18 best nonfiction audiobooks for the highly curious

18 best nonfiction audiobooks for the highly curious

In Reading Lists by Lanie Pemberton

18 best nonfiction audiobooks for the highly curious

From history to science to pop culture, there are virtually endless topics to explore through nonfiction. And with nonfiction audiobooks, you can dive into new worlds of information while road tripping, working, jogging, or doing any other activity — which is what I’d call a win-win!

These are what I consider to be among the best nonfiction audiobooks of all time. Some stand out for their incredible production value, like The Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett M. Graff, while others have been nonfiction bestsellers for years, like Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Still others cover fascinating topics, offer dynamic narration, or have earned notable awards.

So whether you like to uncover new facts, hear incredible true stories, or learn valuable life lessons, these great nonfiction audiobooks deliver hours of content for your enjoyment and enlightenment. 

1. Finding Me by Viola Davis

Hear from one of the best actresses on the screen today in this mesmerizing memoir. Not only did Finding Me win a Grammy in 2023 (securing Davis’ EGOT status), but it also took home two Audie Awards for Best Audiobook and Best Female Narrator, as well as the NAACP Literary Image Award for Nonfiction. 

Awards aside, I consider this a top nonfiction audiobook because of the many lessons shared by Davis. This emotional story chronicling her journey from growing up in a rat-infested apartment to Julliard and beyond is an uplifting tale of hard work and dedication.

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2. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Braiding Sweetgrass has been a mainstay on the New York Times bestseller list since its release over a decade ago. Quiet yet powerful, brilliant and contemplative, this audiobook — beautifully narrated by the author — builds a bridge between modern science and Potawatomi traditions, humankind and the natural world.

My recommendation? Listen to this one outside so you can truly appreciate the world around you.

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3. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Wilkerson tells the previously overlooked story of the Great Migration, when millions of African Americans uprooted their lives to move from the South to cities across the U.S. between 1915 and 1970. 

Sweeping and riveting, The Warmth of Other Suns was included in the ZORA Canon, a list of 100 of the greatest books written by African American women. It’s one of the best long nonfiction audiobooks due to the combined prowess of author Wilkerson and narrator Robin Miles, with AudioFile saying, “Wilkerson’s highly acclaimed book is hard to put down, and Miles’ interpretation makes it almost impossible.”

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4. The Library Book by Susan Orlean

Part investigative journalism, part history book filled with fascinating anecdotes, Orlean’s The Library Book begins with a disastrous fire that consumed the Los Angeles Central Library in 1986 and the subsequent search for the suspected arsonist. 

But that’s only the jumping off point. Orlean also delves into the history of the library as a critical institution, and how books have shaped her life through the years. A nonfiction book about books? Yes, please — especially one so riveting. 

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5. Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Even if you’ve already seen the movie starring Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson, and Janelle Monáe, you shouldn’t miss this incredible true account of the Black women mathematicians whose calculations were critical to winning the space race in a still-segregated America. 

Shetterly’s bestselling book helped bring this previously hidden history into the mainstream, and it’s a crucial story that challenges our conceptions of STEM innovation in the U.S.

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6. Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens came out in 2015 and has been making regular appearances on bestseller lists ever since. If this has been on your TBR (or, TBLT — to be listened to) for a while now, this is your sign to finally tune in.

Harari’s seminal work merges science with history to give a thorough saga of the human species. Beginning with the appearance of modern cognition, the author traces the evolution of humanity to challenge commonly held beliefs about our biology, our history, and ourselves.

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7. Under a White Sky by Elizabeth Kolbert

In her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Sixth Extinction, Kolbert opened our eyes to human-caused environmental devastation. In Under a White Sky, she tackles the urgent issue of finding ways to reverse the damage done. 

Covering an essential and timely subject, Kolbert investigates possible solutions born of the very human ingenuity that got us into trouble in the first place. Could these innovations avert disastrous climate change? Or will they dig us into a deeper hole?

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8. Crossings by Ben Goldfarb

I became an instant Goldfarb fan after reading his award-winning book about beavers, Eager, on Everand a few years ago. When he released another nonfiction book last fall, I knew it would be just as interesting, well researched, and engagingly written.

Crossings is a deep-dive into the detrimental effects of roadways on wildlife. Roadkill is just the tip of the iceberg — there’s also habitat destruction and migration disruption. Though the facts Goldfarb presents are often alarming, he balances these truths with humor and hope.

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9. Shelter by Ada Limón

Here’s proof that a captivating audiobook doesn’t have to be lengthy. This hour-long Everand Original is the perfect bite-sized nonfiction audiobook to listen to in a single session.

Take a leisurely walk through the woods and across the country in this homage to trees from U.S. poet laureate Limón. This personal essay — told in brief and bittersweet vignettes — pays respect to the power, beauty, and mystery of our strong and silent companions. 

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10. The Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett M. Graff

“Graff has created a historical document with the deftness of a poet and this production only builds on it,” said an Audie Award judge after The Only Plane in the Sky was named Audiobook of the Year in 2020.

Plenty of books document the horrific events of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but very few of them are as comprehensive as this one — made even more visceral as an audiobook. Graff’s poignantly curated oral history unspools from the perspectives of various survivors and victims. 

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11. The Ransomware Hunting Team by Renee Dudley and Daniel Golden

By now, most of us are familiar with ransomware: malware that holds data hostage until payment is made to release it. These attacks can be life-threatening when used against essential organizations like hospitals. 

In this 2023 Audie Award winner for Nonfiction, Dudley and Golden profile the brilliant volunteers who work to stop cyber attacks across the globe. Actor B.D. Wong (Law and Order: Special Victims Unit) narrates, adding to the thrills and suspense in this true crime gem.

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12. Einstein by Walter Isaacson

Albert Einstein is one of the most famous scientists in history, but what do you know about him, really? Get all the details in this definitive biography, which offers a comprehensive and compelling picture of his life and work. 

I found the late Edward Herrmann’s narration to be especially soothing, but maybe that’s just because I’m a lifelong Gilmore Girls fan (he played Lorelai’s father / Rory’s grandfather).

Isaacson is one of today’s most renowned authors, especially for history and biographies, so there’s no one I’d rather learn about Einstein from. There are plenty of other good nonfiction audiobooks by Isaacson to explore next, including The Code Breaker and Steve Jobs.

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13. The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

This is a fitting nonfiction audiobook if you’re looking for some in-flight entertainment.

Orville and Wilbur Wright successfully made the first powered flight on a mid-December day in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina — but it was a long road to get to that point. McCullough, one of our most-beloved late authors (1933 – 2022), tells the tale of the Wright brothers and their first attempts at building airplanes. 

Immerse yourself in the wonder of their experiments and how far aviation has come, and keep that awe alive the next time you start to complain about leg room.

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14. The Professor and The Madman by Simon Winchester

Crazy. Obsessive. Killer. These are just a few words that describe the surprisingly thrilling history of how the Oxford English Dictionary came to be in 1884. Who knew the history of the dictionary was so fraught with drama and intrigue? 

Author and narrator Winchester vividly brings to life the story of the criminally insane genius behind our most important literary tool.

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15. High School by Sara Quin and Tegan Quin

Indie pop favorites, LGBTQ+ icons, and twins Tegan and Sara Quinn open up in this revealing autobiography about their tumultuous high school years full of sibling squabbles, sexual discovery, and songwriting.

The audiobook is especially entertaining for fans, as it’s narrated by the sisters and contains recordings of their earliest music. But even if you’ve never listened to a hit song by Tegan and Sara, you’ll likely connect with their story (and maybe you’ll become a fan along the way).

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16. Taste by Stanley Tucci

Consider Tucci’s book an invitation to his dinner table. Pull up a chair as the Big Night and Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy star tells the stories behind the food that has shaped his life. In this memoir, he shares how meals connect him to the people he loves, from his Italian family to his British wife to his Hollywood co-stars. 

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17. I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy

McCurdy is an actress best known for playing Sam on the Nickelodeon sitcom iCarly. Her writing debut is an honest memoir of child stardom under the control of an abusive mother, and how those experiences led to McCurdy suffering from eating disorders and substance abuse before eventually recovering. 

Honest and darkly funny, this coming-of-age story offers hope to those struggling to overcome trauma. It’s been a bestseller and one of the most popular audiobooks on Everand since it came out in 2022. 

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Another favorite on Everand and beyond, this bestselling self-help audiobook delivers a bluntly honest approach to letting go of what brings you down and focusing instead on what you’re passionate about. With humor, directness, and a very memorable title, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck is the wake-up call you’ve been waiting for.

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About the Author: Lanie Pemberton

Lanie is a San Diego-based freelance writer who loves reading crime thrillers and nonfiction about animals and the natural world. When not writing and reading (or writing about what to read), Lanie spends as much time as possible at the beach with her husband and pampered pittie, Peach.