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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  • Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War

    • UNABRIDGED (21 hrs and 10 mins)
    • By Karl Marlantes
    • Narrated By Bronson Pinchot
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (4150)
    Performance
    (2322)
    Story
    (2322)

    Why we think it’s a great listen: A performance so poignant, we gave Bronson Pinchot (yes, Balki from Perfect Strangers) our inaugural Narrator of the Year award.... In the monsoon season of 1968-69 at a fire support base called Matterhorn, located in the remote mountains of Vietnam, a young and ambitious Marine lieutenant wants to command a company to further his civilian political ambitions. But two people stand in his way.

    Zachary says: "Matterhorn"
    Why we think it's Essential: The answer to this question may be “because YOU think it’s essential”. With hundreds of five-star reviews, this tense and atmospheric novel is one of our all-time biggest customer favorites, and an obvious pick for Best Book of 2010. Also earning your never –ending adulation is Bronson Pinchot’s narration which walks the fine (and difficult) line between raw bluntness and sensitivity. Hailed as the first truly great novel about the Vietnam War, Matterhorn belongs in everyone’s library. –Emily Cox
  • Middlesex

    • UNABRIDGED (21 hrs and 26 mins)
    • By Jeffrey Eugenides
    • Narrated By Kristoffer Tabori
    Overall
    (5895)
    Performance
    (2091)
    Story
    (2110)

    In the spring of 1974, Calliope Stephanides, a student at a girls' school in Grosse Pointe, finds herself drawn to a chain-smoking, strawberry-blonde classmate with a gift for acting. The passion that furtively develops between them - along with Callie's failure to develop physically - leads Callie to suspect that she is not like other girls. In fact, she is not really a girl at all.

    Chris says: "Great Pulitzer Winning novel!"
    Why we think it's Essential: A Pulitzer Prize guarantees a great story; an Audie Award guarantees a captivating narration - Middlesex has both, plus Oprah's stamp of approval to boot. But for this essentials list, it's the Audie that carries the most weight, and Kristoffer Tabori is most deserving of this prize. He makes this generation-spanning saga an effortless listen, using unique characterizations to seamlessly weave the past and the present. Absolutely captivating. —Diana Dapito
  • The Modern Scholar: Six Months That Changed the World: The Paris Peace Conference of 1919

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 35 mins)
    • By Margaret MacMillan
    Overall
    (213)
    Performance
    (114)
    Story
    (114)

    The world will never see another peace conference like the one which took place in Paris in 1919. For six months, the world's major leaders - including Woodrow Wilson, president of the United States, David Lloyd George, prime minister of Great Britain, and Georges Clemenceau, prime minister of France - met to discuss the peace settlements which were to end World War One.

    Jon says: "Best Audible Title Yet"
    Why we think it's Essential: Professor Macmillan speaks with authority about the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, and illustrates how we are still living today with the consequences of decisions made there. It's not often that something changes the way you view life, but that's the greatest achievement of this lecture: its ability to get you thinking about cause and effect—how large and small events that happened almost 90 years ago can shape the world for decades to come. –Corey Thrasher
  • My Life

    • ABRIDGED (6 hrs and 12 mins)
    • By Bill Clinton
    • Narrated By Bill Clinton
    Overall
    (1673)
    Performance
    (227)
    Story
    (226)

    President Bill Clinton's My Life is the strikingly candid portrait of a global leader who decided early in life to devote his intellectual and political gifts, and his extraordinary capacity for hard work, to serving the public. It is the fullest, most concretely detailed, most nuanced account of a presidency ever written, and a testament to the positive impact on America and on the world of his work and his ideals.

    Drayton says: "Less than I expected"
    Why we think it's Essential: Bill Clinton built his political career by explaining, persuading, and building rapport. He did it with world leaders, politicians, and the American people. He does it here, building a bond with listeners as he shares his perspective on the past 50 years of history - his and the country's. We've chosen the abridged edition over the unabridged, because hearing Clinton's give voice to his own story is a unique experience. His well known grasp of details and his charm come across in every chapter. —Beth Anderson
  • The Namesake

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 5 mins)
    • By Jhumpa Lahiri
    • Narrated By Sarita Choudhury
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (930)
    Performance
    (261)
    Story
    (263)

    The Namesake follows the Ganguli family through its journey from Calcutta to Cambridge to the Boston suburbs. When their son is born, the task of naming him betrays the vexed results of bringing old ways to the new world. Named for a Russian writer by his Indian parents in memory of a catastrophe years before, Gogol Ganguli knows only that he suffers the burden of his heritage as well as his odd, antic name.

    Diana - Audible says: "My favorite book - in print and audio"
    Why we think it's Essential: Jhumpa Lahiri's command of language is absolutely stunning. She can, in just a few phases, accomplish a poignancy and authenticity that others rarely achieve in hours of storytelling. I didn't think anything could possibly elevate my opinion of Lahiri's debut novel...and then I listened to Sarita Choudhury's graceful reading. Her mix of American and Indian accents is perfectly suited for this beautiful story about the delicate balance between cultures and generations. —Diana Dapito
  • Night

    • UNABRIDGED (4 hrs and 20 mins)
    • By Elie Wiesel
    • Narrated By George Guidall
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (2083)
    Performance
    (867)
    Story
    (878)

    Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and the Congressional Gold Medal, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel offers an unforgettable account of Hitler's horrific reign of terror in Night. This definitive edition features a new translation from the original French by Wiesel's wife and frequent translator, Marion Wiesel.

    Ella says: "This book consumed me"
    Why we think it's Essential: The most harrowing experiences can renew our faith in life, and Elie Wiesel's autobiographical novel does this, even as it provides an explicit and terrifying account of humanity's darkest hour. George Guidall's steady and and evocative narration works beautifully with the text. –Corey Thrasher
  • The Old Man and the Sea

    • UNABRIDGED (2 hrs and 30 mins)
    • By Ernest Hemingway
    • Narrated By Donald Sutherland
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1334)
    Performance
    (746)
    Story
    (746)

    The Old Man and the Sea is one of Hemingway's most enduring works. Told in language of great simplicity and power, it is the story of an old Cuban fisherman, down on his luck, and his supreme ordeal, a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. Here Hemingway recasts, in strikingly contemporary style, the classic theme of courage in the face of defeat, of personal triumph won from loss.

    Dave says: "Truly a Classic"
    Why we think it's Essential: Hemingway's short, evocative sentences have never worked better than in this novella written at the twilight of his career. Donald Sutherland achieves an astonishing performance as old man Santiago, in this story of failure, reckless determination, and victory. –Corey Thrasher
  • Outlander

    • UNABRIDGED (33 hrs and 8 mins)
    • By Diana Gabaldon
    • Narrated By Davina Porter
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (14585)
    Performance
    (8988)
    Story
    (8859)

    Why we think it’s a great listen: An all-time Audible favorite that mixes historic fiction, adventure, and romance with one of the most fascinating literary devices: time travel. Outlander introduces an exhilarating world of heroism and breathtaking thrills as one woman is torn between past and present, passion and love. In 1945, former combat nurse Claire Randall returns from World War II and joins her husband for a second honeymoon. But their blissful reunion is shattered....

    Lulu says: "The Reason for the Existence of Audio Books"
    Why we think it's Essential: Mix equal parts historic fiction, adventure, and romance. Add a dash of time travel. Blend with pitch-perfect narration. And you'll understand why Outlander is an all-time favorite among Audible listeners. Whether she's giving voice to the former World War II nurse Claire or the 18th Century Scottish warrior Jamie, Davina Porter brings a magical intimacy to this epic tale. —Steve Feldberg
  • Peter Pan

    • UNABRIDGED (5 hrs and 43 mins)
    • By J. M. Barrie
    • Narrated By Tim Curry
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (177)
    Performance
    (90)
    Story
    (89)

    J.M. Barrie's classic tale, completely unabridged, features a boy who refuses to grow up, Tinker Bell the fairy, and the Darling children: Wendy, John, and Michael. Their great adventure begins on the night that Peter flies into the Darling home looking for his shadow and teaches Wendy, John, and Michael how to fly with him back to Neverland, where adventures happen every day.

    Monica says: "Laugh and Cry"
    Why we think it's Essential: This is a rare instance of two outstanding recordings of the same source material being considered for this list of essentials. But while we all enjoyed Jim Dale's enthusiastic performance, it was Tim Curry who most captivated us with his rendition of this classic children's tale. Curry's ability to evoke sheer childhood joy one moment and hide-under-the-sheets menace the next creates a far richer Peter Pan than Disney ever dreamed of. —Ed Walloga
  • A People's History of the United States: Highlights from the Twentieth Century

    • ABRIDGED (8 hrs and 32 mins)
    • By Howard Zinn
    • Narrated By Matt Damon, Howard Zinn
    Overall
    (623)
    Performance
    (122)
    Story
    (122)

    Since its original landmark publication in 1980, A People's History of the United States has been chronicling American history from the bottom up, throwing out the official version of history taught in schools (with its emphasis on great men in high places) to focus on the street, the home, and the workplace.

    Michael says: "the second half is better"
    Why we think it's Essential: Howard Zinn's history is not what we are accustomed to, but it deserves a place on every iPod. Zinn chronicles the struggles of the oppressed, the minorities, the activists. He offers them up as both a history and a call to strive for equality. Matt Damon (who dropped a reference to Zinn's book into Good Will Hunting) perfectly captures Zinn's tone, and maintains a fine continuity despite the many quotes and occasional footnotes. —Chris Doheny
  • The Pillars of the Earth

    • UNABRIDGED (40 hrs and 54 mins)
    • By Ken Follett
    • Narrated By John Lee
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (12408)
    Performance
    (4813)
    Story
    (4847)

    Why we think it’s a great listen: Got 40 hours to kill? You’ll find the time when you start listening to Lee’s take on Follett’s epic – and widely celebrated – novel of 12th-century England. The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of Philip, prior of Kingsbridge, a devout and resourceful monk driven to build the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has known...of Tom, the mason who becomes his architect - a man divided in his soul...and of the beautiful, elusive Lady Aliena, haunted by a secret shame....

    Joseph says: "Good historical setting, but loose story."
    Why we think it's Essential: Ken Follett’s sprawling masterpiece has a little bit of everything for everyone; suspense, action, love, history and intrigue. With Follett’s plot twists and John Lee’s superb performance, you will not only be shocked 40 hours went by, you will be wishing for more. —Tyler LeBleu
  • The Places in Between

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 39 mins)
    • By Rory Stewart
    • Narrated By Rory Stewart
    Overall
    (382)
    Performance
    (96)
    Story
    (96)

    In January 2002, Rory Stewart walked across Afghanistan, surviving by his wits, his knowledge of Persian dialects and Muslim customs, and the kindness of strangers. By day, he passed through mountains covered in nine feet of snow, hamlets burned and emptied by the Taliban, and communities thriving amid the remains of medieval civilizations. By night he slept on villagers' floors, shared their meals, and listened to their stories of the recent and ancient past.

    James says: "Nice Choice"
    Why we think it's Essential: Imagine a stout-hearted adventurer weaving a magical tale by the campfire, and you'll get a sense of Rory Stewart's account of his solo walk across Afghanistan. Full of memorable characters, evocative settings, visceral danger, and valuable insight. —Steve Feldberg
  • Plaza Suite

    • ORIGINAL (1 hr and 41 mins)
    • By Neil Simon
    • Narrated By JoBeth Williams, Edward Asner, Hector Elizondo, and others
    Overall
    (54)
    Performance
    (25)
    Story
    (25)

    Hilarity abounds in this portrait of three couples successively occupying a suite at the Plaza Hotel. A suburban couple takes a suite while their house is being painted, a Hollywood producer calls a childhood sweetheart for a little sexual diversion, and a mother and father fight about the best way to get their daughter, the bride, out of the bathroom and back to the wedding.

    John Lane says: "I wish I could see the original play"
    Why we think it's Essential: With snappy dialogue and laugh-out-loud moments, Neil Simon's classic stage play is one of many great audio productions by reknowned troupe L.A Theatre Works. Ed Asner is pitch perfect playing a hothead father on the day of his daughter's wedding; JoBeth Williams his equal in dual roles as jilted wife and nervous mother-in-law to be. I've seen this play before in the theatre and on film, but this audio production trumps them both. –Corey Thrasher
  • Pride and Prejudice

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 51 mins)
    • By Jane Austen
    • Narrated By Kate Reading
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1536)
    Performance
    (680)
    Story
    (694)

    Why we think it’s a great listen: It is a truth universally acknowledged that anyone looking for a great listen won’t be able to resist Jane Austen’s delightful classic of love and manners in Regency England. Jane Austen's story of Mrs. Bennet's finding husbands for her daughters is told with wit and charm. A must for lovers of good literature. Commuters Library presents Pride and Prejudice read by Kate Reading.

    Victoria says: "loved it."
    Why we think it's Essential: Though I read and enjoyed Pride and Prejudice in college, I wanted a new perspective on the classic and so started listening to it. Kate Reading's interpretation is simply marvelous - her distinct characterizations of the Bennett sisters and their suitors absolutely enchanting. —Diana Dapito
  • The Professor and the Madman

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 21 mins)
    • By Simon Winchester
    • Narrated By Simon Winchester
    Overall
    (1434)
    Performance
    (634)
    Story
    (642)

    Part history, part true-crime, and entirely entertaining, listen to the story of how the behemoth Oxford English Dictionary was made. You'll hang on every word as you discover that the dictionary's greatest contributor was also an insane murderer working from the confines of an asylum.

    Jerry says: "Perfect example of a quality audible book."
    Why we think it's Essential: This is a fascinating cubbyhole of literary history that plays like the best fiction: the most-prolific contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary turns out to be an imprisoned murderer. Listening to Simon Winchester's quirky and endearing narration, I found myself infected by his obvious enthusiasm for the story - and for the detective work it took to uncover it. —Steve Feldberg
  • Reaching for Glory: Lyndon Johnson's Secret White House Tapes, 1964-65

    • ORIGINAL (6 hrs and 24 mins)
    • By Michael Beschloss
    • Narrated By Lyndon Johnson, Michael Beschloss
    Overall
    (150)
    Performance
    (24)
    Story
    (25)

    Reaching for Glory lets us eavesdrop on LBJ's private, often tortured thoughts during the most crucial year of his presidency - when his dreams of being hailed as the equal of Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt were destroyed by the war in Vietnam. These original recordings, presented side by side with the stories behind them, offer unprecedented insight into the Johnson presidency.

    Jonah says: "An intimate glimpse into history"
    Why we think it's Essential: Little did President Johnson imagine that one of his legacies would be an outstanding audiobook. But the recordings of his phone conversations provide authenticity that can't be found in print transcripts. Historian Michael Beschloss sets the stage with a clear presentation of the tumultuous issues of the mid 1960s, but Johnson steals the show with emotional, earthy, and crude conversations with Jacqueline Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., J. Edgar Hoover, and others. Hearing LBJ negotiate, flatter, and scold is like being a fly on the wall in the White House. —Beth Anderson
  • Reagan in His Own Voice: Ronald Reagan's Radio Addresses

    • ORIGINAL (5 hrs and 29 mins)
    • By Ronald Reagan
    • Narrated By Ronald Reagan
    Overall
    (230)
    Performance
    (50)
    Story
    (50)

    From 1975 to 1979 Ronald Reagan gave more than 1,000 daily radio broadcasts, the great majority of which he wrote himself. These addresses transform our image of Reagan, and enhance and revise our understanding of the late 1970s - a time when Reagan held no political office, but was nonetheless mapping out a strategy to transform the economy, end the Cold War, and create a vision of America that would propel him to the presidency.

    Michael says: "I LOVED this -common sense in Reagan's own voice"
    Why we think it's Essential: This collection of short radio addresses written and read by Ronald Reagan demonstrate why, as President, he was called the great communicator. His clear and straight-forward manner, his empathy for ordinary people, and his personal warmth come across loud and clear. These pre-presidency talks reveal many of the ideas and themes that made Reagan so popular as president. Adding context to the radio addresses are Nancy Reagan, George Schultz, and others from Reagan's inner circle. —Beth Anderson
  • Restless

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 21 mins)
    • By William Boyd
    • Narrated By Rosamund Pike
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1075)
    Performance
    (254)
    Story
    (249)

    It is the summer of 1976 in Oxfordshire, England, and someone is trying to kill Sally Gilmartin. The only person she can trust is her daughter, Ruth, a young single mother struggling with her own demons. Now Sally must tell her daughter the truth: She is actually Eva Delectorskaya, a Russian émigré recruited for the British Secret Service in 1939.

    Susianna says: "Favorite Book of 2007"
    Why we think it's Essential: William Boyd has crafted an espionage thriller that's as good as anything by John Le Carré. Even better, it's narrated by Rosamund Pike, whose careful, measured, and precise performances as the novel's two main characters held me spellbound. Not surprisingly, this production was a multiple Audie Award nominee and winner. –Corey Thrasher
  • The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 18 mins)
    • By Candice Millard
    • Narrated By Paul Michael
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1819)
    Performance
    (792)
    Story
    (804)

    At once an incredible adventure narrative and a penetrating biographical portrait, The River of Doubt is the true story of Theodore Roosevelt's harrowing exploration of one of the most dangerous rivers on earth.

    Stephen says: "River of Doubt"
    Why we think it's Essential: It's a rare audiobook of any genre that keeps me on the edge of my seat. But a history book? Yet, as I listened to this impeccably researched biography/adventure, I could feel death around every bend of the Amazon. I really didn't know whether TR's quest for glory would be his last. —Steve Feldberg
  • Seabiscuit: An American Legend

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 13 mins)
    • By Laura Hillenbrand
    • Narrated By George Newbern
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (441)
    Performance
    (321)
    Story
    (323)

    Seabiscuit was one of the most electrifying and popular attractions in sports history and the single biggest newsmaker in the world in 1938, receiving more coverage than FDR, Hitler, or Mussolini. But his success was a surprise to the racing establishment, which had written off the crooked-legged racehorse with the sad tail.

    K. Knutsson says: "Best book ever!"
    Why we think it's Essential: Like many people, I love an underdog story which is why I was drawn to Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit. What I received was a captivating story of an extraordinary horse, his millionaire owner, bizarre trainer and unlikely jockey with an entrancing glimpse into American history. With Hillenbrand’s words and George Newbern's performance, my heart pulsed, jumped and raced until the bitter end. –Tyler LeBleu
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