Books by the beach

From lessons of nations that lifted themselves out of crisis to quants traders to climate change and the so-called “black tax”, there should be plenty in this edition to interest most tastes.

Our list includes some well-known authors, including former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas, Adriaan Basson, Robert Shiller, Jared Diamond, Malcolm Gladwell and John Sanei. There’s also a name that’s likely to become better known in the years to come for her writings on gender bias: Caroline Criado Perez, who has applied some excellent data analysis to this important topic. 

Once again, thanks to my colleagues who came up with many of the best selections in the list.


Happy reading and all the best for 2020.

There are four broad categories: South African; business and finance; current affairs, science, philosophy and psychology; and sport. Many of the books on the list could easily have slotted into two or three categories, so please don’t treat the categories as prescriptive.

Let’s kick off with the South African books:

  • After Dawn: Hope after State Capture

    By Mcebisi Jonas

    Former Deputy Finance Minister Jonas had a front row seat during the worst of the state capture years and was one of the first people to call it out, claiming at one stage that the Gupta brothers had offered him R600m to take the job of finance minister. Jonas tells the story of state capture from his perspective, while offering his own views on fixing the country’s woes.

  • Black Tax: Burden or Ubuntu?

    Various authors (edited by Niq Mhlongo)

    One of the success stories of South Africa over the last two decades has been the rise of the black middle class. However the recent years of economic stagnation have placed new strains on this cohort, not only in terms of personal financial pressure but also in terms of the burden that many bear through supporting a broader network of families and communities who remain in poverty. This is the “black tax” referred to in this important anthology that tells the personal stories of people who face this burden every day.

  • A House Divided: The Feud that took Cape Town to the Brink

    By Crispian Olver

    Olver tells the story of one of most famous spats in recent South African politics, that between the DA and former Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille, which unfolded last year and led to her leaving the DA to form her own party. Set against the backdrop of crippling drought that threatened the “Day Zero” scenario of the taps running dry in the Western Cape, Olver uncovers a world of intrigue and questionable deals.

  • Blessed by Bosasa: Inside Gavin Watson’s State Capture Cult

    By Adriaan Basson

    State capture is once again the subject of this insightful look into one of its prime examples, the firm headed by former rugby player and anti-apartheid activist Gavin Watson. The book details how, according to Basson, Bosasa used patronage to sway leading politicians and civil servants.

  • Tobacco Wars: Inside the spy games and dirty tricks of southern Africa's cigarette trade

    By Johann van Loggerenberg

    Van Loggerenberg, the former SARS official charged with bringing tax evaders to book, has brought out another riveting read, following the successes of his previous books, “Rogue: The Inside Story of SARS’s Elite Crime-busting Unit” and “Death and Taxes: How SARS made hitmen, drug dealers and tax dodgers pay their dues”. In this book he reveals the investigations into tax evasion and corruption involved in the illicit tobacco trade.

  • We Have a Game Changer: A Decade of Daily Maverick


    It’s hard to believe that the Daily Maverick has been around for 10 years now, chronicling, exploring and explaining the tumultuous decade in South Africa’s history that we’ve just been through. Moreover, it’s been a decade in which the media industry itself has been under immense strain, in the form of dwindling advertising revenue, as well as in other ways – from “fake news” to being undermined by politicians and other vested interests. The book, according to the Daily Maverick’s own blurb, is not “a collection of Daily Maverick’s best stories, but the personal story behind it all”. It has just recently hit the shelves, while the publishers have also promised a free online edition.

Business and finance are our lifeblood at Investec Wealth & Investment. Here's a selection of what we'vebeen reading on the subject.

  • The Man Who Solved the Market

    By Gregory Zuckerman

    Zuckerman is a writer at the Wall Street Journal and the author of a number of well-known books, including “The Greatest Trade Ever” (which tells the John Paulson story) and “The Frackers” (about the people behind the fracking boom in the US). Here he tells the story of Jim Simons, a former mathematician and code-breaker for the US government, who then started Renaissance Technologies, an investment firm that uses quantitative techniques to make investment decisions. So well has the fund done that it regularly beat Warren Buffett over three decades. The book was a  finalist in the 2019 FT/McKinsey Business Book of the Year Awards.

  • Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman

    By Yvon Chouinard

    This is not a new book (it was first published over a decade ago and has been revised since) but it should resonate with the spirit of our times, in which businesses are increasingly seeing the importance of sustainability as an objective. The author is the founder of Patagonia, the outdoor clothing and equipment firm, and the book tells his story of how he used his passion for rock-climbing to build the business into what it is today. Chouinard and Patagonia also see themselves as activists, contributing to environmental causes.

  • Foresight

    By John Sanei

    Sanei is a well-known futurist, public speaker and author who has already achieved success with his books “What’s Your Moonshot?” and “Magnetiize”. In this book, he puts together 20 scenarios that bring together psychology and future thinking to make sense of the world we are going into, and why we need to move from innovation to disruption. 

  • Narrative Economics

    By Robert Shiller

    A former Nobel Laureate, Shiller is well-known for his work on asset prices and in particular on challenging traditional notions of rationality and efficiency in markets. In this book, he expands on the idea, explaining how subjective perceptions shape economics. One of The Economist’s end-of-year recommendations.

  • The Behavioral Investor

    By Daniel Crosby

    In a similar vein to Shiller, Daniel Crosby argues the case for placing psychological factors at the heart of investment decision making. The book’s strength is not just in explaining human psychological tendencies but in also in “joining the dots” by applying this understanding to investment decisions.

  • Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialised World

    By David Epstein

    The commonly held view is that the key to success in any field is specialisation. However Epstein offers a different view, analysing top performers across a range of fields and finding that it’s the generalists who enjoy the most success. Given the pace of change in our lives these days, with careers and technologies becoming obsolete at a faster rate than before, the argument for generalism makes ever more sense. Range was another finalist in the 2019 FT/McKinsey Business Book of the Year.

In current affairs, science, psychology and philosophy, we feature some well-known authors as well as a new name or two

  • Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

    By Caroline Criado Perez

    Criado Perez won the 2019 FT/McKinsey Business Book of the Year award for this important work. While many have highlighted the problem of gender bias in society before, this is arguably the first work where the bias is fully exposed through well-researched data. From voice-recognition software to the size of smartphones, Criado Perez not only shows plenty of evidence of “one-size-fits-men” when it comes to policy or design, but she is also able to document the actual cost of this to women and society as a whole.

  • Capitalism, Alone

    By Branko Milanovic

    One of The Economist’s end-of-year recommendations, this book poses questions that modern capitalism needs to face in future. While capitalism has appeared to have “won the war” against socialism, the same cannot be said of the liberal democracies, with democratic values under threat in a number of growing and increasingly important economies.

  • China, Trade and Power: Why the West’s Economic Engagement Has Failed

    By Stewart Patterson

    This book follows a similar theme to that of Brankovic’s book “Capitalism, Alone". It looks at how China has succeeded in lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty, but without western notions of liberalism taking root and with no signs of the Communist Party losing its grip on power. Patterson’s book provides an important perspective in a world in which China’s growing influence means it may increasingly be the model for others to follow.

  • Talking to Strangers - What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know

    By Malcolm Gladwell

    Best-selling author Gladwell turns to a subject we can all relate to: why we do such a poor job at assessing the people we meet. It’s this human failure that’s allowed con artists and killers alike to take advantage of human trust and get away with their activities, often for years. For those who enjoyed Gladwell’s previous works, this should be a fascinating read.

  • Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis

    By Jared Diamond

    For anyone interested in the history of the rises and falls of nations over the centuries – looking beyond the simple “great men of history” stories and at the social, technological and biological factors that shape history – Diamond’s books are a must. “Guns, Germs and Steel” and “Collapse” were certainly classics of this genre. With “Upheaval”, Diamond examines a number of countries, all of which he knows well, and looks at how they were able to lift themselves out of crisis. Though he doesn’t refer to South Africa in the book, there are certainly lessons for South Africans as we tackle our current challenges.

  • Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking

    By Matthew Syed

    Diversity and inclusion are words we hear a lot these days when it comes to recruiting for business, sport or any aspect of civil society where teamwork is required. Whereas in the past we may have thought that recruiting or building a team around similarities was a blueprint for success, we are finding more and more how diverse backgrounds, personalities and mind-sets can help drive success. Using a vast array of case studies, Syed calls for the challenging of hierarchies and constructive dissent as ways to flourish.

  • The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming

    By David Wallace-Wells

    The Economist describes this as “one of the most terrifying” books on the subject of climate change and the consequences thereof. He sets out some alarming figures in the book, including how each trans-Atlantic return flight costs the Arctic three square metres of ice and how by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans. However we would not consider ourselves human if we didn’t believe we could overcome the problem of climate change and Wallace-Wells does provide some examples of ways we can combat climate change, even though there appears to be little will by the authorities to do so comprehensively right now.

Finally, we look at books about sport

  • The Barefoot Coach. Life-changing insights from coaching the world's best cricketers

    By Paddy Upton

    Cricket fans will need no introduction to Paddy Upton, the former assistant coach to Gary Kirsten (they had great success with both the Proteas and the Indian national team) as well as a successful coach in his own right. Upton’s path to becoming a coach wasn’t conventional however: he cut short his own playing career at a young age to work first as a strength and conditioning coach and later as a mental coach before building his own career as a head coach. Upton shares some great insights and anecdotes (including from outside cricket) that can help us in our sporting, working and personal lives.


  • Beast

    By Tendai Mtawarira (with Andy Capostagno)

    Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira, the Zimbabwean-born loosehead prop, quickly won over the hearts of South African rugby supporters of all backgrounds early in his senior career, first with the Sharks and then the Springboks. His scrummaging power and all-round play were key contributors to the Boks’ famous World Cup win in Tokyo. This book tells the story of the person under the jersey.

  • Today We Die a Little! The Inimitable Emil Zátopek, the Greatest Olympic Runner of All Time

    By Richard Askwith

    Czechoslovakia’s Emil Zatopek was arguably the greatest middle and long-distance athlete of his time, winning five Olympic gold medals, including the unprecedented 5,000m, 10,000m and marathon treble at the 1952 Helsinki Games. Importantly though, he was also a model of sporting friendship across political boundaries during the Cold War, his gregarious personality and gift with languages winning him respect in both the East and the West. Unfortunately, he backed the wrong side in in the Prague Spring of 1968, which was brutally suppressed by the Soviet Union. In the following years, he was forced into a string of menial jobs, often away from his family. Askwith tells the human and athletic story of this remarkable human.

About the author

Patrick Lawlor

Patrick Lawlor


Patrick writes and edits content for Investec Wealth & Investment, and Corporate and Institutional Banking, including editing the Daily View, Monthly View, and One Magazine - an online publication for Investec's Wealth clients. Patrick was a financial journalist for many years for publications such as Financial Mail, Finweek, and Business Report. He holds a BA and a PDM (Bus.Admin.) both from Wits University.

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