The best books about Cape Town

Many authors have picked their favorite books about Cape Town and why they recommend each book.

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Devil's Peak

By Deon Meyer,

Book cover of Devil's Peak

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.

Devil's Peak

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 -…


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. 


I wrote...

Blind Date: A Hunter and Tate Mystery

By Brenda Chapman,

Book cover of Blind Date: A Hunter and Tate Mystery

What is my book about?

True crime podcaster Ella Tate is shaken to her core by the horrific assault and murder of Josie Wheatly, a teacher she has never met… because not only had Josie moved into Ella’s vacated apartment three months earlier, but her Facebook photos reveal a striking resemblance between the two women.

Within days, two people close to Ella are harmed, and she fears that she’s become the target of twisted revenge from her crime-reporting days. Reluctantly teaming up with her neighbour Tony, a hairdresser who loves the finer things in life, and Liam Hunter, the persistent detective assigned to the cases, Ella struggles to stay one step ahead before she becomes the target of the final kill.

Franschhoek & Rickety Bridge

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

Book cover of Franschhoek & Rickety Bridge

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.

Franschhoek & Rickety Bridge

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.


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.


I wrote...

Belfast, A View of the City

By Chris Andrews,

Book cover of Belfast, A View of the City

What is my book about?

Contemporary coffee table book, a visual celebration of all that is good in this remarkable city today. Beautiful photographs show the energy, diversity, industry, and quality of a great environment. A place of work, life, and beauty. From the river Lagan with its wildlife to the huge cranes and work at Harland and Wolff, from the craic in the vibrant pubs to the landscape of the wild surrounding hills, from the locations of gardens and historic buildings to the locations of Game of Thrones and more.

A book for everyone: Belfast’s citizens, locals, tourists, visitors for work or pleasure.

This is available only direct from the publishers here.

Spill

By International Fund for Animal Welfare,

Book cover of Spill: Saving Africa's Oiled Penguins

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.

Spill

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.


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.


I wrote...

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

By Dyan deNapoli,

Book cover of The Great Penguin Rescue: 40,000 Penguins, a Devastating Oil Spill, and the Inspiring Story of the World's Largest Animal Rescue

What is my book about?

The Great Penguin Rescue is the gripping and unforgettable true story of the world’s largest and most successful animal rescue. When an oil spill threatened to kill tens of thousands of African penguins near Cape Town, 110 penguin experts (including the author) flew to South Africa to help manage the care of the oiled birds. With the help of 12,500 dedicated - yet completely inexperienced - volunteers, 95% of the 40,000 affected penguins were saved. Hailed as “a real-life eco-thriller with a happy ending” and “a powerful story that needs to be told”, this award-winning book is a moving testament to what can be achieved when we come together and work as one. 

To War with Whitaker

By Hermione Ranfurly,

Book cover of To War with Whitaker

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. 

To War with Whitaker

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…


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.


I wrote...

The Italian Party

By Christina Lynch,

Book cover of The Italian Party

What is my book about?

Half glamorous fun, half an examination of America’s role in the world, The Italian Party is set in Italy in 1956, a pivotal moment in the Cold War. Newly married, Scottie and Michael are seduced by Tuscany’s famous beauty. But when Scottie’s Italian teacher disappears, the secrets they are keeping from each other force them beneath the splendid surface to a more complex view of Italy, America, and each other.

The Rugged Road

By Theresa Wallach,

Book cover of The Rugged Road

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.

The Rugged Road

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…


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.


I wrote...

Hit the Road, Jac! Seven Years, Twenty Countries, No Plan

By Jacqui Furneaux,

Book cover of Hit the Road, Jac! Seven Years, Twenty Countries, No Plan

What is my book about?

Instead of continuing my nursing career and saving for my pension, I naively embarked on an unplanned and exciting journey on a motorbike. This led to travelling through twenty countries and learning that the world is generally a friendly place. I didn't know I was on a quest at the time, but I made some enlightening discoveries.

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

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.…

The Last Train to Zona Verde

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…


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.


I wrote...

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

By John Ahern,

Book cover of On the Road . . . with Kids: One Family's Life-Changing Gap Year

What is my book about?

John Ahern has a high-flying job, a big house, a loving wife, and two great kids. But if this success why does he sense is failing as a husband and father? Craving a great adventure to bring his family closer together, John blows his career apart and buys a busted-up old RV online to chase an improbable dream; a year on the road... with kids.

From the North Pole to Africa’s highest peaks, John and his family roll through thirty countries, getting mugged by monkeys, charmed by snake-handlers, and challenged by their quest to live a life less ordinary. It’s a life-changing trip. Take it!

Thirteen Hours

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

Book cover of Thirteen Hours: A Benny Griessel Novel

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.

Thirteen Hours

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…


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.


I wrote...

Present Tense: A Schalk Lourens Mystery

By Natalie Conyer,

Book cover of Present Tense: A Schalk Lourens Mystery

What is my book about?

Present Tense is a police procedural set in present-day South Africa, in Cape Town. Schalk Lourens, a cop with a past he’s ashamed of, must investigate the murder of his ex-boss, an execution that recalls the bad old days of apartheid. His investigation is made more difficult by the tensions of post-apartheid society. Schalk must tread a line between the new regime and the old, between personal and professional, between justice and revenge.

Present Tense won the 2020 Ned Kelly Award for a debut novel and was shortlisted for the Davitt Awards. The Sydney Morning Herald called it "superbly structured" and with a "cast of engaging characters."

Book cover of Life & Times of Michael K

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.

Life & Times of Michael K

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…


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.


I wrote...

The Cape Raider: An Authentic WW2 Military Adventure Story

By Justin Fox,

Book cover of The Cape Raider: An Authentic WW2 Military Adventure Story

What is my book about?

It’s World War II and the battle for the Atlantic is in full swing. Physically and emotionally scarred by the fighting at Dunkirk, Lieutenant Jack Pembroke leaves his home in England to join his admiral father in South Africa.

A fledgling naval force at the Cape is preparing to fight the coming onslaught of German raiders, and Jack is soon thrust back into action when he is appointed commander of a minesweeping flotilla. Unknown to Jack, a Nazi commerce raider has left Germany for the Cape intending to wreak havoc on Allied shipping. Under Jack’s command are an eclectic bunch of sailors who are unsure of their foreign captain. But he must unite them into a powerful fighting unit if he has any chance of defeating the enemy coming his way.

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