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Off the bookshelves; some of what SSTI staff read in 2018

December 27, 2018

If catching up on your reading is a goal over the holidays or on your list of resolutions for next year, the staff at SSTI are sharing some of our favorite reads from the past year. Here we bring you our list of 2018 science, innovation, tech and entrepreneurship (adjacent) reads. Tell us what you think of the list — and what is on your list — by tweeting @ssti_org.

Dan Berglund, president & CEO

  • The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896 (Richard White, 2017). Income inequality, technological transformation impacting the American economy, tension between rural and urban America, arguments over immigration, and frequent switches in party control of the U.S. House of Representatives: sound familiar? Mark Twain supposedly said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes,” and the echoes between the late 19th century and early 21st century prove the aphorism. This volume, which is denser than it should be, sheds light on how our past has shaped our future.
  • The Soul for America: The Battle for Our Better Angels (Jon Meacham, 2018). A personal pet peeve is hearing political commentators discuss how this country has never been so divided, forgetting the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the 1960s. Meacham reminds us in this quick read that the country has gone through worse and made it through because of the courage and moral strength of individuals be it elected officials or average citizens called to action.

Mark Skinner, vice president

  • USGCRP, 2018: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II [Reidmiller, D.R., C.W. Avery, D.R. Easterling, K.E. Kunkel, K.L.M. Lewis, T.K. Maycock, and B.C. Stewart (eds.)] (2018). Released over the extended Thanksgiving Holiday, this might be the most important thing you read this winter — and encourage your board of directors/trustees/advisors to read — before your next strategic planning retreat to chart your initiative’s future direction. This report clearly articulates the environmental and societal impacts already underway as the global climate changes more rapidly than “any point in the history of modern civilization” and it’s our fault. The report describes what is happening, and will likely happen in our near-term lifetimes, with chapters focused on 16 important national topics ranging from the critical natural components to sustain life, the economic and hard infrastructure permitting modern conveniences we take for granted, the interconnected of the systems at play with climate change, and risk mitigation. Ten more chapters discuss the impacts and courses of actions on the regional level across the United States. Carefully crafted by committees of knowledgeable experts across many disciplines, each chapter reveals there is no time left nor room available for denial as individuals, communities, and governments already are forced to getting on with responses to the changes already underway. Innovation stakeholders and the community of SSTI members and Digest readers have important roles to play going forward. Reading this report should convince all of us.
  • Kingonomics, Rodney Sampson (2012). What can a Southern preacher murdered in the 1960s teach us about running a startup in the Information Age? Turns out quite a lot as Rodney Sampson shows us in his book, Kingonomics. Weaving the wisdom and actions of Martin Luther King Jr with threads from his own experiences as an entrepreneur, Sampson identifies 12 currencies that together form a fabric that carries, comforts, enwraps and enraptures the reader interested in succeeding in business — especially if that startup is your own personal happiness.  An inspiring and timely book as we close 2018, a year marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination of MLK and so much evidence of opportunity for greater work ahead. 
  • White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Robin DiAngelo (2018). One aspect of present-day America on which future historians invariably will have numerous comments is the current resurgence of white privilege in the United States in the face of its inevitable demise as the long-standing foundation weakens and crumbles under the weight of global socioeconomic factors. Removing the systemic racism on which that privilege is built, even for whites who consider themselves open to and working toward a more equitable world, can be challenging, particularly when confronted with what they perceive as charges of implicit culpability, individual/collective blame, and unrecognized bias. DiAngelo provides a critical and candid look at how whites dance around, reframe, and struggle with effectively moving all of America beyond the white supremacy on which the country has been — and remains — largely built.
  • Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution, Marjorie Kelly (2012). If you like to be an early adopter of the leading thinking and policy trends in regional prosperity strategies, a leading candidate for the next big thing is alternative ownership models for practically everything. We have already seen the growing shift from the public sector to nonprofit and private management to address public good, and tech-based economic development for more than a decade with venture development organizations and innovation incubators has been a significant partner/driver in that movement. But emerging from the fringes of the convergence of community and economic development goals is the millennia-old recognition that the rapidly growing disparity in wealth and income evident throughout America can only be addressed by changing the ownership models of the companies thriving in a markets-dominated economy. Owning Our Future provides a useful grounding, a primer, in the models, structures and vocabulary emerging within the community of alternative ownership advocates and practitioners and serves as an important reminder to ensure more of America’s future innovation success is shared among a broader share of the people creating, producing and manufacturing it.
  • The Lorax, Dr. Seuss (1972). If I could select only one book as required reading in 2019, it would be a telling of the rise and fall of an entrepreneur through territory almost mythologized by champions of innovation-based startups. We see a lone wolf though ideation and bootstrapping his company until that critical milestone of first revenue is reached: the promises of hockey stick growth (no doubt a chart of which was included in an unseen pitch deck the entrepreneur used at one or more attempts to secure investors) seem realizable. But, with a sickening whack, our hero's fall is rapid. Consumers and investors rush off to the next big thing that everyone needs. Even the eponymous antagonist, whose analysis was completely validated, leaves with just a single sad backwards glance. With everyone gone, the author suggests that the next part of the story is up to us.
    The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss, published in 1972, should be available at your local library and favorite independent booksellers. Unfortunately, it most likely won't be found in the business section.

Jonathan Dworin, policy analyst

  • The Divided City: Poverty and Prosperity in Urban America, Allan Mallach (2018). Drawing from his own experiences and an intensive data analysis, Mallach, an urban planner and expert on land policy, focuses this book on older industrial cities like Detroit, Cleveland, and Baltimore. Although the renaissances in downtowns and urban neighborhoods across the country captures local and national media attention, Mallach convincingly argues that the vast majority of neighborhoods in America’s legacy cities are actually declining. The book is comprehensive in its exploration of how economic development has changed in these cities over time, and what these changes mean for these cities, their residents, and their futures. 
  • Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town, Brian Alexander (2017). The author of Glass House is a native of Lancaster, OH, a city 45 minutes from SSTI’s offices in Columbus, the long-time home of Anchor Hocking, one of America’s foremost glass manufacturers, and the subject and setting of this book. Glass House combines economic history with modern storytelling, interviewing business executives, civic leaders, drug dealers, and everyone in between, to weave together a narrative that is both enlightening and heartbreaking. Published in 2017, the story is critical to our current national conversation on understanding and assisting left-behind cities in the American heartland. Frankly, if Glass House got even half of the attention that J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy received, these conversations about improving the outcomes for left-behind places would be more nuanced, empathetic, and productive.
  • Coping With Adversity: Regional Economic Resilience and Public Policy, Harold Wolman, Howard Wial, Travis St. Clair, and Ned Hill (2018). The authors employ a combination of quantitative analyses and case studies for a handful of regions to understand why some metropolitan areas are resilient in the face of economic hardship, while others are not. In a world where we are continuously captivated by the next big thing and quick to celebrate the groundbreaking of streetcars or stadiums or headquarters projects as transformational, the authors find there is no simple path to overcoming economic distress. Instead, resilience is a drawn-out, long-term, and ever-changing process. For more on Coping With Adversity, see the SSTI Digest write-up.
  • The New Localism: How Cities Can Thrive in the Age of Populism, Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak (2018). The authors make the case that regional leadership from the public and private sector must collaborate to support economic development. In essence, SSTI’s membership is driving the new localism. The authors cite examples from members like the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, Pittsburgh’s InnovationWorks and AlphaLab, and Kansas City Sourcelink, suggesting that collaborative problem-solving, a collective sense of optimism, and creative ways to unleash public wealth are key to the future of regional economic development.
  • Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Eric Klinenberg (2018). Urban sociologist Eric Klinenberg focuses on “social infrastructure,” public places like libraries, parks, and other elements of the civic commons. Unlike traditional infrastructure such as freeways and bridges, which can be divisive and expensive, Klinenberg suggests that low-cost, high-quality social infrastructure is central to society’s efforts to fight loneliness, inequality, and scourges like the opioid epidemic. For those in the TBED community with a place-based component, the importance of safe, equitable, and accessible social infrastructure is critical to understanding why our incubators, accelerators, or universities may at times feel exclusive.

Laura Lacy Graham, research associate

  • Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders (2017).  Saunders' first novel can be described as a collage narrative of various disembodied spirits who are witnesses to the funeral of Willie Lincoln, President Abraham Lincoln's beloved 11-year old son, and the president's subsequent visits to the cemetery to grieve for his loss – both as a father and as the president of a divided country. Set in the winter of 1862, and a little more than a year into the country's Civil War, the historical context and biographical detailings of a man burdened by enormous grief and tormented by losses that are yet to come give the novel its framework. As the ghosts watch and eavesdrop upon Lincoln's inner thoughts, memories, and his talks with his dead son, readers experience not only their period of transition between death and rebirth (or the bardo – a Tibetan Buddhist term for such, which in the novel serves as a purgatory); but also the semblance of it in the living. The idea that the living might briefly inhabit their bardo, or have a personal bardo, is somewhat of a revelation to the ghosts, not so much for the reader.  Rather, Lincoln in the Bardo serves as a reminder that although the bardo may be unique to each, it is also universal, and the acceptance of our unfinished narratives — understanding that lives end too soon and no one leaves complete — is the quickest way for the both the living and the departed to navigate that transition.

Rob Ksiazkiewicz, policy analyst

  • Advantage: How American Innovation can Overcome the Asian Challenge, Adam Segal (2011). In a period marked by strained Sino-American relations over protectionism and zero-sum view of international trade, this book, published in 2011, is a reminder of the alternative roadmap for maintaining the United States’ position as the world leader in innovation. Segal’s strategy is driven by supporting regional innovation clusters, building strategic global partnership, streamlining immigration procedures, attracting foreign direct investment, and investing in high quality R&D activities.
  • The Captured Economy: How the Powerful Enrich Themselves, Slow Down Growth, and Increase Inequality, Brink Linsey and Steven Teles (2017). Linsey and Teles lay out a compelling argument for how rent seeking behaviors and regulatory capture by elites (both large corporations and wealthy individuals) has led to greater inequality, slowed economic growth, and stymied innovation while also redistributing wealth upward. In one chapter, the authors discuss how federal patent laws have created incentives for patent trolling and made it more difficult small firms to bring products to market.
  • The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Soccer Is Wrong, Chris Anderson and David Sally (2013). Anderson and Sally challenge the conventional “truths” of the beautiful game against actual data. Their findings contend that much of an individual game is driven by luck and circumstance. It makes you wonder how much else in sport, and more importantly in life, is determined by random chance and the circumstances around the situation.

Ellen Marrison, content strategist

  • The Future of Humanity, Michio Kaku (2018). Kaku always likes to provoke thought and stir the pot with futuristic views based in science. This one will certainly get you thinking and questioning both current affairs and the future of space travel. Whether or not humanity’s survival is dependent on the colonization of distant planets, this book will leave you excited about the science, innovation, discovery and dreams that are fueling our quest to achieve human flight to habitable planets and galaxies.
  • The Innovators,  Walter Isaacson (2014). In a time where many people may feel compelled to garner as much credit as possible for their individual accomplishments, this book reminds us that it is through collaboration, hard work, past discoveries, curiosity and vision that true innovation occurs.

Jason Rittenberg, policy and development director

  • Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, Anand Giridharadas (2018). The core concept of the book is that we can’t look to the successful to drive social change (reminiscent of this Dilbert comic). Giridharadas pushes the reader to consider what policies you support, and whether they are radical enough to be meaningful.
  • Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., Ron Chernow (2004). This detailed biography of Rockefeller allows the reader to see both sides of the still-relevant and often fine lines between innovator and rule-breaker and between wealth concentration and philanthropy.
  • White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, Nancy Isenberg (2017). You don’t have to be a historian to recognize that America’s current urban/rural and education gaps have precedents, but Isenberg’s ability to trace specific corollaries to the colonial era may surprise. (Fair warning, the first half of the book is much better than the rest.)
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