Britons spent £69 million on audiobooks in 2018 and sales have rocketed by an astonishing 194 per cent over the past five years, so why are more and more of us listening to books instead of reading them? Their surging popularity is driven by the fact that it is now so easy to download audiobooks directly to smartphones and tablets. We listen to them in the gym, on the commute to work and while we’re making dinner. Another reason is the big name stars who are narrating them. Next time you have a long car journey, you could pass the time listening to Scarlett Johansson read Alice In Wonderland, Tom Hanks bring Ann Patchett’s brilliant family drama The Dutch House to life, or Jeremy Irons revisit Brideshead Revisited. But don’t just stick to Hollywood stars – many of our recommendations are voiced by fabulous lesser known actors whose storytelling skills will have you transfixed. If you’ve yet to open your ears to audiobooks, here are 50 terrific titles to get you started.
Alice In Wonderland is now a popular audiobook narrated by Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson
How to get your audiobooks
You can buy audiobooks on iPhone via the Apple Books app and on Android from the Google Play store, but the easiest and most popular place to find them is via Audible, which claims to offer the world’s largest selection of audiobooks, with 400,000 titles.
Audible offers a subscription service, which gives you one audiobook per month for £7.99 (or two for £14.99). Once downloaded, books are yours to keep. If you don’t want to sign up to the full subscription service, you can simply buy the individual books. Visit audible.co.uk for details.
Of course, you can also buy CD audiobooks from a bookshop, or simply borrow them from your local library.
1. Sweet Sorrow
Narrated by Rory Kinnear
Charlie Lewis has just made a mess of his GCSEs, but he’s about to learn more over the course of a life-changing summer than he ever did at school. In his latest book, One Day author Nicholls is fabulous on first love and Kinnear’s narration strikes the perfect balance between teenage defiance and vulnerability.
Imperium by Robert Harris (left); The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (right)
2. A God in Ruins
Narrated by Alex Jennings
The life of Teddy Todd, a Second World War bomber pilot. Already regarded by fans as one of the great war novels, this is a standalone companion to Life After Life – both won the Costa Prize. Atkinson is the first novelist to receive a Costa Prize three times – also picking up the gong for Behind The Scenes At The Museum.
3. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
John Le Carre
Narrated by Michael Jayston 12hrs 48mins
Super-spook George Smiley comes out of retirement to flush out the Soviet mole embedded within the upper echelons of the British Secret Intelligence Service. This is a classic Cold War spy story, and the narrator starred in the hit BBC adaptation as Smiley’s right-hand man, Peter Guillam.
4. The Giver of Stars
Narrated by Julia Whelan 13hrs 52mins
An unlikely band of women defy disapproval to set up a travelling library taking books to remote corners of Thirties Kentucky. Uplifting and inspired by actual events, this has been hailed as one of Me Before You author Moyes’s best novels.
This sharp state-of-the-nation novel dissecting contemporary Britain was the winner of the Costa Best Novel 2019 award
Narrated by Bill Wallis 13hrs 51mins
Harris’s novels about the Roman statesman Cicero, are perfect audiobook material. In this, the first of the trilogy, the talented young lawyer takes on the corrupt governor of Sicily in a highly political case.
6. The Dutch House
Narrated by Tom Hanks 9hrs 53mins
Hanks could read out a telephone directory and make it compelling, and here he shows what he can do with a brilliant novel by one of America’s greatest writers; a decades-spanning saga about a brother and sister, their stepmother and the family home.
Narrated by Juanita McMahon 23hrs 35mins
This dark Victorian crime story about orphan Sue Trinder has a fiendishly devious plot and a cast list of indelible Dickensian rogues and ne’er-do-wells. McMahon brings all the characters to life.
8. The Shadow of the Wind
Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Narrated by Daniel Philpott 17hrs 33mins
Zafon is the most-read Spanish writer since Cervantes. He has refused to allow a film version of his hugely popular magical mystery thriller about an enigmatic rare book and its author but, quite rightly, he has no objection to an audiobook.
A S Byatt
Narrated by Samuel West 21hrs 52mins
Two academics discover a hitherto unknown love affair between two Victorian poets. This tricksy literary detective story, featuring extracts from the fictional Victorians’ works, won the 1990 Booker Prize and West’s narration highlights the subtleties of the plot.
10. Middle England
Narrated by Rory Kinnear 14hrs 11mins
This sharp state-of-the-nation novel dissecting contemporary Britain was the winner of the Costa Best Novel 2019 award and concludes Coe’s comic trilogy about the now middle-aged Benjamin Trotter.
11. The Secret History
Narrated by Donna Tartt 22hrs 4mins
A group of classics students at a small American university overdose on Ancient Greece and get involved in murder. Tartt, a former classics student herself, reading her own extraordinary debut novel in her soft Southern accent, is simply mesmerising.
12. Patrick Melrose Vol 1
Edward st aubyn
Narrated by alex jennings 13hrs 47mins
Edward St Aubyn’s extraordinary semi-auto-biographical novels are by turns hilarious, dazzling and disturbing. Benedict Cumberbatch was stunning in the title role of Sky’s 2018 TV adaptation, and narrator Jennings does a similarly fine job here, reading St Aubyn’s razor-sharp prose – and voicing all the characters – with real verve. It’s dark at times, but never dull.
13. The Testaments
Narrated by Ann Dowd and others 13hrs 18mins
The publication of Atwood’s thrilling sequel to her dystopian classic The Handmaid’s Tale was the literary event of 2019 and it was the joint winner of the Booker Prize. Can the repressive, misogynistic, theocratic Republic of Gilead be toppled by the resistance? Narrator Dowd also starred in the award-winning TV adaptation, as Aunt Lydia.
14. Girl, Woman, Other
Narrated by Anna-Maria Nabirye 11hrs 6mins
The other co-winner of the 2019 Booker Prize and one of Barack Obama’s books of last year. The loosely linked stories of 12 different characters, mostly black British women, are beautifully performed by actress Anna-Maria Nabirye in her first audiobook.
Harry Potter books 1-7 by J K Rowling are narrated by Stephen Fry; Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch is narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith
Narrated by Perdita Weeks 12hrs 8mins
Miller takes a bit-part player from Greek mythology – the witch who seduces Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey – and places her centre-stage, telling her whole life story. The tale of myth and magic is currently being adapted for an eight-part HBO series.
16. Now We Shall Be Entirely Free
Narrated by Joe Jameson 13hrs 4mins
A veteran of the Peninsular War who may have committed a war crime is pursued across Britain by a vicious army assassin who’s seeking to silence him for political reasons in this fast-paced thriller.
17. Daisy Jones and the Six
Taylor Jenkins Reid
Narrated by Sara Arington, Jennifer Beals and others 9hrs 3mins
Biography of a fictional Fleetwood Mac-ish band told through interviews with band members, associates and hangers-on. A smash hit last year, this is another being lined up for the big-budget TV treatment with Reese Witherspoon on board as executive producer and Elvis Presley’s granddaughter, Riley Keough, starring.
18. Gone Girl
Narrated by Julia Whelan and Kirby Heyborne 19hrs 18mins
Has Nick Dunne done away with his perfect wife Amy? Or is the truth more… complicated? Flynn’s chilly bestseller, turned into a film starring Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck, keeps readers guessing about what’s really going on and wondering who to believe.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is narrated by Julia Whelan. Flynn’s chilly bestseller turned into a film starring Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck
A D Miller
Narrated by Kevin Howarth 6hrs 11mins
Nicholas is an English lawyer working in Moscow who falls in love with a local girl and is inexorably drawn into a Russian underworld of corruption and violence. The ‘snowdrops’ of the title is Moscow slang for the corpses revealed when the Russian snow melts.
20. Slow Horses
Narrated by Sean Barrett 9hrs 44mins
Slough House is the dumping ground for MI5’s burnouts and drunks, where they are given jobs of deadbeat drudgery. But there’s life in the old dogs yet. The first in Herron’s acclaimed series shows he’s up there with John le Carré and Len Deighton.
21. The Girl on the Train
Narrated by Clare Corbett and others 10hrs 57mins
Every day, Rachel’s commuter train stops at the same red signal and she watches the apparently happy couple who live in a house by the tracks. One day, she sees the woman kiss another man – and decides to intervene. There are three narrators of the audiobook, which was voted 2016 Audiobook of the Year, and the novel has since been adapted into a film and a West End play.
Narrated by Alan Cumming, Tim Curry and others 15hrs 28mins
A cast of 13 get their teeth into the terrifying vampire classic for this full-blooded account of the Count, recently brought to life by Claes Bang in a BBC1 adaptation. Stoker’s novel, which is in the form of letters and diary entries and ship’s log entries, laid down many of the vampire legends.
23. The Turn of the Screw
Narrated by Tuppence Middleton 5hrs 38mins
Are Flora and Miles, the two seemingly angelic little children being looked after by a brittle governess, really under the sway of evil spirits? Or is the unnamed governess dangerously disturbed? The recently released film The Turning was an adaptation of this atmospheric masterpiece of spine-tingling menace.
24. Harry Potter books 1-7
J K Rowling
Narrated by Stephen Fry 131hrs 50mins
Fry narrates all seven Harry Potter novels and for many audiobook lovers sets the benchmark of excellence even if, as he has admitted, he does have particular trouble saying ‘Harry pocketed it’. According to his account, Rowling mischievously included the phrase in several books on purpose. Note: each book requires a separate purchase.
25. La Belle Sauvage
Narrated by Michael Sheen 13hrs 14mins
Can’t wait for the next season of the His Dark Materials TV adaptation? Try this triumphant return to Lyra’s world, the first of Pullman’s second HDM trilogy. Winner of the British Book Awards’ Audiobook of the Year in 2018. The energetic narration by Frost/Nixon actor Sheen is enthralling.
26. Children of Blood and Bone
Narrated by Bahni Turpin 17hrs 44mins
The first in a planned trilogy, this epic novel for young adults is set in a fictional nation, Orïsha, and draws upon West African mythology and folklore. Sixteen-year-old Zélie battles to restore magic to her land and challenge a magician-hating tyrant king.
27. A Game of Thrones
George R R Martin
Narrated by Roy Dotrice 33hrs 45mins
Instalment number one in the Song Of Ice And Fire series gave its name to the blockbuster TV show. Late British actor Dotrice was awarded the Guinness World Record for most character voices in an audiobook – 224 – for this recording.
28. Rivers of London
Narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith 10hrs 37mins
A young constable is recruited into the little-known division of the Met that deals with the supernatural and has to tackle evil spirits, warring river gods and other entities they didn’t bother to mention at police college. This funny and wildly inventive book is currently being made into a TV series by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.
Narrated by Neil Gaiman 12hrs 33mins
A businessman finds himself on a strange quest in the magical subterranean world of London Below, where there are Black Friars, an Angel called Islington, an Earl of Earl’s Court and a blacksmith called Hammersmith. The debut novel from Gaiman, which he narrates, is a surreal delight. (A shorter BBC audiobook dramatisation, with Natalie Dormer and James McAvoy, is also available.)
30. Wuthering Heights
Narrated by Joanne Froggatt 12hrs 32mins
A contemporary review condemned the novel’s ‘vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors’, and Brontë’s strange tale of obsession and revenge still compels and disturbs almost two centuries after its publication. Downton Abbey’s Joanne Froggatt brilliantly conveys its unique intensity.
31. David Copperfield
Narrated by Richard Armitage 36hrs 30mins
A new adapation of Dickens’s favourite of his novels is currently in cinemas, but for the full, unabridged version look no further than this reading by The Hobbit star Richard Armitage (see panel overleaf), whose extraordinary performance breathes life into the book’s vast cast of characters.
32. Anna Karenina
Narrated by Maggie Gyllenhaal 35hrs 35mins
The story of the doomed affair between Anna and Count Vronksy is one of Gyllenhaal’s favourite books. ‘Performing this novel is one of the major accomplishments of my life,’ says the star of The Dark Knight and hit TV series The Deuce.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy is narrated by Maggie Gyllenhaal. The story of the doomed affair between Anna and Count Vronksy is one of Gyllenhaal’s favourite books
‘Performing this novel is one of the major accomplishments of my life,’ says Gyllenhaal
33. The Great Gatsby
F Scott Fitzgerald
Narrated by Jake GyllenhaAl 4hrs 49mins
Maggie’s brother Jake spent considerably less time in the studio than her recording the celebrated classic of the decadent Jazz Age, which was released to tie in with Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 film version starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The emptiness of the American Dream has never been so stylishly explored.
34. The Poems of T S Eliot
Narrated by Jeremy Irons and Eileen Atkins 3hrs 41mins
Jeremy Irons’s expressive readings of Eliot’s major works put a welcome dent in the great poet’s reputation for being difficult to understand. Eileen Atkins joins Irons to read Eliot’s modernist masterpiece The Waste Land.
35. Brideshead Revisited
Narrated by Jeremy Irons 11hrs 31mins
Irons shot to stardom after playing the young disillusioned painter Charles Ryder in the acclaimed 1981 TV adaptation of Waugh’s masterpiece. Here, he expertly plays all the characters in the wistful saga set against the backdrop of the decline of the English aristocracy just before the Second World War.
Jeremy Irons reads Brideshead Revisited and The Poems Of T S Eliot, both of which are available on the Audible app
36. Alice in Wonderland
Narrated by Scarlett Johansson 2hrs 44mins
With palpable relish, the world’s highest-paid actress (£42 million last year, apparently) deploys a range of daft voices for Carroll’s nonsense novel. Storytelling is in the Johansson blood – Scarlett’s older sister Vanessa is a veteran audiobook narrator.
37. Pride and Prejudice
Narrated by Rosamund Pike 11hrs 35mins
Arguably Austen’s best-loved book. ‘It will always resonate with people because she is dealing with a theme that is so universal, which is falling in love for the first time,’ says actress Pike, who has also narrated Austen’s Sense And Sensibility.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is narrated by Rosamund Pike. This is arguably Austen’s best-loved book
‘It will always resonate with people because she is dealing with a theme that is so universal, which is falling in love for the first time,’ says actress Pike
38. Little Women
Louisa May Alcott
Narrated by Laura Dern and others 12hrs 15mins
If you enjoyed the recent movie, in which Laura Dern plays March family matriarch Marmee, left to raise her four daughters alone in rural New England while their father is fighting in the Civil War, you’ll love this. Dern returns to the story as narrator, along with a cast of five others.
Daphne du Maurier
Narrated by Anna Massey 14hrs 46mins
Du Maurier’s psychological thriller about a young woman who becomes the second wife of a wealthy man features two of the best twists in literature and one of its most sinister characters in housekeeper Mrs Danvers.
40. Just William: A BBC radio collection
Narrated by Martin Jarvis 13hrs 16mins
A collection of 54 timeless tales of the mischievous schoolboy William Brown and his gang The Outlaws, sometimes aided and abetted by Violet Elizabeth Bott. It’s narrated by one of the undisputed masters of the audiobook – Martin Jarvis – who’s won numerous awards for his narration work, particularly of P G Wodehouse stories.
41. Reasons to be cheerful
Narrated by Gemma Whelan 9hrs 41mins
The continuing life and times of young Lizzie Vogel, now working as a dental assistant to the awful J P Wintergreen. Stibbe is a laugh-out-loud funny writer and Game Of Thrones’s Gemma Whelan’s dry delivery is perfect.
Narrated by Meryl Streep 5hrs 30mins
‘Everything is copy,’ the writer of When Harry Met Sally used to say and she drew heavily on her own experience of marriage breakdown for this divorce comedy, deliciously narrated by a Hollywood legend.
43. How to Train Your Dragon
Narrated by David Tennant 3hrs 29mins
Hiccup, a young Viking, has to capture a dragon to prove his worth. Cowell’s books, which have been made into animated films, are written for kids but loved by their parents, and David Tennant’s exuberant storytelling is a joy.
44. I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan
Narrated by Alan Partridge 6hrs 56mins
The presenter of Mid-Morning Matters on North Norfolk Digital reflects on his life and times, from his birth in King’s Lynn – ‘the midwife holds the newborn aloft like a captain lifting a fleshy World Cup’ – right up to his efforts to get his series about a bulimic detective, Swallow, off the ground. This spoof memoir is hilariously narrated by Steve Coogan.
45. Born To Run
Narrated by Bruce Springsteen 18hrs 12mins
This won an Audie – an audiobook Oscar – in 2018 and it’s a treat to listen to Springsteen read his beautifully written life story in that famously husky voice. Mail on Sunday chief critic Craig Brown wrote of it: ‘I can’t think of a more honest or revealing memoir by any rock musician.’
46. Inside Out
Narrated by Demi Moore 6hrs 31mins
The actress reads her own very candid memoir and it really is a rollercoaster ride – with tales of her very difficult childhood, assault, drugs, drink, eating disorders, self-doubt – despite her Hollywood superstardom, and marriages to Bruce Willis and Ashton Kutcher. It’s raw, reflective and feels as though it was deeply cathartic for Moore.
Demi Moore’s Inside Out is narrated by Demi Moore. It really is a rollercoaster ride
The memoir is raw, reflective and feels as though it was deeply cathartic for Moore
Lady in Waiting by Anne Glenconner is narrated by Anne Glenconner. Features jaw-dropping anecdotes from the former aide to Princess Margaret
47. Lady in Waiting
Narrated by Anne Glenconner 9hrs 8mins
Features jaw-dropping anecdotes from the former aide to Princess Margaret. For example, her new husband took her to a seedy brothel to watch a couple having sex. Invited to join in, she replied: ‘That’s very kind of you, but no, thank you.’
48. This Is Going To Hurt
Narrated by Adam Kay 6hrs 17mins
This diary of a junior doctor by Kay was the bestselling non-fiction book of 2018 and 2019. It’s mostly very funny – at times, exceptionally so – but behind Kay’s wry anecdotes there is a genuine anger at the plight of the NHS. It’s currently being made into a BBC2 series.
This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay is narrated by Adam Kay. This diary of a junior doctor by Kay was the bestselling non-fiction book of 2018 and 2019
49. Born a Crime
Narrated by Trevor Noah 8hrs 44mins
South African-born, US-based comedian Noah has a major UK tour coming soon. His brilliant, eye-opening memoir is about growing up in the end days of apartheid with a black mother and white father, at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison.
50. The Volunteer
Narrated by David Rintoul 9hrs 44mins
Audiobooks veteran Rintoul narrates the astonishing story of Witold Pilecki, the heroic Polish resistance leader who volunteered to be imprisoned in Auschwitz to gather intelligence about the mass murder of the Jews. The Volunteer was the worthy winner of the 2019 Costa Book of the Year award.