Your high school history class didn’t begin to cover all the stories of human existence. In fact, even minoring in history in college left gaps in my knowledge, and I have filled them with books ever since. Fortunately, there’s a large pool of authors to choose from if you want to learn more about the fascinating tapestry of our past.
Whether you’re a history buff, a student, or just a curious listener wanting to expand your knowledge, this list of the best history audiobooks is crafted with you in mind. Each title offers a unique lens through which to view the past, immersing you in different periods, cultures, and experiences. Grab your headphones, sit back, and let’s embark on a journey into the past!
- Last Boat Out of Shanghai: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Fled Mao’s Revolution by Helen Zia
- Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
- Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
- The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire by Jack Weatherford
- A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre
- Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots by Morgan Jerkins
- Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People by Elizabeth A. Fenn
- How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Activists and Scientists Tamed AIDS by David France
- The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee
- Forty Autumns: A Family's Story of Courage and Survival on Both Sides of the Berlin Wall by Nina Willner
- Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson
- Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
- Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
- We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch
- Tulsa, 1921: Reporting a Massacre by Randy Krehbiel
- Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
- Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
- Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell
- Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth by Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson, and Jason Stanford
- Say Anarcha: A Young Woman, A Devious Surgeon, and the Harrowing Birth of Modern Women’s Health by J.C. Hallman
- King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terrorism, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild
- Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore
- On Our Best Behavior: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Price Women Pay to Be Good by Elise Loehnen
- Covered with Night: A Study of Murder and Indigenous Justice in Early America by Nicole Eustace
- Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne, from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest by Stephen E. Ambrose
- In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides
- All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, A Black Family Keepsake by Tiya Miles
- A Fever in the Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan’s Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them by Timothy Egan
- Asian American Histories of the United States: Revisioning History by Catherine Ceniza Choy
- Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe by Laurence Bergreen
Last Boat Out of Shanghai: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Fled Mao’s Revolution by Helen Zia
History books can be hard for some listeners to enjoy because of the masses of people involved in past events. Helen Zia handles this beautifully by offering a wide expanse of history told through the lens of four individual people deciding whether or not to flee as communism sweeps through China. You get the story of a nation undergoing massive change, but the focus on these unique stories makes it relatable in a way that a typical telling of national turmoil couldn’t convey.
Nancy Wu narrates this worthwhile listen that will arm you with historical facts alongside empathy for those forced to make life-changing decisions and survive.
Length: 17 hours and 13 minutes
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
Listening to Caste took me longer than expected, but it’s not because of the length of the audiobook. It’s because I had to keep stopping to catch my breath as Wilkerson’s in-depth research revealed more than I ever knew about how the caste system defines our world, no matter our country of origin.
From Nazi Germany to the Southern plantations before the Civil War, Wilkerson points out how caste, more than other factors we may recognize as important, is what defines how most of us live, and sometimes when and how we die. This is a difficult book to hear, but Wilkerson does not leave us without hope but rather roots for us to find a better way forward.
Length: 15 hours and 10 minutes
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
Though this book is over 20 years old, there is still much to learn from Diamond’s fieldwork in New Guinea for 30 years. He goes all the way back to when mankind began and offers details as to why some regions thrived and others failed. Though this may not sound like the most interesting topic, Diamond makes it easily digestible while also creating fascinating content for listeners to latch onto and share.
Doug Ordunio narrates, and his enthusiasm carries through to help give a better understanding of how and why the world developed the way that it did.
Length: 16 hours and 20 minutes
The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire by Jack Weatherford
Like so much of history centering around females, the stories of the Mongol Queens were removed from books until what was left did not at all acknowledge their contribution to history and the legacy they left behind. Jack Weatherford seeks to fix this with his researched account of how the daughters of Genghis Khan built an empire that supported education and trade, and left future artists and leaders inspired.
Length: 10 hours and 19 minutes
A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre
This recommendation came from a friend, and it’s a listen I haven’t forgotten. Macintyre paints a suspenseful picture of Kim Philby’s time as an MI6 officer who was also working for the Russians, tanking well-planned orders and getting hundreds of people killed. Those closest to him had no idea, and the fact that this is a true story left me awake and asking questions for weeks after the last word.
John Lee narrates, and you can also watch this story play out on screen in a new streaming series.
Length: 11 hours
Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots by Morgan Jerkins
Jerkins narrates her story of exploring her family’s past over hundreds of years to further understand the effects of the great migration that occurred as Black people in the United States left the South to find better opportunities in other parts of the country. Though greener grass supposedly awaited, what does it cost to leave your roots and find a new home when racism permeates the vast landscape you inhabit? Jerkins is a master at taking huge, multifaceted topics and adding a personal touch that weaves them together beautifully.
Length: 8 hours and 3 minutes
Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People by Elizabeth A. Fenn
While you have likely read or heard plenty about the journey of Lewis and Clark, you probably don’t know much about the Mandan Indians who offered them a place to stay during a period of their journey. Elizabeth Fenn hopes to change that with the conclusions she drew after studying new pieces of history pulled from archeology records, climate changes, and epidemiology. Fenn explores how the Mandan lived and thrived, as well as what eventually caused their end.
Length: 10 hours and 32 minutes
How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Activists and Scientists Tamed AIDS by David France
What do you do when a plague is decimating your community and those in power refuse to look for a viable cure? You find one yourself. David France explores how activists and scientists worked together during the AIDS epidemic to research, smuggle drugs, and share their findings as they worked to find a way to slow the spread of a disease that killed hundreds of thousands of people.
After you listen to this amazing story of resilience, check out the documentary as well.
Length: 24 hours and 28 minutes
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Almost everyone knows someone who has been affected by cancer, and Mukherjee takes us all the way back to centuries ago when this disease made its appearance in the world. Though this is a listen full of surprises and eye-opening information, the biggest surprise is how you will hear the history of a disease and feel enthralled in a suspenseful thriller, waiting to see how it ends.
Mukherjee narrows down the vast amount of history by focusing on actual people who have wrestled with cancer, adding a personal touch to a book about a disease that can be ruthless.
Length: 22 hours and 18 minutes
Forty Autumns: A Family’s Story of Courage and Survival on Both Sides of the Berlin Wall by Nina Willner
Nina Willner became an intelligence officer who helped lead operations in East Berlin during the Cold War. While her being the first female to do this is a story that is incredible on its own, the fact that her mother had escaped East Berlin years before makes it even more remarkable. Willner tells the story of her mother’s escape, the family she left behind, and the 40 years they were apart due to political turmoil that cut families off from one another.
This is a story of strength, of family, and of the resilience it takes to overcome the evils of this world. It’s also a tearjerker, so grab some tissues as Cassandra Campbell tells you Willner’s incredible story.
Length: 10 hours and 4 minutes
Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson
Larson has made a name for himself writing about historical events that captured and shocked the public. In Devil in the White City, he sets his sights on Chicago and the 1893 World’s Fair, an architectural feat that ended up being used as a playground for a serial killer.
Listeners are introduced to a ton of historical figures whose name they will recognize. Be prepared for a gruesome, disturbing read that proves history is often more unbelievably cruel than fiction any day.
Length: 14 hours and 58 minutes
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
When oil was found in Oklahoma on the land of the Osage, they became some of the richest people in the world. Shortly after, members of the tribe started dying under strange circumstances. This audiobook will transport you back to the 1920s to investigate murders that spanned years and were largely ignored. This is a devastating listen that is now a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Though necessary history for anyone living in the United States, it’s a harrowing story.
Length: 9 hours and 4 minutes
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
Sapiens is a journey through the vast history of homo sapiens, presenting information to help us understand the past while asking questions that may help us understand our future. As a historian, Harari examines not just how we evolved but what our decisions have created for the current world. Derek Perkins offers his voice to this intriguing story of human cognition and what the world may look like in the future.
Length: 15 hours and 18 minutes
We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch
History feels shockingly recent with Gourevitch’s book about the 1994 genocide in Rawanda. When the Tutsi minority are targeted by the Rwandan government, the Hutu majority quickly begins murdering them. Almost a million people were killed in just over three months in a massacre that is still difficult to comprehend. Gourevitch explores the personal and the political stories that led to this tragedy. He narrates his work, giving each word and scene the emphasis it requires.
Length: 10 hours and 23 minutes
Tulsa, 1921: Reporting a Massacre by Randy Krehbiel
Another story of white supremacy ending the lives of minorities in the 1920s, Tulsa,1921 tells of the Tulsa Massacre that occurred on Black Wall Street. When a rumor is started about the attempted rape of a white woman by a black man, an angry group of white people uses this as their excuse to burn businesses and kill hundreds of black people in the prosperous Greenwood District. A cruel history of racism, rumors, and denying victims their due, this is an important story of America in the 1920s that needs to be heard.
Length: 9 hours and 54 minutes
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
I listened to this book when my kids were still young enough to nap, and I took every second to devour it even though it meant I wasn’t getting to nap with them. Hillenbrand tells the story of Louis Zamperini, a soldier during World War II who ends up stranded in the ocean after his plane goes down. The perils of the ocean are only the beginning of what Zamperini must face to survive, and his story is one of horror and resilience.
Length: 13 hours and 56 minutes
Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
When my oldest child went through a princess phase, I wanted to educate myself on something beyond the sanitized Disney versions that paint women as victims and window dressing. Linda Rodriguez McRobbie’s book was the perfect listen for that. You will be introduced to historical female leaders who started wars, committed murder in the name of their cause, and took their children with them into battle.
Length: 10 hours and 31 minutes
Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell
If you loved Hamilton, enjoy uplifting history, or just want something historical but also funny, this is the listen for you. A cast of recognizable voices bring to life Lafayette’s return to the United States after 30 years away. Take another look at Lafayette, the man from France, and see his importance to the United States and what it hoped to become. Nick Offerman, Fred Armisen, and John Slattery all lend their voices to this audiobook.
Length: 8 hours and 7 minutes
Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth by Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson, and Jason Stanford
Having lived in Texas most of my life, I can honestly say that stories about the Alamo are told early and often to young kids to help solidify Texas lore. Unfortunately, most of them are lies, and not innocuous tall tales but blatant falsehoods that cover over the true, ugly history of how Texas came to exist. Three Texans wrote this book to get the actual facts out there, and it caused quite a stir in the Lone Star State, even garnering a reaction from the governor. If that’s not enough of a reason to start listening now, grab it for the fascinating history, honest accounts without white washing, and strange stories about Phil Collins.
Length: 12 hours and 15 minutes
Say Anarcha: A Young Woman, A Devious Surgeon, and the Harrowing Birth of Modern Women’s Health by J.C. Hallman
You may have heard of Dr. J. Marion Sims since his contributions to gynecology have made him famous. What you may not know is that he performed experimental surgeries on a woman named Anarcha, a slave. Without her consent and without anesthesia, Anarcha endured torture at the hands of Sims.
Hallman’s research tells the story of Anarcha and her contributions to the medical field, and she gets a voice outside of Sims’ representations of her. This is a new release in 2023 that is worth every word.
Length: 19 hours and 17 minutes
King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terrorism, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild
Edmund Morel realized that the cargo coming from Leopold II’s colony in the Congo was suspicious and rightly connected it to slave labor. In the late 19th century, he took this story public to reveal the human rights violations taking place and to ensure greed didn’t continue to take priority over human life.
Morel is only one of the brave people who helped bring the truth to light, and Hochschild celebrates the risks that were taken to expose the atrocities taking place.
Length: 12 hours and 34 minutes
Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore
Women flocked to work during the First World War, and many ended up using radium to paint watches and other items. Though the radium made them look illuminated by its dust, it was making them sick without their knowledge. When girls became ill and died, no one would take responsibility for their exposure to radium and the devastation it caused. These girls, fighting for their lives, also fought for their rights and took on the people who allowed them to be harmed.
If you love this listen, make sure to watch the movie as well.
Length: 15 hours and 52 minutes
On Our Best Behavior: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Price Women Pay to Be Good by Elise Loehnen
A timely book that everyone should hear, Elise Loehnen takes us through the history of how women have been taught to act right or suffer the consequences. Taught how to avoid indulging in the seven deadly sins set forth by the Christian Bible, women have tamed their anger, appetites, and desires. This benefits the patriarchal world we live in while it helps us none.
Loehnen narrates her own work and offers us history and a guide to a better future.
Length: 11 hours and 54 minutes
Covered with Night: A Study of Murder and Indigenous Justice in Early America by Nicole Eustace
When an Indigenous hunter is attacked by fur traders in the early 1700s, both sides struggle to figure out what happens next. Though you were probably taught that Native Americans were brutal and the Europeans were civilized people, an investigation into this crime proves that was untrue from the beginning. Eustace’s work brings to light early conflicts between Native Americans and colonists and how their different approaches to crime and punishment drove a further wedge between their cultures.
Length: 14 hours and 33 minutes
Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne, from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest by Stephen E. Ambrose
War is awful, and Ambrose tells the story of an elite group of soldiers who were given some of the hardest missions during World War II. Interviews with survivors as well as research and journal entries bring to life what these soldiers went through and what it costs them. There is also a miniseries, but go in prepared for all the depictions of war violence.
Length: 12 hours and 37 minutes
In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides
You will forget you are listening to a history book when you start Hampton Sides’ thrilling tale of the voyage to the North Pole in the 19th century. The story is thrilling as the crew deals with a lost ship, starvation, and temperatures that threaten their lives as they trek across the ice. Lonely and losing their minds, the crew has to figure out how to survive and if it’s even possible to escape their polar hell.
Length: 17 hours and 30 minutes
All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, A Black Family Keepsake by Tiya Miles
History becomes very personal in this haunting tale of one item passed down through generations. Rose knows she will be separated from her daughter. They are slaves and their masters don’t care about preserving their family bonds. Rose packs a cotton bag and a few things for her daughter, Ashley, to take on her journey when she is sold. Ashley’s granddaughter then adds to this object as it is passed down through the family.
Tiya Miles uses research and the objects themselves to tell the story of remarkable women facing impossible circumstances. She creates a story of a family holding onto each other through the years, even as they are torn apart.
Length: 9 hours and 29 minutes
A Fever in the Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan’s Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them by Timothy Egan
The Ku Klux Klan rose to power in the 1920s, and D.C. Stephenson was one of the Grand Dragons who helped mobilize others in the name of racism, anti-Semitism, and hate. However, Egan shows how one woman, Madge Oberholtzer, brought Stephenson and the KKK to their knees.
Dark, disturbing, and necessary reading for our times, Egan narrates his work with precision and suspense.
Length: 10 hours and 29 minutes
Asian American Histories of the United States: Revisioning History by Catherine Ceniza Choy
Anti-Asian hate spread rapidly during the COVID pandemic, and behind this discrimination was a truth about our country: most Americans have no idea how integral Asian Americans have been to the building and advancement of this country. Choy helps remedy that by presenting hundreds of years of stories and history about Asian American contributions. This book is an fascinating listen that should be mandatory in high schools and colleges.
Length: 7 hours and 57 minutes
Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe by Laurence Bergreen
Five ships left from Spain seeking spices, but only one ship came back with very few men, and they had seen horrors. Learn about the true journey of Magellan, the battle that killed him, and what the other people aboard the ships endured when trying to find the spice lands they’d heard of that were in Indonesia. It’s a tale of loss, power, and history in ways you’ve never heard it before.
Length: 6 hours and 13 minutes
And there you have it – our curated selection of the best history audiobooks of all time. Each of these picks has the power to transport you to different epochs, illuminating the events and figures that have sculpted the world as we know it today. While our list is comprehensive, it is by no means exhaustive. The world of history is as vast and varied as it is captivating.
Remember, history is more than just a recounting of past events. It’s a tool for understanding the present and shaping a better future. As you delve into these incredible narratives, you will gain fresh insights, be challenged by different perspectives, and hopefully, foster a deeper appreciation for the human journey. Happy listening!