I know a lot of people get pumped up by music, but I love listening to audiobooks when I work out. There's something truly empowering about building brain power while I'm working on strength and endurance. And because I'm focusing on a physical activity — as opposed to checking my email or playing a video game — there's nothing to distract me from listening.
I read a decent amount of nonfiction for pleasure, so, for those of you who don't, trust me: it's not all dry and boring. Most people equate nonfiction with history books, but they make up only a small portion of what the factual category has to offer, among memoirs, poetry and essay collections, guides, and research summaries, which are totally not as dull as I just made them sound.
If you like history, that's great. I do, too. But you won't find history books on this list. For you, I've picked memoirs, guidebooks, cultural examinations, and a few scientific miscellanies, just to spice things up. These are books that — at least in my opinion — have a broad appeal, and can get you engaged even if you don't read much non-fiction. Here are 15 great nonfiction audiobooks you can play during your next workout.
What I Talk about When I Talk about Running by Haruki Murakami
Seriously, is there anything Haruki Murakami can't do? He's a prolific author, an advice columnist, and a competitive long-distance runner. Don't let Murakami's success discourage you, though, and — if you're not a cardio person — don't let this memoir's theme put you off. What I Talk about When I Talk about Running is a giant running-to-writing metaphor, not just some exercise manual.
The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer
If you have problems with pride or anxiety that prevent you from asking others for help when you need it, Amanda Palmer's The Art of Asking needs to be on your TBR. If you're expecting a thoughtful, cultural criticism on the position of asking in our society, however, beware: The Art of Asking doesn't dig into social mores that prevent people in marginalized groups from asking for help.
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Thinking, Fast and Slow is a summary of the discoveries author Daniel Kahneman made in long years spent researching how people think. Understanding both of your thinking systems, as Kahneman describes them, will help you recognize your biases and make better decisions, no matter how big or small.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
If you aren't open to Eastern philosophies, Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up might not be the book for you. Kondo's philosophy on decluttering your life is all about joy and respect. If it doesn't bring you joy, you don't need it, but you should always be grateful to have had it. Treating your possessions with peace and respect is kind of crunchy, but it's a great place to start on your path to inner peace.
Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick
This is a favorite of mine. We talk a lot in the West about North Korea, but we have very little idea what actually goes on there. Nothing to Envy is full of intimate profiles assembled from author Barbara Demick's interviews with North Korean defectors. If you've ever wondered how many North Koreans really believe the Kim rulers are divine, or what teenagers' lives are like in the most restrictive country in the world, Nothing to Envy has the answers you're looking for.
You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day
Geek darling Felicia Day's memoir, You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), just came out this month to pretty rad reviews. Whenever this actress/producer/director/songwriter/gamer/webmaster omnithreat had the time to write a book is beyond me; I can barely make it to the gym if I don't wear my workout clothes to bed. If you need a little pick-me-up from America's nerdy sweetheart, this is the audiobook you want to listen to.
X vs. Y by Eve and Leonora Epstein
Like the Epstein sisters, my brothers and I are in two completely different generations: they're Gen-X'ers, and I'm a Millennial born when they were almost out of high school. Although we share a lot of the same interests, our philosophies on life differ tremendously, thanks to a chasmic generation gap. In X vs. Y , Eve and Leonora Epstein attempt to unravel the interactions between Generations X and Y.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This is my current workout audiobook, and I have no real way to tell you how great it is. Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me is a love letter to the author's teenage son, written in the aftermath of the murders of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and John Crawford III. It's a poetic, eye-opening look at the relationship between young black men and the United States at large.
All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior
All Joy and No Fun is New York Magazine editor Jennifer Senior's exploration of parenting and positive emotions. By raw data, having children has no effect on an individual's happiness, in the best case scenario. At worst, becoming a parent lowers happiness more than getting a divorce, going bankrupt, or being widowed. Senior refused to believe this was entirely true, and began to examine how contemporary expectations of parents and children influence adults' reported levels of satisfaction.
Console Wars by Blake J. Harris
I remember arguments over the cafeteria lunch table. "Sonic!" "Mario!" "Sonic would kick Mario's butt!" "Ms. Lanford, he said 'butt!'" Blake J. Harris remembers these arguments, too. Console Wars tells the story of Sega's rise to contend with Nintendo — which was, in the early 1990s, the biggest video game company on the planet — and how their rivalry turned video games into an 11-figure industry.
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
If you've looked at President Obama's summer reading list, you know Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction is on it. This winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction centers on humanity's negative ecological impact, and what that impact means for plants, animals, and us. TL;DR: we're killing off species in such a way that hasn't been seen since the dinosaurs disappeared.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist is a somewhat lighthearted take on the state of feminism today. With members of the movement policing others and steering debates off a cliff and away from the progressive point, these essays are refreshing and relaxing for bad feminists everywhere: those of us who enjoy the things we aren't "supposed" to, like Sweet Valley High (Gay) and Fight Club (me).
What If? by Randall Munroe
If you've ever spent time with a group of bored — and possibly stoned — people, you're sure to hear some random question pop out that leaves you in awe. Someone asks, Do you think you could win in a fight against an ostrich? and the room devolves into a shouting match of near-intellectual proportions. Friendships are tested, and Google is inevitably consulted. Randall Munroe's What If? is a collection of similar questions, answered by facts and research from what must have been some of the funniest interviews ever.
Scatter, Adapt, and Remember by Annalee Newitz
A bit more optimistic than Kolbert's book above, Annalee Newitz's Scatter, Adapt, and Remember is an ode to humanity's innate ability to survive when our very existence is threatened. This book won't teach you how to dig your own underground bunker or pack a bug-out bag, but it will give you some hope the next time you're panicking about dead zones and frankenstorms.
Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
If I had to make everyone in the country read one book, it would be this one. Freakonomics is the bestselling guide to understanding every controversial and difficult-to-fathom topic in conversation today, from cheating in sports and school to baby naming trends. It's an eye-opening look at "the hidden side of everything," and, even if the information is nothing you'll ever talk about, you'll still be intrigued by all this book has to offer.