Some books should be on everyone’s to-read list — but not everyone has time to read every book they want to read. That’s where audiobooks come in. Even if you don’t have the time to sit down and read a book, these recordings will help you experience some of the greatest literature in human history.
And because they’re all free, you can get started right away! Here are 18 of the best free audiobooks we could find for your listening pleasure.
1. Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen’s tale of romance is a classic for a reason. It’s exquisitely written, contains a cast of memorable characters, and is drily witty from the first page. And its influence on modern love stories can’t be overstated. This free audiobook, provided by LibriVox, is narrated by Karen Savage, who provides a spirited, but not overly dramatized, reading (and in a fitting British accent).
2. Heart of Darkness
Another classic, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is possibly best known as the inspiration of Francis Ford Coppola’s masterwork Apocalypse Now. A harrowing journey into the human psyche and the darkness within men’s souls is disguised in what seems to be a rather normal trip upriver in Africa. The unnamed narrator of Loyal Books’ recording does a great job with this one.
3. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Children and adults alike love Alice in Wonderland. It’s a story almost unrivaled in its strangeness, and Carroll’s fantastical storytelling has left an indelible mark on the world of literature. The fact that this version is read by Cory Doctorow — cyberpunk author and co-editor of Boing Boing — just makes it even better.
4. A Christmas Carol
Christmas ghost stories are 10 a penny, but A Christmas Carol rises above the rest. It’s a story of friends, family, love, redemption, and (of course) ghosts. And it never gets old. Dickens performed many readings of his novella, and he made edits and notes on his personal copy. Neil Gaiman read the story from that edited copy at the New York Public Library, and the performance is second to none.
In an age of rampant surveillance and crackdowns on free speech, George Orwell’s 1984 gets invoked a lot. But you can’t appreciate just how terrifying his world is until you’ve actually read (or listened to) the book. Frank Muller’s narration does justice to this difficult classic — you don’t want to miss it.
6. A Brave New World
Whether you think we’re headed into a dystopia or not, Aldous Huxley’s disquieting vision of the future will haunt you. Seeing the new world, heavily influenced by Henry Ford’s assembly lines, through the eyes of John the Savage is an affecting experience. This radio drama differs from the book, but the fact that it’s narrated by Huxley himself makes it worth listening to.
7. The Call of Cthulhu
H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu stories have influenced an entire generation of weird fiction. The madness lurking behind the thin veneer of the world that we see has seeped into movies, books, and games of all types. This is the story that started it all. Gareth David-Lloyd’s narration is gloomy and brooding — and an absolutely perfect fit for this chilling short story.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Thoreau’s reflections on life and nature are some of the most enduring in the literary canon. Gord Mackenzie does his best to capture the poetic sound of Thoreau’s prose in this recording.
9. The Picture of Dorian Gray
The protagonist with a hidden life is a common trope in modern suspense books and movies. There’s perhaps no better classic example of this type of story than Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, in which a sensuous socialite hides a dark truth. This version comes with the full text, which is great if you want to follow along.
Stream of download The Picture of Dorian Gray.
10. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s nautical poem is a masterclass in poetic storytelling. So much so that it’s been referenced in everything from Interview with the Vampire to Fallout: New Vegas. It’s a short audiobook — only about 30 minutes long — but it packs a lot of story and emotion into that half an hour.
11. The Waste Land
T.S. Eliot is one of the most famous poets of all time — and The Waste Land is considered one of his most important poems. Eliot isn’t easy to get into, but his mastery of language shines in the audio format of this work. It’s not a happy work, but its legacy, influence, and artistry make it absolutely worth listening to.
Humans have always had a tumultuous relationship with science. And there’s no better study of that relationship than Frankenstein. This vaunted Gothic horror novel has influenced modern works in myriad ways, but you haven’t truly experienced it until you’ve heard the original tale (which might differ from what you imagine). It’s an absolute classic, and one of my favorite books. I’ve linked the abridged version here — while the full novel is better, this one is read by Christopher Lee, and there’s no one better to read it.
13. The Art of War
It’s possible that this book’s reputation is actually more famous than the book itself. Sun Tzu’s treatise, however, is an important influence on strategic thinking, and if you’ve read books about management, business strategy, or even creativity, you’ve probably seen it referenced. It’s a quick listen, but the short play time belies its importance in modern culture.
14. A Tale of Two Cities
There are few opening lines as famous as “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” But Two Cities is so much more than that. Dickens might be best known for his Christmas stories, but this novel deals with darker, more significant issues. His signature storytelling ability is absolutely on point in this novel. It’s not to be missed.
Originally published in Through the Looking-Glass, the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Jabberwocky has since taken on a life of its own. Carroll’s nonsensical style is on full display in this poem — and while it may not make a whole lot of sense, it’s a lot of fun to read. The link below contains 34 different versions of the reading, but you may want to start with this recitation by Neil Gaiman:
16. Les Misérables
Victor Hugo’s historical novel has been required reading for decades, and both Jean Valjean and inspector Javert have influenced countless characters in modern literature. This radio drama is an adaptation created by Orson Welles. The old-school drama is a great way to experience this classic tale, especially if it’s your first time.
17. Aesop’s Fables
There are few collection of stories that have had such an effect on modern storytelling as Aesop’s Fables. This collection of around 600 tales includes some that are very familiar, and many that aren’t — but are just as good. These fables not only entertain, but also teach, and can help you learn a great deal about life, both in modern and ancient times.
18. Grimm’s Fairy Tales
Like Aesop’s Fables, these famous fairy tales have made their way into modern culture in many ways. Familiar stories of witches, princesses, and talking animals abound. While the collection of fairy tales at one point contained over 200 stories, this audiobook collects 62 of the most widely loved and appreciated into one volume.
Start Listening Today Without Paying a Cent
Audiobooks are a great way to fit more reading into your life, and if they’re available for free then you’ve got nothing to lose. All 18 of these books are totally free to download and listen to. All you need to do is start streaming them or download them onto your phone. Then, you’ll have some of the most important books in the history of literature to listen to while going about your daily life.
Interested in other audiobook, ebook, or physical book recommendations? Check out these sites for book reviews and ratings.
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