The Best Historical Audio Books

April 14, 2011

There is a wealth of audio books on the market pertaining to historical topics such as wars like the Battle of Chancellorsville, leaders, time periods, movements, politics, religion, and of course, well-known figures (heroic, villainous, secondary or even common, amongst others).  Although there may be too many to listen to in a lifetime, here are a few of the best that you simply can’t afford to miss.

1.       The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War by H. W. Crocker III.  Every kid in America learns the nuts and bolts of the American Civil War, from the Gettysburg Address, to Sherman’s march to the sea, to the abolishment of slavery and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.  This audio book (from the P.I.G. series) seeks to turn that knowledge on its head with a myth-busting look at what really happened during a war that saw Americans from the northern and southern states take up arms against one another.  As in all history, nothing is as clear cut as it seems.

2.       King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa [Unabridged] by Adam Hochschild.  This riveting tale is both horrifying and true.  It follows the reign of King Leopold II of Belgium, in particular his enslavement of natives in the Congo to fuel the thriving ivory and rubber trade (incoming ships brought these goods while outgoing ships housed soldiers and firearms).  One British shipping agent did the math and then exposed this injustice to the world at large, speaking to packed houses throughout America and Europe and creating one of the biggest scandals of the time (the 1890s).  Of particular interest is the involvement of author Joseph Conrad, who would later be known for Heart of Darkness, but in the context of this audio book, was still only a steamboat officer.

3.       The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann.  Many have become obsessed, like Grann, with the story of adventurer Percy Fawcett and his 1925 expedition into the Amazon in search of El Dorado (or the Lost City of Z, as he called it).  His disappearance led to one manhunt after another over the decades, culminating, it seems, in Grann’s own foray into some of the deadliest jungle on Earth.  Would he find what he was looking for: Fawcett’s fate, the fabled city of El Dorado, or both?  Pick up the audio book to find out.

4.       Flags of Our Fathers [Abridged] by James Bradley and Ron Powers.  If you’ve seen the movie of the same name, then you already know that this tale covers the WWII Battle of Iwo Jima in Japan, from the side of the American soldiers.  In fact, it centers on the lives of the six soldiers who raised the American flag for the iconic photograph that illustrates a turning point in the second Great War, following the combined deaths of nearly 50,000 men in the battle.  The story starts with their childhoods and ends in their sometimes tragic deaths (including Bradley’s father, who died in anonymity, with his family not knowing until afterwards that he was one of the men in that photo and a recipient of the Navy Cross).

5.       Bitter Lemons of Cyprus by Lawrence Durrell.  Not many people are aware of the decades-old conflict that turned the Mediterranean island of Cyprus into what it is today.  This audio book, conceived by a British national who lived and worked there when it was still a colony, recounts his time in this multifaceted jewel of an island between 1953 and 1956, focusing on the people, the atmosphere, and the political situation that was destined to boil over just a few years later.  If you don’t know the interesting history of this island caught between Cypriots, Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots, and British colonials, this audio book is a must-listen.

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