The five best summer reads on innovation and technology

Beach reading for both tech policy wonks and the rest of us from ITIF

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The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) recently unveiled its annual Innovation and Tech Policy Reading List, with reviews of the best summer reads on innovation and technology. The full list features 14 recommended titles, as well as titles to avoid. 

We asked ITIF President Robert D. Atkinson and his staff for the top 5 recommendations from their list. Here’s what they recommend, along with mini-reviews of each title: 

1. The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths by Mariana Mazzucato

 Mariana Mazzucato’s The Entrepreneurial State is an ambitious book with an important goal: to turn the way we think about the government’s role in the economy on its head. Mazzucato argues that the state is an innovative, entrepreneurial actor in ways that the private sector cannot be, because only the state possesses the vision, resources, and long-term commitment necessary to facilitate large-scale innovation. The core of the book presents convincing evidence of this dynamic, the risk/reward tradeoffs faced by governments, taxpayers, and private-sector actors as well as what the implications of this system are for fairness and equality. All in all, this is a must-read book in the field of innovation policy—and indeed for anyone interested in political economy or income inequality.

2. Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change by Edmund Phelps

In this book, Edmund Phelps attempts to explain, in the broader sense, why some societies “flourish” in terms of both material well-being and “the good life.” He rightly points to innovation as the driver and indeed defines a modern economy as one “with a considerable degree of dynamism—that is the will and capacity and aspiration to innovate…and to leave aside current conditions and obstacles.” In other words, this means the willingness to take and embrace risks and organize government to support innovation. But for Phelps, all is not well. He argues that America has turned away from those values, increasingly preferring stasis and comfort, not dynamism and change. Phelps notes that as more and more Americans “became interested in making a quick buck,” they gravitate to wealth seeking sectors like finance, and not the innovation sectors that are necessary to promote economic health. Thus, he makes an important point that conservatives need to take to heart: making money and seeking wealth are not synonymous with a society that enjoys mass flourishing.

3. Big Bang Disruption: Strategy in the Age of Devastating Innovation by Larry Downes and Paul Nunes

Business books about corporate innovation tend to be a dime a dozen, but Larry Downes and Paul Nunes’ offering provides useful insights for practitioners of corporate innovation. The case studies and analysis presented effectively convey the accelerated pace of innovation in the modern business environment and the urgency and alacrity enterprises must display. While unfortunately the book is a bit too prone to hyping the techno-exponentialism that ITIF has previously lamented, there is little doubt that emerging technologies—particularly information and communications technologies (ICTs)—have directly accelerated rates of innovation in a range of downstream industries well beyond the ICT sector itself. In summary, while Big Bang Disruption isn’t flawless, it’s a fairly quick read that inspires readers to think about the challenges and new approaches needed to bring innovation to their enterprises and industries..

4. Innovation Economics: The Race for Global Advantage (Paperback Edition) by Robert Atkinson and Stephen Ezell

 Yes, we plead guilty of self-promotion. This book, written by ITIF President Robert Atkinson and Senior Analyst Stephen Ezell, was released in paperback in 2014. McKinsey Director Emeritus Lenny Mendonca describes the book as follows: “As a long-time analyst of the trends shaping the global economy, I am struck by the increasing number of economic and political leaders that do not grasp how serious the structural economic problems facing America are. I hope they read Innovation Economics. It ‘speaks truth power’ with candor, reason and wit and offers fresh thinking and a path forward. Rob Atkinson and Stephen Ezell have been making important contributions and better ideas about economic policy for years. Their new book is eye-opening and alarming and arrives at a critical time.”

5. Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture by Erez Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel

While many of the most important big data applications, such as numerical weather prediction and high-throughput genomic analysis may be esoteric to much of the public, human culture can serve as an immediate and accessible example of big data’s power and breadth of applicability. Erez Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel’s book does just that. Inspired by their research as applied mathematics graduate students at Harvard, they detail the emerging discipline of “culturomics,” the attempt to address sociological questions through quantitative analysis. In addition to its insights about the human condition, from the way language evolves to the ebbs and flows of different research disciplines, culturomics has long-term implications for economics, education, and the law. Aiden and Michel situate big data as a crucial tool for studying human culture and attitudes, and in doing so give another example of how big data will touch all aspects of human life.

Click HERE for the full list.