Audiobooks offer a great opportunity to absorb literature while still getting work done. Not only does it engage and exercise the imagination more than watching video, but educators have found that they engage the mind and share information as effectively as the printed word does. However, since they’re also a bit more expensive, you have to make sure you get quality for your purchase. That’s where we come in and give you the top ten audiobooks available ranked by the quality of the material, and quality of the reader.
10. Not Taco Bell Material (Read By Adam Carolla)
A non-PC take on subjects from this Guinness World Record-holding podcaster and TV host, this book also details his difficult childhood in a manner that’s not cloying in the least. His problems with the parents and family that he describes as being something approximating hippies and emotionally dead offer some explanation to his right-wing disposition. A nice aspect of it is that Carolla, who describes himself as not a reader, riffs on the subject matter of the chapters instead of just reciting text. Thus, those who bought or read the book would be in for some new content with a more natural delivery than most biographical audiobooks.
9. World War Z (Read By Mark Hamill, Simon Pegg, Rob Reiner, John Turturro, Martin Scorsese, and Henry Rollins)
The infamous zombie docudrama gets a celebrity cast to read its many interviews of a diverse group of people that survived an apocalypse of the undead. A very detailed and rich portrayal of the end of the world, this audiobook blew audiences away with its original, heavily-abridged release, and ups the ante significantly here, in terms of disturbing scenes and convincing performances. Stand-outs include Mark Hamill as infantry soldier Todd Waino, and Simon Pegg as former White House Chief of Staff/manure shoveler Grover Carlson.
8. Slaughterhouse Five (Read By Ethan Hawke)
Kurt Vonnegut’s anti-war time-traveling satire, about a veteran who lives and relives random portions of his life, is read by Ethan Hawke, the star of The Purge and Dead Poets Society, with a poignant combination of sarcasm and somberness. After the end of the story, we get both an interview with the author and an excerpt from a dramatic reading by him with musical accompaniment called “Tock Tick.” Out of all the adaptations of this singular recounting of the destruction of Dresden that include a film adaptation, this is the foremost one to experience.
7. 1984 (Read By Simon Prebble)
In the wake of the June 2013 revelations of the NSA’s disturbingly intrusive monitoring of American communications, sales of George Orwell’s seminal classic rose 7000%. If you’re going to see what this hot bestselling book from 1949 about the psychological and linguistic methods a tyrannical government uses to keep party members in line is about, but don’t want to actually read it, there’s no going wrong with Simon Prebble’s reading. His rich voice makes even the long portion, where protagonist Winston Smith reads a book that even the prose of the book itself says contains information the reader already knows, incredibly interesting. That is a real accomplishment for a reader.
6. Go The F–k To Sleep (Read By Samuel L. Jackson)
Despite running only six minutes, this reading by Samuel L. Jackson, the foul-mouthed and Academy Award-nominated star of such films as The Avengers packs in more laughs than many hour-long standup specials. The book itself is a viral sensation about a tired father trying to get his much less tired kid asleep, and unraveling in the process in a less than whimsical manner.
5. Moby Dick (Read By Frank Muller)
Frank Muller was one of the most celebrated readers of audiobooks in history, with numerous awards and over 150 credits to his name. He was one of Stephen King and John Grisham’s favorite readers for their books, and one of the most qualified readers to ever tackle Moby Dick. Although the book is famed for its compelling central conflict between Captain Ahab and the white whale, it’s also famous for being ponderous, padded with unnecessary information, and generally boring. Muller’s delivery of the story improves the feeling of the story greatly, starting out with a natural tone for protagonist Ishmael that makes the character more relatable, and that gets you invested in the story early on. It’s a great way to find out what all the fuss around this classic is about.
4. America: A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction (Read By Jon Stewart, Samantha Bee, and Stephen Colbert)
This audiobook won a Grammy, but don’t hold that against it. Its combination of clever historical jokes, self-deprecating humor from the best comedians in fake journalism, and blessedly non-dated political humor make this three hours and forty-six minutes of the funniest audio available today. Highlights include an introduction by President Thomas Jefferson, and commentary by the Third Duchess of Kent.
3. Lord of the Rings (Read By Ian Holm And Michael Hordern)
If you don’t have nine hours to devote to Peter Jackson’s trilogy adaptation, a surprisingly effective and much more concise (less than half that length) alternative can be found in this dramatization. Dating back to 1981, this British Broadcasting Company program features splendid, extremely effective acting. At times, it’s so effective it becomes disturbing, such as a scene where Gollum is brutally tortured by the Dark Lord Sauron until he reveals who took the One Ring from him. One potentially jarring factoid for fans of the Jackson trilogy is that here, Ian Holm is playing Frodo instead of Bilbo, but the performance is still impeccable. In fact, Jackson hired Holm to play Bilbo based on his amazing audio performance as Frodo.
2. Stephen King’s It (Read By Steven Weber)
It remains one of Stephen King’s highest profile books, what with its epic and intimate scope, unusually compelling villain, and a memorably evil performance by Tim Curry in the television adaptation, that still has a generation reeling with a mortal fear of clowns. Reader Steven Weber remains primarily a television actor in terms of profile, but his performance as a wide array of characters through different eras and widely varying tones really shines. Here’s hoping the upcoming remake is half as good as this audiobook.
1. A Short History of Nearly Everything (Read By Richard Matthews)
How do you make the history of physics, geology, and evolutionary biology accessible and fascinating to the layperson who “doesn’t know a quark from a quasar?” The answer is: you have Bill Bryson write a book on it, specifically a book that the New York Times says is “destined to become a modern classic of science writing.” Bryson himself did a reading of an abridged version of this highly acclaimed book, but for the full and detailed edition of the audiobook, Richard Matthews is a very good replacement. His read more than matches Bryson’s for wry, unobtrusive humor in all the right places.