Entertainment

20 of the Best Free Audiobooks You Need to Listen To

Philip Bates Updated 31-03-2020

Some books should be on everyone’s To Read list, but few people have time to get through everything they want to read. That’s where audiobooks come in.

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Even if you don’t have the time to dedicate to reading a book, these recordings will help you experience some of the greatest literature in human history while you’re doing other activities.

And because they’re all free, you can get started right away! With that in mind, here are the best free audiobooks you can enjoy right now.

1. Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen Elizabeth Bennet Mr Darcy
Image Credit: Magda K/Flickr

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is the quintessential tale of romance. It’s written with a dry wit and contains a cast of memorable characters like Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Its influence on modern love stories can’t be overstated. Karen Savage narrates this free audiobook, giving a spirited—but not overly dramatized—reading in a fitting British accent.

2. Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is arguably 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 down the Congo River.

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Published in 1902, the original novella is based on Conrad’s real experiences in Africa, but transcends a standard adventure fiction by questioning the human condition.

3. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll Alice's Adventures book
Image Credit: MIKI Yoshihito/Flickr

Here’s a real treasure. Children and adults alike love Alice in Wonderland, a story almost unrivaled in its strangeness. Lewis Carroll’s fantastical storytelling has left an indelible mark on the world of literature.

The fact that this version is read by respected Cyberpunk author, Cory Doctorow, just makes it even better. And if you love the genre, here are some of the best Cyberpunk films The 10 Best Cyberpunk Films to Watch Online To guide your journey into this often bleak vision of the future, here are the best cyberpunk films to watch online... Read More to enjoy.

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4. A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens Marley was dead, to begin with
Image Credit: Jim, the Photographer/Flickr

Think about Christmas ghost stories. Your mind will automatically go to Charles Dickens’ sublime A Christmas Carol. It’s a festive tale of friends, family, love, redemption, and—of course—ghosts. And it never gets old.

Dickens performed many readings of his novella, touring the country, and he made edits and notes on his personal copy. Neil Gaiman (Good Omens, American Gods) reads from that edited copy at the New York Public Library, so this performance is second to none.

5. Nineteen Eighty-Four

George Orwell Nineteen Eighty-Four surveillance
Image Credit: Markus Spiske/Unsplash

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In an age of rampant surveillance and crackdowns on free speech, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four has become a cult classic. You know that “Big Brother is watching you,” but do you realize why that should instill such fear?

Here’s the first audio adaptation of Orwell’s increasingly relevant novel, read by the brilliant David Niven (The Pink Panther).

6. Brave New World

It doesn’t matter if you’re familiar with dystopian fiction 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

Cthulhu H. P. Lovecraft Lovecraftian
Image Credit: Cafuego/Flickr

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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. The Call of Cthulhu is the story that started it all.

This audiobook’s narration (by Torchwood’s Gareth David-Lloyd) is gloomy and brooding—and absolutely perfect fit for this chilling short story.

8. Walden, Or Life In The Woods

Henry David Thoreau woods

“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.”

Henry David Thoreau’s non-fiction reflections on life and nature are some of the most enduring in literature. Gord Mackenzie captures the poetry of Thoreau’s prose, making for a relaxing and thought-provoking listen.

9. The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde's only novel

It’s a massive shame that The Picture of Dorian Gray is Oscar Wilde’s only novel—and a much-criticized one at that. Though many of his contemporaries ripped Wilde apart, this shocking tale of beauty, temptation, and corruption has subsequently become a classic.

This full-cast recording is based on the 20-chapter version published in 1891, expanded by Wilde after editorial interference upon its initial serialization in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine.

10. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Samuel Taylor Coleridge lithograph illustration ship
Flickr

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s nautical poem is a masterclass in poetic storytelling. This dense verse is so respected that it’s referenced in everything from the 1995 film, Interview with the Vampire, to the 2010 video game, Fallout: New Vegas. It’s a short audiobook, but packs a lot of story and emotion into its 31-minute runtime.

11. The Waste Land

T. S. Eliot poem

You may not have heard of T.S. Eliot’s 433-line poem, but you’ll certainly know many of its lines. The most notable of these is its opening, “April is the cruelest month”.

The Waste Land is a tour-de-force—a tortured elegy for civilization, questioning whether the meaning of life is forever lost. Don’t be put off by its dark theme and complicated syntax. This is only a short audiobook so listen to it a few times and let its ideas bed in.

12. Frankenstein

Is Frankenstein the first science fiction novel? You’ll certainly have seen it billed as such.

Mary Shelley’s vaunted Gothic horror novel, however, might differ from what you’ve heard. This audiobook is an abridged version, but performed by Christopher Lee (who starred in The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957). Still, we encourage you to seek out the original novel and check out the best science fiction books for geeks The Best Science Fiction Books for Geeks: 10 Absolutely Worth Reading If you want to build a library of must-have sci-fi novels and novellas, here are the best science fiction books of all time. Read More while you’re at it.

13. The Art of War

Sun Tzu Sunzi Chinese treatise

The Art of War’s reputation is probably more famous than the tome itself. Certainly anyone who has studied management, business strategy, or even creativity will have seen it referenced.

Sun Tzu’s treatise, however, is an important influence on strategic thinking, and further includes valuable lessons on self-awareness, discipline, and leadership. It’s a quick listen (just over an hour), but the succinct duration belies its importance in modern culture.

14. A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens French revolution

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” is surely one of the best-known opening lines from fiction. But A Tale of Two Cities is so much more than that. This 1859 novel by Charles Dickens typifies his dealings with dark, societal injustices (much like his other much-loved work, Oliver Twist), set against the backdrop of the French Revolution.

15. Jabberwocky

Jabberwocky was originally published in Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It has since taken on a life of its own. Lewis Carroll’s nonsensical style is on full display in this poem. While it may not make a great deal of sense, it’s a lot of fun to read and listen to.

Start with the above recitation by Neil Gaiman then check out the dozens of other versions of the poem.

16. Les Misérables

Victor Hugo French classic novel musical theatre
Image Credit: Garry Knight/Flickr

Victor Hugo’s historical novel shed light on important social issues in 18th and 19th Century France, but remains relevant for its exhortation of compassion and justice. Its main characters, Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert, have influenced countless characters in modern literature.

This seven-part radio series by Orson Welles was first broadcast in 1937, and is a great way to immerse yourself in that world—whether it’s your first or 24,601st time experiencing the classic story.

17. Aesop’s Fables

There are few collections that have had such an effect on modern storytelling as Aesop’s Fables. This anthology of around 600 tales includes some that are very familiar, and many that aren’t. A miscellany can be found on services like Spotify, Learn Out Loud, and Loyal Books.

These fables would have been passed on by skilled orators. The spoken word remains a key part of the stories, so it’s particularly apt to listen to them as audiobooks.

18. Grimm’s Fairy Tales

Brothers Grimm's fairy tales
Image Credit: Alison Day/Flickr

Like Aesop’s Fables, these famous fairy tales permeate 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 parables, this audiobook collects together 62 of the most widely loved stories like Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel.

19. The Martian Chronicles

Ray Bradbury’s 1950 book ties together short stories positing how mankind will attempt a spearhead on Mars. Naturally, things don’t go according to plan. It’s a joyous-yet-contemplative read, and beautifully captured in this audiobook by Big Finish.

The 70-minute adaptation boasts a great cast led by Hayley Atwell (Captain America: The First Avenger) and Derek Jacobi (Gladiator)—making this a very different experience from the other audiobooks on this list.

20. The Three Musketeers

Athos Porthos Aramis d'Artagnan Alexandre Dumas

If you’re facing a lengthy commute or need a tale to occupy you for a substantial length of time, The Three Musketeers is the audiobook for you.

Everyone knows the “all for one and one for all” mantra. But Alexandre Dumas’ epic story of friendship, love, and deceit is a fantastic adventure with genuine warmth and wit. And once you’ve finished that, you can download its sequels, Twenty Years After and The Man in the Iron Mask. Both of which are also available for free.

The Best Audiobooks Are Available for Free

Full-length audiobooks are the perfect way to enjoy the best literature while you’re exercising, driving, or cooking. And they mean you can soak up classic novels by experiencing them in the same way storytelling evolved: through speech.

Once you have listened to these free offerings, check out our pick of audiobooks for people who hate audiobooks 10 Amazing Audiobooks for People Who Hate Audiobooks If you're not usually a fan of audiobooks, there are some amazing audiobooks out there that will appeal to even the most fervent audiobook hater. Read More .

Image Credit: Syda Productions/Shutterstock

Related topics: Audiobooks, Book Recommendations, Book Reviews, Freebies, Spotify, The Internet Archive.

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  1. Rationalist
    September 13, 2018 at 7:11 pm

    Thank you for your painstaking review. It was very helpful, indeed. I urge all newcomers to go through this and be guided by it.

  2. Vinod
    October 13, 2017 at 11:36 am

    All Jules Verne's novels on Librivox. Especially The Mysterious Island. Download it to phone and listen offline.

  3. Tony
    August 10, 2017 at 8:14 pm

    Actually, I find it more entertaining to listen to a good audio drama podcast or radio stations. These are in the same vain as the old radio shows. There are a ton of them out there and if you like they also rebroadcast some of the shows from the old days.

    Heck, back in the early 2000, they recreated a number of the twilight zone tv episodes as a radio show and got ahold a number of celebrity actors to participate. There was I believe 17 seasons

    • Dann Albright
      August 29, 2017 at 1:49 pm

      The Twilight Zone show sounds fascinating! I'm going to have to check that out. And I do like audio drama podcasts—Homecoming was awesome, and I'm a big fan of The Black Tapes. There's really good stuff out there.

  4. David
    August 10, 2017 at 10:04 am

    Whilst I do like classics, if you are looking for something a bit more up to date, you could do a lot worse than to check out Scott Sigler who has made many of his science fiction novels available as free podcasts.

    Beware, they are pretty violent and so not to everyone's taste but they are rollicking good stories and no character is too precious that they can't meet a horrifying demise in the next chapter

    • Tony
      August 10, 2017 at 8:06 pm

      David,
      I agree, his stuff helped me drive across from Colorado to Ohio.

  5. Robb
    August 9, 2017 at 8:50 pm

    I listen to audiobooks whenever I drive because I find the radio, except for BBC 4 Extra, intolerable. With this literary genre, the reader can make or break the listening experience. Some authors should never be allowed to read their own books. (No names, but you know who you are!) When I was in college, I was mesmerized by an assigned reading of the 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner' by the great Welsh actor, Richard Burton. Unforgettable!

    • dragonmouth
      May 28, 2019 at 7:07 pm

      Sir Richard Burton could read a grocery list and make it sound like great poetry.

  6. Maya
    August 9, 2017 at 1:40 am

    Thank you so so much for sharing these!! I usually just go to the library but it's not always easy to find good free audiobooks.
    THANK YOU!! :)