18 books guaranteed to reignite your love for South Africa

Posted on 5 July 2024 By Savanna Douglas

From the pulse of Johannesburg to the tranquillity of the Garden Route, each of these reads unveil the soul of South Africa. Explore the resilience of its people, savour the flavours of its cuisine, and marvel at the majesty of its landscapes.

These 18 books offer a glimpse into South Africa’s essence:

Landscapes of natural splendour


Hiking Cape Town by Evelyn John Holtzhausen

The mountains and forests in and around Cape Town are a hiker’s paradise, offering an array of excursions to suit both new converts and seasoned ramblers.  Hiking Cape Town  covers 35 exciting hikes on the Cape Peninsula and further afield, ranging from easy to moderate, with a number of more demanding trails for those who want to up their game. From classic hikes up the front face of Table Mountain and half-day hikes in the remote Cape Point, to gentle rambles along the coast and walks in mountains and nature reserves a short drive from the city, this book encompasses the area’s must-do routes. Each description provides easy-to-follow directions and specifies the approximate walking time (between 3 and 7 hours), distance, difficulty rating and terrain.

Hidden Karoo by Alain Proust & Pat Kramer

The Karoo is big sky country; a land of vast plains punctuated by flat-topped mountains, conical hills and secluded valleys, a land of scrubby bushes and hardy trees, where pioneers carved roads out of rock to set down roots in an unforgiving environment. Hidden Karoo  presents a snapshot of the region, offering a glimpse into towns and villages, farms and churches, public buildings and private homes, all against a backdrop of awe-inspiring landscapes. Through words and pictures, it prompts us to consider what was, what is and, perhaps, what might be.

The West Coast by Leon Nell

Beginning at Melkbosstrand just north of Cape Town, and ending where the Orange River meets the Atlantic Ocean, the book divides the coastal stretch into four discrete and easily explored regions. Coastal and inland towns are described, together with their main attractions, offering glimpses into early human history, local culture and traditions, nature and wildlife, and modern-day economic pursuits. The West Coast is a place of varied landscapes and vast contrasts: from moody and at times tempestuous seas and windswept beaches, to verdant vineyards and kaleidoscopic swathes of wildflowers in spring. Wild yet tranquil, playful yet contemplative, dramatic yet understated – its eclectic offering beckons residents and travellers alike.

History steeped in Strength and Innovation

Palaces of Stone: Uncovering Ancient southern African Kingdoms by Mike Main & Tom Huffman

Across the face of southern Africa are more than 460 remarkable stone palaces – some small, others rambling, but many are astonishing. All are the legacy of kingdoms past. Some, such as Great Zimbabwe, Khami in Botswana and Mapungubwe in South Africa, are famous world heritage sites, but the majority are unknown to the general public, unsung and unappreciated. Palaces of Stone  brings to life the history of various early African societies, from AD 900 to approximately 1850. By exploring a selection of known and unknown sites, the authors uncover the emergence of ancient civilisations and reconstruct the meaning of the ruins they left behind. Woven into the narrative are stories of powerful political states; nourishing local economies; long-distance trade; and the destruction wrought by colonialism and modern-day treasure hunters.

History of South Africa by Thula Simpson

This book explores South Africa’s tumultuous history from the aftermath of the Second Anglo-Boer War to the COVID-19 pandemic. Drawing on never-before-published documentary evidence – including diaries, letters, eyewitness testimony and diplomatic reports – the book follows the South African people through the battles, elections, repression, resistance, strikes, massacres, economic crashes and health crises that have shaped the nation’s character. Tracking South Africa’s path from colony to Union and from apartheid to democracy, History of South Africa  documents the influence of key figures including Pixley Seme, Jan Smuts, Lilian Ngoyi, H.F. Verwoerd, Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko, P.W. Botha and Jacob Zuma. The book also gives detailed accounts of definitive events such as the 1922 Rand Revolt, the Defiance Campaign, Sharpeville, the Soweto uprising and the Marikana massacre.

Johannesburg Then and Now by Marc Latilla

In less than a century, the jumble of shabby tents and lean-tos that constituted Johannesburg’s first settlement has grown into a modern metropolis of towering office buildings, high-rise apartments and sprawling suburbs. Its rapid development has been in no small measure the result of the fabulous wealth that lay in the gold-rich deposits of the now-famous Witwatersrand basin. The story of gold is also the story of Johannesburg, and in a fascinating series of photographic juxtapositions, Johannesburg Then and Now  chronicles the city’s expansion from dusty mining camp to economic powerhouse.

Place by Justin Fox

In this gripping travelogue, Justin Fox goes on a one-of-a-kind journey. Marrying his love for travel and writing, he sets off to explore the places of his favourite books. From the mountainous eastern Karoo of Olive Schreiner to the big-game lowveld of Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, from Deneys Reitz’s wide-open Cape interior to the bushveld of Eugène Marais’s Waterberg, Fox reveals the majestic power of place. Through the savannah of Herman Charles Bosman’s Marico, the dusty plains of JM Coetzee’s Moordenaars Karoo, the forests of Dalene Matthee’s Garden Route, the subtropical hamlets of Zakes Mda’s Wild Coast, and finally the sandstone crags of Stephen Watson’s Cederberg, he brings to life the settings we’ve only seen through characters’ eyes. Place  is a moving love letter to South Africa, merging literature and landscape, and taking the reader on a breath-taking journey.

Nature unsurpassed in its diversity & beauty

Newman’s Birds by Colour by Kenneth Newman

Newman’s Birds by Colour offers beginner birders a quick and simple way to identify southern Africa’s most common birds using colour as a starting point. Now in its fourth edition, this handy illustrated guide has been updated to include the latest common names, expanded habitat information, and up-to-date distribution maps. An informative introduction provides practical tips for identifying birds, and includes information on bird anatomy and classification, and guidance on where to look for birds and what you need to go birding.

Field Guide to Fynbos Fauna by Cliff Dorse & Suretha Dorse

South Africa’s Fynbos Biome, which spans the country’s Western and Eastern Cape provinces, is one of the richest floras in the world. In addition to its spectacular botanical diversity, the region is also famous for its remarkable variety of fauna, with some species occurring nowhere else – from the tiny Micro Frog to the brightly coloured Orange-breasted Sunbird and the large, strikingly marked Bontebok. The first of its kind, this concise field guide covers more than 400 species in four animal groups: mammals, birds, reptiles and frogs. This guide encompasses popular tourist destinations such as the Cape Peninsula, the Kogelberg, the Cederberg, the Agulhas Plain, the West Coast and Baviaanskloof. Concise, all-in-one guide to the mammals, birds, reptiles and frogs of the Fynbos Biome.


Decima by Eben Venter

A mountain of flesh she is, this Decima, as she lies. She summons her strength to rise, all four feet on sand and shale. Puffs twirl and settle as her toes find their place. Three on each foot. Decima stands. In the veld of the Eastern Cape a writer imagines her: Decima – a magnificent black rhinoceros cow. Mother to Tandeka, herself plumped up with calf, Decima and her crash of rhinos await the birth of the new baby. Eben Venter’s book, a creative blend of autofiction, animal fable, mystery and scientific enquiry, is an urgent plea to save one of earth’s megaherbivores. An elegiac work for numerous voices,  Decima  is a moving and thrilling lament to loss in all its many guises.

Food with Influences from All Over the World

Senidlile Kodwa? by Zanele Van Zyl

Senidlile Kodwa?  is the third cookbook from Zanele van Zyl. Based on the isiZulu phrase, which means ‘have you eaten yet?’, a question asked by every mother, aunty or grandmother when you enter their home,  Senidlile Kodwa?  is an expression of Zanele’s identity, her love language, and the joy she finds in preparing food for other people. Filled with 100 simple yet tasty recipes, the book is a celebration of food, whether you’re cooking for yourself or the people you love. Expect everything from bright and cheery breakfasts; wholesome veggies; meaty mains with heart; a signature Sunday spread; traditional village favourites; simply delicious sides; and, of course, something sweet to round it all off. Cooking beautiful food can be fun and unintimidating!

Modern Cape Malay Cooking by Cariema Isaacs

The love language of the Cape Malays is food, and author Cariema Isaacs says tramakasie (thank you) every day that she gets to express herself in this way. Modern Cape Malay Cooking, Cariema’s fourth cookbook, is a celebration of food and feasting, providing a contemporary view of Cape Malay cuisine and simple home cooking. The recipes showcase a blend of flavours that redefine the Cape Malay palate through modern ingredients and global influences. Though traditional Cape Malay cuisine and recipes have stood the test of time, adaptations have given rise to a culinary fusion. But popular dishes from the East and West, such as a comforting pasta or a quick stir-fry, will always have a Cape Malay twist.

Beer Country’s Blackouts & Boerewors by Karl Tessendorf & Greg Gilowey

Load-shedding sucks! You know it. We know it. The whole country knows it. It’s also no secret that it’s here to stay for the foreseeable future. Is it annoying, frustrating and downright infuriating? Yes, no question about it. However, every blackout is a fire begging to be built, a juicy chop ready to be turned and a family braai just waiting to happen. With a little planning, some clever thinking and 40 great recipes – quick and easy, plan ahead and weekend winners – load-shedding can go from the worst part of your day to the best. Put your money where your braaibroodjie goes and join the Beer Country duo as they dive into their best braai recipes for the Eishkom disaster. Welcome to the braaight side of load-shedding life!

Dinner at Matloha’s by Liziwe Matloha

You’ll find recipes for all times of the day and every season. Start with savoury mince, indulge in amagwinya with your morning coffee, choose a salad or soup for lunch, snack on hot-and-crispy chicken wings while watching the game, or savour an oxtail stew on a winter’s night. For bakers, there are biscuits, breads and cakes, while desserts include favourites like cheese cake and pancakes. Fancy an Asian feast? We’ve got you covered. And if you crave a taste of home, there’s isijingi, umnqusho, umleqwa, dikwata or a traditional ‘seven colours’.

This article was originally published on www.penguinrandomhouse.co.za. 

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