Going on a (very long) road trip. Audibooks and podcasts needed.
July 26, 2020 7:39 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I are going on a road trip of over a month. Need recommendations for audiobooks and/or longform podcasts, especially nonfiction that reads like fiction. It's a broad category but we're thinking biographies, history, international intrigue, true crime, politics, pop culture, Hollywood—and wide open to more suggestions!
posted by lecorbeau to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (30 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Nonfiction that reads like fiction: Beyond the Beautiful Forevers
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:44 AM on July 26, 2020

I asked this recently: https://ask.metafilter.com/345372/What-are-the-best-podcasts-for-someone-who-isnt-into-podcasts

For fiction podcasts I really, really recommend harry potter and the methods of rationality, and the worm audiobook podcast.
posted by bbqturtle at 7:48 AM on July 26, 2020

Ooohhh! I love good narrative nonfiction!

I really enjoyed The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larsen about Churchill’s first year as Prime Minister. Dead Wake by Larsen was also great—about the Lusitania disaster.

Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker is a new book that traces the life of an American family with 12 children—six of whom were diagnosed with schizophrenia—and how studying them influenced how the disease is viewed today. So interesting!

And—Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman, about Hugette Clark who was a fascinating reclusive heiress—she died about ten years ago at 104. EXTREME wealth, family drama, doll and violin collections, contested wills, it goes on and on.

All four of these nonfiction books were as intriguing to me as any good novel.
posted by bookmammal at 7:56 AM on July 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

Depending on how you feel about geology and/or where your road trip will take you, McPhee’s Annals of the Former World.
posted by zamboni at 7:58 AM on July 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

One more—One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson. Who knew that so many intriguing events happened that summer?
I listened to this via audiobook a few years ago and remember sitting in my car in my garage on more than one occasion waiting to get to the end of a chapter.
posted by bookmammal at 8:02 AM on July 26, 2020 [3 favorites]

i'm a big fan of Futility Closet who is up to about 300 podcasts. Or as they say "The Futility Closet podcast is a weekly show featuring forgotten stories from the pages of history. Join us each Monday for surprising and curious tales from the past and to challenge yourself with our lateral thinking puzzles."
posted by TheAdamist at 8:03 AM on July 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

The book “Salt” by Mark Kurlansky might be the most fascinating books I’ve ever read. I think it would be perfect for your trip.
posted by argonauta at 8:48 AM on July 26, 2020

The You Must Remember This seasons on the Charles Manson murders and on the HUAC-era anti-Communist hysteria in Hollywood are very good podcast seasons that would be great for a long roadtrip.
posted by mostly vowels at 8:58 AM on July 26, 2020 [7 favorites]

Dan Carlin's Hardcore history series if you haven't listened to them yet.
posted by usertm at 9:49 AM on July 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

Trevor Noah's memoir "Born a Crime" is insightful, educational, and hilarious, and even better as an audiobook
posted by radioamy at 9:50 AM on July 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

What an opportunity! Very excited for you and the main squeeze.

Not exactly what you're looking for, but very of-the-moment, is The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877. It's the audio recording of Yale course HIST 119, taught by David Blight. There are 28 50 minute lectures - plenty of material.

The reason I thought of this is because each "episode" has some kind of memorable story, and David Blight's a fantastic lecturer. He's got this deep, sonorous voice and does a great job communicating the passions of everyone involved.
posted by boghead at 9:52 AM on July 26, 2020

Pretty much all the seasons of You Must Remember This are great, and I also second One Summer: America 1927.

It's not exactly like fiction because it's interviews, but I love the Ologies podcast. Alie Ward interviews some kind of -ologist for each episode, she's a science communicator so it's not just surface questions, and she tends to find ologists who are not necessarily old white male professors, so it's much more of an energetic conversation than a lecture that's been delivered 1000 times.

Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer is an Indigenous ecology professor (and bryologist, moss specialist, who's appeared on Ologies if you want a sample) who has written two books (Gathering Moss, and Braiding Sweetgrass) about biology and ecology but they are woven with personal stories and the Native stories and mythologies that explained biology and ecology long before microscopes and laboratories. She has the most extraordinary voice, it's a must-listen on audiobook.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:00 AM on July 26, 2020

The few hour long episodes of the "Hone Cooking" podcast with Samin and Hrishi are lovely, warm things. Funny and interesting and useful and relaxing.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:16 AM on July 26, 2020

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale, the true story of Scotland Yard’s first detective and his first case. [content warning: murder of a very young child] I listened to this as an audiobook and the narrator, Simon Vance, was excellent.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives of North Koreans by Barbara Demick, about the lives of six citizens who grew up in North Korea before eventually escaping to South Korea. I read this on paper, not as an audiobook, but it remains one of the best and most memorable non fiction books I’ve ever read. I have just listened to a sample of the audiobook and the narrator, Karen White, seems fine.

Also, you may already know this, but: if you find an audiobook or podcast narrator too slow for your taste but otherwise unobjectionable, most listening apps will allow you to speed it up by small increments. I had a recent audiobook narrator who was good but too slow, sped it up to 1.25x normal speed and it was perfect.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:22 AM on July 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

I just finished Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe - which is a narrative non-fiction history of "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland, and a bit of a who done it around one specific case of a windowed mom of 10 who was "disappeared" for allegedly spying for the state. The story is so gripping you'll forget its non-fiction.
posted by COD at 10:31 AM on July 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

Patrick Wyman’s Fall of Rome and Tides of History.
posted by mdonley at 10:40 AM on July 26, 2020

I can't speak for the audiobook version, since mr. rekrap read it aloud to me, but we both very much enjoyed The Boys in the Boat. It tells the story of the University of Washington's rowing crew in their quest for gold in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. In addition to the built-in drama of athletic competition, the author does a great job of setting up the historical context.
posted by rekrap at 10:45 AM on July 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

When we made a 2,000 mile trip a few years ago we bought and played this USB drive with 35 hours of the This American Life podcast.
posted by yclipse at 10:54 AM on July 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

Michael Palin's Around the world in 80 Days. A behind the scenes look at making a documentary of the same name.
posted by freethefeet at 11:43 AM on July 26, 2020

Looks like no one has mentioned In the Garden of Beasts or Isaac's Storm, both by Erik Larson. The 1st is about the American ambassador to Nazi Germany starting in 1933 and the 2nd is about the hurricane that struck Galveston in 1900. Very listenable. Also, The Red Flag is a history of communism by David Priestland. Being reasonably familiar with 19th and 20th century history, it was very interesting to see it through a different lens.

As for podcasts, Revolutions (Mike Duncan (History of Rome)) and The History of the Twentieth Century are both very good. The 1st one is political history. The 2nd covers social and cultural history as well.

Have a great trip!
posted by kingless at 1:02 PM on July 26, 2020

I'll just list the true crime podcasts I have on my phone right now.

Best Case, Worst Case
Ear Hustle
FBI Retired Case File Review
In the Dark
Inside the Criminal Mind
Real Crime Profile
The Fall Line
White Lies

Also interesting are You're Wrong About (the real stories of things that happened vs what we thought happened)
and Wind of Chance (about how the CIA maybe wrote the song Wind of Change to spark the falling of the Berlin Wall).

Just plain old fun: Everything is Alive (the host interviews everyday objects personified)

If you're interested in the history of medicine, I recommend Sawbones (a doctor and her husband). Another medicine one, This Podcast Will Kill You.
posted by kathrynm at 1:37 PM on July 26, 2020

My very favorite podcast is S-Town, an 8 part journalistic dive that is gorgeously written and edited, with a (true) plot that feels like it could be a Southern Gothic novel, and that will break your heart.
posted by aimeedee at 2:04 PM on July 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

Nonfiction recs:
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou (true crime)
The Great Successor by Anna Fifield (international intrigue)
posted by panther of the pyrenees at 2:42 PM on July 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

This is fun and fits the bill: Drunk Women Solving Crime. Historical "crimes" that they walk through bit by bit, always trying to guess what was done, to who, with what, and why. The longer they go, the more the gin kicks in!
posted by sonofsnark at 3:03 PM on July 26, 2020

Ooh, not suggested yet! All seasons of Slow Burn.
posted by inexorably_forward at 3:19 PM on July 26, 2020

My go-to recommendation for requests like this is How to Live: Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer. It's only 13 and a half hours, but A) it's only $9.79/1 Audible credit, B) it's fascinating, and C) if you listen to it and fall in love with Montaigne (as I did), you can then listen to The Complete Essays of Montaigne, which is also only 1 credit and clocks in at just under 50 hours.

Although I haven't listened to the audiobook, I loved the print version of Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat.
posted by Lexica at 4:25 PM on July 26, 2020

The Criminal podcast's creator/narrator Phoebe Judge has the most amazing voice, beyond the fact that it's an interesting and insightful podcast that covers true crime but many more things (i.e. interviews interracial couples in the US who were considered illegal until the 20th century)
Phoebe Judge has another podcast, Phoebe Reads A Mystery, which as you may imagine is just her reading classic mystery novels. It's excellent.
posted by genmonster at 7:03 PM on July 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: These are all fantastic recommendations, thanks so much! Keep them coming! A month on the road is a long time.
posted by lecorbeau at 4:56 AM on July 27, 2020

seconding Trevor Noah's memoir "Born a Crime"
Amy Poehler's "Yes, Please" and Tina Fey's "Bossypants" don't read like fiction but more like a good conversation
posted by soelo at 6:47 AM on July 27, 2020

It's a bonafide classic so I apologize if you're already well aware, but Truman Capote's In Cold Blood is the original true crime book that reads like fiction!
posted by zeusianfog at 12:02 PM on July 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

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