Research Money Books of 2021: What we’ve been reading this year

As we enter into the holidays, we’ll all hopefully get more time to relax and, perhaps, crack open a book. Here are some of the Research Money team’s top reading picks for 2021.

  • Innovation in Real Places by Dan Breznitz is a highly-readable and actionable book on how to think clearly about innovation. Breznitz argues that instead of attempting to become another version of Silicon Valley — a “Silicon-Hyphen” — communities should focus on where they fit into the four stages of the global production process and achieve growth by developing specializations that play to their strengths.
  • Debt: The First 5,00 Years by David Graeber. The book is a macro-history of debt, encompassing not just financial history but the debt’s cultural and religious roots. Debt was itself an innovation, and Graeber investigates how the concept has shaped the modern world. Graeber was an anarchist and a leading figure in the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the book will challenge readers who disagree with his politics; that’s the point. His work is a valuable reminder that convenient economic narratives rarely correspond with the messy world of human beings, and that the modern economy is as much about culture and morality as supply and demand.

Lindsay Borthwick, senior correspondent:

Mark Lowey, senior correspondent:

  • The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff. Zuboff, a professor emerita from Harvard Business School, offers a comprehensive account of the new form of data-driven, often dangerous, digital economic exploitation by tech companies like Facebook and Google. She argues that several factors have steered us away from both an egalitarian information workplace and the libertarian dream of a cyberspace frontier.
  • Tulipomania: The Story of the World’s Most Coveted Flower & the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused by Mike Dash. Dash, a Cambridge-educated writer, presents the history of the tulip from its origins to its starring moment as the most coveted — and beautiful — commodity in Europe. Dutch citizens from every walk of life invested small fortunes in buying rare tulip bulbs in what became the first futures market in history.

Monte Stewart, correspondent:

  • The Code Breakers by Walther Isaacson. The first half covers some demanding but informative genetics that helps understand CRISPR technology and its implications. The latter half delves into ethical and policy issues. A fascinating running theme is the interplay between basic and applied research and the evolving importance of collaboration in cutting-edge research, even while competition is still alive and well.
  • Mission Economy by Mariana Mazzucato. The latest book by this intelligent and increasingly influential economist. Her main thesis is that governments, industry, academia and civil society can align disparate priorities and interests if everyone is focused on a mission to achieve a specific outcome. Policy needs to focus on outcomes.

Adity Das Gupta, business manager:

  • Where to Live, What to Buy, and Who Will Lead Canada’s Future by Darrell Bricker. It’s not exactly a science and innovation book, but it is a forecast into Canada’s future based on demographic data.
  • The science fiction adventures Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir and Dune by Frank Herbert.