It seems like one of the most common questions I see asked on Bookstagram and Facebook groups is: What are the best audiobooks of all time?
While I listen to them constantly (at least 5-10 a month), it seems they are still a new thing to some or just something that people really want to get right, especially for road trips.
Drawing upon my years' long experience in daily audiobook listening, I have developed favorites. While many are great, only a select few are superb. This post contains only those audiobooks which I believe are in the superb category -- truly "next level" and ones that I believe anyone can listen to and become utterly and completely immersed.
Best Audio Books of All Time
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
THE BLOCKBUSTER HIT - A New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and Publishers Weekly bestseller
Before We Were Yours is one of the best audiobooks of all time even though initially it wasn't a book on my radar. But, I saw that it had consistently had great reviews, so I grabbed it on audio. The voices of the characters, along with the story arc, tugged at my emotions so deeply that I have never since forgotten this story of a dark part of American history.
In Memphis in 1939, 12-year-old Rill and her 4 siblings live upon their family's shanty boat along the Mississippi River. When their father rushes their mother to the hospital on a stormy night, strangers abduct them and place them in the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage. Rill must then fight to keep her siblings together in the face of a deceitful director.
In present-day South Carolina, a privileged woman helping her sick father has a chance encounter that leaves her to uncover these mysteries of the past.
Part of what is so immersive about this audiobook is the shock of realizing it's based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals in which poor children were kidnapped and sold. Additionally, the emotional writing and spot-on vocal accents will leave you glued to your headphones and gasping.
Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
Only available from Audible
The short fiction version of Breakfast at Tiffany's that preceded the infamous movie is, by all accounts, a classic and a masterpiece that is one of my favorite books of all time and one of the best audiobooks of all time. I haven't read an intimate character portrait so detailed and multi-faceted maybe, well, ever.
This is the story of Holly Golightly, a New York socialite during the 1940s. Holly is unique, independent, glamorous, fragile, flawed, lost and so much more. Her cat doesn't have a name and she neither wants to be caged nor alone, but is happiest at Tiffany's.
What the book has that the movie does not is poetically strung words that become sentences that become a master class in the creation of an utterly complex character, which we all are.
The Audible version read by Michael C. Hall (yes, Dexter), is both haunting and delightful as the narrator, Paul (known as "Fred" to Holly), who is Holly's charming male neighbor and a writer, exudes fascination with Holly. It's both a quick listen and a quick read!
For more, read my full review of Breakfast at Tiffany's with book pairings and/or my Holly Golightly Halloween costume ideas.
Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
- NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
- NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR • The Washington Post • Esquire • Glamour • Real Simple • Good Housekeeping • Marie Claire • Parade • Paste • Shelf Awareness • BookRiot
Confession: Although I read a paper copy of this book, I have not yet listened to the audiobook version of Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, a Reese's book club pick. However, I have included it here because sooooo many people I trust have said it was one of the best audiobooks of all time.
It's about the rise and fall of a 1970s rock band, which reminded me of Fleetwood Mac. It's told in documentary style -- all dialogue from interviews over many decades.
I imagine this unique storyline and way of telling a story, with a full cast of narrators reading the audiobook (including famous names such as Jennifer Beals and Benjamin Bratt) really brings this book to life.
For more, read my full review of Daisy Jones & The Six.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
- 2020 Audie finalist - audiobook of the year and best male narrator
- Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize
- New York Times Bestseller
- New York Times Book Review Notable Book
- TIME Magazine's 100 Must-Read Books of 2019
- Named one of the Best Books of the Year by NPR, The Washington Post; O: The Oprah Magazine, Real Simple, Good Housekeeping, Vogue, Refinery29, and Buzzfeed
The Dutch House was my favorite book (and audiobook) of 2019! It was also one of Jenna Bush Hager’s book club selections, one of my favorite character-driven novels, and one of the best books to read in the Fall. Family drama novels are always my favorite, but the audiobook version of this one has something that lifts it amongst all others -- it is read by the incomparable, the one and only -- TOM HANKS. For this reason, The Dutch House is, without a doubt, a “must listen” and one of the best audiobooks of all time.
Hanks splendidly captures the character of the narrator Danny, telling the epic saga of his family, but more specifically, of his sister Maeve, who is so exquisitely featured in the cover art.
In The Dutch House, the lives of the Conroy family lives are forever changed when they move into “The Dutch House” just outside of Philadelphia. Ultimately, without spoiling any storylines, siblings Danny and Maeve are left to fend for themselves, and Maeve essentially takes a mother role to Danny, as they live through decades of life and its ups and downs, at times returning to The Dutch House.
The universal likeability of Tom Hanks movies comes down to one common denominator -- Tom Hanks. This translates seamlessly to audiobook narration, especially one written with the depth, thoughtfulness, and complexity of Ann Patchett.
The story comes together so magnificently at the end that I had actual goosebumps. And realized I wanted Tom Hanks to narrate every audiobook to which I ever listen, for all of time.
For more, read my full review of The Dutch House, with quotes, pairings and book club questions and food.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
- Goodreads Choice Awards Best of the Best
- William C. Morris Award Winner
- National Book Award Longlist
- Printz Honor Book
- Coretta Scott King Honor Book
- #1 New York Times Bestseller
The Hate U Give is an audiobook that is unforgettable and one of the best books set in school, and it just may be the one I recommend most often as one of the best audiobooks of all time. The strength of the voices of the complex characters actually makes it feel like you are watching a movie. For this reason, it would be great for road trips!
And far as I’m concerned, The Hate U Give is a must-read. It's one of the most poignant, and one of my favorite, “Black Lives Matter” books, touching directly on the movement, after a Black teenager named Starr witnesses her Black friend being shot and killed by a police officer who believes the hairbrush he is holding is a gun.
Starr lives in a “thug” neighborhood, but she goes to a preppy private school in a different neighborhood, and she struggles in dealing with the aftermath of being “the witness” of a violent act in these different worlds she inhabits.
Not only is it highly educational, but the voice of bold, coming of age Starr, as well as her politically active father, feel truly alive within the pages and give the reader a unique sense of empathy. I can still hear their voice in my head and remember where I was when I was listening to this truly exceptional audiobook.
For more, read my full review of The Hate U Give.
The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of September 11, 2001 by Garrett M. Graff
- 2020 AUDIOBOOK OF THE YEAR AUDIE AWARD WINNER!
- 2020 MULTI-VOICED PERFORMANCE AUDIE AWARD WINNER!
- New York Times bestseller
- Audio bonus - exclusive interview with Garrett Graff and Holter Graham as well as archival audio from United States Presidential addresses, In-Flight Communications, and Air Traffic Control
Where do I begin? The Only Plane in the Sky was one of the most fascinating nonfiction books I have ever read. It's the type of book I want in every person's hands.
It's one of the best books about 9/11: a minute-by-minute breakdown of 9/11 told entirely through the dialogue of five hundred people, from children in distant parts of the USA to the President of the United States at the time, George W. Bush. It was probably the most thoroughly researched and curated book I have ever read.
Having been in college at the time of 9/11, I very clearly remember this day and the aftermath, and I still learned an incredible about from this book and found myself re-telling what I was hearing and Googling for more information. At times, it was devastating.
The audio version was told by an entire cast of narrators, and it was utterly fantastic. It also included many real audio snippets from the day, so at times it also felt like a podcast or a documentary, and is, without questions, one of the best audiobooks of all time. It would be great for road trips with men and women, based on the universality of the topic and the ability to discuss it with others.
It's breathtaking. It's emotional. It's raw. And it's real. Have I convinced you to read it yet? Seriously, everyone should listen to this book.
For more, read my full review of The Only Plane in the Sky.
Those are the best audiobooks of all time -- a very exclusive list that I feel very confident about recommending after listening to hundreds of audiobooks.
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