Digital book library on a laptop

At one stage during the lockdown, the idea of travelling to a holiday destination seemed to be a distant dream. But while our travel plans are remain heavily restricted, we can still count on some great authors to give their insights, wherever you happen to be spending your time over the holidays.

There are some great international and local non-fiction reads, with the likes of Barack Obama, David Attenborough, Morgan Housel, Reed Hastings, Raymond Parsons, Thuli Madonsela, Mandy Wiener and John Sanei sharing their insights.

Once again we have four broad categories: South African; business and finance; current affairs, science, philosophy and psychology; and sport. Many of the books straddle two or three categories.
Where available, the ratings on are provided (or Amazon).

South African books

  • South Africa Beyond Covid-19: Trends, change and recovery

    Edited by Pieter du Toit 

    High unemployment, government indebtedness, dysfunctional state-owned enterprises and electricity supply disruptions – South Africa did not have its troubles to seek going into the Covid-19 pandemic. The novel coronavirus and lockdowns have added to the challenges but have also given an opportunity to reset. An illustrious list of experts give their views, including Thuli Madonsela, Ralph Mathekga, Adriaan Basson, Adam Habib, Koos Bekker, Ann Bernstein and Dawie Roodt.

    Amazon rating: 3.2 out of 5

  • Recession, Recovery and Reform: South Africa after Covid-19

    Edited by Raymond Parsons

    Another illustrious group of writers, this time edited by seasoned economist Raymond Parsons, similarly take a view of where South Africa is and where it is going. Contributing authors include Ann Bernstein, Bonang Mohale, Cas Coovadia, Lukanyo Mnyanda, Mondli Makhanya, Sipho Pityana and Thuli Madonsela.

  • Six Years with Al Qaeda – The Stephen McGown Story

    By Tudor Caradoc-Davies, with Stephen McGowan

    Stephen McGown was a South African who had just finished working in the UK and decided to take the long way back home to South Africa through Africa. However he was captured by Al Qaeda and for six years he moved around the Sahara Desert with his captors as they evaded being detected. Cut off from the outside world, McGown never knew whether each day would be his last. Staying alive was not just a matter of coping, but also of finding meaning and purpose in small ways. An uplifting story of the human spirit.

    Goodreads rating: 4.2 out of 5

  • The Upside of Down: How Chaos and Uncertainty Breed Opportunity in South Africa

    By Bruce Whitfield

    Whitfield is a seasoned media personality who has interviewed most of South Africa’s leading business people and other leaders. He draws on what he has learned from many of them about what sort of leadership and changes are required in times of turmoil, and how these can be channelled to achieve greatness.

    Goodreads rating: 4.2 out of 5

  • FutureNEXT – Reimagining Our World & Conquering Uncertainty

    By John Sanei, Iraj Abedian

    Sanei is a well-known futurist and strategist, while Dr Abedian is a leading economist. They combine their skills to examine the world we find ourselves in and re-imagine the world that awaits us in the coming years, as well as how we should equip ourselves to survive and thrive.

  • The Whistleblowers

    By Mandy Wiener

    The author has forged a career writing about South Africa’s underworld and the underbelly of corruption. Here she looks at the brave people who fight against it – the many whistleblowers who risked their careers and lives to fight the corruption around them. She shares some of their harrowing tales and what they have had to endure to do the right thing.

    Goodreads rating: 4.2 out of 5

Business and finance

  • The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness

    By Morgan Housel

    Housel is a partner at The Collaborative Fund and a former Wall Street Journal columnist. He is also well known for his series of blogs that he writes under The Collaborative Fund banner. This book (which has its origins in a blog he wrote with the same name) tries to look beyond the numbers and spreadsheets and at how we think and behave when it comes to money. The book has been praised by the likes of Howard Marks and Daniel Pink, for its clear, easy-to-read style.

    Goodreads rating: 4.51 out of 5

  • No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention

    By Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer

    Barely a social conversation goes by without someone asking for a recommendation of a movie or series on Netflix, such is the extent to which the streaming service has become embedded in our lives (all the more so during the height of the lockdowns). Netflix itself has its own unique culture, which is discussed in this book written by its CEO Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer, the latter an INSEAD professor and author, whose previous works have also discussed the role of culture in an organisation.

    Goodreads rating: 4.32 out of 5

  • No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram

    By Sarah Frier

    From influencers to small businesses and restaurant chains, Instagram has become the social media channel of choice for those wishing to shape the way we dress, eat and live. The author gives a history of the app and its unique combination of technology and visual storytelling. She talks to the founders, as well as some of its most famous users, getting an inside view of the strategies used by them to shape the views of their users.

    Goodreads rating: 4.12 out of 5

  • More – The 10,000-year Rise of the World Economy

    By Philip Coggan

    The author is a journalist at the Financial Times and this book is a very helpful, well-narrated economic history of the world. It not only chronicles the various economic and technological advances we have seen over the millennia, but it also ties them together in a way that’s easy to understand. Written before the pandemic, it nonetheless has insights that we can all draw from in understanding how our world has changed and will continue to change.

    Goodreads rating: 4.15 out 5

Current affairs, science, philosophy and psychology

  • A Promised Land

    By Barack Obama

    The US presidential election is behind us and the US (and the rest of the world) appears as politically fractured as ever. So it’s a good time to read what Barack Obama, the 44th president of the US, has to say about his career and the state of US politics. It’s an intimate and in-depth look into Obama’s political life but also gives a perspective on the highly partisan landscape of modern US politics.

    Goodreads rating: 4.49 out of 5

  • A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future

    By David Attenborough and Jonnie Hughes

    Part memoir and part treatise on how humanity needs to tackle the effects of climate change and loss of biodiversity, the book is in three parts: the first cover’s Attenborough’s career and how he has witnessed the decline of wildlife and nature over the years; the second covers what the impact will be on species extinction and global warming if human behaviour does not change; and the third gives a vision for the future, where a process of rewilding offers hope for arresting these damaging processes.

    Goodreads rating: 4.63 out of 5

  • A World Without Work: Technology, Automation and How We Should Respond

    By Daniel Susskind

    The lockdown and the pandemic has hastened many of the technological changes that had already been under way over the last few years. So this book should be of interest to all of us who are wondering what our future selves will look like and what role technologies such as artificial technologies will play in shaping us as well as what the policy responses should be in terms of tackling unemployment and inequality, for example. The author is a Fellow in Economics at Oxford University and was co-author of “The Future of the Professions”.

    Goodreads rating: 3.81 out of 5

  • X-Events: The collapse of everything

    By John L Casti

    Casti is a complexity scientist and systems theorist, so putting together scenarios is his bread and butter. The pandemic has certainly highlighted the extent to which things can go wrong and this book tries to identify some of the others. He explores the types of things that could trigger a collapse, from pandemics to nuclear fallouts and robot uprisings. While it’s a chilling topic of discussion, it’s particularly relevant today.

    Goodreads rating: 3.36 out of 5

  • More from Less

    By Andrew McAfee

    The impact of greenhouse gases and the reality of climate change have placed into sharp focus the need to reduce carbon and other emissions that could ultimately threaten our existence as humans. However McAfee offers a lesson of hope – our capacity as humans to use ever fewer resources in producing the things we want. From lighter, more fuel-efficient cars, to beer cans that use less aluminium to the dematerialisation of goods (think of how records and CDs have been replaced by streaming services), there is already a blueprint for the abundant, carbon neutral world we want to see.

    Goodreads rating: 3.98 out of 5


  • The Rodchenkov Affair: How I Brought Down Russia’s Secret Doping Empire – Winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2020

    By Grigory Rodchenkov

    In one of history’s biggest sports doping scandals, in 2015 Russia’s anti-doping body was suspended following the uncovering of a widespread and state-sponsored programme to give Russian athletes an unfair advantage. Rodchenkov was one of the scientists involved in the doping during the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi, and later became a whistleblower. He provides the insider’s view of the scandal. The book was voted William Hill Sports Book of the Year for 2020.

    Goodreads rating: 4.24 out of 5

  • Miracle Men: How Rassie’s Springboks Won the World Cup

    By Lloyd Bunyard

    The Springbok victory in last year’s World Cup will go down in the annals of history. Not only was it the first time that a team that had lost one of its pool games and then gone on to win the trophy, but the team had to overcome many obstacles, not the least of which was having to blend a diverse group of players and create a winning culture. The book tells the story of how coach Rassie Erasmus combined vision, innovation and attention to detail in building a victorious unit.

    Goodreads rating: 4.45 out of 5

  • Crossing the White Line: The 1969/70 Springboks Tour of Britain and Ireland

    By Chris Schoeman

    50 years ago there were no miracle men running South African sport and an all-white Springbok team went on tour to Britain and Ireland, to face a storm of anti-apartheid protests. The protests and arrangements under which the players had to work around undoubtedly had an impact on the performance of a talented team, which featured the likes of Frik du Preez, Dawie de Villiers, Jan Ellis, Tommy Bedford and Syd Nomis: they lost two and drew two of the four tests played (the Springboks had recorded Grand Slams on each of their previous four tours to Britain and Ireland). This book tells the story of the tour, drawing on the input many of the players, as well as those who were protesting, such as anti-apartheid activist Peter Hain.

    Goodreads rating: 3.67 out of 5

  • The Unforgiven: Missionaries or Mercenaries? The Untold Story of the Rebel West Indian Cricketers Who Toured Apartheid South Africa

    By Ashley Gray

    Continuing the theme of sport during the apartheid era, this book chronicles the stories of the West Indian cricketers who chose to participate in the rebel tours of South Africa in the 1980s. While the players faced lifelong bans, anger and ostracism at home for their actions, for many of them the money was too good to turn down. While the author strongly disapproves of the tours, he writes with a sympathy and understanding for those who made the choice.

    Goodreads rating: 4.48 out of 5

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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