Truth is Stranger Than Fiction: Non-fiction Audiobook Recommendations
Some of my favourite audiobooks are non-fiction books.
I know, I know, non-fiction has a bit of a reputation as being dry, but I’m here to let you know there are some really fascinating non-fiction audiobooks out there. I’ve pulled together five of the ones I’ve learnt the most from, so sit back, relax, and learn some cool facts while being read to!
1. A Bad Birdwatcher’s Companion (Or a Personal Introduction to Britain’s 50 Most Obvious Birds) – Simon Barnes. Read by Simon Barnes.
Okay, I have a confession to make. I am a bad birdwatcher. I like birds, but I know next to nothing about them, and I’ve never seen anything more exciting than a chaffinch in my garden (and I got embarrassingly excited about that). If you like being in the garden but know absolutely nothing about birds, then you’ll enjoy this audiobook. It’s both funny and informative about the birds you’re most likely to see, and if you have a visual impairment, it also includes some great recordings of birdsong so it’s easy to recognise which bird you are listening to even if you can’t necessarily see them in the garden. Simon Barnes has written this guide in a very conversational tone, and he narrates in the same way, so it’s like a very passionate friend telling you about their hobby. It’s great for both learning and relaxing – a perfect Sunday afternoon listen.
A Bad Birdwatcher’s Companion is available for Listening Books members to download and stream. It is also available on MP3 CD, book number 01068.
2. A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled – Ruby Wax. Read by Ruby Wax.
This is probably the most candid book about depression and mindfulness based cognitive behavioural therapy you can find. Ruby Wax has struggled with depression throughout her life, and she has taken a masters degree in therapy, so she knows what she’s talking about. It is a great introduction to some simple techniques in easy to understand language. Ruby reads the book very well, and the jokes are funnier because of her. Some parts are very raw and emotional, but Ruby reads them sincerely, and this adds to the impact of the book and the importance of the techniques. This is an entertaining book to listen to without being too flippant about the topic.
A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled is available for Listening Books members to download and stream.
3. Sapiens – Yuval Noah Harari. Read by Derek Perkins.
Humans have become the dominant species on Earth in a relatively short space of time, and how we managed that is Harari’s main topic in this Sunday Times bestselling book. I had a lot of moments while listening when I wondered why I had never thought about something in that way before, particularly when Harari describes how people learnt to co-operate in large groups by sharing common fictions. However, just as you’re getting the hang of this idea, Harari whips it away by undermining some of our most common ‘truths’ – the idea that humans domesticated grains is, he says, more likely to be that grains domesticated humans. This is a really fascinating audiobook and definitely worth a listen.
Sapiens is available for Listening Books members to download and stream.
4. A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson. Read by William Roberts.
Can you summarise the history of science in about 20 hours? That’s what Bill Bryson has attempted to do, and he’s been fairly successful. He takes huge topics like the Big Bang, chemistry and particle physics, and breaks them down to be more easily understood. Although I have a basic interest in science, I tend to glaze over when it becomes more challenging than a BBC documentary, but this book was fascinating. William Roberts contributes to this with his cheerful narration, and I was easily able to listen to this multiple times to take in some of the facts that I missed on the first listen. A good one to listen to before a pub quiz!
A Short History of Nearly Everything is available for Listening Books members on MP3 CD, book number 09593.
5. Reasons to Stay Alive – Matt Haig. Read by Matt Haig.
Matt Haig’s excellent memoir about depression describes how one day, when he was 24, he started to suffer from a major episode of depression and anxiety that ended up lasting eight years until he was 32. It is sometimes very witty, with lists like ‘Things That Have Happened to Me That Have Generated More Sympathy Than Depression’, which include consuming a poisoned prawn, working in a cabbage-packing warehouse, and having a blackboard fall on him. However, it contrasts this well with poignant stories of how difficult simple tasks became, like walking to the corner shop in the grip of a paralysing terror. As narrator, he is very sincere, which works well, and the book finds a lot of pleasure in finding the good things in life that are worth holding on to and looking forward to, which is inspiring. A good one to listen to if you have ever suffered from depression or anxiety, or if you’re supporting someone with a mental illness.
Reasons to Stay Alive is available for Listening Books members on MP3 CD, book number 13585.
If you’d like to hear from Bill Bryson, head over to our interview with him – a very lovely man.
This post was written by Abigail Jaggers