The most recommended books about Cape Town

Who picked these books? Meet our 14 experts.

14 authors created a book list connected to Cape Town, and here are their favorite Cape Town books.
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What type of Cape Town book?


Lady Icarus

By Lindie Naughton,

Book cover of Lady Icarus: The Life of Irish Aviator Lady Mary Heath

Tracey Curtis-Taylor Author Of Bird

From the list on pioneering aviation.

Who am I?

My passion for flying old aeroplanes led me to the pilots who flew them in history, and my particular fascination is with the interwar period and the ‘Golden Age of Aviation’, which saw the establishment of the early commercial air routes and the historic solo flights by pilots flying basic machines and pushing themselves and their aircraft to the very limits of endurance to prove that it could be done. I was absolutely mesmerised by the stories of their bravery and obsession. My recommended books all share the theme of pioneering aviation as this has been a consuming interest for much of my adult life, both in and out of the cockpit. 

Tracey's book list on pioneering aviation

Why did Tracey love this book?

This is about one of our most brilliant female aviators. 

Largely forgotten today, the Irish Lady Heath, one of our first female Olympians and the first woman in Britain to hold a commercial pilot’s licence, was also the first person to fly solo from Cape Town to England in 1928. 

Her flight was the inspiration for my first expedition up Africa in 2013, about which we made a documentary screened by the BBC, and this book is the moving story of Mary Heath’s exceptional but ultimately tragic life.

By Lindie Naughton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lady Icarus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


By International Fund for Animal Welfare,

Book cover of Spill: Saving Africa's Oiled Penguins

Dyan deNapoli Author Of The Great Penguin Rescue: 40,000 Penguins, a Devastating Oil Spill, and the Inspiring Story of the World's Largest Animal Rescue

From the list on penguins for adults.

Who am I?

I’m a penguin expert, TED speaker, and life-long animal lover. I was a Senior Penguin Aquarist at Boston’s New England Aquarium, where I worked for 9 years. In 2000, I helped manage the rescue of 40,000 penguins from the Treasure oil spill in South Africa. I founded my educational company The Penguin Lady in 2005, and give presentations at schools, universities, libraries, conferences (including the International Penguin Conference), and on National Geographic’s ships in Antarctica. I’ve given 4 TEDx talks, wrote and narrated a TED-Ed video about penguin conservation, and am a frequent guest expert on radio, podcasts, and TV in the US and abroad whenever penguins hit the news.

Dyan's book list on penguins for adults

Why did Dyan love this book?

This is the only other book for adults (besides mine) about the world’s largest animal rescue, when 40,000 penguins were rescued from the Treasure oil spill in Cape Town, South Africa. Spill is written by six individuals from various organizations who headed up this groundbreaking rescue effort. At just 96 pages, and featuring numerous dramatic photos, this 8x12” softcover is more of a coffee table book. The riveting stories are all told by rescuers who were on the front lines of this historic event. The compelling photographs by award-winning photographer, Jon Hrusa, bring the reader face to face with the oiled penguins and their polluted environment. Published in South Africa, Spill is out of print, but rare copies occasionally pop up online. It’s definitely worth keeping an eye out for.

By International Fund for Animal Welfare,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Spill as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

To War with Whitaker

By Hermione Ranfurly,

Book cover of To War with Whitaker

Christina Lynch Author Of The Italian Party

From the list on women in wartime.

Who am I?

Doing the research for The Italian Party meant submerging myself in the Cold War Italy of the 1950s. But I found I couldn't understand that period without a better understanding of World War II and Italian Fascism. Cue an avalanche of books from which this list is culled, and the new novel I have just finished. I am drawn to first-hand accounts of women’s lives in wartime because I wonder how I would react and survive such challenges. Recent events in Europe have revived the nightmare of life under an occupying army. These stories are back at my bedside right now because I need their humor and wisdom.

Christina's book list on women in wartime

Why did Christina love this book?

It’s rare to find a war diary that makes you laugh out loud, but this had me snorting tea through my nose. Lady Ranfurly broke the law by following her new husband, a British officer, to the North African front in 1940 and staying there for the duration. No pampered aristocrat, she’s a hard-charging career woman who ends up working for, and spying on, a secret war organization running covert missions, and then becomes personal assistant to the Supreme Allied Commander (nicknamed “Jumbo”). Her diary is hilarious and touching as she weathers fear, tragedy, and colossal male egos with maximum moxie. 

By Hermione Ranfurly,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked To War with Whitaker as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hermione, Countess of Ranfurly, kept a diary all her life. To War with Whitaker is an account of the most adventurous, most defiant and most valiant of those years.

Hermione and Dan Ranfurly married only months before the Second World War erupted. So when Dan was posted to the Middle East, taking their faithful butler Whitaker with him, Hermione resolved to join them there. This memoir offers astounding displays of commitment and independence. After vowing not to go home without her husband, Hermione travelled alone from Cape Town to Cairo, and remained in the Middle East and North Africa for…


By Lauren Beukes,

Book cover of Slipping: Stories, Essays & Other Writing

Wole Talabi Author Of Incomplete Solutions

From the list on collections of African speculative fiction stories.

Who am I?

Novels are great. I’ve written one myself. I have also written many short stories for major science fiction and fantasy publishing venues—Asimov’s, F&SF, Analog, Lightspeed, etc. But there is something special about single-author short story collections. They are like tasting platters. They reveal running themes and can be a unique way to explore places—through the imaginations of its authors. For example, many of my stories are set in or feature characters from Nigeria. I hope you enjoy the books on this list and that they show you something new about Africa and what (some) African authors dream about. 

Wole's book list on collections of African speculative fiction stories

Why did Wole love this book?

Beukes has range and a keen eye, two things that are showcased perfectly in this collection. Experimenting in style, in genre, in tone, in point of view, in everything really. A lot of the stories are overtly speculative, but not all of them are, even though they have a speculative sensibility. Some stories are under 100 words, others closer to 10,000. As someone who enjoys experimental writing, I loved this book. Almost every story features the recurring theme of dehumanization, and they are largely set in South Africa or featuring South African characters. And if that wasn’t enough, there are even 5 nonfiction pieces from her time as a journalist. It's excellent reading. 

By Lauren Beukes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Slipping as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Punk Lolita fighter-pilot rescues Tokyo from a marauding art installation. Corporate recruits harvest poisonous plants on an inhospitable planet. An inquisitive adolescent ghost disrupts the life of a young architect. Product loyalty is addictive when the brand appears under one's skin.

Award-winning Cape Town author and journalist Lauren Beukes (Zoo City, Moxyland, Broken Monsters) spares no targets in this edgy and satiric retrospective collection. In her fiction and nonfiction, ranging from Johannesburg across the galaxy, Beukes is a fierce, captivating presence throughout the literary landscape.

Book cover of The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari

John Ahern Author Of On the Road . . . with Kids: One Family's Life-Changing Gap Year

From the list on inspirational life-changing memoirs.

Who am I?

John was born in Brisbane, Australia, and grew up roaming the beaches and playing backyard sports with his mates. His career spanned from mowing lawns and packing groceries, to being the Global Head of Acquisitions for a public listed travel company. In between bouts of work, he has travelled through over 80 countries, and been shot at, tear-gassed, robbed at gunpoint, and locked up in an African jail. He has stowed away in a Columbian cargo plane and been a passenger in two train derailments. John now lives with his family in the comparative safety of the Currumbin Valley on Australia’s Gold Coast. He considers it their base camp.

John's book list on inspirational life-changing memoirs

Why did John love this book?

How could I leave out the doyen of modern-day autobiographical travel writing? Paul Theroux’s list of books describing his overland adventures and the history and culture of places he rides through, is impressive. He is funny, cantankerous, offensive, likable, and informative. I chose his last book Zona because he travels the same path I myself once took. It also differs from his earlier tomes in one distinct way; Paul undertook the hard overland journey from Cape Town to Angola at age 71, when most of us expect to be tucked up in bed with a warm toddy and a cat purring at our feet. His perspective from an older man commentates on and compares the Africa he once knew to now. At times, it’s a depressing tale, exposing stories of hunger and starvation, genocide, nature clogging with plastic, and vast examples of greed, climate change, wilderness destruction, and species extinction.…

By Paul Theroux,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Last Train to Zona Verde as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Following the success of the acclaimed Ghost Train to the Eastern Star and The Great Railway Bazaar, The Last Train to Zona Verde is an ode to the last African journey of the world's most celebrated travel writer, Paul Theroux.

'Happy again, back in the kingdom of light,' writes Paul Theroux as he sets out on a new journey though the continent he knows and loves best.

Having travelled down the right-hand side of Africa in Dark Star Safari, he sets out this time from Cape Town, heading northwards in a new direction, up the left-hand side, through South Africa…

Franschhoek & Rickety Bridge

By Gerald Hoberman (photographer), Marc Hoberman (photographer),

Book cover of Franschhoek & Rickety Bridge

Chris Andrews Author Of Belfast, A View of the City

From the list on landscape, architecture, and the natural world.

Who am I?

I am a photographer based in Oxford who has published books for 40 years. I love to be outside, whether it's enjoying the urban landscape of historic Oxford or the wild beauty of the Scottish hillside. The charm of the natural world and the romance of historic buildings are equal enthusiasms. To capture some essence of this, either by camera or paintbrush is a true skill. And it's not easy! To really create a new view is a constant challenge which is my driving force, in my own books I try for images that are just slightly different, atmospheric, romantic, yet always recognisable. I love to search out others who achieve the same, this is why I love these books.

Chris' book list on landscape, architecture, and the natural world

Why did Chris love this book?

This book looks at a fascinating and scenic area of South Africa as well as exploring the noted vineyard and winemaking of Rickety bridge. Gerald and Marc are two of South Africa’s noted photographers who have worked tirelessly in exploring this diverse landscape and the people within. It is stunningly illustrated.

I love the fact that it is a fresh new look, with a diversity of images from landscape to township, seascape to vineyard.

The book's value is in showing a working environment in a snapshot of time.

By Gerald Hoberman (photographer), Marc Hoberman (photographer),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Franschhoek & Rickety Bridge as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Talks about a place on the world-renowned Cape wine route near Cape Town, showcasing the multifaceted attributes of this important wine-growing region, with photographs.

Life & Times of Michael K

By J. M. Coetzee,

Book cover of Life & Times of Michael K

Justin Fox Author Of The Cape Raider

From the list on South Africa’s landscape and beauty.

Who am I?

I am a South African travel writer and novelist with a particular passion for the sublime landscape, wildlife, oceans, and wilderness of our corner of Africa. Growing up in Cape Town, I have spent the last 25 years travelling around the subcontinent writing and photographing for travel and wildlife magazines, and writing books about the landscape and its people. My two latest novels are set in the Cape, and although they are World War II adventure stories, they are also celebrations of our unique coastline, maritime culture, and the oceans that wash our shores. All my writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, ends up being a love letter to the landscape.

Justin's book list on South Africa’s landscape and beauty

Why did Justin love this book?

The Life and Times of Michael K is a beautifully written allegory about the troubled apartheid era in South Africa. The author, Nobel Laureate JM Coetzee, was one of my lecturers at the University of Cape Town and this is my favorite book of his. It provides superb descriptions of the arid South African landscape and how a solitary figure ekes out an existence: alone, off-grid, reclusive… waiting for the tide of history to turn. The novel is set in the heart of the Karoo, a semi-desert region that I love to visit to get away from the city and its strife.

By J. M. Coetzee,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Life & Times of Michael K as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From author of Waiting for the Barbarians and Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee.

J.M. Coetzee's latest novel, The Schooldays of Jesus, is now available from Viking. Late Essays: 2006-2016 will be available January 2018.

In a South Africa turned by war, Michael K. sets out to take his ailing mother back to her rural home. On the way there she dies, leaving him alone in an anarchic world of brutal roving armies. Imprisoned, Michael is unable to bear confinement and escapes, determined to live with dignity. This life affirming novel goes to the center of human experience-the need for an…

Thirteen Hours

By Deon Meyer, K.L. Seegers (translator),

Book cover of Thirteen Hours

Natalie Conyer Author Of Present Tense: A Schalk Lourens Mystery

From the list on crime featuring flawed detectives.

Who am I?

I’ve always read and loved crime fiction – so much so I did a doctorate in it. I believe good crime fiction has the capacity to explore particular societies, places, and times in interesting and enjoyable ways. I also like crime fiction’s focus on character, and particularly in crime series which show a character evolving over time. That’s why I chose the theme of ‘flawed detective’ and that’s what I’m trying to do in my Schalk Lourens series, of which Present Tense is the first. I hope you enjoy it, and also the other books I’ve recommended here.

Natalie's book list on crime featuring flawed detectives

Why did Natalie love this book?

Deon Meyer is one of South Africa’s best crime writers, and this novel is the second in a series featuring policeman Benny Griessel. Benny is a good cop and an ordinary guy. He’s also an alcoholic and his drinking has destroyed his family. Thirteen Hours is set in Cape Town and the action, as the title suggests, spans thirteen hours. A backpacker goes missing and the cops must find her before the bad guys do. It’s an edge-of-the-seat ride and I promise you’ll be cheering Benny on.

By Deon Meyer, K.L. Seegers (translator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Thirteen Hours as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Sunday Times '100 best crime novels and thrillers since 1945' pick!

Shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger Award 2010

They killed her best friend. Now they are chasing Rachel Anderson through the streets of Cape Town. The young tourist doesn't dare trust anyone - except her father, back home in America. When he puts pressure on the politicians, they know that to protect their country's image, they must find Rachel's hiding place before the killers.

So Benny Griessel - detective, maverick and father of teenagers himself - has just 13 hours to crack open a conspiracy which threatens the…

Devil's Peak

By Deon Meyer,

Book cover of Devil's Peak

Brenda Chapman Author Of Blind Date: A Hunter and Tate Mystery

From the list on crime fiction with intriguing lead characters.

Who am I?

I’ve been addicted to reading mysteries and crime fiction since I was a kid, and I naturally fell into writing in these genres—I’m currently in the midst of penning my fourth series! There’s nothing better than discovering a new, well-written series and following along with interesting, complicated main characters over several books. These favourite recommendations of mine will take you to Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden, and my very own Canada without ever having to leave home. Hopefully, you’ll discover some new authors, and their main characters will bring you as much enjoyment as they’ve given me. 

Brenda's book list on crime fiction with intriguing lead characters

Why did Brenda love this book?

Benny Griessel has elements of a stereotypical cop who drinks too much and loses his family as a result, but Griessel’s humanity and self-loathing set him apart as a protagonist. He doesn’t believe that he’s any good as a detective or a human being, yet his ability to solve murders and to connect with people contradict this self-destructive inner dialogue. Themes of redemption, forgiveness, and revenge drive the book (and series), making this more layered than a simple whodunit. I like Griessel’s resolve to change and become a better person, even as he fights having a drink every hour of every day. His compassion, empathy, and humility ultimately seal the deal for me. I particularly enjoy the glimpses Meyer gives into South African society and policing.

By Deon Meyer,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Devil's Peak as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the author of Thirteen Hours - A Sunday Times '100 best crime novels and thrillers since 1945' pick

The former freedom fighter known as 'Tiny' has finally achieved his dream of a peaceful life. But then his beloved son is taken away from him. In that moment, he unleashes himself upon a corrupt South Africa. His victims are those guilty of crimes against children.

He goes by the name of Artemis.

Benny Griessel, a fading policeman on the brink of losing his job, family and self-respect, is assigned the case. Benny knows that this is his last chance -…

The Rugged Road

By Theresa Wallach,

Book cover of The Rugged Road

Jacqui Furneaux Author Of Hit the Road, Jac! Seven Years, Twenty Countries, No Plan

From the list on travel proving you don’t need the latest motorbike.

Who am I?

Most motorcycle travellers spend months planning their trips but I took off on a whim having been lured by romance and tales of the open road. When my conventional life fell apart, I surprised even myself by flying to India and buying a brand new 500cc Enfield Bullet motorcycle and began my haphazard global wanderings learning to trust that the world I had been told was a dangerous place, wasn't at all (except for a couple of occasions at sea!) I liked the meandering life so much, it became a way of life.

Jacqui's book list on travel proving you don’t need the latest motorbike

Why did Jacqui love this book?

The Sahara Desert, more used to Bedouins and camels, had never seen a motorcycle before let alone two Englishwomen riding one. Setting off from London in December 1934, Theresa Wallach and Florence Blenkiron rode their 600cc Panther through Africa from north to south. They maintained a ‘why not?’ attitude that got them through despite frequent punctures, delays whilst waiting for permits and none of the technology provided for today’s motorcycle traveller. These two qualified engineers who had already broken motorcycle speed records at Brooklands, took their motorcycle outfit and trailer with not even a compass... just a map that showed each oasis on the way. I was in a permanent state of suspense when reading about each encounter they experienced and their outstanding ingenuity and perseverance.

By Theresa Wallach,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Rugged Road as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The remarkable story of two women, the first in the world to drive the length of Africa, and the first to cross the Sahara on a motorcycle. London to Cape Town overland by motorcycle and sidecar, pulling a trailer. No roads, no back up - just straight across the Sahara through equatorial Africa, and South to the Cape - in 1934/35, without even a compass! Undeterred by nomads, sand drifts, heat, rain, rivers, breakdowns and politics, Theresa Wallach and Florence Blenkiron completed a journey that might well defeat a modern motorcycle, and Florence even rode back as far as the…