5 nonfiction audiobook recommendations

5 Nonfiction Audiobooks to Learn Something New

So far this year I’m crushing my reading goal and audiobooks have contributed a lot to that! I tend to zone out listening to fiction audiobooks and lose the plot, but struggle to stay awake reading nonfiction books before bed (when I tend to read most). Listening to audiobooks on my commute has been a game changer for me. Here are some of my favorite nonfiction audiobooks to learn something new.

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The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

This one was dense and long, but everyone should read or listen to this. I learned so much about how the system of mass incarceration is modern institutionalized racism. Alexander makes insightful connections between mountains of data and statistics in a way that is easy to understand. That doesn’t mean this is an easy book. It’s not. But it’s important to understand this important facet of race in our society and to have the knowledge and language to discuss it.

Why it’s better as an audiobook:

  • data and statistics can make this feel more textbook like at times
  • this book brings out emotions and reflections that can take time to process
  • 30 minute chunks of listening at a time allowed me to take in the information and reflect without being overwhelmed

Land by Simon Winchester

I loved Land so much I’m working through some of Winchester’s other books. It is all about our relationship with land throughout history and how that relationship has impacted our current society. I would have never guessed that exploring the history of land ownership and policies regarding it would be so interesting, but man they were. Winchester has a way of finding obscure anecdotes and weaving them together to tell a bigger story. With bits of history, politics, economics, science, and geography this book has broad appeal to anyone who likes to learn things.

Why it’s better as an audiobook:

  • Winchester reads the book & he’s British
  • the writing is like storytelling despite being full of information
  • this made housework or driving to work way more enjoyable

Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe

The Sacklers are/were better known for their philanthropic giving to art museums and cultural institutions than for producing Oxycontin. This book chronicles how the Sacklers made all their money and the lengths they took to keep it as controversy over Oxycontin took off. Keefe details the history of three generations of the Sackler family with thorough reporting of the greed and marketing that contributed to the opioid crisis.

Why it’s better as an audiobook:

  • it’s long and detailed
  • Keefe narrates with consistency and lets his reporting speak for itself
  • there’s a lot to process about human behavior and motivations, 30 minute chunks of listening worked well for me to do that

OTHER BOOK LISTS: 5 Childhood Favorites That Still Hold Up | 5 Adventurous Reads

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

This is one of those books I knew of from the collective psyche and decided it was finally time to read. I have a background in chemistry and I still struggled. Approaching this one as “pick up what you can and let the rest go” helped me. It’s not written to be super technical, but conceptually it’s just hard. Even only genuinely understanding a portion, it still blew my mind. Sometimes it’s good to have your brain explode.

Why it’s better as an audiobook:

  • Michael Jackson (not that one) narrates the book & he’s British
  • Jackson’s delivery of the material, sometimes conversational writing style, and humor is excellent
  • listening was faster than if I had read it, I would have tried to take notes

Nine Nasty Words by James McWhorter

This one was just fun! Linguist McWhorter examines the etymology, history, and uses of curse words. Why do those words hold such power? Why do we enjoy uttering them so much? A mix of history, psychology, and of course linguistics combine to tell an entertaining and enlightening tale of the things we say. Each chapter revolves around a different word with it’s origins and how its use has evolved over time.

Why it’s better as an audiobook:

  • McWhorter delivers the humor in his words impeccably well
  • there’s lots of enunciations and pronunciations that changed through history, hearing these was way better than reading them would be
  • the shocked look on someone’s face if they overhear your audiobook spewing profanity

How to Listen to Nonfiction Audiobooks for Free

Did you know that most libraries have audiobooks AND you don’t even have to go to the library to check out books?

Get a library membership and download the Libby app. Login with your library number and you can check out anything your library has for free. Even if you don’t like reading on your phone, it doesn’t matter with audiobooks since you’re listening. More popular items often have a waitlist, but I’ve found that doesn’t happen much with nonfiction audiobooks.

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