Audiobook Experts Reveal Top 2018 Nonfiction Picks

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AudioFile editors are proud to celebrate another year of exceptional audiobooks and audio artists. Below you’ll find their favorites from this year’s nonfiction genre.

 

BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY BURN AGAIN by Ben Fountain

Read by Ron Butler (HarperAudio)

Narrator Ron Butler puts forth a bronze-star-worthy effort in the face of this relentless barrage of facts and anecdotes describing the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. Fountain’s disturbing yet salient distillation of that time, in the form of essays written more or less contemporary with the events, deserves an audience–but in print it could be a depressing read and easily set aside. Enter our heroic narrator, Butler, who takes up the charge for us, attacking the text with real skill and precision. In the end, it might be hard to determine if you are shell-shocked by Fountain’s writing or if it’s Butler’s mastery of it that has blown your mind.

 

I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK: ONE WOMAN’S OBSESSIVE SEARCH FOR THE GOLDEN STATE KILLER by Michelle McNamara

Read by Gabra Zackman, Gillian Flynn (Intro.), Patton Oswalt (Afterword) (HarperAudio)

Narrator Gabra Zackman delivers this terrifying account of a little-known serial rapist and murderer in the mid-1970s and ‘80s, dubbed the “Golden State Killer.” Her calm, objective voice makes the minute details of GSK’s 50 sexual assaults and 10 murders in California chilling. Michelle McNamara, the True Crime journalist and creator of TrueCrimeDiary.com who died suddenly while writing this book, became obsessed with finding the killer of these unsolved cold cases. She investigated every clue in order to unmask the killer who always wore a mask while attacking victims as they slept in their own homes. McNamara’s research makes for intriguing listening, thanks to Zackman’s restrained, intelligent presentation of the grim details.

 

 

SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE by Ijeoma Oluo

Read by Bahni Turpin (Blackstone Audio)

Narrator Bahni Turpin’s impassioned voice clearly conveys the gravity of this book on race and racism. The accessible audiobook is aimed at those who are working to fight the systemic oppression impacting people of color. Turpin walks listeners through each chapter, allowing them time to absorb the impact of topics from Affirmative Action to police brutality. Key points are repeated to help listeners absorb ideas and definitions, and Turpin engagingly reads real-life examples Oluo uses to illustrate complex concepts such as intersectionality and white privilege. Listeners may want to revisit specific sections, especially those on how to have productive and respectful conversations about race and positive actions they can take to work towards ending racial prejudice backed by systems of power.

 

THE DEATH OF TRUTH by Michiko Kakutani

Read by Tavia Gilbert (Random House Audio)

Versatile narrator Tavia Gilbert performs this significant audiobook with a sure sense of its importance. Her focused reading suits the intent of its thought-provoking treatise on how and why truth and reason are vanishing from our national politics and discourse. The literary allusions and philosophical insights packed into the work would create a challenge for any narrator. Gilbert meets that challenge admirably. A Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani casts her net on contemporary America’s thoughts, habits, and attitudes. While her scorn for the style and substance of President Trump is palpable, she blames postmodernist deconstructionism and its appropriation by the alt-right for our current lack of truth-based argument.

 

 

THE HAPPINESS CURVE by Jonathan Rauch

Read by Robert Fass (Macmillan Audio)

This important and often personal summary of how age affects happiness is served well by the equanimity and grace of Robert Fass’s narration. Whether it’s author Rauch’s personal journey, his fascinating data, or his sensitive portraits of the experts he interviews, Fass captures all of this author’s intensity and colorful writing. In our later years, after the inevitable midlife malaise evident in all cultures, Rauch says, evolution wires us to become more optimistic and content. As we move past midlife, accumulated experience lowers expectations and drive, thus making room for our younger successors to procreate and agitate progress for themselves and their tribes. The audiobook is a most satisfying guide to the hills and valleys of life, and a satisfying roadmap for achieving greater happiness with whatever roads we have taken in life.

 

WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE? by Marilynne Robinson

Read by Carrington MacDuffie (Blackstone Audio)

Carrington MacDuffie brings her vocal skills and narrative art to this remarkable collection of Robinson’s essays—originally speeches given at various colleges and universities. MacDuffie’s elegant intonation comes through in these challenging and thought-provoking works. Her clear delivery gives shape to the complex arguments and rewards the listener as the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist ranges from her contrarian appreciation of Puritan texts to contemporary critiques of deterministic science. She particularly lambastes those who miss the connections between metaphysics and the idea of the soul, thereby detaching beauty from religious faith. Robinson’s brilliance illuminates this audiobook, and she could have no better narrator than MacDuffie.

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