I say this every year, but it’s true: One of my favorite things about December is the best-of book lists, especially the best in audiobooks. I love adding to my wish list and getting great ideas for gift giving.
I also keep my eye (ear?) out for good audiobooks to listen to with family. An audiobook can take the sting out of traveling, cooking, and house cleaning, and it makes a quiet night at home in front of the fire extra special.
Today I’m happy to share with you AudioFile’s Best Biography & History Audiobooks for 2019. We picked the following titles not only for their excellence in research and style but also because of the narrators’ exceptional performances, which leave listeners wanting more.
What follows is a synopsis of each audiobook that found a place on our best-of list; to learn more, be sure to click through to our full reviews. To see the winners in all of the categories, check out AudioFile’s 2019 Best Audiobooks page.
Here are the 2019 winners of AudioFile’s Best Biography & History Audiobooks:
In FIRST: Sandra Day O’Connor, author Evan Thomas introduces us to the first woman to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court justice. The audiobook provides context for O’Connor’s life, highlighting the political and sociocultural issues that shaped her opportunities and likely influenced her career. This audiobook stands out because Thomas was given access to many firsthand materials, including O’Connor’s personal papers and journal. Narrator Kirsten Potter’s delivery highlights the many sides of the justice, contrasting O’Connor the family woman with O’Connor the lawmaker.
THE BRITISH ARE COMING: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775–1777 is the first audiobook in a planned trilogy by Rick Atkinson, a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian. In this account of the U.S. Revolutionary War, listeners learn updated accounts of familiar events (such as Paul Revere’s ride), get a feel for the global landscape, and meet some of the ordinary people who found themselves in extraordinary situations. Narrator George Newbern easily shifts from the fast and bloody action on the battlefields to the more intimate descriptions of the major players.
A little more than 30 years ago, the world was informed of the unthinkable: a Russian nuclear plant had a catastrophic failure. The details of that event are told by Adam Higginbotham in MIDNIGHT IN CHERNOBYL: The Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster. Relying on now-unclassified records, interviews, and other eye-witness reports, Higginbotham reveals the whys and hows of the disaster, the total disregard the Communist government had for the safety of the local population, and the extensive Soviet coverup of the damage and consequences. Narrator Jacques Roy’s storytelling style offers an excellent foil to this horrifying tale of human error and governmental greed.
Authors Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes were at the core of the artists and writers who achieved worldwide fame during the Harlem Renaissance. ZORA AND LANGSTON: A Story of Friendship and Betrayal, by Yuval Taylor, of course explores the authors’ multilayered personal and professional relationship, but it also reveals the complex patron–artist dynamics that controlled many New York African Americans who were experimenting in the arts during the Jazz Age. Narrator Bahni Turpin’s performance underscores Hurston’s and Hughes’ individual personalities and how the once-close collaborators turned their backs on each other.
The modern age grew up with the space program, and Douglas Brinkley’s AMERICAN MOONSHOT: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race frames the birth of that program in a global perspective. While it is true that scientists and citizens alike turned their imaginations to the stars, wondering about the secrets of the universe, the American space program was developed on much less romantic ground. Brinkley sets the record straight, discussing the sociopolitical climate that inspired presidents and Congress to support NASA and all related research and technology. Narrator Stephen Graybill nicely conveys Brinkley’s emotions when performing the first-person accounts and wisely steps back a bit when delivering the more descriptive passages.
AudioFile’s Best Biography & History Audiobooks for 2019 offer top-quality choices for nonfiction listeners and anyone interested in meeting fascinating people and having a better understanding of important events in history.
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).