Guest Post Kenneth Davis on the Value of Hearing Stories

Kenneth C. Davis is the author of The New York Times bestselling DON’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT® HISTORY which gave rise to the DON’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT® series, featuring the Bible, the Civil War, and Geography among other titles. He is also the author of the The New York Times bestseller AMERICA’S HIDDEN HISTORY. Davis appears regularly on national television and radio. He lives in New York with his wife. You can find more on his website:

“Tell me a story.”

It is a universal request that every child makes. Telling stories—and listening to them—are part of our human DNA, what makes people tick. Telling stories—and listening to them before we can even read them—is where literature began. Homer didn’t write The Iliad. He told it. The story of the Garden of Eden was part of an oral tradition long before it was set down on scrolls. So we listen and we learn.

As a writer, I have always believed that story comes first. A book—whether a novel, history, biography, or even self-improvement—often works best when there is a compelling story behind it. From experience, I know that hearing stories can be just as profound as reading them. That’s why audiobooks are so valuable.

For nearly thirty years, people from all walks of life have told me about listening to my books. Families on trips to Gettysburg have heard the story of the great Civil War battle in their cars. Commuters have escaped traffic woes while listening to Don’t Know Much About® Geography. I’m sure that a few people even have sweated their way through workouts with Don’t Know Much About® History.Teachers and students, parents and their children have reported on learning together as they listen to the history and stories of five people enslaved by some of America’s greatest presidents included in In the Shadow of Liberty. 

Without ever thinking about it, I always wrote as I might tell a story. I’ve tried to make my books a conversation with readers, and audiobooks really make that happen.

Stepping behind the microphone to record a piece of one of my books—usually the introduction and perhaps an afterword—reminds me that I am writing to be heard. It helps me cement that connection with my readers and listeners. And like a lot of people, I am awestruck by the great voices I hear reading my work—making it come to life in a different way than words read silently from the page or a screen.

I just completed reading my portion of my newest work, More Deadly Than War: The Hidden History of the Spanish Flu and the First World War. It is the story of how the world was caught in a twin disaster one hundred years ago. Even as the last months of fighting went on in the trenches of Europe and around the world, the most deadly pandemic in modern times was sweeping across the globe. Widely known as the Spanish flu—even though it did not start in Spain—the outbreak of disease killed an estimated one hundred million people in a little more than a year’s time.

This is a story of a medical mystery as scientists sought the cause and the cure—with little success. It is a story of how fear and propaganda bring people to make bad decisions. It is a story of sacrifice and courage in the face of a plague that was “more deadly than war.” It is a fascinating story full of hidden history that can still teach us lessons today.

Listen to an excerpt of Kenneth Davis’s MORE DEADLY THAN WAR


“Davis deftly juggles compelling storytelling, gruesome details, and historical context. More Deadly Than War reads like a terrifying dystopian novel – that happens to be true.”
—Steve Sheinkin, author of Bomb and Undefeated

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