I know I say this every December, but I love seeing everyone’s best books of the year lists, especially lists that focus on audiobooks. It’s fun to see which of my favorites appear on the lists and even more fun to discover great audiobooks I missed during the year. I also use these lists for no-fail gift ideas for the upcoming holidays and for birthdays and other occasions throughout the year.
Here at AudioFile, we break down our yearly lists into categories such as young adult, romance, and general fiction. Today I’m thrilled to share with you the winners of the Best Audiobooks of 2021 in Nonfiction & Culture. The audiobooks that made our list were picked not only for their informative, engaging content but also for the narrators' excellent performances.
AudioFile’s 2021 Best Audiobooks in Nonfiction & Culture introduce listeners to a unique memoir, serious and quirky science, and an insightful look at human behavior. By listening to these titles, we can learn, be inspired, and gain understanding. To learn more about a title, be sure to click through to read our full review. To see all the winners in all the categories, see AudioFile’s Best of 2021 page. To hear interviews with some of the winning narrators, be sure to subscribe to AudioFile’s Behind the Mic podcast.
Now for the 2021 winners of AudioFile’s Best Audiobooks in Nonfiction & Culture.
Yo-Yo Ma picked up his first cello at the age of four in Paris, where he was born. In his short memoir, BEGINNER’S MIND, Ma shares personal stories as well as deeper and broader thoughts on values, the arts, humanity, and family. His quiet, clear voice beckons listeners in, and his cello pieces underscore the power of music to help connect people across generations and cultures.
In FUZZ, science writer Mary Roach looks at the human–nature interface and what happens when such contact results in lost property, lost profits, or lost life. Roach introduces listeners to wildlife specialists around the world, each of whom must find a compromise between nature and human life or well-being. Roach’s performance emphasizes the full range of feelings surrounding such decisions, from heartbreak to humor.
Howard Markel, award-winning author and professor of the history of medicine, exposes the darker side of the race to figure out the structure of DNA in THE SECRET OF LIFE. Though history gives all the credit for discovering DNA’s double helix to two men (Watson and Crick), it was X-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin who uncovered the most significant clues. Narrator Donald Corren’s performance captures the personalities of the major players, portraying with equanimity Franklin’s meticulous work and the men’s unethical use of her data.
Signs of climate change are everywhere. In UNDER A WHITE SKY, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Kolbert outlines humankind’s impact on greenhouse gases, waterways, and forests and then talks with cutting-edge scientists to learn what can be done to reverse or slow what seems to be inevitable destruction. Narrator Rebecca Lowman’s easy-on-the-ears delivery balances the audiobook’s urgent message with the author’s accessible style. Listen in on the Behind the Mic podcast for Lowman's interview & to hear more about the engaging audiobook.
Michele Wucker’s timely new audiobook, YOU ARE WHAT YOU RISK, examines multiple factors that lead people to take risks or to play it safe. One area of everyday risk in 2021 involves behavior surrounding COVID-19, such as making decisions about travel, visiting friends, and attending sports events. Narrator Tavia Gilbert’s clear, steady delivery connects listeners to new concepts like the “risk fingerprint” and to the ways each person’s unique life experiences affect their assessment of possible danger.
To learn even more about the don’t-miss audiobooks of the year, be sure to follow us on Twitter (@AudioFileMag), like us on Facebook (@AudioFileMagazine), and subscribe to our podcast (Behind the Mic with AudioFile Magazine).
Rebecca Lowman photo courtesy of the narrator, Tavia Gilbert photo by Leslie Hassler.