Oftentimes, we are compelled to a particular historical moment or event because of how the story was told to us. This is particularly true in education. I found that in school, some teachers will teach history by telling a story, while others simply create lists of people, times, and places that need to be memorized for standardized testing. My experience was more often the latter.
Fast forward a few years, and turns out I married a history teacher—one whose love of history has been inspired by learning them as engaging and exciting stories. Because I didn’t have a great history education growing up—and because I wanted to be able to appreciate my husband’s field of study—I turned to books. Books have always been a medium I can relate to, so I knew that’s where I wanted to look first. But reading a traditional history book (a work of nonfiction, not a textbook) felt flat and dry.
Deciding to make one last effort, I tried history audiobooks. This turned out to be the “Just Right” solution for me. Hearing it spoken aloud made it seem more like a narrative than an event-by-event account. Sometimes, I’ve found that historical audiobooks can even feel like listening to a fictional story complete with betrayals and plot twists.
So, we’ve compiled a list of history audiobooks that you’ll be excited to listen to:
*Descriptions from Goodreads.
1. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
This is the book that inspired the Broadway musical written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. “In the first full-length biography of Alexander Hamilton in decades, Ron Chernow tells the riveting story of a man who overcame all odds to shape, inspire, and scandalize the newborn America.”
2. Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
“The celebrated Ron Chernow provides a richly nuanced portrait of the father of America. With a breadth and depth matched by no other one-volume life, he carries the reader through Washington’s troubled boyhood, his precocious feats in the French and Indian Wars, his creation of Mount Vernon, his heroic exploits with the Continental Army, his presiding over the Constitutional Convention and his magnificent performance as America’s first president.”
3. The Naturalist by Derrin Lunde
“The surprising story of intrepid naturalist Theodore Roosevelt and how his lifelong passion for the natural world set the stage for America’s wildlife conservation movement.”
4. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Martin Luther King Jr.
“Beginning with his boyhood, the book portrays King’s education as a minister, his ascendancy as a leader of the Montgomery bus boycott, his pivotal role in the civil rights demonstrations in Washington, D.C., and his complex relationship with the Kennedy brothers, LBJ, Malcolm X, and numerous other leading figures of the day.”
5. Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
“TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE is a slave narrative of a black man who was born free in New York state but kidnapped in Washington, D.C., sold into slavery, and kept in bondage for 12 years in Louisiana.”
American History Audiobooks
6. Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
“Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians know as ‘human computers’ used pencils, slide rules, and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.”
7. 1776 by David McCullough
“Based on extensive research in both American and British archives, 1776 is a powerful drama written with extraordinary narrative vitality. It is the story of Americans in the ranks, men of every shape, size, and color, farmers, schoolteachers, shoemakers, no-accounts, and mere boys turned soldiers. And it is the story of the King’s men, the British commander, William Howe, an his highly disciplined redcoats who looked on their rebel foes with contempt and fought with a valor too little known.”
8. Americana: A 400-Year History of American Capitalism by Bhu Srinivasan
“From the days of the Mayflower and the Virginia Company, America has been a place for people to dream, invent, build, tinker, and bet the farm in pursuit of a better life. Americana takes us on a four-hundred-year journey of this spirit of innovation and ambition through a series of Next Big Things—the inventions, techniques, and industries that drove American history forward: from the telegraph, the railroad, guns, radio, and banking to flight, suburbia, and sneakers, culminating with the Internet and mobile technology at the turn of the twenty-first century.”
9. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
“Americans like to insist that we are living in a post-racial, color-blind society. In fact, racist thought is alive and well; it has simply become more sophisticated and more insidious. And as award-winning historian Ibram X. Kendi argues in Stamped from the Beginning, racist ideas in this country have a long and lingering history, one in which nearly every great American thinker is complicit.”
10. War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence by Ronan Farrow
“American diplomacy is under siege. Offices across the State Department sit empty, while abroad the military-industrial complex has assumed the work once undertaken by peacemakers. We’re becoming a nation that shoots first and asks questions later. In an astonishing account ranging from Washington, D.C., to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and North Korea in the years since 9/11, acclaimed journalist and former diplomat Ronan Farrow illuminates one of the most consequential and poorly understood changes in American history.”
Find even more American History audiobooks here.
World History Audiobooks
11. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard
“In S.P.Q.R., world-renowned classicist Mary Beard narrates the unprecedented rise of a civilization that even two thousand years later still shapes many of our most fundamental assumptions about power, citizenship, responsibility, political violence, empire, luxury, and beauty.”
12. Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford
“Weatherford resurrects the true history of Genghis Khan, from the story of his relentless rise through Mongol tribal culture to the waging of his devastatingly successful wars and the explosion of civilization that the Mongol Empire unleashed.”
13. Caesar: Life of a Colossus by Adrian Goldsworthy
“Tracing the extraordinary trajectory of the great Roman emperor’s life, Goldsworthy covers not only the great Roman emperor’s accomplishments as charismatic orator, conquering general, and powerful dictator but also lesser-known chapters during which he was high priest of an exotic cult, captive of pirates, seducer not only of Cleopatra but also of the wives of his two main political rivals, and rebel condemned by his own country. Ultimately, Goldsworthy realizes the full complexity of Caesar’s character and shows why his political and military leadership continues to resonate some two thousand years later.”
14. Orientalism by Edward W. Said
“In this highly acclaimed work, Edward Said surveys the history and nature of Western attitudes towards the East, considering Orientalism as a powerful European ideological creation—a way for writers, philosophers and colonial administrators to deal with the ‘otherness’ of Eastern culture, customs and beliefs.”
15. We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families by Philip Gourevitch
“In April of 1994, the government of Rwanda called on everyone in the Hutu majority to kill everyone in the Tutsi minority. Over the next three months, 800,000 Tutsis were murdered in the most unambiguous case of genocide since Hitler’s war against the Jews. Philip Gourevitch’s haunting work is an anatomy of the killings in Rwanda, a vivid history of the genocide’s background, and an unforgettable account of what it means to survive in its aftermath.”
Miscellaneous History Audiobooks
16. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
“In Sapiens, Dr. Yuval Noah Harari spans the whole of human history, from the very first humans to walk the earth to the radical—and sometimes devastating—breakthroughs of the Cognitive, Agricultural and Scientific Revolutions. Drawing on insights from biology, anthropology, paleontology, and economics, he explores how the currents of history have shaped our human societies, the animals and plants around us, and even our personalities.”
17. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
“In Bryson’s biggest book, he confronts his greatest challenge: to understand—and, if possible, answer—the oldest, biggest questions we have posed about the universe and ourselves. Taking as territory everything from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization, Bryson seeks to understand how we got from there being nothing at all to there being us.”
18. The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean
“The Periodic Table is one of man’s crowning scientific achievements. But it’s also a treasure trove of stories of passion, adventure, betrayal, and obsession. The infectious tales and astounding details in THE DISAPPEARING SPOON follow carbon, neon, silicon, and gold as they play out their parts in human history, finance, mythology, war, the arts, poison, and the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them.”
19. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt
“One of the world’s most celebrated scholars, Stephen Greenblatt has crafted both an innovative work of history and a thrilling story of discovery, in which one manuscript, plucked from a thousand years of neglect, changed the course of human thought and made possible the world as we know it.”
20. White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg
“In her groundbreaking history of the class system in America, extending from colonial times to the present, Nancy Isenberg takes on our comforting myths about equality, uncovering the crucial legacy of the ever-present, always embarrassing—if occasionally entertaining—poor white trash.”
What are your favorite history audiobooks?