“I haven’t read a book properly until I’ve had it read to me.”Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Even for people who love books, finding the opportunity to read can be challenging. Many, then, rely on audiobooks, a convenient alternative to old-fashioned reading. You can listen to the latest bestseller while commuting or cleaning up the house. We can debate whether listening to an audiobook constitutes “reading,” but there’s no doubt that audiobooks have continued to grow in popularity over the last few years.
What makes a great audiobook? For me, content is king. I’ve claimed I’d happily listen to certain favorite narrators read the phone book. And to an extent, I would. But, if I’m being honest, I’d much rather listen to them read something I’m interested in, especially if it’s something that lends itself well to the audio format.
Next is the narrator. A pleasant and natural-sounding voice can blend into the background, allowing the story space to shine. The characters’ voices a narrator creates for an audio production can make or break the audiobook. While I’ve heard there are readers who prefer an audiobook read matter-of-factly and without using distinctive voices for different characters, I tend to think that approach takes much of the fun out of the format. I love it when a narrator uses differences in character voices. I have a list of my favorite audiobook narrators, and I will almost always purchase a book that features them regardless of genre. For example, I’ll listen to anything narrated by Stephen Fry: Greek mythology, Sherlock Holmes, biography of Oscar Wilde, anything.
Sometimes, there’s just that special something that takes a good audiobook and makes it great. It could be a spot-on accent. It could be an excellent use of music or sound effects. Or maybe it’s when the narrator verbally acts out stage directions like laughter, tears, singing, or slurred speech. You know, actually chuckling, rather than just reading, “He laughed.”
Finally, since I purchase all of my digital and audiobooks on Amazon, I like the ability to seamlessly jump back and forth between the printed page (to take notes or highlight a section to read again) and the audio version without having to search to find where I left off. I can even use my Alexa device to continue listening to audiobooks in my home office.
So, here are some of my favorite audiobooks from 2022. Note that most are not healthcare related, and many aren’t focused on technology. They just hit my major criteria for selecting an audiobook, and they give me hours of enjoyment.
Have I told you that I’m a space geek? I had watched almost every launch since Project Mercury right through to Project Orion last week. So this was a no-brainer for me. Collaborating with NBC’s veteran space reporter Jay Barbree (the best reporter on the U.S. space program, in my opinion), Shepard and Slayton narrate in gripping detail the story of America’s space exploration from the time of Shepard’s first flight until he and eleven others had walked on the moon.
Another admission – I love Sondheim. And Sunday in the Park With George is the finest musical I’ve ever seen (multiple times). Putting It Together chronicles the two-year odyssey of creating the iconic Broadway musical Sunday in the Park with George. In 1982, James Lapine, at the beginning of his career as a playwright and director, met Stephen Sondheim, nineteen years his senior and already a legendary Broadway composer and lyricist. Shortly after, the two decided to write a musical inspired by Georges Seurat’s nineteenth-century painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Growing up in Chicago, I can’t begin to tell you how many times I visited The Art Institute to view the painting, marveling at the visual effect those tiny dots made when you stood just the proper distance from the work. Hearing how the musical came together was a revelation. Highly recommend this one.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the first two seasons of the series on Apple TV+. So I decided to go back and listen to Asimov’s original novel to see if I could pick out any differences. The Foundation novels of Isaac Asimov are among the most influential in the history of science fiction, celebrated for their unique blend of breathtaking action, daring ideas, and extensive worldbuilding. In Foundation, Asimov has written a timely and timeless novel of the best – and worst – that lies in humanity and the power of even a few courageous souls to shine a light in a universe of darkness.
I’ve already mentioned that I’ll buy any audiobook read by Stephen Fry. This is the third in his series on Greek mythology and a delightful listening experience. The legendary writer, actor, and comedian breathes life into ancient tales, from Pandora’s box to Prometheus’s fire, and transforms the adventures of Zeus and the Olympians into emotionally resonant and amusing stories without losing any of their original wonder. Learned notes from the author offer rich cultural context. This volume is a doorway into a captivating world.
Joanne B. Freeman, a professor of history and American studies at Yale University, is a leading authority on early national politics and political culture. I’ve had the pleasure of attending several of her lectures at Yale and have taken her online course on American history. In The Field of Blood, Freeman recovers the long-lost story of physical violence on the floor of the U.S. Congress. Drawing on an extraordinary range of sources; she shows that the Capitol was rife with conflict in the decades before the Civil War. The Field of Blood offers a front-row view of congressional mayhem. It sheds new light on the careers of John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and other luminaries, as well as introduces a host of lesser-known but no less fascinating men.
“…it was reading the Sherlock Holmes stories as a boy that first turned me on to the power of writing and storytelling.” (Stephen Fry)
As an avid Holmes fan, this is by far the best audio adaption of the Conan Doyle stories. Fry’s Holmes is crisp and high-handed, his Watson enthusiastic and bemused, and the rest of the narration colorful without being mannered. Have fun with these.
Ulysses S. Grant’s life has typically been misunderstood. He is often caricatured as a chronic loser and an inept businessman or as the triumphant but brutal Union general of the Civil War. But these stereotypes don’t come close to capturing him, as Chernow shows in his masterful biography, the first to provide a complete understanding of the general and president whose fortunes rose and fell with dizzying speed and frequency. This is one of America’s greatest biographers, bringing movingly to life one of our finest but most under-appreciated presidents.
I know, “not another space-themed audiobook!” 😏 – I thought I was pretty well informed on what it took to get American astronauts to the moon and back. But I had never heard this story before. Released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, this book tells the story of John C. Houbolt, an unsung hero of Apollo 11 and the man who showed NASA how to put America on the moon. His plan was ridiculed and considered unthinkable. But this junior engineer was irrepressible. He stood by his concept, fired off memos to executives, and argued that LOR was the only way to success. This is a fascinating story, and Zwillich tells it well.
This book was highly recommended by Dr. Bertalan Mesko, The Medical Futurist who is a big sci-fi fan. So I listened to the audio sample online and was immediately hooked. The author poses the following question: If you had the chance to look one year into the future, would you? Two best friends create a computer that can predict the future. But what they can’t anticipate is how it will tear their friendship – and society – apart. Told through emails, texts, transcripts, and blog posts, this bleeding-edge tech thriller chronicles the costs of innovation and asks how far you’d go to protect the ones you love – even from themselves.
From 1501 to 1505, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti both lived and worked in Florence. Leonardo was a charming, handsome 50-year-old at the peak of his career. Michelangelo was a temperamental sculptor in his mid-20s, desperate to make a name for himself. Oil and Marble is the story of their nearly forgotten rivalry. Storey brings early 16th-century Florence alive and has entered with extraordinary empathy into the minds and souls of two Renaissance masters. The book is an art history thriller and well worth a listen.
The captivating inside story of the man who helmed National Geographic for six decades is a front-row seat to audacious feats of exploration, from the successful hunt for the Titanic to Jane Goodall’s field studies. Offering a rare portrait of one of the world’s most iconic media empires, this revealing autobiography makes a passionate argument to know—and care for—our planet. For Grosvenor, running National Geographic wasn’t just a job. It was a legacy motivated by a passion not just for leaving the world a better place but for inspiring others to do so, too
The Rosetta Stone is one of the most famous objects in the world, attracting millions of visitors to the British Museum every year, yet most people don’t know what it is. Discovered in a pile of rubble in 1799, this stone slab proved to be the key to unlocking a lost language that baffled scholars for centuries. Dominating the world for 30 centuries, ancient Egypt was the mightiest empire the world had ever known, yet everything about it – the pyramids, mummies, the Sphinx – was shrouded in mystery. Whoever was able to decipher the Rosetta Stone would solve that mystery and fling open a door that had been locked for two thousand years. Two brilliant rivals set out to win that prize. The Writing of the Gods chronicles this high-stakes intellectual race in which the winner would win glory for himself and his nation.
So, there you have it—my dozen favorite audiobooks this year. I hope you find one or more of them interesting enough to download a copy and give it a listen. What have you heard recently that you would recommend? Leave a comment below and let me know. I’m always looking for new adventures to explore. And thanks for reading this blog.