Non fiction audio books on politics, social history or spaaaaaaace!
February 17, 2021 1:57 PM   Subscribe

Please give me your best non-fiction audiobooks on politics, social history or space exploration!

My partner is looking for new non-fiction audiobooks to listen to, ideally available on Audible (UK). In particular, she's looking for somewhat political ones (not really about party politics, more about political issues, sociological topics etc), those about social history and also those about space exploration.

Examples she has enjoyed are "Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City...", "The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together" and "Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men".

What else should she try?
posted by knapah to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Packing for Mars, by Mary Roach. It's about the science challenge of putting humans in space and keeping them alive there, everything from bodily functions, psychological challenges, hygiene; all the stuff that isn't about making rockets go up. Roach's writing style is really pleasant; she makes light reading while still being informative and pretty comprehensive (and comprehensible).

Robert Zubrin's "The Case for Mars" has been on my reading list for a couple decades, I think, in which Zubrin advocates for permanent human habitation of Mars.

Above links go to Audible.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:10 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore history is a podcast the length of many audio books (and honestly, longer and more detailed than MANY books). Recent eps are free, older ones can be bought individually, grouped by series, or in bulk. You’ve got politics and social history GALORE here. Also he often recommends source materials, a lot of which are books available on Audible*.

Hardcore History

*For example this one, which I enjoyed a lot: The Storm Before the Storm by Mike Duncan on Audible.

P.S. The “hardcore” refers to the fact it’s often about war and other nasty parts of history, and not anything to do with sexual content.
posted by tiamat at 2:20 PM on February 17

Wait, you're looking for books that cover any of the above topics, or one book that covers all the above topics?
posted by latkes at 2:40 PM on February 17

Response by poster: Any books covering any of these topics. If they cover all of them, that's cool too.
posted by knapah at 3:05 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]

I just listened to The End of Policing on audiobook. Very structured and accessible outline of why police are bad and what alternatives we should pursue.
posted by latkes at 3:34 PM on February 17

David Graeber's Debt is a door stop but really interesting narrative-driven book about the origins of debt. I am reading Are Prisons Obsolete and it's an accessible and visionary argument about the rise of prisons and why they are not needed. It's short and available on audiobook.
posted by latkes at 3:44 PM on February 17

Haven't listened to the audiobook but The Making of the Atomic Bomb and its sequels are fascinating.
posted by Polycarp at 4:32 PM on February 17

Empty Pleasures: The Story of Artificial Sweeteners from Saccharin to Splenda was a really interesting social history about artificial sweeteners.

Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming digs into why coal began to be used in English cotton mills even though water power was cheaper.

Tulipomania: The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower & the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused feels pretty relevant to the current craziness in the markets.
posted by gregr at 4:33 PM on February 17

I just read The Girls of Atomic City, really fascinating, a friend in my book club listened to it and said it was good as an audio book
posted by radioamy at 4:58 PM on February 17

This is not history exactly, but Trevor Noah's memoir is about growing up biracial in apartheid South Africa. It's very funny but very educational. I read it but I heard that the audiobook is great because he reads it himself.
posted by radioamy at 4:59 PM on February 17

I roll through about five or six a month, Hoopla and Libby (public library apps) have a pretty large selection of audiobooks, so you also may want to try the UK equivalent in addition to Audible.

Calculating the Cosmos and Significant Figures by Ian Stewart (I'm only about a third of the way through the latter)
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
James Glieck's Chaos and Time Travel
A Beautiful Question by Frank Wilczek
The End of Everything by Katie Mack
Brian Greene's Until the End of Time, The Hidden Reality, The Fabric of the Cosmos and The Elegant Universe (published in 1999 but the audiobook has been updated)

The Art of the Con by Anthony Amore
The Gardner Heist by Ulrich Boser

Russell Shorto's Dutch history books Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City and The Island at the Center of the World
Sarah Vowell does short audio books on many historical subjects which are part travelogue and part history/context.
Empire by Paul Strathern
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X Kendi.
posted by typetive at 8:58 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]

I'm afraid all that comes to mind and doesn't involve too many caveats to be recommended is very US-centered. But, that's of interest:

I've recently enjoyed the audible books of Tricia McMillam-Cottom's Lower Ed and Thick, and Matthew Desmond's Evicted.

The audible version of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men is worthy of the fantastic book, if poetic non-fiction from the '30s in the US is exciting. I've listened to it twice.

If audio that became books, but isn't actually an audio book, is of interest, the Studs Turkel radio archive is great. Thousands of hour-long, highly edited radio interviews. It looks like there are a few of his audio books on audible as well. They are great as physical books, but I've never listened to the audio versions.

On preview, I haven't read Katy Mack's book, but I've ordered it. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein's book is also on my list. Neither is really about space travel, but they are about surprising things that happen in space, based on what the authors have said. Both are incredibly thoughtful people.
posted by eotvos at 10:48 AM on February 18

Response by poster: No problem with US centric stuff.

She has since said that the podcast series 99% Invisible is a good model for the types of things of interest.
posted by knapah at 12:10 PM on February 18

The 99 Percent Invisible audio book is also very good, and only slightly repeats things in the podcast.

[Edit: The 99% Invisible City seems to be the title.]
posted by eotvos at 2:13 PM on February 18

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