I always loved learning about history in school and there was always something nice about being taught it from someone passionate rather than reading it from a textbook. Whilst there have been a few history books I’ve picked up and become engrossed in, I often get distracted. However, audiobooks make the perfect middle ground, I’ve found that listening to a history audiobook can feel like being taught by an enthusiastic historian. Here are some of the best history audiobooks to get stuck into and expand your knowledge.
1. A History of the world – Andrew Marr
I remember watching the 2012 BBC Documentary series and being fascinated. This is an epic journey through 70,000 years of human history that shaped our present-day and our future. When I was recently searching for a book on the history of the World I rediscovered Andrew Marr’s comprehensive book. Andrew takes you through the more well-known periods and figures such as Rome and Greece, Genghis Khan and Mao but also digs into many events and people that I had no idea about. The book can be dipped in and out of but Marr’s skill makes it read like a novel carefully and logically explaining how events are directly or indirectly linked and impacted our very futures. This book will really inspire you to become a history buff and no doubt explore some of your favourite periods in more detail.
2. Sapiens – Yuval Noah Harari
It’s bizarre to think that at one time there were half a dozen human species on earth. How different life would be if more than us Homo sapiens survived. Yuval Noah Harari’s incredible book follows the story of humankind. How did our species succeed in the battle for dominance? Why did our foraging ancestors come together to create cities and kingdoms? It looks at how we got to where we are and where we might be heading. This is a thought-provoking book that I learnt a lot from and would say it is a must not just for history fans but for everyone. It is the kind of book that is full of so many interesting bits of history and the complexity of humans that you will want to share your new knowledge with anyone who will listen.
3. SPQR – Mary Beard
SPQR is a multi-award-winning book on Ancient Rome from Cambridge University professor Mary Beard. Professor Beard is one of Britains best-known scholars of antiquity with an impressive resume and this book is nothing short of brilliant. SPQR stands for Senātus Populusque Rōmānus (The Senate and People of Rome) and amazingly ot is still stamped on every manhole cover and lampost in Rome. Pretty cool right? Mary’s book examines the Roman empire as she uncovered centuries of untold stories and previously unknown aspects of one of the most discussed and analysed periods in time. I remember studying the Roman empire aged 7 and think it is a beloved and fascinating civilisation that holds many insights. This book is the best I’ve listened to on Ancient Rome and I learnt an overwhelming amount.
4. Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World – Jack Weatherford
The Mongol army led by Genghis Khan subjugated more lands and people in twenty-five years than the Romans did in four hundred. In nearly every country the Mongols conquered, they brought an unprecedented rise in cultural communication, expanded trade, and a blossoming of civilization. Vastly more progressive than his European or Asian counterparts, Genghis Khan abolished torture, granted universal religious freedom, and smashed feudal systems of aristocratic privilege.
From the story of his rise through the tribal culture to the explosion of civilization that the Mongol Empire unleashed, this brilliant work of revisionist history is nothing less than the epic story of how the modern world was made.
5. A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson’s humorous book takes on the mammoth task of summarising everything that has happened from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization. It is an overview of modern science covering cosmology, geology, biology weaved into a brilliant narrative. Bill Bryson is excellent at explaining each discovery and theory going into ideas that were once thought true, how these came about and later disproved or built on. Sometimes some of the chunks of numbers and stats can be a little overwhelming without seeing them written down which is one benefit of the book but on the other hand, it is really nice having such a story read and explained to you. I would recommend starting with this book before moving on to the others on this list so you have a base knowledge of our planet and how it came about.
6. The invention of murder – Judith Flanders
Murder in nineteenth-century Britain was ubiquitous – not necessarily in quantity but in quality. This was the era of penny-bloods, early crime fiction and melodramas for the masses. This was a time when murder and entertainment were firmly entwined. The book features the likes of Sweeney Todd, Jack the Ripper, Burke and Hare (Scottish serial killers), The Mannings, and Thurtell (The Elstree Murder). It is an exciting listen that has been meticulously researched by the author and as such is comprehensive and very interesting.
7. The Third Reich Trilogy – Richard J. Evans
Richard J. Evans The Third Reich Trilogy is hailed as one of the best book series on the Third Reich and Richard is considered one of the most prominent historians of Nazi Germany. It covers the rise and collapse of Nazi Germany in tremendous detail. The first volume The coming of the Third Reich follows the unification of Germany in 1871 and takes readers up until 1933 when Hitler seized control of Germany. The second book covers 1933 up until the dawn of World War II with the final volume detailing the war and its end. The work is regarded as a masterpiece and a must for those interesting in learning about this dark period.
Book 2 The Third Reich in Power
Book 3The Third Reich at War
8. Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies – Jared Diamond
Winner of the Pulitzer prize, Jared Diamond presents the geographical and ecological factors that have shaped the modern world. From the viewpoint of an evolutionary biologist, he highlights the broadest movements both literal and conceptual on every continent since the Ice Age, and examines societal advances such as writing, religion, government, and technology. Societies that had had a head start in food production advanced beyond the hunter-gatherer stage, and then developed religion –as well as nasty germs and potent weapons of war –and adventured on sea and land to conquer and decimate preliterate cultures. A major advance in our understanding of human societies, Guns, Germs, and Steel chronicles the way that the modern world came to be and stunningly dismantles racially based theories of human history.
9. Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 – Tony Judt
The ambitious task of documenting and retelling 60 years of change across 34 nations has been done justice by highly respected and qualified Tony Judt. This is the most detailed and accurate book of Europe since 1945 covering all significant events in balanced weighting and with a thrilling narrative. Postwar: A history of Europe since 1945 is an outstanding book.
10. Black and British – David Olsoga
David Olusoga’s Black and British is a rich and revealing exploration of the extraordinarily long relationship between the British Isles and the people of Africa. Drawing on new genetic and genealogical research, original records, expert testimony and contemporary interviews, Black and British reaches back to Roman Britain, the medieval imagination and Shakespeare’s Othello. Unflinching, confronting taboos and revealing hitherto unknown scandals, Olusoga describes how black and white Britons have been intimately entwined for centuries.
11. The Lessons of History – Will Durant
The epic 11 volume series by husband and wife Will & Ariel Durant titled The Story of Civilization was written over 4 decades and is almost 10,000 pages long. That is a lot of reading although I am sure for true History Buffs it is a challenge most would like to complete. If you are looking for a distilled version then following the 10th volume the couple published The Lessons of History, a much more manageable read. The book is full of insights into the nature of human experience, the evolution of civilization, and the culture of man. After writing and researching for so many years they reflect on 5000 years of world history from 12 perspectives. The book examines the great lives, ideas and events for man’s long journey through war, conquest and creation and for themes and answers that can give us guidance on our own era.
12. We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families – Philip Gourevitch
In the spring of 1994, Rwanda was decimated. Hundreds of thousands of Rwandans participated in the killing, with machetes and clubs, murdering about a million people, including 70% of the entire Tutsi population, in six weeks. An amazingly well-written account of a harrowing part of history. “Gourevitch constructs a powerful indictment against international inaction . . . In his meticulous journalistic reconstruction, he drives home the point that this is a history like any other” – Observer.
13. Girt & True Girt – David Hunt
A light-hearted and very humorous look at the history of Australia. David Hunt presents the complex and unique Islands foundings in the most amusing and entertaining way. The cock-ups and curiosities, the forgotten eccentrics and Eureka moments that have made Australia. Australian history is not one that comes up very often, and this book could be considered somewhat basic for historians but for those looking to gain insight and a grounding to a remarkable place you can not go wrong with Girt. The follow up was released in 2016 and takes us to the wild south, the Australian frontier. Both are perfect in audiobook form and would be great for a road trip down the gold coast.
14. Caesar: Life of a Colossus – 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.
15. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America – Erik Larson
Big title but a fascinating read. The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 and its amazing ‘White City’ was one of the wonders of the world. This is the incredible story of its realization, and of the two men whose fates it linked: one was an architect, the other a serial killer. One man is the architect, Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair’s brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country’s most important structures. The other Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who built the “World’s Fair Hotel” that was his torture palace where he lured women who were attending the fair. Told at a pivotal point in American history at the dawn of a new era supported by known characters like Buffalo Bill, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, and Archduke Francis Ferdinand.