Oral storytelling is one of our species' most ancient traditions and, if you think about it, audiobooks are just an updated version of spinning a yarn to keep each other company.
Even if you're a die-hard fan of the printed word, there's room for audiobooks in everyone's lives. Whether it's having one keep you company on a commute, tuning in while you make dinner or putting one on before bed to give your eyes a rest at the end of a long day, listening to someone read to you is a wonderfully immersive way to experience a book.
We recently asked Penguin readers to tell us about the audiobooks they love, and why they enjoyed them. So here they are, from epic novels and gripping thrillers you won't want to turn off to deeply personal memoirs read by the author themselves and poetry that's perfect to hear read aloud. Perhaps you'll find some listening inspiration amongst these recommendations?
by Stephen Fry (2017) Mythos
You said: I adore Mythos. Stephen Fry is a masterful storyteller who brings the characters and narrative to life. Could listen again and again.
– pourawayyouth on Instagram
We said: Step into a world of monsters, magic and mayhem in this retelling of some of the most well-known Greek myths and legends. From the tale of Pandora's jar (yes, a jar, not a box) to Persephone's journey into the Underworld, these stories are told with Stephen Fry's idiosyncratic blend of humour, simplicity and deep knowledge.
by James Joyce (1922) Ulysses
You said: The audiobook of James Joyce's Ulysses is a joy. Joyce had a musician's ear for poetic prose, and should be read aloud. Parts may scandalise a little, but it's life.
– NathanFrancis__ on Twitter
We said: Anthony Burgess, author of A Clockwork Orange, called Ulysses “the greatest novel of the century”. The book charts the lives of several characters over a single day in Dublin, but if Joyce's 1000+ pages have kept this book lingering on your I'll-get-round-to-that-one-day list, why not have someone else read it to you?
by Barack Obama (2020) A Promised Land
You said: Maybe I'm not original but I enjoyed listening to Barack Obama reading The Promised Land.
– Booklandia on Facebook
We said: In this highly-anticipated account of the former President's life, we hear the man himself tell his story. With insight on his career to date, as well as his personal life, the audiobook covers his life as a young man searching for his identity to leader of the United States.
by Ashley Audrain (2021) The Push
You said: I absolutely loved [ The Push] and it was probably the fastest I have ever listened to an audiobook because I had to know what was going to happen. The ending was one of my favourite ever endings; I was literally stood still with my jaw dropped for ages! I had to rewind and listen again, it was perfection.
– bryonybooks on Instagram
We said: With glowing reviews from all corners, Ashley Audrain's debut has been one of the breakout novels of the year. The birth of Blythe's daughter is supposed to be the happiest moment of her life but no matter what her husband says, she knows something is not quite right. This is an unsettling read that's vividly brought to life as an audiobook.
by Laurie Lee (1959) Cider With Rosie
You said: Laurie Lee narrating his own book Cider With Rosie... superb.
– Melanie Allen on Facebook
We said: Growing up before cars or electricity arrived at his rural Cotswold village, Laurie Lee's evocative autobiographical novel gives us a snapshot of an idyllic childhood in the English countryside, as it stood on the precipice of change. The book was an instant bestseller on its release and this audiobook, read by Lee, is a captivating way to experience the story.
by David Attenborough (2020) A Life on Our Planet
You said: I absolutely loved David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet. It was so informative, powerful and eye-opening, and helped me get through house renovation tasks! He is the most incredible and inspiring man.
– lifeofabookworm on Instagram
We said: In his 94 years on planet Earth, David Attenborough has been responsible for bringing so many previously unseen aspects of the natural world to our attention. Unfortunately, he has also seen one of the greatest tragedies of our time – the loss of our wild spaces and its biodiversity. This audiobook, narrated by Attenborough himself, contains his witness statement and a hopeful vision for the future.
The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells (1897)
You said: It’s got to be The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells for me. My dad first played it for us on a long holiday trip when I was about 8. Utterly terrifying and such a fantastic soundtrack! You know an audiobook story is incredible if it can convince a whole nation that an alien invasion is really happening!
– a_pearl_and_her_books on Instagram
We said: In 1938, a now-infamous radio adaptation, read by Orson Welles, caused mass panic among listeners who confused it for the evening news. In our edition, the story is read by actor David Harewood, who is also known for his roles in Homeland, The Night Manager and Blood Diamond.
by Joanna Spyri (1881) Heidi
You said: We listened when my sister and I were kids. I don’t remember who was reading it but I loved her calm voice and all the magnificent descriptions of the Alps, cheese, snow, flowers, white bread...
– nmkcath on Instagram
We said: When Heidi goes to live with her grandfather in the Alps, she quickly comes to love her life surrounded by nature. But when her strict aunt decides to send her away, Heidi is determined to return to her life with her grandfather. Read by Gemma Whelan of Game of Thrones fame, this is a lovely audiobook to enjoy with younger readers.
by Leo Tolstoy (1869) War and Peace
You said: War and Peace makes you realise that everyone has their role in the world. Best thing you can do is to do what you like and be non-judgmental towards others.
– insta.abhishek.thakur on Instagram
We said: Often cited as one of the greatest novels ever written, Tolstoy's masterpiece explores social, moral and religious issues on a scale that had never previously been attempted in fiction. This landmark BBC radio adaptation brings together an all-star cast including Paterson Joseph, Lesley Manville, the late John Hurt and more as they narrate this epic story over 10 hours of blissful audio.
by Tara Westover (2018) Educated
You said: Tara Westover's memoir Educated is simple, clear and honest while taking us through the complex emotions of the book that included, patriarchy, emotion violence and a dysfunctional family.
– kilmora on Instagram
We said: Her father's entrenched belief that the End of Days was near meant that Tara Westover wasn't registered for a birth certificate, didn't attend school as a child and had to heal from any serious injuries with only herbal remedies. At 16, when her father was more radical than ever, Westover knew she had to leave her home. Her powerful memoir on the redemptive power of education is one that will stay with you for a long while.
by George Eliot (1871) Middlemarch
You said: Juliet Stevenson's narration of Middlemarch is wonderful. It accompanied me on morning dog walks during the 2020 lockdown when I was teaching online full time. A great way to start each day.
– alexandrahelen2945 on Instagram
We said: Young, idealistic Dorothea searches for intellectual fulfillment while Dr Lydgate, newly arrived in town, also hopes to create positive change in his community. This recent Penguin Classics edition is narrated by Juliet Aubrey, who won a Best Actress BAFTA for her role as Dorothea in the BBC television adaptation, is a definitive, unabridged recording of George Eliot's culture-defining novel.
by Roald Dahl (1975) Danny the Champion of the World
You said: My favourites are the Roald Dahl audiobooks that were on CDs and came in a colourful circular zip up case! I loved car journeys with those audiobooks on.
– meerakumar on Instagram
We said: Danny thinks his dad is the best dad a boy could ever have – but Danny's dad has a secret. And that secret is going to lead them into a rather unsual adventure. Narrated by Peter Serafinowicz, this exciting audiobook comes with some splendiferously squelchy sound effects, recorded at Pinewood Studios, that the whole family will enjoy.
by Dylan Thomas (1954) Under Milk Wood
You said: The beautiful wordplay of Under Milk Wood, narrated by Richard Burton, never fails to ease me into a long sleep.
– the_penguin_chap on Instagram
We said: Originally commissioned for BBC Radio, this “play for voices” begs to be listened to, rather than read. Delving into the dreams of the inhabitants of a fictional Welsh village, Thomas' words create a rich pastoral. Starring Richard Burton, this recording features the complete version broadcast in 1963, including several passages that were left out of the first recording in 1954.
by Giovanna and Tom Fletcher (2018) Eve of Man
You said: The Eve of Man audiobook was excellent, it felt like I was watching a film because it had multiple narrators who were perfect and they told the story so well!
– bookreccos on Instagram
We said: The first in a trilogy from writing partners (and real-life partners!) Tom and Giovanna Fletcher, Eve of Man is a thrilling adventure set in a dystopian future where no girls have been born for 50 years. Narrated by actors Charlotte Ritchie and Josh Dylan, this story is perfect for fans of The Handmaid's Tale, The Power and The Hunger Games.
by Tom Fletcher (2020) The Danger Gang
You said: The Danger Gang by Tom Fletcher, read by Tom Felton, is my favourite. It was what introduced my six year old to chapter books. We've since had to buy the book and I've read it twice already for her.
– anti_social_book_club on Instagram
We said: After a huge storm that brings strange green lightning with it, Franky and all the kids on his street start to change in unusual – and magical – ways... and so, the Danger Gang is born! This new adventure from Tom Fletcher is all about family and friendship, and is brilliantly brought to life by actor Tom Felton, known for playing Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter films, on the audiobook.
by Dr Richard Shepherd (2018) Unnatural Causes
You said: My favourite audiobook is the first audio I ever listened to: Unnatural Causes by Dr Richard Shepherd. Medical memoirs were an alien genre to me prior to listening to this book, and it sparked my love for them. I was in the height of marathon training and really struggling with long distances while listening to music and I found while listening to Dr Shepherd's (dreamy) voice and the incredible experiences of his career, I became so engrossed and lost in his world, that running became a lot easier. (I also found it quite funny running around Regent’s Park, while I listened to a man explain the correct way to perform a post-mortem while everyone else was none the wiser sipping on their morning coffees.)
– lottiesbooksandlattes on Instagram
We said: Forensic pathlogist Dr Richard Shepherd has performed over 23,000 autopsies, including some of the most high-profile cases of recent times. This fascinating insight, read by Dr Shepherd on the audiobook, is a thoughtful and memorable account of how to live a life steeped in death.
Becoming by Michelle Obama (2018)
You said: I really enjoyed Michelle Obama reading Becoming.
– andreablamire on Instagram
We said: From her childhood in the South Side of Chicago to her time spent in the White House and everything in between, the surprisingly personal memoir of the former First Lady is an intimate and inspiring read – and even more so on the audiobook as it's narrated by the author.
by Vikram Seth (1993) A Suitable Boy
You said: A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth; Sagar Arya reads it so beautifully. 65 hours of characters that hang out in your heart long after you've completed the saga.
– pratichi_tn on Instagram
We said: Sweeping epics are particularly great in audiobook format, and this one, told through the stories of four middle-class families in India, is funny, tragic, and hard to let go of in equal measure. In this BBC Radio 4 adaptation, we hear the story brought to life by a full cast.
by Michelle Magorian (1981) Goodnight Mister Tom
You said: Goodnight Mister Tom was the first ever audiobook I listened to as a child and impacted my love of reading in ways I'd never have imagined!
– rosbooklist on Instagram
We said: As Britain stands on the brink of the Second World War, young Willie Beech is evacuated to the care of grumpy Tom Oakley in the countryside. Soon, both Willie and Tom flourish in each other's company but it's not long until Willie's newfound happiness is shattered. This novel has been capturing hearts (and inducing tears) ever since its release.
by Harper Lee (1960) To Kill a Mockingbird
You said: I deeply enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird read by Sissy Spacek. It really transported me to the place where the story develops. I can say with no question whatsoever that some of the characters became friends to me. The book itself is amazing but, the narrator plays an important role in bringing the account into life. Had it not been for Spacek’s talent, this book would not have been the same to me.
– henryanglophile on Instagram
We said: Whether you've already read this modern classic or are new to it, the audiobook adds a new dimension to one of the greatest American novels ever written. Historical drama of the Great Depression and coming of age story in one, the story of Atticus Finch and his defense of a Black man falsely accused of a crime is one to read – or listen to – over and over.
What are your favourite audiobooks and why? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know.
Image: Alexandra Francis / Penguin