Stack of books on a boardwalk with the ocean beachfront in the background.

CPAS/ACOLA 2022 Summer Reading List

Publication date
Friday, 16 Dec 2022

“What a year 2022 has been. We hope you enjoy a well deserved and relaxing break. To help you on your way, we at ACOLA wanted to share some fun, thought-provoking and interesting research-based reading, watching and listening for wherever your holidays take you. Enjoy, and congratulations for getting to the finish line. We look forward to seeing you in 2023.”

Ryan Winn, CEO of ACOLA

At the end of each year, the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) develops a summer reading list to promote interesting, insightful and provocative interdisciplinary research and thinking, as well as inspire and entertain us as we all take some well-needed rest. We also aim to promote high-quality and engaging research and science writing for a non-specialist audience. For 2022, ACOLA collaborated with us, The Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS), to create the 2022 Summer Reading List.

The list is the culmination of the listening and reading habits of many of Australia’s research leaders and science communicators over the last 12 months. It includes a mix of fiction and non-fiction books, interesting articles and podcast episodes, and series for you to enjoy on the couch, as you drive, walk the dog, cycle or laze by the beach.

Books – non-fiction

Covers of nine different books for summer reading.


Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Kimmer. Braiding sweet grass is a beautifully written book through which layers of Indigenous ways of being and doing are revealed through the author’s Indigenous and western botanical knowledge. This book blends a personal history, cultural education and a story of colonization.  Be prepared to reconsider how you understand bays. Recommender: Dr Kate Herriden

Different, Not Less by Chloe Hayden. As the parent of a young woman with a disability I found this book really helpful in understanding the experience of school and family life for children with autism. Recommender: Professor Cathie Sherrington FAAHMS

Love Drugs: The Chemical Future of Our Relationships by Brian Earp. An exploration of how prescribed and illict drugs can influence people’s emotions, sexual attractions and romantic relationships. I was amazed by the wide range of potential applications for love and anti-love drugs, from helping couples repair their relationships to chemically castrating sex offenders. It is interesting, and also concerning, how a single pill can change not just our emotions, but also our social relations.

Why you should give a f*ck about farming by Gabrielle Chan. If you’ve ever wanted a place to start understanding Australia’s complex agricultural landscape – this is the book. A broad, nuanced and balanced exploration of farming in Australia that hammers home how important strategic thinking around our food is, and why we should all have a stake in what lands on our plates.

How to change your mind: the new science of psychedelics by Michael Pollan. Recommender: Susannah Eliott

Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism by Mariana Mazzucato. So, this is a provocative book whose key thesis about how governments need to fund stuff that the private sector won’t (Apollo program) …or when it does, it badly perverts (pace Musk and Bezos) is great. And yet, it also makes we worry about how we fund basic science and tech in general as ‘moonshots’ that give us ‘spinoffs’…not sure about that, but I’ve enjoyed thinking about it a lot.

Madhouse at the End of the Earth by Julian Sancton. Recommender: Drew Clarke AO PSM FTSE

Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow. David Graeber is my hero. He died in 2020, so this represents his last book, completed by his co-author David Wengrow and released this year. Together they explore the ways our understandings of early human history so often reflect the shallow thinking and ideological gazes of the present. But that makes it sound boring! This is a great read, packed with moments that radically change how you think about how human societies work, and what they could be.

The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia by Orlando Figes. The Whisperers is a groundbreaking account of daily life in the chaotic and paranoid atmosphere of Stalinist Russia. Exploring the inner life of a Russia where everyone was afraid to talk and society spoke in whispers, whether to protect friends and family – or to betray them – Orlando Figes tells the story of how Russians tried to endure life under Stalin’s Terror.



For cover images of science articles.

File not found by Monica Chin. File not found: A generation that grew up with Google is forcing professors to rethink their lesson plans. This astonishing (and uncomfortably relevant) article explores how young people understand files and folder (hint: they don’t!) and what this means for people who teach them. I’ve recommended it to so many people this year!

What is glitter? By Caity Weaver. From 2018, but fantastic, and I remember reading it while watching the glittering water that summer, and I remember it every summer since. She’s very funny.

What moneyball-for-everything has done to American culture by Derek Thompson. The subhead to this article is just perfect: “You can make a thing so perfect that it’s ruined.” It explores the role of analytics in contemporary thinking… and what it means for all of us.

America’s long lost weekend by Walter Shapiro. America’s long lost weekend reflects on the period from 1991 (the end of the Cold War) until 2008 (the beginning of the financial crisis) and how we didn’t realize what a golden era this was at the time, what opportunities we lost, and what the future holds compared to those years. Recommender: Prof Richard Holden FASSA


Podcasts – episodes and series

Cover images of Podcast series

Capitalisn’t (Series). Capitalisn’t is a podcast about “what is working in capitalism, and what isn’t” with world renowned economist Luigi Zingales and prize-winning financial journalist Bethany McLean. RecommenderProf Richard Holden FASSA

Living with Artificial Intelligence – BBC Reith Lectures, with Stuart Russell (Episode). Stuart Russell explores the future of AI and asks: how can we get it right? I listened to this while walking the dog on a beach a few months ago, and Russell’s insights have stuck with me. There is a path through the challenges presented by AI that allow us to also achieve a just, sustainable, human oriented world.

A brief history of the metaverse (Episode)

Runaway recommendation engine (Episode). An episode of the Planet Money podcast from 2021 on the original Netflix Prize for a better prediction engine for user ratings of movies. I’ve revisited the transcript countless times and sent it on to a lot of other academics, it’s just really great. 

Tech Zero (Series)Recommender: Dr Alan Finkel AO FAA FTSE FAAHMS


Books – Fiction

Six book covers of recommended Fiction books.


Assembly by Natasha Brown. This book blew me away as it tells the story of a black woman in contemporary London who has ‘assembled’ a life that most would envy but it is actually layered with hatred and the residue of centuries of abuse… and she is not even sure if it is what she wants. Fabulous dialogue and internal monologue and observation. I read it about 3 times, each in one sitting.

Horse by Geraldine Brooks. I found this historical novel absolutely fascinating and eye-opening, and I’m speaking as someone with    little to no interest in horseracing. Horse weaves modern science into a story that tackles racism in the United States in a subtle but deeply thought-provoking way. It’s a novel that makes you think about your own use of language and the importance of getting it right.

No one is talking about this by Patricia Lockwood. This… might not be for everyone. But if you asked an award winning poet and viral tweeter to document the emotional journey of a family health crisis via the deluge literary style of the modern internet, this is what you’d get. I can’t remember a book making me laugh more.

Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley. A Finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award (2022). This decidedly weird fiction novel explores humanity’s response to finding another species, and questions what ‘winning’ even looks like.

Tomorrow, Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Garbrielle Zevin. This book follows Sadie and Sam, two young video game designers in the ‘90s as they explore the realities of realising a dream. It is a moving and insightful novel about love, business, transitions and starting over—and a testament to a life lived in parallel with the worlds we explore in games.

The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu. Long, detailed, yugely epic and weirdly compelling.



Four cover images of other science-related films, podcast, or books.

Tracker Data Project - Exhibit and research data project. This includes it's Exhibit link and research project link

The Peripheral - TV series. A TV series based on the wonderful book by William Gibson. The series juxtaposes two futures – small town Alabama-ish America in 2032 (before the climate change has ruined everything), and London in 2099 (after we’ve perhaps picked up the pieces). It asks fascinating questions about technology and causality, but also rests on beautifully classic storytelling.

Severance - TV series. What if we could leave our work thoughts… at work? Is this a sociology of meaningless work? Or exploration of the costs of our worklives on our souls? Whatever – it’s compelling TV asking great questions about what we should all be doing with our lives.

“Mars” by national geographic – TV seriesWhile from 2020, the feel and style of this show, combing real-world science and interviews with an intriguing fictional story set in 2033 to colonise Mars is very engaging summer watching. A nicely choreographed piece of work while exploring the technical, socio, economic and political issues of space colonisation.