The Best Biography Audiobooks to Educate, Fascinate, and Inspire

We’ve rounded up the most impressive subjects, the best authors, and some expert narrators to bring you the best biography audiobooks available on the market.

Biography is one of the most compelling genres in audio. The feeling of sinking into an expertly written bio and losing yourself in the life of a fascinating person—whether it be a great thinker, a trailblazing activist, a wartime hero, a brilliant inventor, or a little-known influential force—is completely unparalleled.

The best biographies are ranked not only by the scale and skill of their writing, but also by the strength of their subjects. In the audio world, these selections are also judged for the quality of their narrative performances, making those that rise to the top all the more excellent. From lighthearted entertainment to inspirational origin stories, these titles represent some of the best biography audiobooks available for your listening pleasure.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

Genghis Khan is frequently thought of as the fierce leader of a savage nation; in reality, his rule was a lot more complex and progressive than most realize. Tasked with taking down Khan’s reputation, author Jack Weatherford has expertly assembled a researched account of the ruler’s legacy that is likely to surprise even those most familiar with his reign. Weatherford covers Khan’s innovations at home and abroad, from the invention of the decimal system to the establishment of domestic policies that abolished torture, encouraged religious freedom, and granted universal education to boys. With the practiced narration of three-time Audie Award winner Jonathan Davis, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World is a paradigm-shifting profile with the potential to significantly impact any listener’s understanding of the world.

Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures

You’ve no doubt heard of astronauts like John Glenn or Neil Armstrong, the dauntless men who were among the first to explore space—but you might be unaware of the women who got them into orbit. Teams of female mathematicians worked diligently to provide the calculations necessary to fuel America’s dreams of space exploration. Among them were Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, a group of African-American women who shared their mathematical talents at Langley Memorial Aeronautical Lab in Virginia while confronting the realities of oppressive Jim Crow laws. In Hidden Figures, Margot Lee Shetterly shines a much-needed and long-deserved light on the contributions of these women who had for so long been hidden by historical narratives, a biography that’s made all the more engaging with the performance of Hall of Fame narrator Robin Miles.

Einstein

Einstein

Walter Isaacson is one of the most acclaimed biographers in the world, while Edward Herrmann has won 22 Earphone Awards and multiple Audie Awards for his narration, as well as an Emmy, a Tony, and numerous other accolades for his stage and screen performances. So it’s no surprise that, paired together as they are here, Einstein: His Life and Universe merits a spot on our list. Winner of the 2008 Audie for Biography/Memoir, Isaacson’s probing profile adds new layers to one of history’s most famous scientists. Delving into previously unreleased personal letters that offer up new angles of the genius’s complicated personality, this biography is more than just a literary sketching of a famous man. Isaacson’s prose challenges listeners to consider the very nature of genius and creativity, and what these qualities might mean for the world today.

Cleopatra

Cleopatra

One of the most liberally interpreted and portrayed women in world history, Cleopatra has become notorious in pop culture as a conniving and murderous queen. In Cleopatra, Stacy Schiff masterfully occupies the dual roles of factual historian and wholly captivating storyteller as she separates truth and myth in an effort to capture the definitive profile of one of the world’s most influential rulers. Robin Miles’s performance is as smooth and regal as the audiobook’s subject, remaining cool and sophisticated while still portraying the passion that drove the many characters who moved in and out of Cleopatra’s life. The result is a sparkling, luxurious jewel of an audiobook that provides one of history’s most controversial figures the legacy she has always deserved.

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton

Thanks to the international success of the Broadway hit Hamilton, most people now know how unique and extraordinary a life Alexander Hamilton lived—even by Founding Father standards. Yet until relatively recently, Hamilton’s legacy went largely unexamined. In fact, Ron Chernow’s biography Alexander Hamilton inspired the musical and reinvigorated the popularity of the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury. At 35 hours long, this audiobook begins Hamilton’s story at his early childhood and remains with its subject throughout all the turbulent ups and downs of his remarkable life. With the help of the man with the golden voice—Audie Award-winning narrator Scott Brick—every moment of the story feels engrossing and essential to Chernow’s portraiture.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks died a poor tobacco farmer, so unknown that she was buried in an unmarked grave. Today, hers is one of the most well-known names in biological science, and her cells (which were taken without her consent or knowledge) have helped develop life-saving vaccines and contributed to cancer research, DNA mapping projects, and more. In this penetrating biography, performed by dual narrators and Hall of Fame greats Cassandra Campbell and Bahni Turpin, Rebecca Skloot compiles more than 10 years of research into revealing the staggering truth about how Lacks’s HeLa cells have been bought and sold, generating billions of medical research dollars, without her family having received a cent. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a powerful and disturbing profile of American injustice, as well as a moving tribute to a woman who never imagined she would go on to change the world.

Elon Musk

Elon Musk

Biographizing a larger-than-life personality is no easy task, though many have tried. But this profile of the Tesla founder by veteran technology writer Ashlee Vance stands above the rest. Narrated by Fred Sanders, who enhances his already stellar performance with a pitch-perfect impression of the titular subject (South African accent and all), Elon Musk is arguably the definitive biography of the eccentric founder. This is also the first of Musk’s biographies with which he has been involved—initially, he declined requests, but after learning Vance had continued on undeterred and interviewed nearly 200 people, Musk was impressed by the author’s diligence and agreed to participate. Sanders does an expert job narrating the work with alternating dramatic flair and deep gravitas, which together with the well-researched content presents the richest picture of Elon Musk in existence to date.

Catherine the Great

Catherine the Great

Robert K. Massie is a practiced expert at profiling powerful Russians, with biographies like Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, and The Romanovs under his belt. Aided by the narrative prowess of Mark Deakins, Massie once again does a masterful job of profiling the fascinating rise of the young minor noblewoman who would one day become the universally revered Catherine the Great. Couched in all the splendor and luxury of 18th-century Russia, Massie’s narrative introduces listeners to Catherine as both the fiercely patriotic leader and intimate, vulnerable private person she was. Through richly illustrated prose and graceful, polished narration, Catherine the Great comes alive to both history scholars and the casually curious.

The Power Broker

The Power Broker

If you’ve never heard of Robert Moses—despite his being one of the most influential men of the 20th century—don’t fret. Some of the most seasoned New Yorkers aren’t aware that their city, the metropolitan center of the world, was largely shaped by the astronomical force at the center of Robert Caro’s Pulitzer-winning biography. Moses’s life parallels the rise and fall of an empire. A promising young upstart who failed in his early attempts to enter politics, Moses painstakingly accumulated alternative sources of access and power until he became the single person responsible for the urban design of nearly all of New York City. He then lost everything as the world awoke to the environmental and functional complications he had wrought. It’s clear in Robertson Dean’s performance that the narrator is as fascinated by the story as anyone, which makes the listening experience all too easy to lose yourself in. Don’t be intimidated by this mammoth profile—*The Power Broker* is worth every minute of your investment.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Not just one of the best among biographies, The Autobiography of Malcolm X is one of the most influential and culturally important entries in American history. In this most recent reinvigoration, renowned actor Laurence Fishburne gives new life and gravitas to the civil rights leader’s words. In a country whose history books often relegate his importance to his assassination, Malcolm X’s firsthand writings are essential to understanding both the man and the movement to which he was central. This powerful autobiography includes explorations of race, society, culture, and work that remain as relevant today as when they were written, and listeners will recognize Malcolm X’s often-referenced quotes that gain new meaning and force within their original context.

A Beautiful Mind

A Beautiful Mind

Those familiar with the Russell Crowe film of the same name will be shocked at how much more there is to the emotional and thrilling story of genius mathematician John Nash. A Beautiful Mind, Sylvia Nasar’s biography upon which the movie was based, traces Nash’s meteoric rise to fame, his subsequent public mental health episode at the height of his notoriety, his tumble into obscurity, and how, after years of silence, he made a triumphant return and went on to win the Nobel Prize. With more space to articulate the nuances of Nash’s life and experiences, Nasar uses her subject’s story as an entry point to bring listeners into a discussion about the very nature of prodigy and the relationship between genius and madness. Anna Fields performs each person in Nash’s life like a fiction narrator performs characters, giving each their own voice and personality, which makes this remarkable biography an even more artful and dramatic listening experience.

The Woman Who Smashed Codes

The Woman Who Smashed Codes

In a sprawling biography that plays more like a work of fiction, Jason Fagone tracks the husband-and-wife duo who invented cryptology and employed it for the American government in efforts to aid the Allies in winning World War II. Particularly, Fagone focuses on Elizebeth Smith, who began her codebreaking career as an agent helping to catch black market smugglers during Prohibition and went on to expose a number of covert Nazi spy rings in countries around the world. Brought to life by award-winning narrator and fan favorite Cassandra Campbell, The Woman Who Smashed Codes is filled with puzzles, glyphs, and codes that just might leave you wondering how well you would fare against equally complex ciphers.

The Stranger in the Woods

The Stranger in the Woods

Biographies are typically about well-known public figures, but Christopher Knight’s notability comes from the fact that he was somehow completely unknown to even a single human for nearly 30 years. Narrator Mark Bramhall’s hushed, hermetic tone makes him the perfect voice for the story of the man who successfully disappeared into the woods of Maine and sustained himself alone in a tent, solely on his own survival instinct and what little food he could steal from cabins nearby. The Stranger in the Woods is a fascinating survivalist tale, and more. Author Michael Finkel uses Knight’s story to explore connection versus solitude and what humans truly need—beyond food and water—in order to live well.

Prairie Fires

Prairie Fires

Since her wholesome familial autobiographies are almost universally read and nearly synonymous with her name, you might think you know all there is to know about Laura Ingalls Wilder. But through the unfiltered eye of an outsider, Prairie Fires brings the dramatic and tumultuous life of America’s most famous pioneer girl into full light for the first time. As the editor of the Library of America edition of the Little House series, author Caroline Fraser is perhaps more familiar with Ingalls Wilder than anyone else alive. Meanwhile, narrator Christina Moore’s broad background in children’s lit (you may recognize her as the voice behind classics like Practical Magic, Go Ask Alice, and Julie of the Wolves) makes her the perfect selection to illuminate the woman behind one of the world’s most treasured storybook collections.

The Mayor of Castro Street

The Mayor of Castro Street

A trailblazer in the truest sense of the word, Harvey Milk was the first ever openly gay politican elected in the state of California. His life and legacy have served as an inspiration to all those who fight diligently for social justice and in The Mayor of Castro Street, journalist Randy Shilts explores every facet of Milk’s career and impact. Shilts captures not only the tumultuous political climate of the era but also the fight for gay rights and the hope that Milk embodied for the queer community. Audie-nominated narrator Marc Vietor lends his talents to this exceptional, compassionate biography, offering a performance that is fittingly compelling and spirited.

Be Free or Die

Be Free or Die

In Be Free or Die, author Cate Lineberry chronicles the life and impact of Robert Smalls, a young slave who commandeered a Confederate steamship and fearlessly delivered the ship to Union forces at a nearby blockade. He, his family, and the crew of slaves on board were freed upon reaching Union territory—and Smalls is now recognized as one of America’s bravest unsung heroes. Smalls, who went on to become the first Black captain of an Army ship, emphasized the significance of freedom and just how far one man would go to secure the liberation of himself and his family. J.D. Jackson’s clear, resonant narration brings an additional depth and dynamism to Lineberry’s narrative.

Mountains Beyond Mountains

Mountains Beyond Mountains

In Mountains Beyond Mountains, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder tells the story of a man who took on one of society’s most complicated problems and managed to change the world. While enrolled in medical school, Paul Farmer found a passion for global health. But rather than taking up volunteer efforts or doing charity work on the side, Dr. Farmer threw his entire weight into becoming a one-man force for curing infectious diseases in developing countries around the globe, ultimately going on to found international health justice organization Partners in Health. Kidder illustrates Farmer’s life against the glorious backdrop of his myriad travels, bringing the listener through Haiti, Peru, Cuba, Russia, and beyond, while chameleon-like narrator Paul Michael fully embodies every character Dr. Farmer meets along the way. The result is a whirlwind travel epic of superhuman empathy—one that will inspire and empower you to believe in the power of what one person can accomplish.

Barracoon

Barracoon

Perhaps one of the least-known of Zora Neale Hurston’s works, Barracoon was published more than 50 years after the author’s death and details the life of Cudjo Lewis, believed to be the last living survivor of the Atlantic slave trade. Hurston traveled to Alabama in 1927 to interview Lewis, and the subsequent documentation is one of the only firsthand accounts of the Middle Passage. In almost deceptively smooth tones, Robin Miles narrates Lewis’s harrowing account—from the childhood in Africa he was stolen from, through the trans-Atlantic journey aboard a packed slave ship, and his years in slavery in the American South.

Mao

Mao

To say Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong was a looming global presence is not an exaggeration; he is often remembered for the larger-than-life portraits he commissioned for prominent public placement, where he could watch over his citizens. Already a controversial and dictatorial figure in history, Mao’s reputation receives an overhaul—and not a positive one—in Mao: The Unknown Story. Wife-and-husband coauthors Jung Chang and Jon Halliday spent 10 years in conversation with Mao’s personal acquaintances and scouring archives, uncovering and corroborating never-before-heard accounts. Their meticulously researched profile portrays the Chairman as obsessively power-hungry and his rise to leadership as not a serendipitous act of fate, but the result of a cold, calculated amassing of power that destroyed anything and everything in its path. Perhaps most shockingly, Chang and Halliday calculate that Mao was responsible for more than 70 million deaths in peacetime, surpassing the fatality count of some of the worst atrocities on record.

The Journey of Crazy Horse

The Journey of Crazy Horse

Most Americans know Crazy Horse as the Native American warrior who led the Lakota tribe to victory against American soldiers at the Battle of Little Bighorn. But limiting his reputation to this single victory is to erase who Crazy Horse was: a strong and silent but generous and kind leader whose hard-earned influence was what allowed him to rally his community against the looming threat of Manifest Destiny. It is through author Joseph Marshall’s personal connection as a Lakota Indian that listeners can gain access via The Journey of Crazy Horse to accounts passed down in a closely guarded oral tradition, and learn the hidden details of Crazy Horse’s legacy.

A Woman of No Importance

A Woman of No Importance

Though her name might be unfamiliar to many, socialite-turned-spy Virginia Hall had an indelible impact on the Allied front and the lives of French citizens during World War II. Author Sonia Purnell crafts a meticulous history of Hall’s life and wartime contributions in A Woman of No Importance, which is narrated in the melodious English accent of BAFTA-nominated actress Juliet Stevenson. An agent in the Special Operations Executive (also known as “Churchill’s Secret Army'' or the “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”), Hall built networks of spies throughout France and called military strikes. Unparalleled in her bravery, Hall even returned to France after her cover had been blown, seeking to help liberate residents from Nazi occupation.

Wizard

Wizard

Though Thomas Edison is commonly known for inventing the lightbulb, the genius who scientists consider to be the father of modern electricity is Nikola Tesla. Wizard is the definitive Tesla biography, exploring the scientific marvel’s seemingly endless inventions: alternating current, fluorescent and neon lights, the Tesla coil, wireless telegraphy, and the system that first harnessed the massive power of Niagara Falls as electricity. Listeners will recognize familiar figures throughout, each played charismatically by narrator Simon Prebble, including Alexander Graham Bell, J.P. Morgan, George Westinghouse, and, of course, Edison. Author Marc J. Seifer also illustrates Tesla’s troubled later years, offering a complete picture of his subject as well as a moving portrait of the burden of brilliance.

The Book of Pride

The Book of Pride

Mason Funk’s The Book of Pride reads like a short story collection: the volume houses short but incredibly beautiful biographies of a number of queer icons that come together in a heartfelt history of the gay rights movement. From leaders and key activists to everyday participants in the battle for justice, this listen chronicles the depths of their bravery, perseverance, and resistance, highlighting how their singular courage paved the way for generations to follow. An inspiring recollection of the LGBTQIA+ community’s search for inclusivity, visibility, and acceptance in a world often rocked by prejudice and oppression, this listen—which is narrated by a host of narrators including the author, Robin Miles, and Kevin R. Free—is an absolute must for anyone interested in the fight for equality.

The Man Who Knew the Way to the Moon

The Man Who Knew the Way to the Moon

In The Man Who Knew the Way to the Moon, author Todd Zwillich has written a humbly moving tribute to an unsung hero of the Apollo 11 mission: John C. Houbolt, the mid-level engineer who championed the landing strategy without which humans would never have landed on the celestial body. At just over three and a half hours, the listen is a short, sweet, and powerful David-and-Goliath tale of how one man’s infallible spirit led to an advancement for all mankind. Narrated by the author and accompanied by a dramatic and suspenseful soundtrack, this overlooked but essential piece of American history is not to be missed.

Unbroken

Unbroken

Some lives are so extraordinary that they demand a biography, and Louis Zamperini’s is one of them. Author Laura Hillenbrand’s profile of the young Army bombardier was turned into an acclaimed film, and it’s not hard to see why Unbroken captured so much attention. After going down over the Pacific, the young soldier survived more than a month at sea—only to drift ashore on Japanese-occupied territory, where he would be captured and tortured for another two years. Many others have perished under similar challenging circumstances, but against all odds, Zamperini survived. Edward Herrmann (who polished his narrative expertise as the voice of a wide variety of History Channel and PBS specials) brings gravitas to this truly unbelievable story of human resilience in the face of torture, pain, and hopelessness.


Selection Methodology

Inclusion in Audible’s “best audiobooks” series is based on a number of factors, including presence on Audible best seller lists, listener ratings and reviews, Goodreads ratings, and input from the Audible Editors. All audiobooks featured here have a minimum of 500 reviews averaging at least 4.5 stars, with some exceptions made for outstanding stories and performances.

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