The best audiobooks for history buffs

18 January 2016

By Pan Macmillan

Audiobooks are becoming more and more popular, with sales more than doubling in the last five years. They're particularly helpful for those of us of us who love reading historical novels and non-fiction but would rather avoid the months of weight training required to carry enormous tomes around with us.  From Mary Beard to Ken Follett, here's our list of the best historical books to listen to on the go. 

Historical Non-Fiction

The History of the World by Andrew Marr

In an ambitious and impressive feat of historical writing, Andrew Marr guides us from the earliest civilizations to the 21st century on a global journey through human history. Fresh, exciting and vividly listenable, this is popular history at its very best.

Four Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Romanov Grand Duchesses by Helen Rappaport

Award-winning and critically acclaimed historian Helen Rappaport turns to the tragic story of the daughters of the last Tsar of all the Russias. Much has been written about Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra and their tragic fate, as it has about the Russian Revolutions of 1917, but little attention has been paid to the Romanov princesses, Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia.

Compellingly listenable, meticulously researched, and deeply moving, Four Sisters gives these young women a voice and allows their story to resonate for listeners almost a century after their death.

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard

Mary Beard, Britain's favourite classicist lifts the lid on the Roman Empire. Covering 1,000 years of history and casting fresh light on the basics of Roman culture, from slavery to running water, as well as exploring democracy, migration, religious controversy, social mobility and exploitation in the larger context of the empire, this is a definitive history of ancient Rome.

Listen to an audio extract

Hemingway in Love by A.E. Hotchner

In June of 1961, A.E. Hotchner visited an old friend in the psychiatric ward of St. Mary's Hospital. It would be the last time they spoke--a few weeks later, Ernest Hemingway was released home, where he took his own life. Their final conversation was also the final installment in a story whose telling Hemingway had spread over nearly a decade.

To protect the feelings of Ernest's wife, Mary - also a close friend - Hotch kept the conversations to himself for decades. Now he tells the story as Hemingway told it to him. Hemingway in Love puts you in the room with the master as he remembers the definitive years that set the course for the rest of his life and dogged him until the end of his days.

Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I by Charles Spencer

January, 1649. After seven years of fighting in the bloodiest war in Britain's history, Parliament had overpowered King Charles I and now faced a problem: what to do with a defeated king, a king who refused to surrender? Parliamentarians resolved to do the unthinkable, to disregard the Divine Right of Kings and hold Charles I to account for the appalling suffering and slaughter endured by his people.

Best-selling historian Charles Spencer explores this violent clash of ideals through the individuals whose fates were determined by that one, momentous decision. A powerful tale of revenge from the dark heart of royal history and a fascinating insight into the dangers of political and religious allegiance in Stuart England.

Listen to an audio extract


Historical Fiction 

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Audio is the perfect way to experience Ken Follett’s mammoth bestseller. Set in the turbulent times of 12th century England where civil war, famine, religious strife and battles over royal succession tore lives and families apart, The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of the building of a magnificent cathedral.

A spellbinding epic tale of ambition, anarchy, and absolute power set against the sprawling canvas of medieval England, this is Ken Follett's classic historical masterpiece.

Dominion by C. J. Sansom

Twelve years have passed since Churchill lost to the appeasers and Britain surrendered to Nazi Germany after Dunkirk. As the long German war against Russia rages on in the east, the British people find themselves under dark authoritarian rule. There are terrible rumours too about what is happening in the basement of the German Embassy at Senate House.

At once a vivid, haunting reimagining of 1950s Britain, a gripping, humane spy thriller and a poignant love story, with Dominion C. J. Sansom once again asserts himself as the master of the historical novel.

The Chosen Queen by Joanna Courtney

The first book in The Queens of the Conquest trilogy is the perfect blend of history, fast-paced plot and sweeping romance with a cast of strong female characters - perfect for fans of Elizabeth Chadwick and Philippa Gregory.

As a young woman in England's royal court, Edyth, granddaughter of Lady Godiva, dreams of marrying for love. As the years pass, Edyth finds herself elevated to a position of both power and wealth but as her star rises the lines of love and duty become more blurred than she could ever have imagined. As 1066 dawns, Edyth is asked to make an impossible choice. Her decision is one that has the power to change the future of England forever...

The Holy Thief by William Ryan

An outstanding, award-winning historical crime thriller set in 1930s Stalinist Russia.

Captain Alexei Dimitrevich Korolev of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Moscow Militia, is asked to investigate. But when he discovers that the victim is an American citizen, the NKVD - the most feared organisation in Russia - becomes involved.

As more bodies are discovered and the pressure from above builds, Korolev begins to question who he can trust; and who, in this Russia where fear, uncertainty and hunger prevails, are the real criminals.

Some Luck by Jane Smiley

The first novel in Jane Smiley’s epic American trilogy; a literary adventure which spans a century.

1920: After his return from the battlefields in France, Walter Langdon and his wife Rosanna begin their life together on a remote farm in Iowa.

As Walter and Rosanna struggle to keep their family through good years and hard years - to years more desperate than they ever could have imagined, the world around their little farm will turn, and life for their children will be unrecognizable from what came before.

Tender, compelling, and moving from the 1920s to the 1950s, told in multiple voices as rich as the Iowan soil, Some Luck is an astonishing feat of storytelling by a prize-winning author writing at the height of her powers.

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You may also like

A History of the World
Four Sisters:The Lost Lives of the Romanov Grand Duchesses
Hemingway in Love
The Pillars of the Earth
The Chosen Queen
The Holy Thief
Some Luck