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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  • The Help

    • UNABRIDGED (18 hrs and 19 mins)
    • By Kathryn Stockett
    • Narrated By Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer, and others
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (26027)
    Performance
    (12682)
    Story
    (12723)

    Why we think it’s a great listen: The most celebrated performance in all of Audible’s history, The Help has nearly 2,000 5-star reviews from your fellow listeners. We hear the print book’s not bad, either. In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women - mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends - view one another.

    Jan says: "What a great surprise!"
    Why we think it's Essential: One of the most powerful novels we've heard in years, The Help is an essential listening experience because of Bahni Turpin. And Octavia Spencer. And Jenna Lamia. These three gifted performers elevate the art of narration to a new level with their impeccable Southern drawl and illuminating portrayals of maids and the white families they work for in 1960s Mississippi. It's no surprise that rave reviews from listeners have made The Help our highest-rated audiobook of all time. —Diana Dapito
  • Hit Man

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 49 mins)
    • By Lawrence Block
    • Narrated By Robert Forster
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1302)
    Performance
    (373)
    Story
    (368)

    Keller possesses all the qualities of a professional killer. He's cool, confident, reclusive, icy, and ruthlessly efficient. But this seasoned hit man is also prone to self-doubt as he finds himself caught in the clutches of a mid-life crisis.

    Barbara A. Russell says: "Surprisingly Terrific"
    Why we think it's Essential: After hearing Robert Forster's narration, it would be hard to imagine anyone else playing Keller, the contract killer suffering a mid-life crisis. Forster manages to elicit empathy for a cold-blooded murderer, while perfectly capturing the wry wit of Lawrence Block's writing. —Steve Feldberg
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

    • UNABRIDGED (5 hrs and 51 mins)
    • By Douglas Adams
    • Narrated By Stephen Fry
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (4888)
    Performance
    (2544)
    Story
    (2559)

    Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last 15 years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.

    John says: "HHTGH - Lightly Fried"
    Why we think it's Essential: Whether he's giving voice to Zaphod's zaniness or Marvin's manic depression, narrator Stephen Fry is pitch-perfect (or is that Prefect?). If you've yet to discover Arthur Dent's end-of-the-world antics in audio - Don't Panic! Just grab the nearest towel, plug in your earbuds - and hold on! —Steve Feldberg
  • Horton Hears a Who

    • UNABRIDGED (16 mins)
    • By Dr. Seuss
    • Narrated By Dustin Hoffman
    Overall
    (156)
    Performance
    (65)
    Story
    (68)

    Horton, the lovable elephant, tries to protect tiny creatures on a speck of dust.

    RiahWillow says: "My Nine Month Old LOVES this!!"
    Why we think it's Essential: I could talk a bit about Dr. Seuss' mastery of verbal wordplay, or how he awakens the kid in all of us, but let's face it: he's just plain fun. And that has never been truer than when he is read here by Dustin Hoffman. With two collections of celebrity Seuss reads available, we had plenty of great choices, but Hoffman's endearingly persistent Horton earned him our vote. Give a listen and try not to smile. —Ed Walloga
  • In Cold Blood

    • UNABRIDGED (14 hrs and 27 mins)
    • By Truman Capote
    • Narrated By Scott Brick
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (2024)
    Performance
    (842)
    Story
    (843)

    Why we think it’s a great listen: It’s a story that most people know, told here in an unforgettable way – an audio masterpiece that rivals the best thrillers, thanks to Capote genre-defining words and Brick’s subtle but powerful characterizations. On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.

    Lisa says: "Still the Best"
    Why we think it's Essential: To experience Truman Capote's genre-defining work for the first time with Scott Brick at the helm was a real treat. Brick's understated inflection and characterizations of the victims and the killers are subtle, but powerful. This riveting listen - a true audio masterpiece - rivals the best thrillers. —Diana Dapito
  • Inkheart

    • UNABRIDGED (15 hrs and 27 mins)
    • By Cornelia Funke
    • Narrated By Lynn Redgrave
    Overall
    (1721)
    Performance
    (566)
    Story
    (572)

    Imagine it were possible to bring the characters from a book to life. Not like when you listen to an audiobook with such enchantment that the characters seem to jump off the pages and into your bedroom...but for real. Imagine they could actually climb out of the pages and into our world. Then imagine if those characters brought their world into ours.

    Cynthia says: "EXCELLENT!!"
    Why we think it's Essential: Inkheart is a magical book about the power of stories, so it's especially appropriate to hear it read by a magical storyteller: Lynn Redgrave. She has a way of wrapping her voice around words that is just riveting. Almost too riveting - if you listen while driving, be sure not to lose yourself and forget about the road. —Steve Feldberg
  • Inspired By...The Bible Experience: New Testament

    • UNABRIDGED (20 hrs and 34 mins)
    • By Inspired By Media Group
    • Narrated By Angela Bassett, Cuba Gooding Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, and others
    Overall
    (644)
    Performance
    (214)
    Story
    (219)

    Like never before, you can experience the beauty and life-changing power of the Bible. Unique among audio Bible productions, The Bible Experience is a captivating performance of the Bible presented by a stellar ensemble of today's top-name actors, musicians, clergy, directors, and award-winning producers. This historic production also features a cinematic musical score, unparalleled sound design, and the highest production value.The Bible Experience is truly theater of the mind and spirit.

    Kathleen says: "ANGELS not zombies"
    Why we think it's Essential: The Bible's stories were meant to be heard. They are powerful accounts of passion and drama. This recording, with an all-star cast, glorious music, and full sound effects, weaves the stories into a rich and compelling theatrical presentation. Whether you know the Bible well or haven't read it in quite some time, you will be captivated by this edition. —Beth Anderson
  • The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan

    • UNABRIDGED (14 hrs and 56 mins)
    • By Russell Shorto
    • Narrated By L.J. Ganser
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (724)
    Performance
    (267)
    Story
    (268)

    Nearly 40 years ago, a New York State Library archivist discovered 12,000 pages of extraordinary records from the original Dutch colony on Manhattan. After decades of painstaking translation, the documents became the primary source for this breathtaking history of early New York.

    Pen Name says: "Loved it!"
    Why we think it's Essential: I always trust the expert ears of our audio engineers, and they highly recommend The Island at the Center of the Earth for L. J. Ganser's performance. In this riveting account of the birth of Dutch Manhattan, Ganser is at the top of his game, presenting fascinating details with a voice that remains compelling for all 15 hours. —Diana Dapito
  • John Gielgud's Hamlet (Dramatized)

    • ORIGINAL (3 hrs and 25 mins)
    • By William Shakespeare
    • Narrated By John Gielgud
    Overall
    (55)
    Performance
    (28)
    Story
    (28)

    This outstanding historical recording made in 1941 for radio is widely regarded as one of the finest Hamlet performances ever, and one of John Gielgud's greatest moments. Though he went on to record it for commercial release, nothing matched this recording in the BBC studios, made before the days of editing.

    Michel says: "Wonderful!!!"
    Why we think it's Essential: In considering which Shakespeare recording was most essential, we found ourselves caught between Gielgud's Hamlet and Richard Burton's MacBeth (which, ironically, was directed by Gielgud). In the end, we chose Gielgud because, as a radio production (unlike Burton's stage performance) it was meant for the ear, not the eye. As a result, Gielgud delivers what may be the best Hamlet we've ever heard. —Steve Feldberg
  • Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs)
    • By Anthony Bourdain
    • Narrated By Anthony Bourdain
    Overall
    (3251)
    Performance
    (1178)
    Story
    (1167)

    Last summer, The New Yorker published chef Anthony Bourdain's shocking, "Don't Eat Before Reading This." Now, the author uses the same "take-no-prisoners" attitude in his deliciously funny and shockingly delectable audiobook, sure to delight gourmands and philistines alike.

    Holly says: "Kitchen Confidential"
    Why we think it's Essential: My favorite books take me to a destination I couldn't visit on my own. In Kitchen Confidential, Tony Bourdain led me through his world of food, kitchens, and restaurants. Without Bourdain, I wouldn't have known about the grueling life at the stove, the colorful exploits in the kitchen, and the millions of details that go into making lovely meals. As you may know from Bourdain's TV career, there's no better, or funnier, guide to the world of food. —Beth Anderson
  • The Kite Runner

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 2 mins)
    • By Khaled Hosseini
    • Narrated By Khaled Hosseini
    Overall
    (6222)
    Performance
    (1575)
    Story
    (1594)

    Why we think it’s a great listen: Never before has an author’s narration of his fiction been so important to fully grasping the book’s impact and global implications. Taking us from Afghanistan in the final days of its monarchy to the present, The Kite Runner is the unforgettable story of the friendship between two boys growing up in Kabul. Their intertwined lives, and their fates, reflect the eventual tragedy of the world around them.

    Joseph says: "A storyteller's story"
    Why we think it's Essential: We've learned the hard way that authors don't always make great narrators, but Khaled Hosseini is remarkably gifted in both roles. I have listened to the The Kite Runner again and again to be transported to Hosseini's Afghanistan and can appreciate it all the more because of his authentic pronunciations. —Diana Dapito
  • Letting Go of God

    • ORIGINAL (2 hrs and 6 mins)
    • By Julia Sweeney
    • Narrated By Julia Sweeney
    Overall
    (1481)
    Performance
    (381)
    Story
    (381)

    Julia Sweeney says she was a "happy Catholic girl" when, one day, she walked into church and signed up for a Bible-study course. "What an eye opener that was!" she says. Equally comedic and insightful, Letting Go of God is Sweeney's brilliant one-woman show about her struggle with her faith.

    Mark says: "A Brilliant Personal Journey of Discovery"
    Why we think it's Essential: Anyone who thinks that Julia Sweeney is just the comedian who played Pat on Saturday Night Live, doesn't know Julia Sweeney. Letting Go of God, an elegantly written and beautifully performed monologue about her loss of faith, made me laugh - a lot - and think even more. Far from being an angry atheistic screed, it is an uplifting journey of the heart. —Steve Feldberg
  • Life of Pi

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 41 mins)
    • By Yann Martel
    • Narrated By Jeff Woodman
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (9956)
    Performance
    (5279)
    Story
    (5300)

    Pi Patel has been raised in a zoo in India. When his father decides to move the family to Canada and sell the animals to American zoos, everyone boards a Japanese cargo ship. The ship sinks, and 16-year-old Pi finds himself alone on a lifeboat with a hyena, an orangutan, a zebra with a broken leg, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Soon it's just Pi, the tiger, and the vast Pacific Ocean - for 227 days. Pi's fear, knowledge, and cunning keep him alive until they reach the coast of Mexico, where the tiger disappears into the jungle.

    Theresa says: "Best audio of the year for me"
    Why we think it's Essential: If you've never been lost in the middle of the ocean, on a small boat filled with wild animals, you have missed a great adventure. Luckily, you have a chance to be transported to that terrifying and wondrous trip through the magic of Martell's writing and Woodman's narration. Whether you are in the car, at the gym, or walking the dog as you listen, you'll begin to feel the rock of the waves against your boat and feel the heat of a tiger's breath on your neck. —Beth Anderson
  • Light in August

    • UNABRIDGED (15 hrs and 17 mins)
    • By William Faulkner
    • Narrated By Will Patton
    Overall
    (44)
    Performance
    (17)
    Story
    (17)

    An Oprah's Book Club Selection regarded as one of Faulkner's greatest and most accessible novels, Light in August is a timeless and riveting story of determination, tragedy, and hope. In Faulkner's iconic Yoknapatawpha County, race, sex, and religion collide around three memorable characters searching desperately for human connection and their own identities.

    Robert Stevens says: "Superb reading of an excellent work"
    Why we think it's Essential: Faulkner’s classic is always going to be an essential work of American literature but award-winning actor and narrator Will Patton elevates it to become an essential work of American listening. His accent is smooth, rich, and gloomy, and transports you straight into the heart of the prohibition-era deep South. His narration helps us to penetrate the mystery of Faulkner (even literature students will acknowledge it’s a tricky read) and get to the heart of this multi-layered masterpiece.—Emily Cox
  • The Lion's Game

    • UNABRIDGED (24 hrs and 52 mins)
    • By Nelson DeMille
    • Narrated By Scott Brick
    Overall
    (4281)
    Performance
    (1588)
    Story
    (1589)

    To survive in a game with no rules at all, John Corey must invent a strategy that includes no luck at all. He and the Anti-Terrorist Task Force must stop "The Lion," an alleged Libyan terrorist with the instincts of a wild animal, the bloodlust of a carnivore, and the boldness and speed of a cat of prey. And listen to Mayday, by DeMille and Thomas Block, the most terrifyingly realistic air disaster thriller of all time.

    CoCo says: "Excellent and engaging"
    Why we think it's Essential: DeMille proves himself at the height of his game with The Lion's Game. This one has it all: action, suspense, humor, romance, captivating characters, a seriously bad bad-guy, and an endearingly bad good-guy. Scott Brick's perfect narration raises the stakes to a higher level. A master of pacing, Brick's measured delivery makes the suspense behind the surpentine plot come alive. My stomach was tied in knots and I loved every minute of it. –Corey Thrasher
  • Lolita

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 32 mins)
    • By Vladimir Nabokov
    • Narrated By Jeremy Irons
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1794)
    Performance
    (956)
    Story
    (949)

    Why we think it’s a great listen: Among the great literary achievements of the 20th century, Lolita soars in audio thanks to the incomparable Jeremy Irons, bringing to life Nabokov’s ability to shock and enthrall more than 50 years after publication. Lolita became a cause celebre because of the erotic predilections of its protagonist. But Nabokov's masterpiece owes its stature not to the controversy its material aroused but to its author's use of that material to tell a love story that is shocking in its beauty and tenderness.

    Jim says: "An Absolutely Gorgeous Audible Experience"
    Why we think it's Essential: Award-winning actor Jeremy Irons portrayed this novel's nymphet-obsessed professor in a filmed adaptation, so it is not surprising he is able to negotiate Nabokov's dense, refined, and fiery prose with great facility. Irons' mastery reminds me of a conductor who studies a score for years and then knows inately how to communicate it to an audience, note-perfect from beginning to end. If you're looking for a fine example of great literature that comes across better in audio than it does on the printed page, you've found it. –Corey Thrasher
  • Lonesome Dove

    • UNABRIDGED (36 hrs and 11 mins)
    • By Larry McMurtry
    • Narrated By Lee Horsley
    Overall
    (2821)
    Performance
    (1302)
    Story
    (1327)

    Larry McMurtry's American epic, set in the late 19th century, tells the story of a cattle drive from Texas to Montana, a drive that represents not only a daring foolhardy adventure, but a part of the American Dream for everyone involved.

    A. Wright says: "Inspired reading of a great book"
    Why we think it's Essential: I first listened to Lonesome Dove with some trepidation. Could the likeable star of TV's Matt Houston really handle McMurtry's Pulitzer Prize-winning genre-transcending Western? I shouldn't have worried. Lee Horsley inhabits McMurtry's language and characters like a pair of trail-beaten boots, indulging the laid-back roughness of his own Texas roots to bring the tale of Gus McCrae, Woodrow Call, and the Hat Creek Outfit to spirited life. —Ed Walloga
  • The Maltese Falcon

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 9 mins)
    • By Dashiell Hammett
    • Narrated By William Dufris
    Overall
    (760)
    Performance
    (290)
    Story
    (287)

    Hard-boiled detective Sam Spade is hired to locate a client's sister by tailing the sister's companion. Spade's partner Miles Archer takes on the assignment, and quickly both Archer and the man he was shadowing are murdered. As Spade pursues the mystery of his partner's death, he is drawn into a circle of colorful characters, and they are all after a legendary statuette of a falcon that had long ago been made for King Charles of Spain. Encrusted with jewels, it is worth a fortune.

    Jim says: "A little overacted"
    Why we think it's Essential: This audiobook did the near-impossible and made me forget Humphrey Bogart. William Dufris' rich characterizations made Hammett's dialogue crackle, shifting effortlessly from Sam Spade's edgy confidence to Joel Cairo's counterfeit menace to Brigid O'Shaughnessy's misleading vulnerability. More importantly, Dupris' expressive tone focused me on Hammett's elegantly economic prose, reminding me why this is the seminal work of hard-boiled fiction. —Ed Walloga
  • Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer

    • ABRIDGED (9 hrs and 10 mins)
    • By James L. Swanson
    • Narrated By Richard Thomas
    Overall
    (943)
    Performance
    (279)
    Story
    (287)

    The murder of Abraham Lincoln set off the greatest manhunt in American history, the pursuit and capture of John Wilkes Booth. From April 14 to April 26, 1865, the assassin led Union cavalry and detectives on a wild 12-day chase through the streets of Washington, D.C., across the swamps of Maryland, and into the forests of Virginia, while the nation, still reeling from the just-ended Civil War, watched in horror and sadness.

    Elizabeth says: "Fascinating!"
    Why we think it's Essential: If only all history lessons were taught by Richard Thomas, who elevates James L. Swanson's impeccably researched account of capturing John Wilkes Booth with this masterful performance. Thomas' pacing and nuanced narration make Manhunt seem more like a gripping thriller than a history tome. —Diana Dapito
  • Master and Commander: Aubrey/Maturin Series, Book 1

    • UNABRIDGED (16 hrs and 39 mins)
    • By Patrick O'Brian
    • Narrated By Patrick Tull
    Overall
    (1862)
    Performance
    (789)
    Story
    (782)

    This, the first in the splendid series of Jack Aubrey novels, establishes the friendship between Captain Aubrey, Royal Navy, and Stephen Maturin, ship's surgeon and intelligence agent, against the thrilling backdrop of the Napoleonic wars. Details of life aboard a man-of-war in Nelson's navy are faultlessly rendered: the conversational idiom of the officers in the ward room and the men on the lower deck, the food, the floggings, the mysteries of the wind and the rigging, and the road of broadsides as the great ships close in battle.

    Frank says: "Choice of Narrators"
    Why we think it's Essential: Let more academic folk reach for Moby Dick; I'll take the Aubrey / Maturin series every time. The first of what has been called the best [series of] historical novels ever written, Master and Commander has everything a good adventure story needs: well-drawn characters, a unique backdrop, and rousing action. And in Patrick Tull, it has the perfect narrator - the voice of an old sea dog who enjoys nothing more than sharing a well-told tale. —Ed Walloga
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