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The Audible Essentials is our list of absolute must-listens. Hours were spent deliberating which books should (and shouldn't) make the cut. Ultimately, the final list was chosen to represent a wide range of genres, compelling stories, and can't-miss performances. These are the books that stand the test of time, vetted by our listeners and hand-picked by our editors as examples of excellence.


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  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

    • UNABRIDGED (5 hrs and 51 mins)
    • By Douglas Adams
    • Narrated By Stephen Fry
    Overall
    (6042)
    Performance
    (3615)
    Story
    (3650)

    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

  • The Blood of Flowers

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 22 mins)
    • By Anita Amirrezvani
    • Narrated By Shohreh Aghdashloo
    Overall
    (1257)
    Performance
    (695)
    Story
    (695)

    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 Amirrezvaniv's 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 D.

  • The Handmaid's Tale

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs)
    • By Margaret Atwood
    • Narrated By Claire Danes
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (4028)
    Performance
    (3635)
    Story
    (3663)

    Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, serving in the household of the enigmatic Commander and his bitter wife. She may go out once a day to markets whose signs are now pictures because women are not allowed to read. She must pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, for in a time of declining birthrates her value lies in her fertility, and failure means exile to the dangerously polluted Colonies. Offred can remember a time when she lived with her husband and daughter and had a job, before she lost even her own name....

    Emily - Audible says: "My Top Pick for 2012"


    Why we think it's Essential: Margaret Atwood’s modern classic is one of the most stunning and powerful works of speculative fiction ever written, and it took a lot of careful consideration to determine who would best narrate this important book. Claire Danes elevates the frightening dystopic vision by lending a sheen of reality with her performance. She doesn't act, and she doesn't need to. She recounts. She breathes out the tale as if she is living it. Resigned, beaten down, traveling through hell by putting one step ahead of the other. I was utterly convinced by her performance. —Emily

  • Pride and Prejudice

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 51 mins)
    • By Jane Austen
    • Narrated By Kate Reading
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1608)
    Performance
    (745)
    Story
    (762)

    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 is absolutely enchanting. —Diana D.

  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

    • UNABRIDGED (3 hrs and 52 mins)
    • By L. Frank Baum
    • Narrated By Anne Hathaway
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (2195)
    Performance
    (2037)
    Story
    (2026)

    One of the best-known stories in American culture, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has stirred the imagination of young and old alike for over 100 years. Best Actress nominee Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married, Alice In Wonderland), fresh from filming one of this year’s most anticipated films, The Dark Knight Rises, lends her voice to this uniquely American fairy tale.

    Thug4life says: "Great for family car ride"


    Why we think it's Essential: Anne Hathaway's narration is hands-down the most diverse performance I’ve ever seen or heard her give. She has an extremely broad vocal range, and she nails the different voices to the point you almost think it’s multi-cast. Each character feels authentic, relatable and unique. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is truly one of the best audiobook performances I’ve ever heard. —Jess

  • Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs)
    • By Anthony Bourdain
    • Narrated By Anthony Bourdain
    Overall
    (3714)
    Performance
    (1621)
    Story
    (1615)

    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

  • Her Royal Spyness: A Royal Spyness Mystery

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 9 mins)
    • By Rhys Bowen
    • Narrated By Katherine Kellgren
    Overall
    (4848)
    Performance
    (4166)
    Story
    (4142)

    Georgie, aka Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, cousin of King George V of England, is penniless and trying to survive on her own as an ordinary person in London in 1932. So far she has managed to light a fire and boil an egg... She's gate-crashed a wedding... She's making money by secretly cleaning houses... And she's been asked to spy for Her Majesty the Queen.

    Alice says: "Happy addition to a difficult genre"


    Why we think it's Essential: Her Royal Spyness is an absolute gem! In this lighthearted mystery series, Rhys Bowen delivers a charming combination of intrigue and romance blended with a touch of humor. She has created an interesting cast of characters and those personalities (a royal down on her luck, a lovable cockney grandfather, a devilishly lovable Irish gent) come alive through Katherine Kellgren's flawless narration. This is a series that begs to be listened to, but fair warning, once you start, you won't be able to stop! —Katie

  • The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

    • UNABRIDGED (14 hrs and 25 mins)
    • By Daniel James Brown
    • Narrated By Edward Herrmann
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1884)
    Performance
    (1707)
    Story
    (1717)

    Daniel James Brown's robust book tells the story of the University of Washington's 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.

    Janice says: "Do you believe in miracles??"


    New Addition!
    Why we think it's Essential: I can vouch for the fact that you don’t have to be into crew, or sports at all, to enjoy The Boys in the Boat. In the vein of Unbroken, this is one of those narrative nonfiction masterpieces that will stick with you forever and that you won’t be able to stop recommending to everyone you know. Edward Herrmann’s performance is flawless and totally uplifting in this true tale of improbable hope and courage in the face of adversity. —Emily
  • The Tin Roof Blowdown: A Dave Robicheaux Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 8 mins)
    • By James Lee Burke
    • Narrated By Will Patton
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (2479)
    Performance
    (653)
    Story
    (640)

    Dave Robicheaux returns in another Bayou adventure, this one more gruesome and gut-wrenching than any that have come before. Hurricane Katrina has ravaged New Orleans, leaving the streets and buildings flooded and the city awash with opportunists, looters, and vicious criminals. There is no order, no law. Police are shooting randomly at innocent people, prison guards have abandoned their posts, and bodies float through the streets and hang from trees.

    Deborah says: "How Does One Manage?"


    Why we think it's Essential: This is more than just a mystery. Burke hits all the genre high notes while undertaking a pointed examination of post-Katrina New Orleans. Will Patton's narration drowns you in the bayou and brings you back dripping with satisfaction. It is a perfect storm of genre fiction and real life tragedy. —Chris D.

  • Storm Front: The Dresden Files, Book 1

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 1 min)
    • By Jim Butcher
    • Narrated By James Marsters
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (12338)
    Performance
    (9152)
    Story
    (9154)

    A call from a distraught wife, and another from Lt Murphy of the Chicago PD Special Investigation Unit makes Harry believe things are looking up, but they are about to get worse, much worse. Someone is harnessing immense supernatural forces to commit a series of grisly murders. Someone has violated the first law of magic: Thou Shalt Not Kill. Tracking that someone takes Harry into the dangerous underbelly of Chicago, from mobsters.

    Tom says: "Excellent Story, Distracting Sound Engineering"


    Why we think it's Essential: What makes Harry Dresden so essential in the world of urban fantasy is his incapability to ignore those in need, or skip a single glitch in the appearance of a case – it makes him a good detective, and it keeps his character steady. Jim Butcher has created a wizard who exudes the callous confidence a private detective needs to survive and placed him in our world – a world where you cast a spell or become a thrall, trade or be traded, investigate or die. Narrator James Marsters embodies Dresden at his core, smooth and solid, with an unmistakable outside edge of gruffness that leaves listeners with a hardboiled swing in their step. —Erin

  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 39 mins)
    • By Susan Cain
    • Narrated By Kathe Mazur
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (4308)
    Performance
    (3719)
    Story
    (3698)

    At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled "quiet," it is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society--from van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer.

    Teddy says: "Thought provoking and Uplifting.... A++++++++!!!!!"


    Why we think it's Essential: If you’ve ever felt guilty for wanting to stay home, instead of attending a party, or wish you could be more vocal and outgoing at work, this book is for you. Empowering and informative, Quiet is a revolutionary look at the power of introverts – and the strengths they contribute to society – through the lens of such unassuming leaders as Bill Gates and Rosa Parks. Narrator Kathe Mazur gets the pacing just right, leaving introverts and extroverts alike the time to listen and understand Cain’s power-packed gems. —Diana M.

  • The Lost Fleet: Dauntless

    • UNABRIDGED (9 hrs and 59 mins)
    • By Jack Campbell
    • Narrated By Christian Rummel, Jack Campbell
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (5032)
    Performance
    (3522)
    Story
    (3556)

    Captain John "Black Jack" Geary's legendary exploits are known to every schoolchild. Revered for his heroic "last stand" in the early days of the war, he was presumed dead. But a century later, Geary miraculously returns from survival hibernation and reluctantly takes command of the Alliance fleet as it faces annihilation by the Syndics.

    Appalled by the hero-worship around him, Geary is nevertheless a man who will do his duty. And he knows that bringing the stolen Syndic hypernet key safely home is the Alliance's one chance to win the war. But to do that, Geary will have to live up to the impossibly heroic "Black Jack" legend.

    crazybatcow says: "Perfect example of decent military sci-fi"


    Why we think it's Essential: If there's ever a space war, the Lost Fleet series could well be the military's manual. Author Jack Campbell, a former Navy officer, infuses the first book, Dauntless, with the kind of details that make "Black Jack" Geary's futuristic exploits seem as if they're ripped from today's headlines. Narrator Christian Rummel gives this blood-and-guts adventure just the hard edge it needs. —Steve

  • Breakfast at Tiffany's

    • UNABRIDGED (2 hrs and 52 mins)
    • By Truman Capote
    • Narrated By Michael C. Hall
    Overall
    (1418)
    Performance
    (1300)
    Story
    (1310)

    Golden Globe-winning actor Michael C. Hall (Dexter, Six Feet Under) performs Truman Capote's masterstroke about a young writer's charmed fascination with his unorthodox neighbor, the "American geisha" Holly Golightly. Holly - a World War II-era society girl in her late teens - survives via socialization, attending parties and restaurants with men from the wealthy upper class who also provide her with money and expensive gifts. Over the course of the novella, the seemingly shallow Holly slowly opens up to the curious protagonist.

    Michael says: "Subtle yet Extravagant"


    New Addition!
    Why we think it's Essential: Celebrated American author Truman Capote is perhaps best known for his novella Breakfast at Tiffany's, made iconic by the 1961 film starring Audrey Hepburn. Capote's classic is both darker and more wistful than the film, his Holly Golightly a little more calculating than charming – and Michael C. Hall expertly captures her essence. This mesmerizing performance is sure to become a classic in its own right. —Katie
  • In Cold Blood

    • UNABRIDGED (14 hrs and 27 mins)
    • By Truman Capote
    • Narrated By Scott Brick
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (2426)
    Performance
    (1208)
    Story
    (1208)

    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 D.

  • Ender's Game: Special 20th Anniversary Edition

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 57 mins)
    • By Orson Scott Card
    • Narrated By Stefan Rudnicki, Harlan Ellison, Gabrielle de Cuir
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (23147)
    Performance
    (14487)
    Story
    (14634)

    Why we think it’s a great listen: It’s easy to say that when it comes to sci-fi you either love it or you hate it. But with Ender’s Game, it seems to be you either love it or you love it.... The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Enter Andrew "Ender" Wiggin, the result of decades of genetic experimentation.

    Kapila says: "6 titles in the series so far"


    Why we think it's Essential: One of our most highly-rated books of all-time, Ender’s Game isn’t just a sci-fi novel for kids. From an early age, Ender must tackle the adult concepts of leadership, independence and self-reliance, abstract thinking, and accountability. It helps that he’s a genetically engineered super-genius, but still, that’s a lot to ask a kid to handle. The multi-cast narration adds layers of texture to the diverse characters throughout. —Chris

  • Ready Player One

    • UNABRIDGED (15 hrs and 46 mins)
    • By Ernest Cline
    • Narrated By Wil Wheaton
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (11552)
    Performance
    (10772)
    Story
    (10780)

    At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, Ready Player One is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut—part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed.

    Julie W. Capell says: "I’m sorry I waited so long to read this book."


    Why we think it's Essential: Did you love the ‘80s? Because Ernest Cline’s sci-fi video game epic sure does. Chock-full of references to almost every facet of pop culture from that decade, Ready Player One is an excellent example of a hero’s journey that uses a treasure-hunting narrative to frame the concepts of celebrity, privacy, and control, and posits the question, “What is reality?” Narrator Wil Wheaton does a superb job (as always), and his sci-fi background lends his performance a lot of credibility as computer-nerd-turned-superstar Wade Watts (yes, the familiar alliteration is intentional). —Chris

  • 14

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 38 mins)
    • By Peter Clines
    • Narrated By Ray Porter
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (12079)
    Performance
    (10972)
    Story
    (10999)

    There are some odd things about Nate’s new apartment. Of course, he has other things on his mind. He hates his job. He has no money in the bank. No girlfriend. No plans for the future. So while his new home isn’t perfect, it’s livable. The rent is low, the property managers are friendly, and the odd little mysteries don’t nag at him too much. At least, not until he meets Mandy, his neighbor across the hall, and notices something unusual about her apartment. And Xela’s apartment. And Tim’s. And Veek’s.

    Magpie says: "Super solid listen!!"


    Why we think it's Essential: H.P. Lovecraft pioneered the genre of “weird fiction”, so it makes sense that Peter Clines leans heavily on Lovecraft in this twisting, terrifying, shocking, and ultimately exhilarating tale of an apartment building with a lot of secrets. While the main character is a relatable everyman, the rest of the tenants are well-fleshed-out and rich, with their own backstories and motivations that pay off in an extended, otherworldly ending. Everyone is hiding something and the stakes are much higher than they first appear. Ray Porter absolutely nails the accents, tones, and emotions of the diverse cast of characters. —Chris

  • The Hunger Games

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 14 mins)
    • By Suzanne Collins
    • Narrated By Carolyn McCormick
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (35873)
    Performance
    (26877)
    Story
    (27261)

    Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with everyone out to make sure you don't live to see the morning? In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by 12 outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

    Teddy says: "The Book Deserves The Hype"


    Why we think it's Essential: The best-selling Hunger Games trilogy is, without a doubt, a cultural force. She probably didn’t know it at the time, but in writing her series Suzanne Collins set the standard for YA dystopian adventures. Dystopian fiction wasn’t new of course, but something about this trilogy really sparked the imagination of young readers, setting the stage for a plethora of new young adult books to enter the market. If you’re interested at all in this increasingly popular genre, this Essential is the perfect gateway book. —Emily

  • Hard Magic: Book I of the Grimnoir Chronicles

    • UNABRIDGED (15 hrs and 59 mins)
    • By Larry Correia
    • Narrated By Bronson Pinchot
    Overall
    (6058)
    Performance
    (5507)
    Story
    (5524)

    Jake Sullivan is a licensed private eye with a seriously hardboiled attitude. He also possesses raw magical talent and the ability to make objects in his vicinity light as a feather or as heavy as depleted uranium, all with a magical thought. It's no wonder the G-men turn to Jake when they need someoneto go after a suspected killer who has been knocking off banks in a magic-enhanced crime spree.

    Clinton says: "Not what I thought it was going to be."


    New Addition!
    Why we think it's Essential: In his “Grimnoir Chronicles,” Larry Correia has created an ingenious and entertaining work of alternate history set just after World War I, where a secret Allied society of magical heroes battles the equally magical forces of the Japanese Imperium. What sets Hard Magic apart is Correia’s mastery of character and detail, and his skill at driving the action forward. But what makes this recording magical is Bronson Pinchot’s uncanny array of voices, for which he earned multiple Audie Awards. It’s like a full-cast production – except with a cast of one! —Steve
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