“May you live in interesting times” goes the old Chinese curse. The daily headlines of political controversy, state capture and corruption must make even the most sceptical among us think our country is under an evil hex. Book publishers and bookshops might question that stance, however, thanks to a number of riveting reads that have come out recently on the state of our dear nation.
Bad news sells, so it seems.

The crowd that pitched up to the launch of Jacques Pauw’s new book showed that investigative journalists are the new (local) rock stars. Copies of The President’s Keepers have been flying off the shelves and those who haven’t read it yet will no doubt use some spare time at the beach, farm or just the couch at home, to delve into it.

As this year’s Books for the Beach edition shows, however, there are lots of other quality South African books on the state of our nation that are also worth a read. Read our main article for some ideas for reading over these holidays.

We would like to wish our clients a peaceful holiday season and a healthy, prosperous 2018.
Holiday reads

This year’s edition has a distinctly South African flavour – and for good reason. South African non-fiction authors have been especially prolific this year, and they’ve certainly had enough material to draw on, thanks to the state of our politics. The unfortunate thing, of course, is that it has taken a very difficult period in our country’s history to produce such an output of page-turners. 

The good news is that it has provoked a great deal of reading by the South African public that (we hope!) persists once our great country has managed to work its way through the current round of troubles. So we are happy to devote most of this year’s edition to many excellent reads on South African current affairs.

We’re pleased to feature some great reads by the rest of the world’s top authors too, with our focus remaining on the non-fiction side of things. Most of these books are available in leading bookshops, online, or in the smaller independent bookshops around the country – which could do with your support! Here’s to pleasant reading over the year-end.

Let’s kick off with the South African books:


  • How to Steal a City: The Battle for Nelson Mandela Bay: An Inside Account – by Crispian Oliver

    Most of the books that delve into the state of South Africa at the moment (and the topic of state capture) tend to concentrate on the major political players and their actions. But how does this manifest itself on the ground? How to Steal a City looks under the bonnet at what has gone on in one particular city, uncovering sophisticated webs of criminal syndicates, shell companies and physical threats of violence, delving into what is really a microcosm of the challenges facing our entire country.

  • The Republic of Gupta – A Story of State Capture – by Pieter-Louis Myburgh

    At perhaps the other end of the scale, this book takes a closer look at the controversial Gupta family and how they rose from humble beginnings to becoming arguably the most powerful family in South Africa, thanks to their influence over the President and others in government. A good background work that sets the scene for what we read every day in the media.

  • Enemy of the People: How Jacob Zuma stole South Africa and how the people fought back – by Adriaan Basson & Pieter Du Toit

    As the title suggests, the story of President Zuma in recent years has not just been about the man himself, but also the rise of opposition against the process of state capture and the economic stagnation that has gone with it. This opposition has grown, both outside and within the ANC. This book gives an up-to-date account of matters in the build-up to the elective conference. Basson has also written Zuma Exposed, which delves into the life and decisions of the President over the years.

  • The President’s Keepers: Those Keeping Zuma in Power – by Jacques Pauw

    What more can we say about this book that has caused such a stir with the public and government officials? Arguably the standard bearer for the state capture genre (if we can call it that) - you’ll feel like you’re missing out if you haven’t read it yet.

  • A Simple Man: Kasrils and the Zuma enigma – by Ronnie Kasrils

    Kasrils, former head of intelligence for Umkhonto weSizwe and a veteran of the ANC and SACP has pretty much had a ringside seat to watch the rise of Jacob Zuma through the ranks. What was he like? Were there any clues to show how he would become the man he is today? Kasrils attempts to answer these many questions about the current President.

  • Khwezi - The Remarkable Story Of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo – by Redi Thlabi

    Journalist Redi Tlhabi examines the allegations of rape against President Jacob Zuma all those years ago, from the perspective of his accuser, Fezekile Kuzwayo (or Khwezi, as she is known). It’s an important book, not the least for giving a voice to women in the ongoing discussion about rape in our country.

  • Ramaphosa: The Man Who Would be King – by Ray Hartley

    So much for President Zuma. What about Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, the man looking to replace him as leader of the ANC and as President? As we write this, the ANC elective conference remains to be resolved, but whichever way it goes, we suspect Ramaphosa will remain in the spotlight in some form or another. Ramaphosa was one of the key drivers of South Africa’s transition to democracy and shaping the Constitution, but he’s also a controversial figure, not least for building up a large personal fortune during his time outside of politics. Hartley examines Ramaphosa’s background and credentials for possibly one day leading the country.

  • Get South Africa Growing – by Brian Kantor

    As we note above, the South African economy has been marked by stagnation and poor policy decisions over the last few years. Our colleague Professor Brian Kantor looks at some of the potential solutions for getting South Africa out of its malaise, guided by the principles of free markets (disclosure – the author of this review was involved in the editing of this book).

For those looking for some escape from modern politics and economics, there are some great South African-linked reads too:


  • Heartbreaker: Christiaan Barnard and the First Heart Transplant – by James-Brent Styan

    2017 is the 50th anniversary of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band, the Six Day War, Clint Eastwood’s first major role (A Fistful of Dollars) and Glasgow Celtic becoming the first British team to win the European Cup. 1967 was also the year that saw the world’s first heart transplant, on 3 December in Cape Town. The event made the surgeon responsible, Chris Barnard, world famous and this timely biography examines his colourful life and the impact of the operation on South Africa at large.

  • Live, Lead, Learn: My Stories of Life and Leadership – by Gail Kelly

    One of South Africa’s great exports, Gail Kelly became the first female CEO of one of Australia’s big four banks (Westpac) and was listed by Forbes in 2010 as the 8th most powerful woman in the world. As such, she has some excellent insights on life, leadership and business. A must read for those who enjoy business biographies.

  • Churchill and Smuts: The Friendship – by Richard Steyn

    Steyn has previously written an excellent biography of Jan Smuts and he broadens the discussion in this book to the friendship between Smuts and British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill. Their two paths first crossed in the Anglo-Boer War, as enemies, but they soon forged a strong relationship over two world wars as protagonists of the Allied forces. Both also had to experience the ignominy of being voted out of office soon after the Second World War. Steyn pulls together a wealth of archival material to reveal the friendship between them.

So much for the South African books. What about some of the best reads from the rest of the world?


  • The Retreat of Western Liberalism – by Edward Luce

    Luce examines the major moves in Western democracies in the last two years, including the swing towards populism and concludes that before we can “fix” the liberal Western order, we must first identify where it went wrong.

  • The Great Leveller: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century – by Walter Scheidel

    Inequality is one of the hot topics of our times. The author, a professor at Stanford, argues that peace and stability increase levels of inequality and reaches the controversial conclusion that it takes violent shocks to reduce inequality.

  • Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World – by Tim Ferriss

    Ferriss is one of the world’s most popular writers and speakers on business and self-help, best known for his book The 4-Hour Workweek. This book looks at some of the insights of over 130 of the world’s leading achievers in business, sport and the arts.

  • Leonardo da Vinci – by Walter Isaacson

    Isaacson has previously written biographies on the likes of Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein. Like those two famous figures, da Vinci falls into the category of what we call genius and Isaacson delves into what made this Renaissance polymath what he was. A well-timed read in the light of the recent record-breaking sale of one of da Vinci’s paintings.

  • Pablo Escobar: My Father – by Juan Pablo Escobar

    The arrival of Netflix in South Africa has introduced local viewers to the captivating series Narcos, which tells the story of the world’s most notorious drug kingpin, Pablo Escobar. This book gives the story from the perspective of his son, Juan Pablo, and should fill in some of the gaps left by the series.

  • Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery – by Scott Kelly

    SpaceX and recent missions into space have put space travel back into the public consciousness. But what does spending time in space mean? What are the effects on the body and the psyche? Scott Kelly, a veteran astronaut who spent a record-breaking year aboard the International Space Station, gives some insights in this memoir.

  • Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter – by Dan Ariely and Jeff Kreisler

    Behaviouralism and behavioural finance are all the rage nowadays. Dan Ariely is one of the leading exponents of the study of our brains and how we make decisions - and this book is a useful addition to the canon of work on this subject. With Jeff Kreisler he examines our relationship with money and the emotions that make us take bad financial decisions.

  • Beat the Dealer – by Edward Oakley Thorp

    This is the life story of Edward Oakley Thorp, an “American mathematics professor, author, hedge fund manager, and blackjack player. He pioneered the modern applications of probability theory, including the harnessing of very small correlations for reliable financial gain” (Wikipedia). It’s a rich, rewarding read which, apart from its insights into investing, also provides lessons on life, including the raising of children.

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.