“Sorry, buddy. This book is more interesting than you.”
Few things are more interesting than a good audiobook. Nevermind TV, Netflix and video games. My idea of a good time is a long walk with a great audiobook.
About ten years ago, way back in the days of the iPod, I started listening to podcasts, seminars and audio programs.
As an aspiring poker player, I remember converting certain video content from poker training sites into mp3 format so I could listen to it as I went for walks.
That habit stuck.
I went from learning advanced poker strategy from Vanessa Selbst to getting a grip on my life through audio programs by Anthony Robbins. I also got an education in direct marketing from Dan Kennedy.
In 2015, my life changed yet again.
I signed up for Audible.
I had always wanted to read more books, but reading always made me so damn tired. I used to average one book per month.
That radically changed.
It’s been about two years since I started my Audible subscription.
In that time, I’ve gotten my hands on 111 audiobooks. I have more than a month of total listening time. And I’m just a whole lot smarter than I was before I joined.
With all these books listened to, I’ve decided to make a list of the ones that had the biggest impact on me.
But first, let me give you the criteria I use to judge a great audiobook.
5 Things That Make A Great Audiobook
- 1 5 Things That Make A Great Audiobook
- 2 The 8 Life-Changing Audiobooks
The fundamentals of an audiobook versus a regular book are the same in that they both have great content. That said, audiobooks are still somewhat different.
The five things that make an audiobook great are as follows:
- The performance captures the voice of the author
- Repeat listening
Audiobooks should be insightful. This is especially true for non-fiction audiobooks, but it’s also true for fiction. Like a great book, a great audiobook makes you feel like you’ve come away with some wisdom.
Whether that wisdom comes from a great explanation of an economic concept in a textbook, a personal lesson from a biography, or a piece of fiction that the author pulled from the ethers of his mind, readers and listeners have to be able to learn from it.
Great books produce life lessons that can be learned over and over again.
You can’t overlook the entertainment value. If there’s no entertainment value, it doesn’t matter how useful the insight is.
Readers and listeners often find themselves picking one book ahead of another purely based on entertainment value.
When I was taking classes in biological anthropology, I listened to a few lectures out of necessity before tests. I did not listen to those lectures for any other reason than to prepare for tests.
The entertainment value is what keeps the attention. It comes in the form of a captivating story, an excellent performance, an interesting topic (see next point), a quick wit, a sharp pen, a cutting voice…
Entertain to keep attention.
Personal interest contributes a lot to the entertainment value of an audiobook.
I include this as one of the criteria of a great audiobook because it will influence which books you choose.
If you’re fascinated by economics, you’ll have a great time listening to insightful audiobooks on economics. If you’re into fiction, you won’t be nearly as happy about the latest and greatest in behavioral economics or econophysics.
You have to read audiobooks that are interesting to you.
The best audiobooks are read by the authors themselves.
That said, audiobooks are often read by someone other than the author. Sometimes, the author reads a chapter or an introduction while a professional voice actor reads the rest of the book.
This relates to the entertainment value because a great performance drastically improves the entertainment value. It’s also vital to capture the voice of the author and the mood of the book. It’s invaluable.
For example, James Macpherson’s Scottish accent adds to the experience of listening to Alex Ferguson’s autobiography while Joe Ochman perfectly captures Nassim Taleb’s sass in Antifragile. More on these books later.
When the voice of the author is captured in a great performance, an audiobook becomes a sheer pleasure to listen to.
You know you’ve struck gold when you finish the audiobook and you know you’re destined to listen to the audiobook again.
The best audiobooks I’ve listened to, I’ve listened to over and over again. There are some audiobooks I’ve listened to more than three times in these two years, not including casual listening to certain chapters.
A great audiobook is worth listening to over and over again.
The 8 Life-Changing Audiobooks
With no further ado, let’s hit the list.
The 10X Rule
For a self-development junkie like myself, Grant Cardone’s “The 10X Rule” is an instant classic. Cardone delivers motivation and big think with his free-flowing delivery.
Raw and unedited, this audiobook is mental coffee and perfect Monday morning motivation.
On the flipside, do NOT listen to this before bed. Cardone will send your mind racing at one hundred miles per hour, thinking about your goals and what you need to do to achieve them.
Nassim Taleb’s “Antifragile” is a sharply written classic on probability.
While the book is about things that are antifragile, which, as the subtitle states, are things that gain from disorder, it contains bounds and bounds of valuable life advice on how to become antifragile.
He also warns against scientism, interventionism and other ailments of modernity where we tend to meddle in complex systems.
Joe Ochman’s performance perfectly captures Nassim Taleb’s saltiness and sense of humor, making the audiobook all that more enjoyable.
This book is intense.
Jocko Willink and Leif Babin capture the lessons they learned about leadership in the Navy SEALS in this absolute beast of an audiobook.
This is probably one of the best books written on leadership in recent times, and the audiobook is even more defining.
The performance is outstanding. Jocko and Leif alternate reading the chapters and their raspy voices add immeasurable value to the experience.
The Governator’s autobiography is a beautiful listen.
“Total Recall” leaves no stone unturned. He tells the story of how he helped build and define the bodybuilding industry. He tells the story of how he became a millionaire long before he became an actor. He tells the story of how he got to know the Kennedy family. He even writes about the affair he had with his maid.
Although there’s nothing outstanding about the performance, it’s solid. The book is so good that the audiobook stands on its own without a remarkable voice performance.
As a life-long Manchester United fan, Alex Ferguson has been one of my idols throughout life. His self-titled autobiography, “Alex Ferguson” , is a beautiful reflection of his life.
He reflects on his childhood, his time in Aberdeen, the rough start at Manchester United, that famous incident when Eric Cantona kicked a Crystal Palace fan in the face, winning the Treble, what a big failure Juan Sebastian Veron turned out to be, how his players urged him to sign Cristiano Ronaldo, and a ton of other stories from his time at Manchester United.
James Macpherson’s Glaswegian accent adds so much to the experience of this audiobook. It’s a sheer delight.
Neil Gaiman’s “Norse Mythology” is a work of art.
Gaiman collected and rewrote some of his favorite stories from Norse mythology, and it’s absolutely amazing. He manages to capture and convey familiar characters such as Thor, Loke and Odin. As a Norwegian with Viking blood flowing through me, I was familiar with some of these stories, but Gaiman took them to another level.
When I have kids, I’ll tell these stories as bedtime stories.
The Things They Carried
Bryan Cranston. I don’t really need to say more about the performance of this book, do I? He reads one of the greatest books ever written about the Vietnam war, and it’s an unbelievable performance.
“The Things They Carried” is a series of war stories from Vietnam, starting with how the author, Tim O’Brien, got drafted and decided not to flee to Canada despite seriously considering it. There are tons of brutal stories, including the first time he killed someone, how he failed to rescue his friend from drowning in shit, and how soldiers came to fear the boogeyman at night.
It’s absolutely haunting. And highly recommended.
“Ponzi Supernova” is captivating like any detective story, yet super short at only two-and-a-half hours. It’s hard to tell whether it’s a podcast or an incredibly short audiobook, but no matter what it is, it’s an Audible original worth listening to.
Journalist Steve Fishman managed to get access to Bernie Madoff in the wake of Madoff’s jailing after his wealth management company turned out to be the largest Ponzi scheme in history. It’s a riveting detective story that features the voices of Fishman and Madoff themselves and the conversations between them.
This showed me what is possible for audiobooks. It’s an absolute killer.