Financial Review, 22 April 2021
You’re an educator and a manager – and a writer. Who is the contemporary writer you’d most like to be, most admire?
Hermione Lee’s new biography of Tom Stoppard quotes another playwright saying he could not begrudge Stoppard’s good fortune. “It is actually one of Tom’s achievements that one envies him nothing, except possibly his looks, his talent, his money and his luck.“
Can you list the books at your bedside?
Alongside the Lee biography, like the rest of the world I’m reading Louise Glück after her Nobel Prize. And Reset by Ross Garnaut, Marian Wilkinson’s The Carbon Club and the new In The National Interest series.
You’re a great admirer of Tennyson’s Ulysses. How does it speak to you at this moment?
I’ve long admired Ulysses as a meditation on leadership and ageing – written by a man then 24 years old. I read it once at a reunion of Australian conscripts, including Vietnam veterans, and was moved by the tears in the room. Beneath the Victorian sensibility, the poem evokes a longing to be back in the world, following the horizon like an arch through which gleams all still unknown.
Your latest book is On Life’s Lottery and it’s about breaking the cycle of generational poverty. Do the skills and cultural resources associated with the liberal arts, broadly defined, have a role to play here?
As the president of Infosys, Ravi Kumar, argued in 2019, when we invest in “liberal arts graduates, we gain people with human-centred skills”. Such graduates “approach problems in entirely new ways”.
At the Paul Ramsay Foundation, we have chosen the widest possible array of skills – from anthropologists and political theorists to data scientists, lawyers, medical doctors and beyond. Knowledge is a team sport, innovation the outcome of intense conversations across the disciplines.
Do you take much pleasure in rereading?
Both new and familiar. Rereading is often discovering a different book – who knew our understanding of the world shifts subtly over time? Since it proves impossible to keep up with all new writing, I have profound gratitude to reviewers and publications for welcome hints on new books worth reading.