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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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  • Bel Canto

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 24 mins)
    • By Ann Patchett
    • Narrated By Anna Fields
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    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.

    Mel says: "Opera Has Charms to Soothe the Savage Guerillas"

    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 D.

  • The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials, Book 1

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 41 mins)
    • By Philip Pullman
    • Narrated By Philip Pullman, full cast
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    When Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon decide to spy on a presentation her uncle, the commanding Lord Asriel, is making to the elders of Jordan College they have no idea that they will become witnesses to an attempted murder, and even less that they are taking the first steps in a journey that will lead them into danger and adventure unlike anything Lyra's unfettered imagination has conjured up.

    Bev says: "More for adults than kids..."

    New Addition!
    Why we think it's Essential: A street-smart girl. Her pet daemon. A golden compass that reads truth itself. Oh, and a full cast dramatic reading that includes author Philip Pullman. The book is fantastic, and the full cast audiobook is that much better. This is the first book of a trilogy that is as exciting as The Lord of the Rings and will prove as timeless as The Chronicles of Narnia. —Chris D.
  • Yes, Chef: A Memoir

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 51 mins)
    • By Marcus Samuelsson
    • Narrated By Marcus Samuelsson
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    It begins with a simple ritual: Every Saturday afternoon, a boy who loves to cook walks to his grandmother’s house and helps her prepare a roast chicken for dinner. The grandmother is Swedish, a retired domestic. The boy is Ethiopian and adopted, and he will grow up to become the world-renowned chef Marcus Samuelsson. This book is his love letter to food and family in all its manifestations. Yes, Chef chronicles Marcus Samuelsson’s remarkable journey from Helga’s humble kitchen to the opening of the beloved Red Rooster in Harlem.

    loix says: "A fun and inspiring civics lesson"

    New Addition!
    Why we think it's Essential: While the descriptions of food and all of its pleasures in this memoir are just lovely, Marcus Samuelsson's storytelling abilities and his brutal honesty are even more impressive. Samuelsson's background and story are unique, and his passion and determination refreshing. But by far, the best part of this memoir is the fact that Samuelsson himself narrates it, speaking in the many different languages he's learned from all the kitchens he's been in. —Diana D.
  • The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (15 hrs and 38 mins)
    • By Diane Setterfield
    • Narrated By Bianca Amato, Jill Tanner
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    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.

    J. Elliott says: "Simply Amazing Story--2 missing chapters"

    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 Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 30 mins)
    • By Rebecca Skloot
    • Narrated By Cassandra Campbell, Bahni Turpin
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    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
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    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.

    Lindsey says: "Brilliantly miserable"

    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

    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, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver.

    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

  • 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

    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. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don't.

    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

    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.

    Jim "The Impatient" says: "IS THAT NOT SO?"

    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

  • The Goldfinch

    • UNABRIDGED (32 hrs and 29 mins)
    • By Donna Tartt
    • Narrated By David Pittu
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present-day America and a drama of enthralling force and acuity. It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don't know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

    Bonny says: "Boy, am I in the minority on this one."

    New Addition!
    Why we think it's Essential: The Goldfinch is one of those rare books that makes me wish I could turn back time so I could experience it again for the very first time. Epic in both narrative scope and in length, it’s a heartbreaking and gripping coming-of-age story that is simply destined to become a modern classic. Narrator David Pittu takes on the mammoth task of voicing Tartt’s captivating characters over years of growth, regression, and change – and in the process, he creates a beautiful, familiar kinship with each character that resonates with the listener long after the final chapter. —Sam
  • The Fellowship of the Ring: Book One in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

    • UNABRIDGED (19 hrs and 7 mins)
    • By J. R. R. Tolkien
    • Narrated By Rob Inglis
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    The Fellowship of the Ring, the first volume in the trilogy, tells of the fateful power of the One Ring. It begins a magnificent tale of adventure that will plunge the members of the Fellowship of the Ring into a perilous quest and set the stage for the ultimate clash between the powers of good and evil.

    Shay Bella says: "My husband like it better"

    Why we think it's Essential: Imagine your slightly eccentric uncle sitting in a comfortable chair by the fire, smoking a pipe and weaving a fantastic tale, and you’ll get a sense of Rob Inglis’ marvelous performance. His Frodo, his Gandalf, his Sam, his Gollum, and all his characters are magical. And all those songs Tolkien interspersed throughout the text – the ones you skipped over while you were reading? They’ll rivet you in this recording because Inglis actually sings them. If you’ve been hesitant to try a work of fantasy, this is the place to start. Or, if you’ve long thought about returning to Tolkien’s greatest achievement – this production is the way to do it. –Steve

  • 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

    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.

    The Supreme Galooty says: "Masterful Narration"

    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

  • Beautiful Ruins

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 53 mins)
    • By Jess Walter
    • Narrated By Edoardo Ballerini
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    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

    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
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    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.

    Jim "The Impatient" says: "Beautiful From Beginning to End"

    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

    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

    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

    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

  • The Book Thief

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 56 mins)
    • By Markus Zusak
    • Narrated By Allan Corduner
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    It's just a small story really, about, among other things, a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak's groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can't resist: books.

    Robert says: "Glad I took a chance."

    Why we think it's Essential: One of the best examples of young adult literature that adults will love (as well as more mature teens), The Book Thief alternates between heartwarming and heartbreaking, always packing an emotional punch with each of Markus Zusak’s carefully chosen words – as brilliantly conveyed by Allan Corduner, who takes on Death, and so much more, in this novel set in Nazi Germany. —Diana D.

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