I listen to a lot of audiobooks, since I spend at least an hour in the car every work day. In 2017, I resolved to read more nonfiction. After nearly dozing off in the middle of a couple much-loved memoirs, I quickly realized I should stick to books that teach me interesting stuff. I love books that help me understand our world a little better. (Not that memoirs can’t do that, but they don’t work for me.) Here are a dozen nonfiction audiobooks for commuters to help you understand more about topics in social science, biology, economics, history, physics, politics, and more.
The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives by Shankar Vedantam
This is one of my favorites and still bringing it up in random conversation over a year later. It’s about how we have unconscious biases that inform the way we think and act. If you like the book, definitely check out the NPR podcast.
I was first recommended this book by another Rioter when I started my quest to read more nonfiction. This book takes you on a tour through the microbes that make up so much of our bodies and our world.
A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution by Jennifer A. Doudna and Samuel H. Sternberg
Jennifer A. Doudna discovered a gene-editing tool that could change the world. But now that she’s given us the ability to create a future like Gattaca, she warns us against a future like Gattaca (or worse).
Naked Money: A Revealing Look at What It Is and Why It Matters by Charles Wheelan
In the third of his Naked series (starting with the mega hit Naked Economics), Wheelan continues his habit of providing us accessible and entertaining introductions into topics by starting with the question: What makes a $20 bill actually worth twenty dollars?
Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
A Pulitzer Prize–winning account of the rise of human civilization, this is a nice overview for both history fans and those who aren’t too fond of the subject (guilty!).
Face Value: The Hidden Ways Beauty Shapes Women’s Lives by Autumn Whitefield-Madrano
A nuanced discussion of the way beauty and the pursuit of beauty shape our lives, in both positive and negative ways.
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
“A contemporary, accessible take on the racial landscape in America, addressing head-on such issues as privilege, police brutality, intersectionality, micro-aggressions, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the ‘N’ word.” Bonus: this book is narrated by one of my favorite fiction narrators, Bahni Turpin.
Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin Is Changing Money, Business, and the World by Don Tapscott and Alex Tapscott
The next time someone in the office break room asks, “So what is Bitcoin, exactly, anyway?” you’ll finally be ready to answer them.
Maybe it’s because I read a lot of YA Dystopian, but I have a weird fascination with world-changing disease epidemics. And who better to learn about them from than the former director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life by Helen Czerski
A “lively, entertaining, and richly informed introduction to the world of physics. Czerski provides the tools to alter the way we see everything around us by linking ordinary objects and occurrences, like popcorn popping, coffee stains, and fridge magnets, to big ideas like climate change, the energy crisis, or innovative medical testing.”
Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang, MD, and Nate Pedersen
I started following Dr. Kang because of her novels, but here she combines her storytelling gifts with her knowledge as a medical doctor to take us to “a time when doctors prescribed morphine for crying infants. When liquefied gold was touted as immortality in a glass. And when strychnine—yes, that strychnine, the one used in rat poison—was dosed like Viagra.”
The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein
This book shook me to my core. It’s about how wealthy and powerful people manipulate situations after major disasters (natural or man-made) to implement drastic policy changes and make themselves rich.
Have you read or listened to any great nonfiction books recently? Leave your recommendations for nonfiction audiobooks for commuters in the comments!