10 Recommended Audiobooks From the Past Year

Deal W. Hudson
December 3, 2016

This kind of lists are normally entitled “The Best,” but since I can only vouch for the ones I’ve heard I will stay with “Recommended.” One thing I have learned from my years of listening is that narrators ‘make or break’ a book. Many of books that I would like to hear are passed over because of bad narration. Fortunately, both Audible and Downpour, the two main sources of audiobooks, allow you to listen to a few minutes of a book before pushing the “Buy” button. I can tell in less than a minute if the narration will keep my attention for 5, 10, 15, 20, even 30 hours. Thus, what I offer here are audiobooks content and narration are both superb, making the hours investing in listening to a delight. (All the titles are unabridged.)

The Secret War: Spies, Ciphers, and Guerrillas, 1939-1945
By Max Hastings
Narrated by Steven Crossley
Length: 30 hrs and 39 mins
Release Date: 05-10-16

No one tells the story of war better than Max Hastings, and in this volume, he reveals the massive and often messy, network of espionage and intelligence-gathering on all sides in World War II.

A Gentleman in Moscow: A Novel
By Amor Towles
Narrated by Nicholas Guy Smith
Length: 17 hrs and 52 mins
Release Date: 09-06-16

An intriguing and delightful story set in St. Petersburg after the Russian Revolution where a cultured and urbane Russian aristocrat has been ordered to in a commodious hotel and never leave the premises.

The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land
By Thomas Asbridge
Narrated by Derek Perkins
Length: 25 hrs and 32 mins
Release Date: 08-16-16

If you want to make sense of the all the successive waves of Crusaders beginning in 1095, I strongly recommend Asbridge’s account for its structural clarity and colorful portraits of the Christian and Muslim leaders who kept the quarrel over Jerusalem alive for four centuries — the 25 hours flew by.

The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to End
By Robert Gerwarth
Narrated by Michael Page
Length: 10 hrs and 49 mins
Release Date:11-15-16
Publisher: Tantor Audio

I’ve not read a better account, and there are many, of the destructive reverberations, set off by the disastrous Treaty of Versailles, ending World War I, which was signed by men, including Woodrow Wilson, who knew it was a guarantee that the World War would have to be fought all over again, and in the not-too-distance future.

The Romanovs: 1613-1918
By Simon Sebag Montefiore
Narrated by Simon Beale
Length: 28 hrs and 47 mins
Release Date: 05-03-16

The Romanovs ruled for three centuries over a vast empire that was introduced by to modernity by the progressive Alexander II (1818-1881), but what he started with his Emancipation of the Serfs in 1861 led inexorably to downfall, and murder, of the last Czar, Nicolas II, and his family — Russia’s journey from a medieval empire to a Bolshevik state is presented by Montefiore with probing sympathy,

Razor Girl: A Novel
By Carl Hiaasen
Narrated by John Rubinstein
Length: 12 hrs and 19 mins
Release Date:09-06-16
Publisher: Random House Audio

Hiaasen’s South Florida form of ribald humor may not be to everyone’s taste, but I find Hiassen’s writing not only funny but also the inventor of attention-holding plot lines whose deviant characters make expert comic narration a must — John Rubinstein delivers!

Jean Renoir: Projections of Paradise
By Ronald Bergan
Narrated By Jean Brassard
Length: 14 hrs and 56 mins
Release Date: 02-29-16

Since Renoir’s “Rules of the Game” (1939) is my favorite film, I took a chance with this biography and was delighted to find Bergan traces the director’s life in the larger context of French history and culture, particularly the Nazi occupation and its aftermath — I also learned a great deal about French cooking! For both film buffs and Francophiles.

The Dream of Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Philosophy
By Anthony Gottlieb
Narrated by Derek Perkins
Length: 10 hrs and 38 mins
Release Date:08-30-16
Publisher: Blackstone Audio

Gottlieb has written a near-ideal introduction to culture we call the “Enlightenment,” because his narrative, pitched for the general reader, not scholars, borrows freely from science, literature, mathematics, and the arts, in addition, of course, to philosophy — this is an opportunity for the listener to get back in touch with his or her philosophical wonder.

The Last Days of Stalin
By Joshua Rubenstein
Narrated by Arthur Morey
Length: 8 hrs and 46 mins
Release Date:04-28-16
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Rubenstein’s opening chapters describe the inner circle of Stalin awaiting his death, hoping for his death, but terrified that Stalin will live on and, perhaps, make them the final victims of his tyrannical, but detached, wrath — there is almost a comic quality to the way those attending his illness scheme to take control of the Soviet Union once Stalin’s body finally turns cold. A man named Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev prevails.

The Wright Brothers
By David McCullough
Narrated by David McCullough
Length: 10 hrs and 2 mins
Release Date: 05-05-15

This is the last and the best of the ten audiobooks I recommend — McCullough is a born storyteller, and possesses a mellifluous voice, who sees in the Wright Brothers a saga of the American character. Not to be missed. The Wright Brothers only fault is that it wasn’t longer.

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