Please recommend some engaging history audiobooks
August 7, 2020 7:02 AM   Subscribe

Was recently enraptured by the following audiobooks : Robert Caro's multivolume Lyndon Johnson bio, and Mary Beard's SPQR. Looking for more history audiobooks that I'll love!

Please help keep me sane during the quarantine! Looking for some interesting, engaging history audiobooks. Also interested in podcasts, if you have any recommendations. Here is my criteria for a history audiobook, in descending order of importance :

Trustworthy. Must be a historian whose methods we respect, who enjoys a positive reputation among historians.
Engaging. Both Robert Caro and Mary Beard are excellent writers, and their masterful prose played a a significant part in my enjoyment of their work. I'm not a history student, I'm a hobbyist, so the work needs to be enjoyable.
Skillful Narration. Should not sound stilted or awkward.

Some history books I've enjoyed in the past: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, The Power Broker, SPQR, American Nations, Low Life, Devil in the White City, Salt : A World History, History of the World in Six Glasses, The End Is Always Near

Some history podcasts I listen to regularly : Hardcore History, Tides of History, Throughline, Our Fake History, Behind the Bastards, The Eastern Border

I've also listened to a number of Great Courses Plus courses, but found the charisma of the instructors to vary wildly.
posted by panama joe to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should mention that I'm pretty open as far as subject matter goes. There's really no region or time period that I'm not interested in. Really churchy stuff (i.e. all the various debates within Christianity through the millennia) tends to bore me, but I'm willing to plow through it if it's part of a larger, more interesting store.
posted by panama joe at 7:04 AM on August 7, 2020

Gotham and Greater Gotham by Mike Wallace were nice "prequals" to The Power Broker for me, a non-New Yorker who knew little about the city. They are enjoyable listens and a good value for an Audible credit (~65 and 55 hours respectively).
posted by the christopher hundreds at 7:23 AM on August 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

We listen to tons of non-fiction books. Some that come to mind:

The Story of Human Language, by: John McWhorter

His lecture series on Audible also quite good:
Language Families of the World by: John McWhorter

The "history of" series by Susan Wise Bauer is *fantastic*. And the audio book versions, whilst read by a man, are a joy to listen to. She's occasionally just a tad snarky, and he reads it well. And they're HUGE. They will keep you busy for a while. Each book basically starts where the last left off (so do them in order). Her "History of Science" book is pretty decent, but makes a horrible audio book.

The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome

The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade

The History of the Renaissance World: From the Rediscovery of Aristotle to the Conquest of Constantinople
posted by jaded at 8:28 AM on August 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

"Birth of the Modern Mind" Great Courses, by Alan Charles Kors, is pretty good. It is 17th/18th century intellectual history -- going through every major European enlightenment philosopher.

I recall the narration being solid -- he has a professor voice but one who is practiced at giving lectures. Except for one irritating part that still sticks in my mind where he mispronounced Newton's formula for gravitational force (misread the R squared as "R two").
posted by vogon_poet at 8:46 AM on August 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Charley Wilson's War (about arming Afghans against the Russians during the Cold War)
Where the Wizards Stay Up Late (about the invention of the internet)
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (about medical racism and the history of cancer research)
posted by catquas at 9:54 AM on August 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Caveat: I read these, so I don’t know if the narrators are good, but the books themselves are excellent and worth checking out. In The Heart of The Sea: the Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, by Nathaniel Philbrick, which is an astonishment and a delight, with shipwreck and cannibalism; The Bounty, by Caroline Alexander about the mutiny on the bounty, and the long drama of what happened afterwards as the crown pursued vengeance; and A Distant Mirror, by Barbara Tuchman, which is a history of the fourteenth century in Europe, mostly England and France. It was the first non fiction book I ever enjoyed.
posted by sumiami at 11:56 AM on August 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Lots of good recommendations already, some new to me, thanks for asking this. All of these are narrative and all are available via Audible.

Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America
Gilbert King

The Fire Is upon Us: James Baldwin, William F. Buckley Jr., and the Debate over Race in America
Nicholas Buccola

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin
Erik Larson

The Red Flag: A History of Communism
David Priestland

The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832
Alan Taylor

Agents of Empire: Knights, Corsairs, Jesuits and Spies in the Sixteenth-Century Mediterranean World
Noel Malcolm

The Peloponnesian War
Donald Kagan

Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939
Adam Hochschild

The Zimmermann Telegram
Barbara Tuchman

The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic
Mike Duncan

Sugar in the Blood: A Family's Story of Slavery and Empire
Andrea Stuart

The Impending Crisis: America Before the Civil War: 1848-1861
David M. Potter , Don E. Fehrenbacher

The Slave's Cause: A History of Abolition
Manisha Sinha

1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed
Eric H. Cline

The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War
Joanne B. Freeman
posted by kingless at 2:04 PM on August 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything

Any David McCullough, but Brave Companions: Portraits in History, 1776, and The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge specifically

Any Michael/Jeff Shaara, but the Civil War and World War II series specifically.
posted by hankscorpio83 at 2:10 PM on August 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Also, (feelings of him as a person aside...) Bill O'Reilly's "Killing..." books are good, specifically Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever and Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot
posted by hankscorpio83 at 2:16 PM on August 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

My posting history here requires that I recommend the podcasts of Mike Duncan: The History of Rome and Revolutions. In both cases, he will suggest early that there will be a relatively small number of episodes, but you will have seen how many episodes there are, so you know he is going to be wrong about that. History of Rome is done; he's halfway through the last season of Revolutions, with the 1917 half of the Russian Revolution still to come.

Another fellow has started the History of Byzantium, picking up after the fall of Rome; this pod is ongoing (we're at the First Crusade right now).

Rex Factor is fun, but not really about being serious history.

There's also the Romance of the Three Kingdoms podcast, in which the host reads the Chinese semi-historical epic The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. I haven't finished listening yet; it's a long book. He can pronounce the names, which helps a lot, and he also is pretty good about skipping past/summing up sections where nothing is happening, and explaining references and geography and so on. There's a lot of book, and a bunch of characters, but even if I don't listen for awhile, when I jump back in I feel like I still know what's going on. He's doing Water Margin now, which I haven't started.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 11:39 AM on August 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for your recommendations -- lots of quality stuff in there! Not marking a "best answer" because I would have to mark every response (which might look weird), so instead you all get a favorite. "You get a favorite, YOU get a favorite!" 🤣

Seriously though, this should keep me busy for a while. Thanks!
posted by panama joe at 7:20 AM on August 10, 2020

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