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In 2007, we created the Audible Essentials list of absolute must-listens. Hours were spent deliberating which books should (and shouldn't) make the cut. Ultimately, the final list was chosen and represented a wide range of genres, compelling stories, and can't-miss performances.

In recent years, a few more books have risen to this elite status, and we’re thrilled to now share with you our updated collection of Audible Essentials. These are the books that stand the test of time, vetted by our listeners and hand-picked by our editors as examples of excellence.

Don't forget to check out our Audible Essentials: Honorable Mentions or the must-listens from your favorite genres: Mystery Essentials, Thriller Essentials, Sci-Fi Essentials, Romance Essentials, and Teen Essentials.


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  • The Name of the Wind: Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 1

    • UNABRIDGED (27 hrs and 58 mins)
    • By Patrick Rothfuss
    • Narrated By Nick Podehl
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (12937)
    Performance
    (10544)
    Story
    (10665)

    This is a tale of sorrow, a tale of survival, a tale of one man's search for meaning in his universe, and how that search, and the indomitable will that drove it, gave birth to a legend.

    Joanna says: "Wow!"


    Why we think it's Essential: When you finish listening to The Name of Wind for the first time, you'll wonder where the hours went. When you listen again (and if you listen to it once, you will want to listen a second time) you'll marvel at the depth and intricacy of the fantasy world that Rothfuss has created. Details that initially seemed irrelevant will show themselves to be keystones of a greater story you didn't even notice the first time around. By the time your finger hovers over the Play button for a third time you'll realize that, to quote George R.R. Martin, "he's bloody good, this Rothfuss guy." —Michael

  • The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (15 hrs and 38 mins)
    • By Diane Setterfield
    • Narrated By Bianca Amato, Jill Tanner
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (4953)
    Performance
    (1829)
    Story
    (1842)

    All children mythologize their birth... So begins the prologue of reclusive author Vida Winter's beloved collection of stories, long famous for the mystery of the missing thirteenth tale. The enigmatic Winter has always kept her violent and tragic past a secret. Now old and ailing, she summons a biographer to tell the truth about her extraordinary life: Margaret Lea, a young woman for whom the secret of her own birth remains an ever-present pain.

    PA Law says: "Haunting and beautiful tale"


    Why we think it's Essential: AudioFile magazine called Jill Tanner's performance in The Thirteenth Tale a tour de force...and I couldn't agree more. Both Tanner and Bianca Amato are absolutely marvelous in this haunting debut novel. Their voices seamlessly weave the best story-within-a-story plot that I've ever heard. Reminiscent of Rebecca and Jane Eyre, The Thirteenth Tale is a real thrill for fiction lovers. —Diana D.

  • 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
    (799)
    Performance
    (329)
    Story
    (331)

    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 D.

  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 30 mins)
    • By Rebecca Skloot
    • Narrated By Cassandra Campbell, Bahni Turpin
    Overall
    (4222)
    Performance
    (2754)
    Story
    (2783)

    Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells, taken without her knowledge, became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first immortal human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than 60 years.

    Prisca says: "Amazing Story"


    Why we think it's Essential: Combine fascinating science with an equally compelling Deep South story, and you’ve got this extraordinary bio of Henrietta Lacks. Narrators Cassandra Campbell and The Help’s Bahni Turpin insert just the right amount of distance and warmth into this surprising story of Lacks’ stolen cells used to create immortal HeLa cells, develop the polio vaccine, and more. —Diana M.

  • 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
    (831)
    Performance
    (354)
    Story
    (350)

    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.

    Diana - Audible says: "Books Will Save You"


    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 D.

  • 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
    (5893)
    Performance
    (3811)
    Story
    (3825)

    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.

    FanB14 says: "Artful Surprise"


    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

  • 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
    (27513)
    Performance
    (14113)
    Story
    (14162)

    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 D.

  • Dracula [Audible Edition]

    • UNABRIDGED (15 hrs and 28 mins)
    • By Bram Stoker
    • Narrated By Alan Cumming, Tim Curry, Simon Vance, and others
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (2793)
    Performance
    (2558)
    Story
    (2584)

    The modern audience hasn't had a chance to truly appreciate the unknowing dread that readers would have felt when reading Bram Stoker's original 1897 manuscript. Most modern productions employ campiness or sound effects to try to bring back that gothic tension, but we've tried something different. By returning to Stoker's original storytelling structure - a series of letters and journal entries voiced by Jonathan Harker, Dr. Van Helsing, and other characters - with an all-star cast of narrators, we've sought to recapture its originally intended horror and power.

    N. Houghton says: "Gothic Horror Never Sounded So Good"


    Why we think it's Essential: Bram Stoker’s classic is an epistolary novel – a story constructed through collected written accounts, letters, and newspaper articles. The very structure, lacking any one reliable narrator, lends hugely to the creep factor and the brilliance of this tale – something that is often lost in the myriad modern interpretations. This multi-cast rendition is not only performed by the best in the business, but it really brings the listener back to the original text, and it is without a doubt the best version in the store. —Emily

  • Slumdog Millionaire (a.k.a. Q&A)

    • ABRIDGED (6 hrs and 7 mins)
    • By Vikas Swarup
    • Narrated By Kerry Shale
    Overall
    (612)
    Performance
    (133)
    Story
    (138)

    A small prison cell in India holds an 18-year-old penniless waiter from a Mumbai slum. But Ram Mohammad Thomas isn't a criminal. He is under arrest for correctly answering 12 tricky trivia questions on the show Who Will Win a Billion? Reluctant to part with the jackpot of one billion rupees, the show directors bribe the police to arrest Ram, accusing him of cheating.

    Ella says: "Highly Recommended"


    Why we think it's Essential: It's rare that you hope for traffic on a road trip, but when I drove from New York to Boston with Kerry Shale's narration of Q&A for company, I had my fingers crossed for a back-up at the bridge. How could I tear myself away from Shale's distinct characterizations? The orphan from Mumbai, the faded Bollywood star, and the ruthless game show host - Who Wants to Win One Billion Rupeeeeees? - all made for a truly extraordinary listen. —Diana D.

  • 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
    (2630)
    Performance
    (2104)
    Story
    (2089)

    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 d. thomas 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

  • Around the World in 80 Days

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 51 mins)
    • By Jules Verne
    • Narrated By Jim Dale
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (608)
    Performance
    (292)
    Story
    (295)

    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

  • Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children's Crusade: A Duty Dance with Death

    • UNABRIDGED (5 hrs and 53 mins)
    • By Kurt Vonnegut
    • Narrated By Ethan Hawke
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (2635)
    Performance
    (1323)
    Story
    (1339)

    Kurt Vonnegut's absurdist classic introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes 'unstuck in time' after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut's) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.

    W. Seligman says: "What more can be said?"


    Why we think it's Essential: One of the most important novels of the past 50 years, it is remarkable and immensely important in an age of war. But this book is about more than war; it is about time, perception, and the calamitous nature of mankind. Ethan Hawke's reading is superbly done, wonderfully capturing Vonnegut's absurdism. The great treasure of the audiobook is in the interview with Vonnegut and the musical piece at the end, which brings to vivid new life one of the most powerful passages in the book. —Chris D.

  • Beautiful Ruins

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 53 mins)
    • By Jess Walter
    • Narrated By Edoardo Ballerini
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (6166)
    Performance
    (5340)
    Story
    (5333)

    The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a tall, thin woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying. And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio's back lot - searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier.

    Ella says: "My mind wandered"


    Why we think it's Essential: Jess Walter’s beautiful and shimmering novel was our editors’ pick for Best Book of 2012, so it was an obvious contender as a new Essential. But Essentials can’t simply be flash-in the pan momentary book crushes, the books on this list have to have legs, and we think that Beautiful Ruins certainly qualifies. Sweeping in scope and breadth, the message within this book runs deep and across generations. And Edoardo Ballerini’s magnificent and elegant narration bestows a level of believability and immediacy to the epic themes at play here. —Emily

  • Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

    • UNABRIDGED (14 hrs and 19 mins)
    • By Jack Weatherford
    • Narrated By Jonathan Davis, Jack Weatherford
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (4006)
    Performance
    (2563)
    Story
    (2585)

    The Mongol army led by Genghis Khan subjugated more lands and people in 25 years than the Romans did in 400. In nearly every country the Mongols conquered, they brought an unprecedented rise in cultural communication, expanded trade, and a blossoming of civilization.

    Peter says: "Brilliant, insightful, intriguing."


    Why we think it's Essential: I don’t usually listen to history books, but Genghis Khan utterly fascinated me from beginning to end. Weatherford’s fluid writing style and the flawlessly paced narration by Jonathan Davis kept me hanging on every word as the real-life drama unfolded. My view of the modern world has forever been changed after listening to this book. –Cori

  • Charlotte's Web

    • UNABRIDGED (3 hrs and 29 mins)
    • By E.B. White
    • Narrated By E.B. White, George Plimpton
    Overall
    (550)
    Performance
    (254)
    Story
    (263)

    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

  • Night

    • UNABRIDGED (4 hrs and 20 mins)
    • By Elie Wiesel
    • Narrated By George Guidall
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (2198)
    Performance
    (968)
    Story
    (985)

    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.

    Jacobus says: "A quality production of a gripping tradegy"


    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

  • The Professor and the Madman

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 21 mins)
    • By Simon Winchester
    • Narrated By Simon Winchester
    Overall
    (1548)
    Performance
    (735)
    Story
    (744)

    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

  • The Winds of War

    • UNABRIDGED (45 hrs and 53 mins)
    • By Herman Wouk
    • Narrated By Kevin Pariseau
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (2807)
    Performance
    (2374)
    Story
    (2383)

    Herman Wouk's sweeping epic of World War II stands as the crowning achievement of one of America's most celebrated storytellers. Like no other books about the war, Wouk's spellbinding narrative captures the tide of global events - and all the drama, romance, heroism, and tragedy of World War II - as it immerses us in the lives of a single American family drawn into the very center of the war's maelstrom.

    Robert says: "A Masterpiece"


    Why we think it's Essential: Has any lengthy, sweeping epic ever felt more personal than The Winds of War? Kevin Pariseau helps the listener inhabit the events and relationships of this massive and beautifully-told story with a palette of vividly imagined characters, each with a well-defined voice and perfect accent. His transcendent performance makes the hours fly, but don't worry - when the book ends you can still enjoy more with the sequel, War and Remembrance. —David

  • 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
    (645)
    Performance
    (140)
    Story
    (142)

    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 D.

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