See also: recommended new physical audiobooks
“Out of sight, underfoot, unseen beyond fleeting scuttles or darting flights, insects occupy a hidden world, yet are essential to sustaining life on earth.
“Insects influence our ecosystem like a ripple effect on water. They arrived when life first moved to dry land, they preceded – and survived – the dinosaurs, they outnumber the grains of sand on all the world’s beaches, and they will be here long after us. Working quietly but tirelessly, they give us food, uphold our ecosystems, can heal our wounds and even digest plastic. They could also provide us with new solutions to the antibiotics crisis, assist in disaster zones and inspire airforce engineers with their flying techniques.
“But their private lives are also full of fun, intrigue and wonder – musical mating rituals; house-hunting for armies of beetle babies; metamorphosing into new characters; throwing parties in fermenting sap; cultivating fungi for food; farming smaller species for honey dew and always ensuring that what is dead is decomposed, ready to become life once again.
“Here, we will discover life and death, drama and dreams, all on a millimetric scale. Like it or not, Earth is the planet of insects, and this is their extraordinary story.”
“In The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben shares his deep love of woods and forests and explains the amazing processes of life, death, and regeneration he has observed in the woodland and the amazing scientific processes behind the wonders of which we are blissfully unaware. Much like human families, tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, and support them as they grow, sharing nutrients with those who are sick or struggling and creating an ecosystem that mitigates the impact of extremes of heat and cold for the whole group. As a result of such interactions, trees in a family or community are protected and can live to be very old. In contrast, solitary trees, like street kids, have a tough time of it and in most cases die much earlier than those in a group.
“Drawing on groundbreaking new discoveries, Wohlleben presents the science behind the secret and previously unknown life of trees and their communication abilities; he describes how these discoveries have informed his own practices in the forest around him. As he says, a happy forest is a healthy forest, and he believes that eco-friendly practices not only are economically sustainable but also benefit the health of our planet and the mental and physical health of all who live on Earth.
“After a walk through the woods with Wohlleben, you’ll never look at trees the same way again.”
“Words are grained into our landscapes, and landscapes are grained into our words. Landmarks is about the power of language to shape our sense of place. It is a field guide to the literature of nature, and a glossary containing thousands of remarkable words used in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales to describe land, nature and weather. Travelling from Cumbria to the Cairngorms, and exploring the landscapes of Roger Deakin, J. A. Baker, Nan Shepherd and others, Robert Macfarlane shows that language, well used, is a keen way of knowing landscape, and a vital means of coming to love it.
“The audiobook version contains an exclusive bonus chapter - a recording of Finlay MacLeod (a novelist, historian, broadcaster, archivist and one of the dedicatees of Landmarks) reading words and definitions from his Peat Glossary for the Isle of Lewis. This hoard of rare and evocative terms was one of the inspiring documents for the book.
“Finlay’s voice is also used as a divider between chapters; and the other glossaries in the text are themselves bracketed with appropriate sound effects.”
“In Other Minds, Peter Godfrey-Smith, a distinguished philosopher of science and a skilled scuba diver, tells a bold new story of how nature became aware of itself – a story that largely occurs in the ocean, where animals first appeared. Tracking the mind’s fitful development from unruly clumps of seaborne cells to the first evolved nervous systems in ancient relatives of jellyfish, he explores the incredible evolutionary journey of the cephalopods, which began as inconspicuous molluscs who would later abandon their shells to rise above the ocean floor, searching for prey and acquiring the greater intelligence needed to do so – a journey completely independent from the route that mammals and birds would later take.
“But what kind of intelligence do cephalopods possess? How did the octopus, a solitary creature with little social life, become so smart? What is it like to have eight tentacles that are so packed with neurons that they virtually ‘think for themselves’? By tracing the question of inner life back to its roots and comparing human beings with our most remarkable animal relatives, Godfrey-Smith casts crucial new light on the octopus mind – and on our own.”
“Tom Michell is in his roaring twenties: single, free-spirited and seeking adventure. He has a plane ticket to South America, a teaching position in a prestigious Argentine boarding school, and endless summer holidays. He even has a motorbike, Che Guevara style. What he doesn’t need is a pet. What he really doesn’t need is a pet penguin.
“Set against Argentina’s turbulent years following the collapse of the corrupt Perónist regime, this is the heart-warming story of Juan Salvador the penguin, rescued by Tom from an oil slick in Uruguay just days before a new term. When the bird refuses to leave Tom’s side, the young teacher has no choice but to smuggle it across the border, through customs, and back to school.
“Whether it’s as the rugby team’s mascot, the housekeeper’s confidant, the host at Tom’s parties or the most flamboyant swimming coach in world history, Juan Salvador transforms the lives of all he meets - in particular one homesick school boy. And as for Tom, he discovers in Juan Salvador a compadre like no other…”
“1760, Spitalfields. Anna Butterfield’s life is about to change forever, as she moves from her idyllic Suffolk home to be introduced into London society. A chance encounter with a French silk weaver, Henri, draws her in to the volatile world of the city’s burgeoning silk trade. Henri is working on his ‘master piece’, to become a master weaver and freeman; Anna longs to become an artist while struggling against pressure from her uncle’s family to marry a wealthy young lawyer.
“As their lives become ever more intertwined, Henri realises that Anna’s designs could give them both an opportunity for freedom. But his world becomes more dangerous by the day, as riots threaten to tear them apart forever…”
“Dave Goulson has always been obsessed with wildlife, from his childhood menagerie of exotic pets and dabbling in experimental taxidermy to his groundbreaking research into the mysterious ways of the bumblebee and his mission to protect our rarest bees.
“Once commonly found in the marshes of Kent, the short-haired bumblebee is now extinct in the UK, but still exists in the wilds of New Zealand, descended from a few queen bees shipped over in the nineteenth century. A Sting in the Tale tells the story of Goulson’s passionate drive to reintroduce it to its native land and contains groundbreaking research into these curious creatures, history’s relationship with the bumblebee, the disastrous effects intensive farming has had on our bee populations and the potential dangers if we are to continue down this path.”
“Rose Woodrowe is getting married to Tyler Masson - a wonderful, sensitive man who is head over heels in love with her. The only problem? This isn’t the first time for either of them, and their five grown-up children have strong opinions on the matter…
“Who to listen to? Who to please? Rose and Tyler are determined to get it right this time, but in trying to make everyone happy, can they ever be happy themselves?”
“With the backing of his uncle, General Penrod Ballantyne, young Leon Courtney joins the King’s Rifles of Nairobi. When he becomes discouraged by the dishonesty of army life, his uncle recruits him for a special mission – spying on the Germans in East Africa, whom the general suspects are preparing for the Kaiser’s war. Posing as a professional game hunter, Leon is tasked with gathering information on one of his clients, wealthy industrialist Otto Von Meerbach.
“Leon finds himself falling for Von Meerbach’s beautiful mistress but never forgets that his real mission is to destroy the enemy. But how easy will he find his task when his true enemy is closer to home than Leon ever expected?”
“She’s addicted to drugs and to an abusive boyfriend. You haven’t seen her in six months.
“Then you find her busking in New York’s Central Park. But she’s not the girl you remember. This woman is frail, filthy, terrified and in more trouble than you ever imagined. You don’t stop to think. You approach her. You beg her to come home. She runs.
“You follow. What choice do you have? And as you descend into the dark, dangerous world she’s lost herself in, you quickly find yourself out of your depth. Down here, no one is safe – and now both of you might never make it out alive…”
“As the guests arrive at beautiful, remote Mitchell’s Inn, they’re all looking forward to a relaxing weekend deep in the forest, miles from anywhere. They watch their fellow guests with interest, from a polite distance.
“With a violent storm raging, the group finds itself completely cut off from the outside world. Nobody can get in – or out. And then the first body is found… and the horrifying truth comes to light. There’s a killer among them – and nowhere to run.”
“In the 1980s Nina Stibbe wrote letters home to her sister in Leicester describing her trials and triumphs as a nanny to a London family. There’s a cat nobody likes, a visiting dog called Ted Hughes (Ted for short) and suppertime visits from a local playwright. Not to mention the two boys, their favourite football teams and rude words, a very broad-minded mother and assorted nice chairs.
“From the mystery of the unpaid milk bill and the avoidance of nuclear war to mealtime discussions on pie filler, the greats of English literature, swearing in German and sexually transmitted diseases, Love, Nina is a wonderful celebration of bad food, good company and the relative merits of Thomas Hardy and Enid Blyton.”
“A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child. Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life. Is it a miracle? Is it magic? Or can it be explained by science?”
“Jackie loves her family. Sure, her teenage children can be stroppy. Her husband a little lazy. And providing round-the-clock care for her Alzheimer’s-ridden mother is exhausting. All Jackie wants is for her children to have a brighter future than she did. So long as Martha, the eldest, gets into university and follows her dreams, all her sacrifice will be worth something… won’t it?”
“At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live.
“When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a medical student asking what makes a virtuous and meaningful life into a neurosurgeon working in the core of human identity – the brain – and finally into a patient and a new father.
“What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when when life is catastrophically interrupted? What does it mean to have a child as your own life fades away?
“Paul Kalanithi died while working on this profoundly moving book, yet his words live on as a guide to us all. When Breath Becomes Air is a life-affirming reflection on facing our mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.”
“A Zoo in My Luggage is the colourful, first-hand account of Gerald Durrell’s six-month animal-collecting trip in British Cameroon, and his attempts to create his own zoo.
“Motivated by a passion for wildlife, and a desire to save endangered species from extinction, Durrell assembles a glorious panoply of exotic animals, including a female baboon called Georgina, who later runs amok in a department store; a black-eared squirrel, who tries to bury nuts in his ear; and a gentlemanly chimpanzee named Chumly, who greets him with an outstretched hand.
“Aided by the Fon of Bafut, who houses the collection (and hosts many long and lively parties), Durrell amasses more than 250 animals. He struggles to find a home for the animals back in England, until a stroke of luck leads him to Jersey, and the eventual founding of Durrell Wildlife Park (now Jersey Zoo).”
“In the year 937, King Æthelstan, grandson of Alfred the Great, readies himself to throw a great spear into the north. His dream of a kingdom of all England will stand or fall on one field and the passage of a single day.
“At his side is Dunstan of Glastonbury, full of ambition and wit, perhaps enough to damn his soul. His talents will take him from the villages of Wessex to the royal court, to the hills of Rome - from exile to exaltation. Through Dunstan’s vision, by his guiding hand, England may come together as one great country - or fall back into anarchy and misrule…”
“A full-cast dramatisation of Robert Graves’ brilliant account of the madness and debauchery of ancient Rome, starring Tom Goodman Hill as Claudius and Derek Jacobi as Augustus.
“The wickedly entertaining inside story of the lives and deaths of the Imperial dynasty from Augustus to Caligula is told by their obscure relation, Claudius.
“In public, Claudius is a stammering, drooling weakling, whose reputation as an idiot keeps him safe from office and assassination. But in private, he’s as sharp as they come, and keeps a secret history of everything he discovers. Until one day, as one of the few of his family left alive, he’s acclaimed Emperor against his will. Can he save Rome from the corruption he’s grown to detest?”
“A pretty French student is found dead in her room at an exclusive Oxford college. Everyone thinks it is another tragic case of accidental drug overdose. But Detective Hillary Greene has a nose for the truth. She quickly discovers that the student was involved in some very unusual activities.
“With a shocking cause of death found, the case becomes a high-profile murder investigation. Adding to the pressure, Hillary’s nemesis is transferred to work with her at the station. Can Hillary keep her cool and get justice for the unfortunate student?”
“Detective Inspector Munro is a burly Scottish policeman who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Detective Sergeant West is an intelligent young woman, new to the force, with a lot to prove. When a missing person case lands on their desks, Munro is skeptical there is much to it. But their investigation soon comes to some strange findings, and before long, a body is found.
“With a serial killer on their hands they must act fast to trace a woman placed at the scene of the crime. Yet discovering her true identity, let alone finding her, proves difficult. And as the plot thickens they realise the crime is far graver than either of them could have imagined.”