Favorite non-fiction audiobooks?
April 27, 2011 7:27 PM   Subscribe

Favorite non-fiction audiobooks?

Looking for: your favorite non-fiction audiobooks that are interesting and/or useful and well narrated. Bonus points for abridged versions. All non-fiction subjects welcomed, but no biographies unless they are of extremely important people.
posted by Homo economicus to Education (41 answers total) 75 users marked this as a favorite
I've always loved Under the Banner of Heaven.

The unabridged version is narrated by Scott Brick (who is one of my most favorite narrators), and there appears to be an abridged version narrated by Jon Krakauer himself.
posted by Lucinda at 7:29 PM on April 27, 2011

Any David Sedaris. They are much funnier in audio form than read.
posted by something something at 7:32 PM on April 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

Sarah vowell is good, if you don't mind her voice.
posted by backwards guitar at 7:34 PM on April 27, 2011

It's a memoir, but I found it surprisingly compelling: Steve Martin reading Born Standing Up.
posted by david1230 at 7:35 PM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Walk In The Woods, Bill Bryson
posted by hms71 at 7:38 PM on April 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

In the Heart of the Sea, by Nathaniel Philbrick.
posted by jeather at 7:39 PM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Walden, the Recorded Books version.
posted by tangram1 at 7:49 PM on April 27, 2011

David McCullough's histories.
posted by fings at 7:52 PM on April 27, 2011

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, nar. by a woman whose last name is "Reading." Hard to find now but so worth it.
posted by tangram1 at 7:52 PM on April 27, 2011

Unbroken, but not for the faint of heart.
posted by tangram1 at 7:55 PM on April 27, 2011

I enjoyed Bill Bryson's "Down Under".
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:55 PM on April 27, 2011

The audiobook for S. Junger's "The Perfect Storm" wiped me out. It was gripping and informative.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:58 PM on April 27, 2011

My GF and I listened to Bill Buford's Heat on a road trip and were riveted.
posted by googly at 8:01 PM on April 27, 2011

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin is a great audiobook series. The first 3 are read by Roy Dotrice and the many, many characters all have recognizable voices.
posted by Logic Sheep at 8:06 PM on April 27, 2011

A Year in Provence is the best!
posted by tangram1 at 8:15 PM on April 27, 2011

Anything Dawkins that he reads himself. I was fond of The Ancestor's Tale on an especially long drive, but felt it was a little too abridged. Meant to go back and read it, but haven't gotten around to it yet.
posted by supercres at 8:28 PM on April 27, 2011

Another Krakauer book, Into Thin Air, read by the author. We took a two hour detour on a road trip just to finish it. It's crazy exciting.
posted by mckenney at 8:34 PM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I listen to a lot of audiobooks (usually at the gym and while at the grocery store). Really, seriously, a LOT of audiobooks. Here are some I recommend, both for the actual book's content, as well as the reading of the text:

-Gabrielle Hamilton's 'Blood, Bones & Butter' (a *must*)
-Joshua Foer's 'Moonwalking with Einstein' (I didn't expect to enjoy this, but did.)
-Ben Ryder Howe's 'My Korean Deli'
-Hank Steuver's 'Tinsel'
-Rebecca Skloot's 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks'
-Nic Sheff's 'Tweak' and David Sheff's 'Beautiful Boy' (a matched set of books about Nic's addiction)
-Julia Child & Alex Prud'homme's 'My Life in France'
-Sean Wilsey's 'Oh the Glory of it All'
-Stefan Fatsis's 'Word Freak'
-Truman Capote's 'In Cold Blood'
posted by yellowcandy at 8:36 PM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Craig Nelson's 'Rocket Men' was thoroughly enjoyable, as was Stephen Hawking's 'Briefer History of Time'.

Right now, I'm thoroughly enjoying Simon Winchester's 'Atlantic'. His 'Outposts' was excellent as well. Topics you wouldn't think interesting, but wind up fascinating. Winchester is a very entertaining writer, and he narrates well to boot. Highly recommended.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:38 PM on April 27, 2011

Response by poster: Keep the recommendations coming! I've got a few already that I'm thinking about getting.

I also want to reiterate: No fiction

There have been several memoir, which is fine, so long as they have a particular focus, such as a well defined theme or era. General whole life autobiographies should be excluded, unless they are of a V.I.P.
posted by Homo economicus at 8:39 PM on April 27, 2011

I also quite enjoyed Margaret MacMillan's 'Nixon and Mao'.

In a much lighter vein, Stephen Fry's "English Delight" series are utterly charming, and don't demand too much involvement.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:43 PM on April 27, 2011

Last Chance to see, by Douglas Adams
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 9:29 PM on April 27, 2011

Best answer: My iTunes is full of this stuff.

Agree that Simon Winchester has a number of good ones, in addition to the ones listed above, I enjoyed:

The Meaning of Everything (about the creation of the OED)

Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883

A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary (an offshoot of his research for The Meaning of Everything)

I also love Mary Roach:

Stiff (about cadavers and what happens to our bodies after we die)

Bonk (about the science of sex)

Packing for Mars (about efforts to get ready for a manned expedition -- how does one eat/poop/have sex in space?)

Oh, and don't forget Bill Bryson:

At Home: A Short History of Private Life

A Short History of Nearly Everything

Shakespeare: The World as Stage

The upside for the Bryson books is that they are relatively short even without being abridged.
posted by That's Numberwang! at 10:36 PM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I listen to a lot of audio books as well. Here are some of my favorites over the last few years:

The War for Late Night, Bill Carter

Four Fish, Paul Greenberg

King Leopold's Ghost, Adam Hochschild

Operation Mincemeat, Ben Macintyre

Robert Altman, Mitchell Zuckoff

Fly By Wire, William Langeweische

A Liar's Autobiography, Graham Chapman

As They See 'Em, Bruce Weber

I'd Rather We Got Casinos, Larry Wilmore

Good Book, David Plotz

The Mysterious Montague, Leigh Montville

Pictures at a Revolution, Mark Harris

Clapton, Eric Clapton

The Education of Henry Adams, Henry Adams

The Atomic Bazaar, William Langewiesche

Leviathan, Eric Jay Dolin

The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright

Polio, David M. Oshinsky

Point to Point Navigation, Gore Vidal

Team of Rivals, Doris Kearnes Goodwin

Misquoting Jesus, Bart D. Ehrman

The Wonga Coup, Adam Roberts

Cobra II, Michael R. Gordon

Striking Back, Aaron J. Klein

The City of Falling Angels, John Berendt

Miles Gone By, William F. Buckley, Jr.

Joseph Smith, Robert V. Remiini

Charlie Wilson's War, George Crile

Under the Banner of Heaven, John Krakauer

And here are a few that were disappointments:

Talk Show, Dick Cavett
Life, Keith Richards
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents Earth, Jon Stewart

Happy listening.
posted by Sculthorpe at 10:43 PM on April 27, 2011

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher (the BBC one, narrated by Christian Rhodska) by Kate Summerscale

The print book was recommended here on AskMe by crush-onastick so I listened to the audiobook and loved it. It's a nonfiction account of one of the original eight Scotland Yard detectives, working-class Jonathan Whicher, who is assigned to solve the murder of a child from an upper-class British family. The narrative about the case is supplemented by readings of contemporary newspaper articles and court proceedings. It's a fascinating look at not only this particular murder case but also of Victorian detective work and class structure. I thought the narrator did a great job.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:48 PM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Recently enjoyed the heck out of:

The Information, a ramble through the idea of 'information', lots of early history of computing etc; very entertainingly written and stuff more people should know about.

Invention Of Murder, it's about the Victorians and their fascination with lurid crime, and the creation of detective fiction. I would describe it as rollicking, despite all the horrible murders.
posted by Erasmouse at 11:53 PM on April 27, 2011

Oh and I'll add, under the subject of memoirs with well-defined focus, David Attenborough's Life On Air. No personal stuff, really interesting look at the very early history of BBC Television and its documentary department. Funny and inspiring. Read by the author, which is great as he's a guy you can take in long doses.
posted by Erasmouse at 12:05 AM on April 28, 2011

Another vote for "Henrietta Lacks" for its clear yet complex narrative and compelling medical-ethical questions.
posted by Mngo at 5:16 AM on April 28, 2011

Freakonomics and Super Freakonomics.
seconding The War for Late Night

I didn't think Earth by The Daily Show team was a disappointment, but it wasn't as good as America: The Book.
posted by getawaysticks at 6:21 AM on April 28, 2011

David Sedaris never gets old. Also enjoyed Freakonomics for more serious listening.
posted by maxg94 at 6:30 AM on April 28, 2011

I enjoyed David Foster Wallace's Consider the Lobster and Other Essays, especially his final, short essay on athletic genius. The version I listened was abridged and only had five essays, but Foster Wallace read them himself, which added to the experience.
posted by monkeymonkey at 7:02 AM on April 28, 2011

I just finished Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. Nothing short of amazing. An unbelievable chronicle of post - Katrina madness.
posted by AngryLlama at 8:07 AM on April 28, 2011

I also listen to a lot of audio books -- mostly fiction, but some non-fiction as well. I would recommend the following, with the top one being my number one recommendation, and one of the most enjoyable books I've ever read:

1. Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
2. Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakouer
3. Into the Wild by Krakouer
4. Into Thin Air by Krakouer
5. The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough
6. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
7. 1776 by David McCullough
8. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Sloot
9. Thunderstruck by Erik Larson (not nearly as good as "Devil")
10. Charlie Wilson's War by George Crile
11. Game Change by Mark Halperin
12. The Big Short by Michael Lewis
13. Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
14. Columbine by Dave Cullen
posted by pardonyou? at 8:14 AM on April 28, 2011

When my husband and I took a road trip we prepared ourselves by buying two audiobooks. David Byrne- Bicycle Diaries and the other was Anthony Bourdain- Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. The David byrne book was fastnating, but his monotone delivery put us to sleep. I would highly recommend this as a traditional book to read though, it covers his love of cycling around the world.
The Anthony Bourdain book was really great. its a update to kitchen confidential. he has great story telling skills and really knows how to read naturally. I really enjoy when a biography is read by the author and since Anthony has acting experience, this one is a winner. Enjoy!
posted by brinkzilla at 9:42 AM on April 28, 2011

I enjoyed the Omnivore's Dilemma if you're a foodie. If you're not a foodie, this audiobook might turn you into one.
posted by exhilaration at 11:40 AM on April 28, 2011

Nthing anything by Bill Bryson, David Sedaris, Mary Roach, Peter Mayle, and Jon Krakauer. I also recommend Craig Ferguson's American On Purpose, Michael Chabon's Manhood for Amateurs, anything by Atul Gawande, Christopher Buckley's Losing Mum and Pup, and Chris Stewart and J. Maarten Troost's living-abroad-memoir-type books.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:53 AM on April 28, 2011

3rding Charlie Wilson's War. I tend to get bored of audio books a lot, but that really kept my attention. Un-put-downable, or whatever that would mean for audio.

I also liked Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely.
posted by hijol at 3:22 PM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, also The Innocent Man by John Grisham. (Yes, it is nonfiction). I tried a few of Grisham's fiction audiobooks and didn't like them, but The Innocent Man was really compelling.
posted by hijol at 3:27 PM on April 28, 2011

I greatly enjoyed Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Entertaining and very interesting.
posted by Terheyden at 4:03 PM on April 28, 2011

Anything at all written and narrated by Stephen Fry or David Sedaris. Not particularly useful but very entertainingly written and narrated. I will listen to either of them recite their shopping lists, to be honest - both of them would undoubtedly be capable of making it fun and interesting.
posted by pootler at 4:46 AM on April 30, 2011

« Older Unfortunately All in the Family   |   Curse my metal body, I wasn't fast enough. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.