan is recommending a mixture of fiction, memoir, economics, healthcare and science for Albanese to take with him to the beach. The six titles are: Cold Enough for Snow, Jessica Au; Buried Treasure, Jo Chandler (published in The Griffith Review); We Come With This Place, Debra Dank; Career and Family: Women’s Century-Long Journey toward Equity, Claudia Goldin; Healing: Our Path from Mental Illness to Mental Health, Thomas R. Insel; and My Father and Other Animals, Samuel Vincent.
Wood says she and her colleagues try to pick books that have something interesting, original, or thought-provoking to say on issues that are relevant to the Australian policy landscape. The books don’t have to be by local writers or about Australia – two, Career & Family and Healing, are by Americans – but they do have to address issues that have relevance in an Australian policy context.
“There’s a big discussion around women’s workforce participation as an economic driver, and Claudia Goldin has from decades of research got a lot to say about how that’s changed and what the barriers are to women participating more fully in the workforce,” she says.
Wood admitted she was at first not sure that Insel’s book would work, as the American health service was so different from the Australian one.
“But I was struck by how many of the issues are deeply similar in this space,” she says.
“Just the focus on treating symptoms rather than looking upstream at causes, [on] lots of disparities in terms of access to treatments and level of treatment by income level and geography, and not always evidence-based interventions – all things frankly that apply equally in the Australian context. So there’s plenty we can learn in Australia from that book.”
Wood said the annual list always contained a work of fiction or poetry, and she described Au’s award-winning novella as “beautiful”.
Sadly, the Grattan rarely gets a thank-you letter from PMs.
“We did hear from one. It was Malcolm [Turnbull]. He asked for the books to be couriered to his holiday home rather than the Lodge and I think he read at least some of them that year. He was probably the most receptive PM to the idea of the list,” Wood says.
The 2022 Prime Minister’s Summer Reading List will be officially launched at the State Library Victoria at 5.30pm on December 8.
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