50 great audiobooks to listen to this summer
Less, by Andrew Sean Greer
Read by Robert Petkoff. 8hr 17min
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2018, this fish-out-of-water comedy is the perfect holiday listen. Arthur Less, a struggling novelist about to turn 50, embarks on a literary world tour in order to avoid attending the wedding of an ex-boyfriend. What follows is a series of misadventures and social calamities tied together with wit and genuine warmth.
Pet Sematary, by Stephen King
Read by Michael C Hall. 15hr 41min
By his own admission, this is Stephen King’s scariest book, and who are we to argue? Like a lot of his best work, the set-up is a simple what if? What if you could bring your dead child back to life? Pet Sematary takes every parent’s worst nightmare and twists it into something truly disturbing. Just don’t listen to it before bed.
Solar Bones, by Mike McCormack
Read by Tim Gerard Reynolds. 9hr
A man wakes up in his Mayo kitchen, confused. Unaware he is already dead, he looks back on his life, examining everything from the minutiae of daily rhythms to the cosmic enormity of death. Lyrical, poetic, and often very funny, it is beautifully read by Tim Gerard Reynolds.
The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
Read by Bahni Turpin. 10hr 43min
In Colson Whitehead’s 2016 novel about a runaway slave named Cora, he imagines the Underground Railroad (a network of abolitionists and sympathisers who helped smuggle slaves out of the south) to be a functioning reality, with subterranean tracks criss-crossing the United States. It’s a stroke of genius; the slightly sci-fi edge only brings into sharper focus the horrific reality of slavery.
The Secret History, by Donna Tartt
Read by Donna Tartt. 22hr 4min
There is something very special about hearing an author read their own work. Some are better at it than others, but when it is done well, as it is here, it borders on the sublime. Tartt’s soft, lilting Mississippi narration guides us through a compelling murder-mystery set in an exclusive Vermont university.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon
Read by David Colacci. 26hr 20min
In 1939, a young artist escapes Nazi-occupied Prague to join his cousin in Brooklyn. Together they create the Escapist, a comic book hero for the ages. Chabon lets loose over 600 pages his customary literary flair; everything grounded with real heart and love for his characters. Following the lives of Kavalier and Clay over the decades becomes compulsive listening.
A Spool of Blue Thread, by Anne Tyler
Read by Kimberly Farr. 13hr 18min
With 22 novels under her belt, Anne Tyler has written more than one stone-cold American classic. Her most celebrated works, including Breathing Lessons and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, can be difficult to find as audiobooks, but this more recent effort about three generations of a Baltimore family is up there with her very best.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler
Read by Katharine Mangold. 8hrs 47mins
In 2013, book clubs the world over fell in love with this novel about a very unusual Indiana family. The less you know about it the better, but it’s a book you’ll be desperate to talk about once you finish. Funny, moving and very memorable.
Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel
Read by Jack Hawkins. 10hr 9min
You don’t have to be a fan of dystopian novels to enjoy this strangely uplifting tale of the end of the world. Twenty years after the Georgia Flu wipes out 99 per cent of the earth’s population, a band of actors and musicians rove the land performing concerts and Shakespeare to surviving settlements.
My Sister, the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Read by Weruche Opia. 4hr 30min
This short, pulpy novel is perfect for a sunny beachside listen. A blackly comic Lagos-set tale of a nurse forced to clean up after her sister’s unfortunate habit of killing boyfriends, the story is elevated by Opia’s pitch-perfect narration.
The Son, by Philipp Meyer
Read by Will Patton, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Shepherd, Clifton Collins Jr. 17hr 46min
Spanning two centuries and six generations of a ruthless Texan family, this rip-roaring listen is a true American epic. Dripping with violence and themes of power and ambition, it is the kind of book holidays are made for. The cast of narrators are excellent, each a perfect fit for the various members of the McCullough clan.
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, by Eimear McBride
Read by Eimear McBride. 7hr 34min
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is not an easy read. A litany of miseries drenched in Catholic guilt, described in stream-of-consciousness style prose, it can be a challenge for even the sharpest minds. So to hear it read aloud is both something of a relief and a beguiling experience. Even if there are times you have no idea what’s going on, to hear McBride read her own work is a pleasure in itself.
Us, by David Nicholls
Read by Justin Salinger. 12hr 40min
With his 20-year marriage coming to an end, and his son about to leave for college, 54-year-old Douglas Peterson takes his family on a Grand Tour of Europe’s major cities. A very funny and poignant book, Nicholls expertly constructs scenes of hysterical mishaps alongside touching ruminations on marriage, love and loss.
American War, by Omar El Akkad
Read by Dion Graham, 12hr 22min
When a book is narrated by Dion Graham, you at least know it’s going to be read well. With more than 120 audiobooks under his belt, he knows a thing or two about delivery. Here, at least, is a story to match his considerable talent. Set in the closing decades of the 21st century, it follows a displaced girl’s journey through internment camps and the ruined south. A genre-defying triumph.
Imperium, by Robert Harris
Read by Bill Wallis. 13hr 51min
The first part of Robert Harris’s “Cicero trilogy”, this expertly crafted historical thriller charts the Roman senator’s rise through the voice of his loyal servant, Tiro. Each book in the series is better than the last, and taken as a whole they deserve to be spoken of in the same breath as Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell books. More than just incredibly entertaining, they are a magnificent and relevant examination of power and politics.
The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith
Read by Robert Glenister. 15hr 53min
The secret that Robert Galbraith was, in fact, JK Rowling, lasted about four seconds. Cynics were not surprised; a revelation like that was never going to hurt sales. Such an accomplished crime debut, however, was unexpected. It shouldn’t have been. Rowling’s strength in plot and character has been effortlessly transferred to a very mature tale of a private investigator hired to solve an apparent suicide.
All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
Read by Julie Teal. 17hr
The fates of a blind French girl and a boy in the Hitler Youth collide in this exhilarating and moving novel set amid the devastation of the second World War. Books of such ambition and heart-wrenching beauty are hard to come by, and this one will stick with you long after you take the headphones off.
The Green Road, by Anne Enright
Read by Caroline Lennon. 9hr 38min
There’s no getting around it: The Green Road is a masterpiece. A book so rich in human understanding and empathy, it slowly reveals itself as a quiet tour-de-force. Small, ostensibly banal scenes like a mother hugging her hungover teenaged son, or the bedlam of a Christmas Eve supermarket, are so perfectly and tenderly portrayed you’ll be crying before you realise why.
The Troop, by Nick Cutter
Read by Corey Brill. 11hr 2min
If you’re facing a long drive with teenage kids this summer, stick The Troop on and you won’t hear a peep. Gruesome and at times quite scary, it follows a group of Canadian boy scouts on a camping trip in the wilderness. Things go horribly wrong when an infected stranger stumbles into their camp, setting off a disturbing and violent series of events. Just to reiterate: it is incredibly gruesome, so this is one for the older kids.
Heartburn, by Nora Ephron
Read by Meryl Streep. 5hr 30min
Come on. Nora Ephron read by Meryl Streep. In her first novel, based more than a little lightly on her own life, Ephron treads ground familiar to fans. Seven months’ pregnant, Rachel Samstat discovers her husband is cheating on her. Cue crackling ’80s’ patter, wry, self-deprecating humour and a poignant portrayal of a marriage ending. As an added bonus, you’ll have one book ticked off your reading list by the time you land in JFK.
Fire and Fury, by Michael Wolff
Read by Michael Wolff, Holter Graham. 11hr 55min
A scathing indictment of the first nine months of the Trump administration, Michael Wolff’s blistering expose pulls no punches. It is far less terrifying, and much funnier, to imagine it as a lost episode of Veep, complete with comically inept staffers and morally vacant opportunists.
Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life, by Peter Godfrey-Smith
Read by Peter Noble. 6hr 43min
Part scientific inquiry into cephalopod intelligence and behaviour, part philosophical rumination on consciousness and identity, Other Minds is a book of rare insight. Filled with fascinating anecdotes of Octopus craftiness and mischief, Godfrey-Smith asks what we can learn from animals that are completely alien to us in almost every respect. One early chapter which dazzlingly charts the evolution of consciousness, over billions of years, will leave you giddy and in awe.
The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed the World, by Michael Lewis
Read by Dennis Boutsikaris. 10hr 17min
A bat and ball cost €1.10. If the bat costs one euro more than the ball, how much does the ball cost? Stop reading! If you answered 10 cents, you’d be wrong. The answer, which only becomes obvious after you hear it, is 5 cents. This is the kind of cognitive irrationality Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky exposed to create the world of behavioural economics after they met in Tel Aviv in the 1960s. It is a fascinating story brilliantly told by Moneyball author Michael Lewis.
Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari
Read by Derek Perkins. 15hr 18min
If you’re one of the three people left in Ireland yet to read Sapiens, it’s never too late to hop on board. An ambitious and sweeping look at humans, from the Stone-Age to the 21st century, it is often purposefully provocative, but never dull. The book’s greatest strength lies in putting our short, historically insignificant existence into perspective.
Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams, by Matthew Walker
Read by John Sackville. 13hr 31min
We only take sleep for granted when it comes easy. Most people have experienced, at one point or another, the physical and mental pain of sleep deprivation. But why is the absence of sleep so damaging to our health? Everything from Alzheimer’s and cancer to obesity and diabetes has links to deficient sleep. Matthew Walker lays out the most recent scientific thinking and research behind this most casually neglected aspect of our lives.
Biography and memoir
The Path to Power, by Robert A Caro
Read by Grover Gardner. 40hr 29min
The world is divided into those who are obsessed with Caro’s (as yet unfinished) multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson, and those who have yet to read it. The Path to Power deals with Johnson’s impoverished Texas childhood through to his bid to become senator in 1941. A towering achievement and one of the finest biographies ever written.
Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, by Steve Martin
Read by Steve Martin. 4hr 2min
The funny thing about this book is . . . it’s not that funny. Luckily, it’s not supposed to be. In 1978, after a meteoric rise, Steve Martin was the biggest stand-up comedian in the world, selling out stadiums every show. Three years later, he quit stand-up forever. This fascinating memoir, brilliantly read by the author, explains how he honed his craft, and why he decided to leave it all behind.
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, by Bill Bryson
Read by Bill Bryson. 7hr 27min
Nostalgia drips unapologetically like sweet molasses from every minute of this joyous childhood memoir. Born in Des Moines in 1951, Bryson had a typically normal American upbringing, but with his remarkable gift of observation, coupled with a warm appreciation for the banal, it is transformed into something magical.
This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor, by Adam Kay
Read by Adam Kay. 6hrs 17mins
Even if you don’t give two figs about the HSE or junior doctor pay disputes, this is essential listening. Hilarious, ghastly (“de-gloved” penis, anyone?) and very angry, this is a ludicrously entertaining fly-on-the-wall look at life on a hospital ward.
Calypso, by David Sedaris
Read by David Sedaris. 6hr 39min
Well practised at reading his own work, listening to the soft and intimate tones of David Sedaris is always a treat. His most recent collection of essays will still make you snort with laughter, but they are also unexpectedly moving. Whether talking about feeding his recently removed tumour to a snapping turtle or the pains of being up-sold on your coffee, there is no one else like him.
The Pike: Gabriele d’Annunzio, Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War, by Lucy Hughes-Hallett
Read by Karoline Newman. 23hr 53min
Gabriele d’Annunzio was many things. Poet, soldier, aesthete, fascist. He was also a cocaine-addled, sex-obsessed, thrill-seeking, violent maniac. The Pike charts in remarkable detail this insanely eventful life, culminating in d’Annunzio marching on the Croatian city of Fiume to establish a fascist utopia. How someone so utterly vile and morally repugnant could win the hearts and minds of so many is a question of depressing relevance.
East West Street, by Philipp Sands
Read by Philipp Sands, David Rintoul. 14hr 24min
When Philipp Sands, a human rights lawyer, was invited to give a lecture in the Ukrainian city of Lviv, it triggered an extraordinary series of personal and historical coincidences. In a truly remarkable book, he uncovers family secrets in parallel with the beginnings of international law during the Nuremberg trials. You will be left with a feeling of intense admiration for both the author and the people he writes about.
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? By Jeanette Winterson
Read by Jeanette Winterson. 6hr 5min
Upon being evicted from her home for falling in love with another woman, 16-year-old Jeanette Winterson’s adopted mother asks her, “Why be happy when you could be normal?” It is a complicated and loaded question; one which Winterson addresses in frank and moving prose. From a mental breakdown and attempted suicide to the search for her real mother, this is a powerful and redemptive memoir.
Yes Please, by Amy Poehler
Read by Amy Poehler and cast. 7hr 31min
It is always a nice surprise when audiobooks acknowledge the difference between reading a book and listening to one. They amp up the production values and really take advantage of the different format. With Yes Please, Amy Poehler goes the whole hog. Narrating from her specially-built audio booth in Mount Rushmore, she is joined by a varied cast of characters including Seth Meyers, Kathleen Turner, Patrick Stewart and even her own parents. Some very funny anecdotes are complemented with life lessons and sage advice.
Alan Partridge: Nomad, by Alan Partridge
Read by Alan Partridge. 6hr 2min
If any book in the world makes sense as an audiobook, it is an Alan Partridge autobiography. While it exists in the written form, it can only be truly appreciated in the rich, nasal splendour of North Norfolk Digital’s most experienced broadcaster. While purists might pip for the first memoir, I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan, there is something about the beautiful, hyper-literate absurdity of Nomad that makes it, quite probably, the funniest audiobook you’ll ever listen to.
The Spy and the Traitor, by Ben Macintyre
Read by Ben Macintyre. 14hr 32min
The remarkable, almost unbelievable story of Oleg Gordievsky, a Cold War KGB agent who spent 11 years spying for MI6. Amidst all the thrilling details of spy life is a very human story of self-sacrifice and conflicting ideologies. The final third is agonisingly tense, as the KGB noose tightens around Gordievsky, and the British attempt an audacious exfiltration operation.
SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, by Mary Beard
Read by Phyllida Nash. 18hr 30min
The best single-volume history of Ancient Rome in a long time, Mary Beard’s stroke of genius is to approach the vast subject matter thematically, rather than chronologically. The result is a thoroughly engaging and authoritative history, covering the foundation of the city up to 212 CE, when Emperor Caracalla declared every free inhabitant of the empire a full Roman citizen.
Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy, by Serhii Plokhy
Read by Leighton Pugh. 13hr 35min
Winner of this year’s Baillie Gifford Prize, this meticulously researched account of the Chernobyl disaster examines in forensic detail what happened on April 26th, 1986, and why. The book’s real strength, however, lies in discussing the tragedy in the wider context of the Soviet political system and bureaucratic incompetence. Thrilling and terrifying in equal measure.
Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First, by Frank Trentmann
Read by Mark Meadows. 33hr 6min
Every so often a history book comes along so brilliantly eye-opening it has a genuine impact on how you view the world. Empire of Things is such a book. In a vast and scholarly undertaking, Trentmann explores our obsession with buying things and how consumerism has shaped economies and cultures from Ming China to the British Empire.
The War that Ended Peace, by Margaret MacMillan
Read by Richard Burnip. 31hr 35min
The decades in Europe preceding the first World War were remarkable for their peace, stability and optimism. Why it was plunged so suddenly into catastrophic and prolonged violence has been a topic of fierce debate ever since. With penetrating intellectual rigour, Margaret McMillan lucidly describes the build-up to war, laying the blame in no small part on a handful of men who made some terrible decisions.
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
Read by Tim Robbins, 5hr 1min
More often than not, Hollywood stars are roped into reading audiobooks in a cynical move to boost sales, with scant regard for their actual ability to read. Not so with Tim Robbins. A natural storyteller, his rhythms and tones perfectly capture the tension, fear and outrage of this dystopian classic, where books are banned and “firemen” burn any that are found.
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Read by Rosamund Pike. 11hr 35min
The story of Elizabeth Bennett, her sisters and Mr Darcy is so familiar and so often imitated it comes as a real surprise to rediscover just how brilliant it still is. Rosamund Pike brings it all to life wonderfully, delivering the crackling dialogue with warmth, wit and perfect pacing.
Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
Read by Jeremy Irons. 11hr 28min
Get ready to feel uncomfortable. Originally published in 1955, this satirical tale of Humbert Humbert, a college professor obsessed with a 12-year-old schoolgirl, still has the power to shock. Irons lends a particular sexual creepiness to proceedings, but also brings out the novel’s unsung comedy and pathos.
Ragtime, by EL Doctorow
Read by EL Doctorow. 7hr 47min
When Ragtime was published in 1975, it changed historical fiction forever. Beginning with an unnamed wealthy New York family in 1906, the story branches out to a wide cast of characters both real and imaginary, weaving fact and fiction into a mesmerising tapestry. Experimental and accessible, it is read with an ASMR-like quality by the author. A compulsive listen.
Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Read by Constantine Gregory. 22hr 2min
One of the great things about audiobooks is they remove a lot of the intimidation surrounding classic books. You might think you would struggle with Crime and Punishment, but soon after pressing play you will be utterly absorbed in a psychological thriller of such humanity and moral complexity it has never been bettered.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by JK Rowling
Read by Stephen Fry. 8hr 44min
The story of the boy wizard who never went away. There is a reason people are still talking about Harry Potter; these books are as thrilling and transportive to children today as they were 20 years ago. All the books in the series are read by Stephen Fry with enough energy and warmth to melt the stoniest of hearts.
Matilda, by Roald Dahl
Read by Kate Winslet. 4hr 18min
If the idea of Kate Winslet reading Roald Dahl to you over four hours isn’t your idea of a good time, you need to have a serious word with yourself. Here, she brings one of Dahl’s most enduring tales to life with a lively sing-song tone.
How to Train Your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell
Read by David Tennant. 3hr 29min
Kids might be more familiar with the film of the same name, but they’ll be delighted nonetheless by this retelling of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III’s dragon-training exploits. David Tennant, with his lilting Scottish accent, does a stellar job keeping young ears engaged and enthralled.
Winnie-the-Pooh: the Complete BBC Collection, by AA Milne
Read by Alan Bennett. 3hr 42min
Who better to read Winnie-the-Pooh than Alan Bennett? His voice has a certain Ronnie Corbett quality to it, rich with humour and posh comfort. There are 16 stories in the collection, including the very specifically titled “Pooh and Piglet Nearly Catch a Woozle and Eeyore Loses a Tail”.
The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien
Read by Rob Inglis. 11hr 2min
Bilbo Baggins being whisked off on an unexpected journey by Gandalf the wizard and 13 dwarves is a tale every child should experience. Hearing the story again after all these years can be something of a madeleine moment for parents, and the best part is, once it’s finished you can force your kids to sit through the entire, unabridged Lord of the Rings trilogy. We’re going on an adventure!