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The Best New Political Audio Books

Variety logo Variety 9/14/2021 Matthew Chernov
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If it sometimes seems as though everyone you know is obsessed with politics, that’s because many of them are. Thanks in large part to the tumultuous four years of the Trump administration, not to mention the staggering number of historic global events that have gripped the world’s attention over the past decade or so, interest in politics has exploded like never before. It only takes a quick glance at the growing number of politically themed books on the weekly New York Times bestseller list to prove the point.

Whether you’re interested in White House intrigue, domestic policy, international affairs, social justice and civil rights, environmental sciences, immigration reform, or any number of other important topics, you’re guaranteed to find a stack of recent political books – many of them available on audio – that will more than meet your needs. And unlike the typical cable TV news segment that attempts to cram complex issues into bite-sizes morsels, a well-written book can elucidate political subject matter in ways that virtually no other format can hope to match.

To help you add a few fascinating new titles to your personal library, here are 15 recent political audio books – all released within the past several months – that are well worth listening to.

‘Frankly, We Did Win This Election’ by Michael C. Bender

The Wall Street Journal’s senior White House reporter takes readers on a guided tour of Donald J. Trump’s chaotic 2020 presidential campaign, and the result is one of the most provocative books yet written about the 45th President’s turbulent term in office. Covering the time period between Trump’s first and second impeachment, and culminating with the deadly insurrection on January 6, 2021, “Frankly, We Did Win This Election” offers far more than a minute-by-minute account of the strangest year in recent American history. Bender’s exhaustively reported book – read on audio by actor Eric Pollins – lays bare just how unhinged the Commander in Chief became as he watched his expected victory dissolve before his eyes.

'Frankly, We Did Win This Election' Buy It


‘The Hardest Place: The American Military Adrift in Afghanistan’s Pech Valley’ by Wesley Morgan

Wesley Morgan’s gripping look at the United States’ nearly two-decade-long military activity in Afghanistan’s rugged Pech River Valley is even more heartbreaking when read in light of the recent troop withdrawal. Vividly depicting the personal heroism of the U.S. soldiers and the catastrophic missteps that mired them in an unwinnable situation, “The Hardest Place” goes a long way in explaining exactly why the conflict dragged on through four administrations. Read on audio by frequent “Star Trek” actor Mark Deakins, and drawn from compelling interviews with hundreds of American and Afghan military personnel, Morgan’s book is a prime example of embedded war reporting at its absolute best.

'The Hardest Place: The American Military Adrift in Afghanistan's Pech Valley' Buy It


‘Hatchet Man’ by Elie Honig

Although a number of respected constitutional experts initially thought William Barr would emerge as a principled institutionalist when he was confirmed as U.S. Attorney General in February of 2019, their naïve assumptions were quickly dashed when – in his very first act as AG – Barr publicly distorted the findings of Robert Mueller’s landmark Russia investigation. In “Hatchet Man,” former federal prosecutor Elie Honig exposes that and other shocking abuses of power committed by Barr during his time in office. Written with all the color and pacing of a legal thriller, and read by the author himself, Honig’s book paints a powerful portrait of the unprecedented damage that Barr inflicted on the Justice Department, including the baseless and inflammatory theories he floated about (non-existent) voter fraud in the 2020 election.

'Hatchet Man' Buy It


‘Aftershocks’ by Colin Kahl and Thomas Wright

National security experts Colin Kahl and Thomas Wright provide a clear-eyed look at the devastating impact that COVID-19 had on the world’s political stage. Taking a global view of the ever-expanding health crisis, the authors expose a complex array of problems and challenges that may well set formerly friendly countries against each other for years to come. That is, unless drastic steps are taken now to create a more unified international system to handle emergencies like this in the future. Read by stage actor Robert Petkoff, and featuring a bonus audio conversation with the two authors, “Aftershocks” reveals how tragically inadequate our initial response was to the pandemic, and how much better it might have been with a bit more strategic cooperation.

'Aftershocks' Buy It

‘Presumed Guilty’ by Erwin Chemerinsky

Written by distinguished constitutional scholar Erwin Chemerinsky, “Presumed Guilty” is a righteously angry broadside against a federal judiciary that has supported, enabled, and defended racist policing with its discriminatory legal decisions for well over half a century. Chemerinsky’s uncompromising account of the lengths to which the U.S. Supreme Court has gone to prop up institutional racism is beyond revelatory. It’s an urgent call to action and an insightful must-read for anyone concerned with the problems of police violence and racism in law enforcement. Read by award-winning narrator Perry Daniels, “Presumed Guilty” is an audio book that, once heard, won’t soon be forgotten.

'Presumed Guilty' Buy It

‘Reign of Terror’ by Spencer Ackerman

In “Reign of Terror,” acclaimed national security journalist Spencer Ackerman describes how the War on Terror set the stage for Donald Trump’s unlikely ascent to the highest political office in the country. Although not a book about Trump per se, Ackerman – who narrates the audio edition himself – posits that 20 years of combating terrorism at home and around the world nudged American society in an authoritarian direction, which the 45th President was then able to capitalize on for his own demagogic purposes. Even readers who think they already know all there is about the legacy of 9/11 will find Ackerman’s incisive book an eye-opening experience.

'Reign of Terror' Buy It


‘Red Roulette’ by Desmond Shum

Born in Shanghai and raised in Hong Kong, Desmond Shum was an entrepreneur’s entrepreneur. A self-made man who earned a prestigious American college degree in finance and accounting, Shum returned to China after graduation and established himself as a business leader and philanthropist. Along the way, he married Whitney Duan, his ambitious business partner, and together they achieved enormous wealth and success… until Whitney disappeared without a trace from Beijing. “Red Roulette” is Shum’s suspenseful memoir – part mystery, part history of the Chinese Communist Party, and an insider’s look at what is currently taking place within the political environment of the New China. The audio version is skillfully narrated by actor Tim Chiou, best known for his role on CBS action series “SEAL Team.”

'Red Roulette' Buy It


Here, Right Matters by Alexander Vindman

When U.S. Army lieutenant colonel Alexander Vindman testified before Congress regarding the Trump–Ukraine scandal, his forthright directness and obvious sense of duty to the country made him the key witness to one of the darkest chapters of American political history. In his highly personal memoir, the Purple Heart recipient and Iraq war veteran provides a moving account of his childhood as an immigrant in New York and his years spent on the battlefield defending the United States. But it’s the chapters on his decision to expose the president’s abuse of power, and the subsequent fallout that resulted from his explosive testimony, that readers will find most riveting. The audio edition of the book is read by Vindman and professional narrator Jacques Roy. 

'Here, Right Matters' Buy It


‘Our Own Worst Enemy’ by Tom Nichols

In his blistering new book, international affairs expert Tom Nichols examines the wave of anti-democratic sentiment that’s spreading across American culture, and he assigns blame for this disturbing trend on ordinary citizens themselves. Nichols believes that the erosion of long-standing democratic values is the result of the public’s increasing narcissism, cynicism and willful ignorance. And as his book makes clear, when exploited by political opportunists, it’s a recipe for disaster. The audio edition is read by the author himself.

'Our Own Worst Enemy' Buy It


‘The Outlier’ by Kai Bird

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and journalist Kai Bird reevaluates the highs and lows of President James Earl Carter’s tenure in office, revealing how his fundamental decency and commitment to doing the right thing – regardless of short-term political consequences – doomed him to a one term administration. Bird’s nuanced study not only sets the record straight on Carter’s misunderstood presidency, it brings him to life in a way that few other biographers have been able to thus far. And in doing so, the book draws a direct line between the issues that Carter faced in the White House and the problems we continue to struggle with today. Award-winning audio book narrator Arthur Morey voices Bird’s thoughtful prose.

'The Outlier' Buy It


‘After the Fall’ by Ben Rhodes

In “After the Fall,” Ben Rhodes – the former Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting under President Obama – grapples with a question that’s haunted him since he left the White House: why is America facing increased currents of nationalism and authoritarianism, and how should we address this frightening new development? A fine companion piece with Tom Nichols’ “Our Own Worst Enemy” (also included on this list), Rhodes’ book reads like a heartfelt coming-of-age memoir crossed with a tirelessly reported study of the forces that threaten democracy at home and abroad. Luckily, all is not lost according to the author, who narrates the audio version himself. Recounting powerful stories of people who fought for democratic rights around the world, he offers hope for the future, provided we can find the courage to act before it’s too late.

'After The Fall' Buy It


‘The Engagement’ by Sasha Issenberg

The fight for marriage equality takes center stage in “The Engagement,” journalist Sasha Issenberg’s definitive look at the most consequential civil rights victory of the modern age. When the Supreme Court ruled against state bans on same-sex marriage in June of 2015 on the grounds that they were unconstitutional, supporters joyfully celebrated the long-overdue decision. But the path to that momentous moment stretched much further back than most people were aware of. Chronicling the chain of events that tipped the scales of justice in favor of gay marriage, Issenberg takes readers inside the hallowed courtrooms, churches and living rooms where the battles were fought, and traces the evolution of public opinion on an issue that had fiercely divided the country for decades. Popular TV voice actor Graham Halstead narrates the audio version.

'The Engagement' Buy It


‘Doom’ by Niall Ferguson

With a seemingly endless array of disasters threatening the world with increasing ferocity, Scottish-American historian Niall Ferguson confronts our tepid response to a litany of recent global crises in his appropriately titled new book “Doom.” Asking the question “why are we getting worse, not better, at handling catastrophes?” the author surveys some of the most devastating disasters in history and finds that bureaucratic blunders, coupled with our collective failure to learn from the mistakes of the past, are literally dooming us to destruction again and again. Sure to spark debate among readers who might take issue with the book’s admittedly open-ended chapters on the current pandemic, “Doom” is nevertheless a worthwhile contribution to a subject we can no longer afford to ignore.

'Doom' Buy It


‘An Impossible Dream’ by Guillaume Serina

The year is 1986. The location is Reykjavik, Iceland. And the purpose of the meeting is the proposed banning all ballistic missiles around the world. That’s the monumental setting for historian and journalist Guillaume Serina’s new book, which takes readers inside the nuclear arms race summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. Dubbed “the poker game with the highest stakes ever played” by Secretary of State George Shultz, the conference in Reykjavik may have adjourned with no firm agreement in place, but as Serina makes abundantly clear, the breakthroughs reached during it continue to have a lasting impact to this very day. Featuring an illuminating introduction written by Gorbachev himself, and drawing on top-secret archives made only recently available, “An Impossible Dream” is as much about the present as it is about the past.

'An Impossible Dream' Buy It


‘While Justice Sleeps’ by Stacey Abrams

Political books don’t have to be non-fiction, as this fast-paced judicial thriller from voting rights activist Stacey Abrams proves. When a legendary Supreme Court Justice slips into a coma, his plucky young law clerk is shocked to discover that she’s been personally appointed to serve as her ailing mentor’s legal guardian. Yet as she navigates the intricacies of position she never asked for, a dangerous conspiracy begins to emerge that threatens not only her life, but control of the nation as well. A perfect book for fans of John Grisham’s “The Pelican Brief,” what makes “While Justice Sleeps” so memorable are the realistic details that Abrams provides about the inner workings of Washington. Skillfully read by actress Adenrele Ojo, the audio edition of this suspenseful bestseller will keep you listening well past your bedtime. And as Variety previously reported, Abrams’ novel is currently being adapted for television.

'While Justice Sleeps' Buy It

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