Audible Essentials | Must Listen Audio Books
Audible Essentials

To celebrate Audible’s 10th anniversary, our editors spent many, many hours deliberating the books that should make our Essentials list. We finally narrowed the list down to 100 books that you absolutely have to hear – well-written and superbly narrated, these are the audiobooks that stand the test of time. In recent years, a few more books have risen to this elite status (we’re looking at you, The Help), and we’re thrilled to now share with you our updated collection of Audible Essentials.


And don’t forget to check out our Mystery Essentials, Thriller Essentials, Sci-Fi Essentials, Romance Essentials, and Teen Essentials.
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  • Across the Nightingale Floor: Tales of the Otori, Book One

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 25 mins)
    • By Lian Hearn
    • Narrated By Kevin Gray, Aiko Nakasone
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (5598)
    Performance
    (1784)
    Story
    (1783)

    A tour-de-force novel set in ancient Japan filled with passion, fantasy, and feuding warlords. The first volume in the highly anticipated Tales of the Otori trilogy.

    Jody R. Nathan says: "Wonderful epic story"
    Why we think it's Essential: At the heart of Lian Hearn's beautiful saga of samurai, enchantment, and passion in feudal Japan is the story of two ill-fated lovers, brought to poignant life with the dual performances of Kevin Gray and Aiko Nakasone. Trading chapters as their stories intertwine, Gray and Nakasone anchor the action with their alternating voices, underscoring the very personal stakes amidst the epic tale of feuding warlords. —Ed Walloga
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: A Signature Performance by Elijah Wood

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 12 mins)
    • By Mark Twain
    • Narrated By Elijah Wood
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (2150)
    Performance
    (1649)
    Story
    (1630)

    A Signature Performance: Elijah Wood becomes the first narrator to bring a youthful voice and energy to the story, perhaps making it the closest interpretation to Twain’s original intent.

    James says: "Worthy "signature" premiere"
    Why we think it's Essential: I think most people would agree that Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has got to be one of the best American novels of all time. Reading a classic such as this would be a big task for any narrator, but Elijah Wood completely captures Huck’s naïve and lively adolescence. After listening, I couldn’t imagine Huck’s voice being anyone else’s—and I wouldn’t want to experience this tale any other way. –Tyler LeBleu
  • Altered Carbon

    • UNABRIDGED (17 hrs and 10 mins)
    • By Richard K. Morgan
    • Narrated By Todd McLaren
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (3101)
    Performance
    (1326)
    Story
    (1334)

    In the 25th century, humankind has spread throughout the galaxy, monitored by the watchful eye of the U.N. While divisions in race, religion, and class still exist, advances in technology have redefined life itself. Now, assuming one can afford the expensive procedure, a person's consciousness can be stored in a cortical stack at the base of the brain and easily downloaded into a new body (or "sleeve") making death nothing more than a minor blip on a screen.

    Jake Williams says: "Altered Carbon"
    Why we think it's Essential: Hardwire William Gibson into Dashiell Hammett and you get the unique universe that has earned Richard K. Morgan a legion of Audible fans. Todd McLaren wisely taps into the noir undercurrent for his narration - moving the action forward at a steady clip, letting the characterizations do the work, and treating high concepts like sleeving (downloading your personality into a new body) with a dead-pan legitimacy that makes them feel all the more real. —Ed Walloga
  • American Gods

    • UNABRIDGED (20 hrs and 50 mins)
    • By Neil Gaiman
    • Narrated By George Guidall
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (4946)
    Performance
    (1845)
    Story
    (1856)

    For the three years Shadow spent in prison, all he wanted was to get back to the loving arms of his wife and stay out of trouble for the rest of his life. But days before his release, he learns that his wife has been killed in an accident, and his world becomes a colder place.

    Joseph says: "Amazing, powerful book about America."
    Why we think it's Essential: In an era before both iPod and printing press, people told tales of the gods around the firepit. With American Gods, master storyteller Gaiman taps that mythic vein for a genre-defying modern-day tale of gods, both ancient and new, warring under our very noses. Giving voice to Gaiman's words, George Guidall brings out both the energy and emotion of this surprisingly human tale. His characterization of the much-more-than-a-conman Mr. Wednesday is masterful. —Ed Walloga
  • Angela's Ashes

    • UNABRIDGED (14 hrs and 57 mins)
    • By Frank McCourt
    • Narrated By Frank McCourt
    Overall
    (2260)
    Performance
    (1067)
    Story
    (1069)

    Why we think it’s a great listen: There’s no gentle way to put this – Frank McCourt’s performance of Angela’s Ashes is just better than the Pulitzer Prize-winning book. Frank McCourt shares his sometimes heartwarming, sometimes heartbreaking story of growing up poor, Irish, and Catholic in the Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir Angela's Ashes.

    Karen says: "A classic book *and* a classic audiobook"
    Why we think it's Essential: People have called this a sad book. I imagine those are people who read it with their eyes instead of hearing Frank McCourt narrate his story. Those who listen hear the ecstasy in McCourt's exclamations over a piece of bread and an egg and the humor with which he dealt with hardships. Listeners are enveloped by McCourt's brogue, occasional songs, and his joyful spirit. —Beth Anderson
  • Around the World in 80 Days

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 51 mins)
    • By Jules Verne
    • Narrated By Jim Dale
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (550)
    Performance
    (240)
    Story
    (242)

    Shocking his stodgy colleagues at the exclusive Reform Club, enigmatic Englishman Phileas Fogg wagers his fortune, undertaking an extraordinary and daring enterprise to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. With his French valet Passepartout in tow, Verne's hero traverses the far reaches of the earth, all the while tracked by the intrepid Detective Fix, a bounty hunter certain he is on the trail of a notorious bank robber.

    Gary says: "Fabulous narration for Verne Classic"
    Why we think it's Essential: Let's face it: Jules Verne's book is pretty tedious in print. But I was in need of a listen for a family road trip, and was intrigued by what Jim Dale could do with Verne's classic. To our pleasant surprise, my family and I were absolutely transported. Dale's brilliance takes what is essentially a lengthy travelogue and turns it into a glorious adventure. —Steve Feldberg
  • The Art of Racing in the Rain

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 56 mins)
    • By Garth Stein
    • Narrated By Christopher Evan Welch
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (5196)
    Performance
    (3176)
    Story
    (3177)

    Why we think it’s a great listen: If you’ve ever loved a dog - or even patted a dog - this book, told from the perspective of man’s best friend, will tug at your heartstrings...and won’t let go until long after Welch performs the last word. Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively and by listening very closely to the words of his master.

    Lora says: "Enzo (because he's so wize) for president."
    Why we think it's Essential: Garth Stein’s poignant story captures the full range of human emotions — and the impenetrable bond between man and animal — through the eyes of a wise canine. As a dog lover I was afraid it might be too sad, but Stein’s blend of nostalgic happiness and the pains of mortality mixed with Christopher Evan Welch’s perfectly balanced narration left me on the verge of tears one minute and laughing out loud the next. —Cori Turkowski
  • Atlas Shrugged

    • UNABRIDGED (63 hrs)
    • By Ayn Rand
    • Narrated By Scott Brick
    Overall
    (4902)
    Performance
    (2894)
    Story
    (2901)

    In a scrap heap within an abandoned factory, the greatest invention in history lies dormant and unused. By what fatal error of judgment has its value gone unrecognized, its brilliant inventor punished rather than rewarded for his efforts? In defense of those greatest of human qualities that have made civilization possible, one man sets out to show what would happen to the world if all the heroes of innovation and industry went on strike.

    Mica says: "Hurt version decidedly superior"
    Why we think it's Essential: Ayn Rand is most assuredly a Russian novelist: both The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged clock out at an ear-popping 95 hours—some 1,800 pages in print. Unlike Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and other compatriots with whom she shares a penchant for expansiveness, Rand's work is known for launching a worldwide movement with millions of enthusiasts. Atlas Shrugged, a superior follow-up to The Fountainhead, posits what would become of us if all creative individuals went on strike. Narrated by Scott Brick with conviction and authority befitting the themes of this profoundly influential (and suspenseful) novel, Rand's masterwork ranks among our highest rated and best-selling books of all time. ..
  • The Bad Beginning, A Multi-Voice Recording: A Series of Unfortunate Events #1

    • UNABRIDGED (2 hrs and 31 mins)
    • By Lemony Snicket
    • Narrated By Tim Curry, Full Cast
    Overall
    (699)
    Performance
    (240)
    Story
    (236)

    Like a car alarm, bagpipe music, or a doorbell ringing in the middle of the night, hearing this all-new audio edition of The Bad Beginning will only upset you. This unique multi-voice recording brings the first book in Lemony Snicket's alarming A Series of Unfortunate Events to such terrible life that no one should really have to experience it.

    Charles says: "Wonderful!"
    Why we think it's Essential: The Bad Beginning may be, as Lemony Snicket reveals, a miserable tale, but it is a joy to listen to. This full-cast production is of the highest caliber, filled with orchestral music and chilling sound effects. I loved Tim Curry (yes, Dr. Frank N. Furter) as the infamous villain Count Olaf, and was charmed by the witty Baudelaire siblings, who rely on books to help them avoid the Count's treachery. —Diana Dapito
  • Bel Canto

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 24 mins)
    • By Ann Patchett
    • Narrated By Anna Fields
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1550)
    Performance
    (729)
    Story
    (735)

    Somewhere in South America at the home of the country's vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of Mr. Hosokawa, a powerful Japanese businessman. Roxanne Coss, opera's most revered soprano, has mesmerized the guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening, until a band of terrorists breaks in, taking the entire party hostage.

    Brian says: "Surprisingly engrossing"
    Why we think it's Essential: Ann Patchett's prose is, quite simply, miraculous. And Anna Fields' narration, amid all the nationalities and accents and characters, is superb. Together, the two bring to life a tale of such stunning imagery and emotion that you'll be replaying entire chapters just to see it again in your mind. —Chris Doheny
  • Beowulf

    • UNABRIDGED (2 hrs and 43 mins)
    • By Robert K. Gordon, translator
    • Narrated By Robertson Dean
    Overall
    (152)
    Performance
    (49)
    Story
    (53)

    Beowulf is considered the finest heroic poem in Old English. It celebrates the character and exploits of Beowulf, a young nobleman and warrior, as he proves his superhuman strength and endurance. He also represents the ideal lord and vassal, rewarding his men generously and accomplishing glorious deeds to honor his king.

    jerry says: "Translator Preferred"
    Why we think it's Essential: The oldest epic in the English language was passed down for hundreds of years as an oral tale, so there is no better way to experience the saga of Hrothgar and Beowulf and Grendel than by listening to it. Robertson Dean's narration is lively and admirable, and the production makes it more powerful than a 10th century bard ever could. —Chris Doheny
  • Billy Collins Live: A Performance at the Peter Norton Symphony Space, April 20, 2005

    • ORIGINAL (1 hr and 15 mins)
    • By Billy Collins
    • Narrated By Billy Collins
    Overall
    (171)
    Performance
    (41)
    Story
    (41)

    In this exclusive audio publishing event, Billy Collins, former U.S. Poet Laureate, shares an evening of his poetry in a benefit reading for WNYC, New York Public Radio. Often compared to Robert Frost, his poetry has been embraced by people of all ages and backgrounds, and his readings are most often standing room only.

    Melinda says: "Does Not Get Better Than This"
    Why we think it's Essential: If you prefer your poetry dry, stale and dusty, stay clear of this program. However, if you prefer it to be warm, funny, and exciting, you are in luck. Or, if you don't know if you like poetry, I can assure you, you will enjoy Collins' accessible work. This former poet laureate offers such a wonderful performance that he upstages the introductory banter by comedian Bill Murray. —Beth Anderson
  • The Blood of Flowers

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 22 mins)
    • By Anita Amirrezvani
    • Narrated By Shohreh Aghdashloo
    Overall
    (1134)
    Performance
    (583)
    Story
    (583)

    In 17th-century Persia, a 14-year-old woman believes she will be married within the year. When her beloved father dies, she and her mother find themselves alone and without a dowry. With nowhere else to go, they are forced to sell the brilliant turquoise rug the young woman has woven to pay for their journey to Isfahan, where they will work as servants for her uncle, a rich rug designer in the court of the legendary Shah Abbas the Great.

    Shaddi says: "I loved this book!"
    Why we think it's Essential: I knew Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo from her Oscar-nominated performance in The House of Sand and Fog, and hoped for another star turn in her narration of Anita Amirrezvanivs debut novel - I wasn't disappointed. Aghdashloo's deep, raspy voice is absolutely haunting, whether describing the (surprisingly) fascinating intricacies of rug-making or re-telling the Iranian folktales that are woven into the story. A colorful, lush tale that I didn't want to end. —Diana Dapito
  • The Bluest Eye

    • ABRIDGED (2 hrs and 59 mins)
    • By Toni Morrison
    • Narrated By Toni Morrison, Ruby Dee
    Overall
    (107)
    Performance
    (37)
    Story
    (38)

    Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl, prays every day for beauty. Mocked by other children for the dark skin, curly hair, and brown eyes that set her apart, she yearns for the blond hair and blue eyes that she believes will allow her to finally fit in. Yet as her dream grows more fervent, her life slowly starts to disintegrate in the face of adversity and strife.

    Linda says: "Frustrating..."
    Why we think it's Essential: The only thing better than hearing Ruby Dee give voice to this heartbreaking first novel by Toni Morrison, is to hear the author herself exchange lines of dialogue with the veteran actress and narrate key passages. Although the journey I took with Pecola (the main character) through this novel was difficult, it was also important—something I'll never forget. –Corey Thrasher
  • Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 9 mins)
    • By Christopher McDougall
    • Narrated By Fred Sanders
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (4344)
    Performance
    (2135)
    Story
    (2168)

    Why we think it’s a great listen: Want to join the “superhumans”? Luckily you don’t have to run to catch up with them, thanks to McDougall’s and Sanders’ inspiring (and motivating) journey through history, science, physiology, health, entertaining characters and unlikely friendships. Full of incredible characters, amazing athletic achievements, cutting-edge science, and, most of all, pure inspiration, Born to Run is an epic adventure.

    Corey says: "Amazing read - even for non-runners"
    Why we think it's Essential: I have a love/hate relationship with running, and this book brought my passion surging back with indomitable force. But whether you are a runner or not, you’re sure to be captivated by Christopher McDougall’s enthralling narrative and endearing characters, perfectly complemented by the smooth narration of Fred Sanders. Born to Run is a fascinating, inspirational look at the human body and its astonishing capabilities. —Cori Turkowski
  • A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 30 mins)
    • By Edited by Clayborne Carson, Kris Shepard
    • Narrated By Andrew Young, Rosa Parks
    Overall
    (104)
    Performance
    (27)
    Story
    (29)

    These 12 moving speeches voiced by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are original recordings collected here for the first time ever. Plus, listen to MLK deliver some of his most famous sermons in A Knock at Midnight.

    Inge A says: "A King size speech"
    Why we think it's Essential: The iconic moments of Dr. King's oratory echo in our aural consciousness; this collection offers a unique opportunity to move beyond those moments. Backed by eye-opening introductions from Dr. King's inner circle, these 12 speeches trace the growth of a man, a voice, and a movement. From the rarely heard Birth of a New Nation speech to King's final thrilling I Have Been to the Mountaintop, I am reminded that spoken word can truly change the world. —Ed Walloga
  • Casino Royale

    • UNABRIDGED (4 hrs and 39 mins)
    • By Ian Fleming
    • Narrated By Simon Vance
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1151)
    Performance
    (628)
    Story
    (631)

    Introducing James Bond: charming, sophisticated, handsome, chillingly ruthless, and licensed to kill. This, the first of Ian Fleming's tales of secret agent 007, finds Bond on a mission to neutralize a lethal, high-rolling Russian operative called "Le Chiffre" by ruining him at the Baccarat table, forcing his Soviet spymasters to "retire" him. It seems that lady luck has sided with 007 when Le Chiffre hits a losing streak. But some people just refuse to play by the rules.

    Pork C. Fish says: "Ouch!"
    Why we think it's Essential: Listening to Casino Royale is like peeling away the shell of a cultural icon and returning to the good, exotic thrillers that gave it birth. As captured by narrator Simon Vance, Bond is as suave, British, and ultra-competent as you'd expect, but he's also startlingly vulnerable, falling victim to both his enemies and his own doubts. With a wry, knowing delivery, Vance excels at capturing the tension in Fleming's prose: he wrings Bond's torture for every last, excruciating squirm. —Ed Walloga
  • Catch-22

    • UNABRIDGED (20 hrs and 1 min)
    • By Joseph Heller
    • Narrated By Jay O. Sanders
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1817)
    Performance
    (900)
    Story
    (915)

    Catch-22 is set in the closing months of World War II, in an American bomber squadron on a small island off Italy. Its hero is a bombardier named Yossarian, who is frantic and furious because thousands of people he hasn't even met keep trying to kill him. (He has decided to live forever, even if he has to die in the attempt.)

    Phil says: "Phenominal Reading - Story and Damn Funny"
    Why we think it's Essential: Nearly 50 years after it changed the American lexicon, Catch-22 is as biting and relevant in its satire of war and bureaucracy as when it was first published. Jay O. Sanders delivers a near-perfect performance. He uses his naturally deep, vaguely military tone to wring every bit of irony from Heller's prose, while bringing the cast of characters to life with some of the funniest performances I've heard on audio. —Ed Walloga
  • Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History

    • UNABRIDGED (20 hrs and 28 mins)
    • By George Crile
    • Narrated By Christopher Lane
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (2977)
    Performance
    (777)
    Story
    (794)

    Charlie Wilson's War is the untold story behind the last battle of the Cold War and how it fueled the rise of militant Islam. George Crile tells how Charlie Wilson, a maverick congressman from east Texas, conspired with a rogue CIA operative to launch the biggest, meanest, and most successful covert operation in the agency's history.

    Chuck says: "Best Non-Fiction Book - Extremely Compelling!!!"
    Why we think it's Essential: With shades of both Tom Clancy and Dr. Strangelove, Charlie Wilson's War is the incredible true story of a gregarious Texas Congressman, a shadowy CIA operative, and their campaign to fund the Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union. Christopher Lane's smooth narration compliments George Crile's well-researched chronicle...right through to a riveting coda that reminds us of the operation's very real ramifications. —Ed Walloga
  • Charlotte's Web

    • UNABRIDGED (3 hrs and 29 mins)
    • By E.B. White
    • Narrated By E.B. White, George Plimpton
    Overall
    (468)
    Performance
    (189)
    Story
    (195)

    Since its publication in 1952, Charlotte's Web has become one of America's best-loved children's books. For fifty years, this timeless story of the pig named Wilbur and the wise spider named Charlotte who saved him has continued to warm the hearts of readers everywhere. This 1953 Newbery Honor Book comes to life in a delightful unabridged recording, read lovingly by the author himself.

    Richard says: "Some book"
    Why we think it's Essential: Many Audible listeners call this the best audiobook ever recorded. It is not just the timeless story of a girl, a pig, and a spider that makes this a treasure; the story is told by the author, with a raspy New England accent and a casual manner that recalls my best memories of being read to by a favorite grown-up. Warning: you may be an adult now, but that doesn't mean you won't cry as you listen. —Beth Anderson
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