January 30, 2023

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20 of the best audiobooks of all time

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Determining the best audiobooks of all time is a highly subjective process. What Makes an Audiobook the Best? Do they have to have famous narrators or an ensemble cast? Are the most popular audiobooks the best or do they have to be award-winning to be the best?

Audio books have come a long way since they were first published in 1932. Back then, the American Foundation for the Blind made book recordings on disc that contained only about 15 minutes of speech per side. In the decades that followed, cassettes and then CDs became the new media for recorded books.

Audio books have steadily grown in popularity in recent years. According to the Audio Publishers Association’s annual sales survey, audiobook sales have grown by double-digit percentages every year for the past decade. Additionally, the pandemic appears to have increased the use of audiobooks, particularly among children.

Of course, with audiobooks more popular than ever, their quality and variety are at an all-time high. Whether it’s full cast performances or the romp of a single narrator, a good recorded book can immerse readers in the author’s world in a way that is vastly different from printed texts. The best audio books bring our favorite characters to life and capture the voices that previously only existed in our heads.

For this list, the best audiobooks of all time are determined through the very unscientific process of one book nerd and her Facebook friends. Said book nerd also scoured the internet, if “scoured” means the half-assed way I used to wash pots when my mom made me do the dishes in middle school. In other words, I think these are all great audiobooks, but it’s not a definitive list.

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Note that my focus is on reader performance, not the quality or content of the books themselves.

The best audiobooks of all time, read by multiple speakers

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon; Read by Bahni Turpin, Raymond Lee and Dominic Hoffman

If you haven’t read this book, which was also made into a film, then listen to it as soon as possible. It’s well cast and absolutely lovely to read. Much of the book takes place in a single, eventful day when Jamaican-American Natasha and Korean Daniel meet and quickly fall in love. Unfortunately, Natasha and her family are to be deported the next day. You will lose yourself in this lush prose and heartbreaking story.

American Gods audiobook cover

American Gods: The Tenth Anniversary Edition by Neil Gaiman; Read by Ron McLarty, Daniel Oreskes and a full cast

This edition of Gaiman’s beloved novel is considered his “Director’s Cut” as it contains unpublished material from his original manuscript. The main cast offer stunning portrayals of the arrogant Mr. Wednesday and the relatable protagonist, Shadow Moon.

Cover of the audio book Stamped

Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism and You Written and read by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

Adapted from Kendi’s Stamped From the Beginning, this bestseller takes a child-friendly approach to complex subjects. Jason Reynolds’ performance reminds us why he’s loved by kids and teachers alike.

Cover of the audio book World War Z

World War Z: The Complete Edition: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks; Read by Alan Alda, Mark Hamill, Carl & Rob Reiner and John Turturro

This well-known work was the winner of the Audie for Multi-Voiced Performance in 2014. Combining the abridged original recording and new unabridged recordings, the audiobook boasts the voice talents of celebrities such as Mark Hamill.

Audio book cover of The Exorcist

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty; Read by the author and Eliana Shaskan

I, an uncultured swine, had never seen The Exorcist when I decided to listen to the audio book. Dear reader, that was a mistake. After listening to this incredible performance of the deeply disturbing source material, the film adaptation paled in comparison. This is a must-read for any self-respecting horror fan.

Cover the same sun here

Same sun here; Written and read by Silas House and Neela Vaswani

This audio book was nominated for the 2013 Audie Award for Children’s Titles for Children Ages 8-12. Of course, a story written in two voices is perfect for multiple narrators. The two readers both give masterful performances that capture the very different voices of the two protagonists.

cover of lincoln im bardo

Lincoln in George Saunders’ Bardo; Read by Nick Offerman and full cast

The term “fully manned” is an understatement here. This 2018 Audie Award winner for Audiobook of the Year is read by 166 speakers. Among them are celebrities like Julianne Moore, Don Cheadle, Susan Sarandon, Bill Hader and more.

Audiobook cover of Clap When You Land

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo; Read by the author and Melania-Luisa Marte

Elizabeth Acevedo is without a doubt one of the most vital voices of our time. She lends her voice to this audiobook and brings her unique insight into the characters to her performance. This beautiful verse novel lends itself perfectly to audio, making it a real treat for the ears.

The best audiobooks of all time, read by a single narrator

Cover art of the Brown Girl Dreaming audio book by Jacqueline Woodson

brown girl dreams; Written and read by Jacqueline Woodson

I know I just said that about Elizabeth Acevedo, but Jacqueline Woodson is undeniably one of the finest writers of our time. Brown Girl Dreaming is the story of Woodson’s childhood told in beautiful verse. Of course, there is no better reader than the author herself.

Game of Thrones audio book cover

A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin; Read by Roy Dotrice

Roy Dotrice is one of the best audio book narrators of all time. Consequently, he is the perfect voice for such an epic story. With his incredibly varied voice work, he does justice to the extensive cast of characters.

Audiobook cover of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, written and read by Maya Angelou

Mother Maya Angelou needs no introduction. Her words are poetry and she delivers them like no other. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is an autobiographical tale of pain and resilience that has inspired readers for decades.

Audio book cover of The Stand

The Stand of Stephen King; Read by Grover Gardner

The Stand is an epic tale of a civilization ending disease that may be getting too close for us in this day and age. Still, Grover Gardner’s performance is absolutely captivating. Each of the many characters has a unique voice with subtle nuances that reflect a deep understanding of the source material.

Audio book cover of The Night Circus

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern; Read by Jim Dale

I hate to mention these spell books I love so much (because of their hateful TERF of an author) but the audio book performance is outstanding. Jim Dale is amazing and plays all the voices in different and appealing ways. While The Night Circus doesn’t have as many unique characters as these books, it’s a great book and Dale does a phenomenal job.

Audio book cover of Hate You Give

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas; Read by Bahni Turpin

Bahni Turpin is one of my favorite audiobook speakers (which is why she’s on this list). She perfectly captures the protagonist Starr in Angie Thomas’ seminal novel The Hate U Give. While Starr is written as a relatable character you can’t help but root for, Turpin really brings her to life.

Audio book cover of Born a Crime

A crime born; Written and read by Trevor Noah

Let me count how much I love Trevor Noah. We don’t really have the time or space for that. Instead, I’ll just say that his memoir was made to be heard. The Xhosa and Zulu languages ​​interwoven through history are so beautiful in his voice. You just can’t have the same experience reading this one on the site.

coverage of the circle

Circe by Madeline Miller; Read by Perdita Weeks

Perdita Weeks excels in this audio recording. Circe on Audio is an EXPERIENCE. For 12 hours, thanks to Weeks’ outstanding performance, you’ll lose yourself in a world that feels more real than our own.

Audio book cover of the Dutch house

The Dutch House of Anne Patchett; Read by Tom Hanks

Tom. Hanks. need i say more

Audiobook cover of Beloved

Beloved Written and read by Toni Morrison

Here we have another absolute icon reading an iconic story in her own voice. The pain on the side becomes all the more heartbreaking in Morrison’s vocal performance. Whether you’ve read this Pulitzer Prize winner or not, the audio book is more than worth your time.

Audiobook cover of Nothing To See Here by Kevin Wilson

Nothing to see here from Kevin Wilson; Read by Marin Ireland

I heard this book earlier this year and I can’t express how much I encourage you to do the same. It’s a touching, offbeat and hilarious story as written, but Marin Ireland takes it to a whole new level. Her use of dialect and the raw honesty of her performance are unparalleled. Seriously, listen now.

Audio book cover of Becoming

Written and read by Michelle Obama

If you didn’t know that Michelle Obama’s memoir would make this list, then you’re probably new to the world of audiobooks. This Grammy Award-winning Best Spoken Word Album of 2020 is a refreshingly candid, inspirational look at the life of our former First Lady. Nobody could have read it the way she did, so we’re all lucky that she did the storytelling.

Get these best audiobooks of all time in your ears as soon as possible! If you’re looking for even more great audiobook recommendations, the lists below may come in handy.