The best audiobooks to listen to on your commute, around the house, or on holiday

Or, anywhere you like...

w&h selection of the best audiobooks
(Image credit: Future)

If you find it tough to take time out of your day to settle down with a book, choosing instead to read one of the best audiobooks might be a better option for you.

For some of us, wanting to read more can be tricky. It often means trying to carve out a peaceful half an hour in the day, when plenty of us are already busy with work life, home life, social lives and trying to stay fit and healthy. Often, 20 minutes of quiet alone time reading can feel nigh on impossible. But that's where audiobooks come in. 

Rather than needing to sit down, and dedicate all your attention to the words on the page of a traditional book, audiobooks allow you to carry on with your everyday tasks, whilst being able to dive into the next must-read on your list. They are a fantastic way to absorb yourself in a story without needing to stop completely, if you don't want to. 

Reading the best audiobooks, rather than a physical book, means that you can cook dinner, clean the house, get on with some work, or go on a walk, and at the same time, get to delve into the next chapter of one of the best thrillers, best romance books, or best historical fiction books

While it's undoubtedly lovely to settle down with physical copy of one of the best books of 2021, or a new novel on your best Kindle, audiobooks give us back the chance to read, even when we barely have a minute to sit down.

The best audiobooks to listen to in 2021

To help you figure out which audiobook to listen to next, we've picked out our selection of the best. Below, you'll find fascinating autobiographies (often read aloud by their famous authors), gripping horrors that will leave you spooked, and captivating love stories that will leave you feeling like you're watching a film. 

So if you want to try out an audiobook for the first time, or are simply keen to read your next book club book as an audiobook, check out our list of the best audiobooks below...

Best audiobook autobiographies

Many of these autobiography audiobooks are read by the person who wrote them, so it's a fantastic way to read these books as they were meant to be read. From fascinating true stories of unconventional upbringings, to tales from inside The White House, you'll be hooked on their every word and every story.

A Promised Land by Barack Obama (read by the author)

Never have we needed a calm voice of hope and reason more than on the tail-end of a global pandemic, and such is the soothing nature of this biography by the former US President that it should be prescribed alongside our vaccinations. Barack Obama talks frankly about the challenges facing his beloved country, weaving the personal and political as he discusses his term in office and beyond. Endlessly fascinating and ultimately enlightening, it will regalvanise your belief in the power of positivity.

More Than A Woman by Caitlin Moran (read by the author)

Ten years after penning her supremely funny bestseller How To Be A Woman, Caitlin Moran returned with this amusing deep-dive into female middle age. Covering everything from the mystery over ‘mum bods’ to teenage meltdowns, never-ending to-do lists and a dwindling sex drive, Moran chats away as she might to a friend over a glass of wine – although apparently, you can’t even trust vino anymore. A celebration of motherhood, womanhood and a call to arms to reclaim ‘hagdom’, the book is all the more relatable from having its author at the narrating helm. A true must-listen.

Educated by Tara Westover (read by Julia Whelan)

Tara Westover grew up in the Idaho mountains and spent her summers bottling peaches and her winters rotating meagre supplies. She watched the school bus roll past, but never got on it. Her father did not believe in education or conformity; and so Tara had no birth certificate, no medical record, no paper trail and no reason to question why. Until she did. Written following her abandonment of the place she called home in order to study first at Harvard and then Cambridge University, Educated is an astonishing true story about hope, family and identity, told beautifully in this audio edition by the talented Julia Whelan.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler (read by Amy Poehler)

The first book by brilliant comedy writer and actress Amy Poehler is a vibrant hoot from start to end. Nattering her way through all facets of life, from motherhood to sex to fame to lessons she’s learnt (and refused to learn) over the years, Amy and her host of famous guests invite the reader in as they might a close friend and listening to the audio is wonderfully reminiscent of the leisurely chats over coffee – or wine – that we cannot wait to have with loved ones once lockdown is over.

Quite by Claudia Winkleman (read by Claudia Winkleman)

It only takes a few minutes of listening to the lovely Claudia to feel completely cheered up, and in this, her first memoir, she muses her merry way through many an everyday topic. Providing her opinion on everything from eyeliner application (simply smear it in the vicinity of your eyes), dressing for your age, why nurses are national treasures, and who you should and definitely shouldn’t sleep with on a first date, Claudia approaches every subject with her trademark wry sense of humour and the straightforward honesty we have come to expect and love. The perfect Sunday afternoon audio companion.

Becoming by Michelle Obama (read by Michelle Obama)

That's right - the Obama audiobooks are so good we included them both in our round-up! Narrated by Michelle herself, Becoming chronicles the life of the former First Lady, from her upbringing on the South side of Chicago to her time in the White House. She discusses her life bringing up two daughters in the glare of the media spotlight and her important public life as an advocate for women. With almost all five star reviews from readers, it's guaranteed to be a brilliant read.

Dear NHS: Stories To Say Thank You (Trapeze)

This isn't strictly an autobiography, but it is an anthology of personal stories. Essentially a love letter to the National Health Service, the book includes readings by Jilly Cooper, Ed Sheeran, Lorraine Kelly, Marian Keyes, Jo Brand, Victoria Hislop, Joanna Lumley, Stephen Fry, Jojo Moyes, David Nicholls, Sir Michael Palin, Jonathan Ross, Dame Emma Thompson, Miranda Hart, Jimmy Carr, Kathy Burke, Greg Wise, Emma Watson, Dame Julie Walters, David Tennant and Sir Trevor McDonald to name but a few. In a year that has pushed those working in the NHS to the brink of human endurance, it feels important to give something back, and by downloading this audiobook you will be ensuring a share of the proceeds go to the appropriate charities.

Best audiobook romances

Reading (or listening to) an audiobook narration of a romance novel can be a brilliant way of absorbing these stories, as you listen to it as though it is a captivating romance movie. From old classics to modern marvels, these love stories are so much better enjoyed through the medium of listening.

The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn (read by Rosalyn Landor)

Of all the series to drop onto Netflix over the past few months, none has been quite as frothy and enjoyable as Bridgerton. The raunchy Regency drama is based on a collection of bestselling books by Julia Quinn, all of which are available in audio format, so you can pick up exactly where the TV show left off. The Viscount Who Loved Me follows Anthony Bridgerton, who is on a quest to find a wife having decided the time has come to, as he puts it, ‘procreate’. Drawn at once to the season’s newest gem Edwina Sheffield, Anthony finds himself continually thwarted by her older sister Kate, who is determined that her younger sibling will not fall for the famous rake. Sheer and blissful fun from start to end.

Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen (read by Rosamund Pike)

There are a number of audio editions of this much-adored tale available, but what becomes rapidly apparent upon listening to this version in particular is that narrator Rosamund Pike – who played the part of Jane Bennet in the 2005 film adaptation – is a passionate Austen fan. Her lively, witty and joyful performance does the book proud, and is a welcome reminder of exactly why the ‘will they/won’t they’ story of proud Mr Darcy and prejudiced Elizabeth Bennet has endured for so long in the hearts of so many readers.

Rivals by Jilly Cooper (read by Sherry Baines)

Of all Jilly Cooper’s Rutshire Chronicles, Rivals is perhaps the best loved. It is certainly the most accessible, given that it’s set not in the author’s preferred horsey world but in the cutthroat domain of television (although naturally, she still creates ample opportunity for sexy scoundrel Rupert Campbell-Black to feature). Listening to Rivals feels like catching up with old friends you haven’t heard from in years, and narrator Sherry Baines has a lot of fun with the multiple personalities and pun-tastic love scenes on offer. Downloading this will ensure you several days’ worth of rollicking good listening pleasure.

Best audiobook thriller/horror

Audiobook horrors and thrillers will really bring the story to life. These picks will have you on the edge of your seat - and sometimes scared out of your wits....

Pet Sematary by Stephen King (read by Michael C Hall)

Often lauded as not only Stephen King’s scariest book, and now a popular book-to-movie adaption, but also one of the best horror stories of all time, Pet Sematary is certainly not for the faint of heart. The plot centres around a young father who moves his family from Chicago out to a quiet house in Maine, the garden of which backs up into a forest where the local children bury their pets. Visceral and terrifying yet deliciously addictive, this classic King tale is made even more chilling by Dexter star Michael C Hall’s quietly commanding narration. Listen…if you dare.

The Hit List by Holly Seddon (read by Tuppence Middleton)

A year after Marianne’s husband is killed in a traffic accident, she is going through his laptop and stumbles across what appears to be a hit list – with her own name on it. Desperate to know exactly what her late partner was embroiled in before he died, Marianne embarks on a mission to find out, but little does she know there’s a killer hot on her heels. This taut, tense and genuinely terrifying thriller is so gripping that it really should be listened to in one satisfying gulp, and War & Peace actress Tuppence Middleton does an incredible job of keeping the listener hooked from start to shocking end.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (read by Elisabeth Moss)

Given how brilliant she is in the TV adaptation of this dystopian classic, it made perfect sense that Elisabeth Moss (Offred) was invited to read the audiobook of The Handmaid’s Tale, alongside her co-stars Bradley Whitford (Commander Lawrence), Ann Dowd (Aunt Lydia) and Amy Landecker (Mrs Mackenzie). Margaret Atwood’s haunting tale packs as much if not more of a punch now than it did when it was first published in 1985, and as such, it more than warrants repeated readings. A brilliant audiobook.

Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton (read by Gemma Whelan)

Game Of Thrones actress Gemma Whelan takes the narration reins of this chillingly beautiful novel about a school under siege from the indefatigably talented Lupton. As the title suggests, the action unfurls over the course of three hours, with chapters split between the viewpoints of trapped pupils, desperate parents, stricken teachers and the police officer racing against time to find and locate the shooters. Despite its subject matter, there is nothing gratuitous nor gory about this book; its power lies in the quiet intensity of its characters, the lyrical prose and a captivating climax that digs claws right into the heart. A true masterpiece.

The Confession by Jo Spain (read by Michele Moran & Christopher Bonwell)

Novels by Irish writer Jo Spain can often be found languishing at the top of the audiobook charts – and with good reason. Her thrillers offer the perfect package of meaty plot, real characters and gasp-worthy twists, and her latest The Confession is another impressive example. The wife of disgraced banker Harry is at home to witness his murder by a brutal beating and the man who did it hands himself into the police shortly afterwards. What nobody seems to know, however, is why. Was the killer hired, and if so, by whom? The reveal, when it comes, will make your head spin.

Nothing Important Happened Today by Will Carver (read by Ciaran Saward)

Crime author Will Carver has become renowned for pushing boundaries to the absolute limit when it comes to his books, and it is only right that Nothing Important Happened Today comes with a warning to those who may be a tad squeamish. That said, there is much here that balances out the more shocking sequences featuring a suicide cult, and what the author does really well is examine the state of modern society and those roles we’re all guilty of falling into. At its core, however, the book is a faultlessly executed why-and-whodunnit that once read – or indeed heard – is impossible to forget.

The Other Passenger by Louise Candlish (read by Stephen Mackintosh)

Rapidly emerging as one of the best crime-thriller writers of the moment. Louise Candlish pushed the bar even higher with this, her latest unputdownable tale of dastardly characters committing dastardly acts. Brit actor Stephen Mackintosh expertly narrates the role of central protagonist Kit, a middle-aged coffee shop barista who finds himself the prime suspect when a friend from his riverboat commute goes missing. The book is a Richard & Judy Book Club pick, a Sunday Times Bestseller and the film rights have been snapped up – praise where it’s due for a novel that is devilishly smart and tremendously enjoyable.

Last One At The Party by Bethany Clift (Hodder & Stoughton)

A story set in the aftermath of a global pandemic, the horror that this book opens with is the fact that humanity did not prevail against the virus. In fact, our female narrator is seemingly the only human being left alive in a world decimated by an infection known as 6DM (six days maximum). As she tries her best to block out the horror then attempt to escape it, the narrator learns how to be the person she’s always wanted to be. Darkly humorous, poignant and thought-provoking, this is can’t-look-away storytelling at its best.

Best literary audibooks

These novels cover a huge range of topics - from an enduring family story set in 1980s Glasgow to the story of the tale of two sisters in a Southern black community in the 1940s. The literary books are must-reads - ranging from important new releases to classic that everyone should tick off their list. 

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (read by Angus King)

Set in 1980s Glasgow, this Booker Prize-winning debut novel has been captivating readers since its release in February 2020. Mum Agnes has been yearning for a better, simpler life for as long as she can remember, but when she is abandoned by her husband and left to raise three children alone, any hope that remained is stripped away and she seeks solace from the bottle. Shuggie is the son who stays, the one who refuses to give up on his mother, and the character you cannot help but root for throughout. Funny, sad, thought-provoking and beautifully human, it is a story which flourishes in audio thanks to the superbly raw and authentic performance of Scot Angus King.

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman (read by Lesley Manville)

Legendary stage and screen star Lesley Manville was the perfect choice to narrate Pointless host Richard Osman’s hugely successful crime caper debut, which is still riding high in the charts many months after its release. The story follows four octogenarians at a peaceful retirement village, who meet weekly to solve cold cases for fun. When a property developer is killed and human remains are discovered nearby, Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron cannot help but start digging – but at what cost to themselves? Charmingly British, neatly plotted and fabulously amusing throughout, it’s a real treat for the soul (and the ears). And the audiobook also boasts an exclusive interview between author Osman and Marian Keyes.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (read by Carey Mulligan)

What if you could try out all the lives you could have lived and choose one? This is the premise at the heart of Matt Haig’s latest bestseller, and his 34-year central protagonist Nora is the woman who is offered the chance to rewrite fate. The titular Midnight Library is a place that exists between life and death – somewhere those who have given up on their own lives find themselves – and it through these myriad adventures that they learn what is really important. The audiobook is elevated into almost lyrical beauty by the always exquisite Carey Mulligan, who narrates Nora’s story with deft and sensitivity.

The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Burrows (read by Charlie Norfolk and full cast)

It is not often a book comes along that deserves ‘classic’ status, but The Potato Book (so named here to save a few hundred characters within this review) is most definitely a worthy contender. Set in the years following the Second World War and written as a series of letters between author Juliet Ashton and a group of book-loving Guernsey residents, it is part love story, part mystery and wholly heart-warming and wonderful. What makes the audio version so special is the different voices for each larger-than-life character, making this multi-narrator novel not simply easier to follow, but even more enjoyable to consume.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (read by Shayna Small)

Set between the 1940s and 1990s, this New York Times bestselling novel tells the story of twin sisters Desiree and Stella Vignes, who are raised in the same Southern black community but separate after running away aged 16. Stella starts living as a white woman, keeping the truth about her upbringing a secret, even from her own husband, while Desiree eventually makes her way back to the town she grew up in as a single mother. Years pass, lives intertwine, and hidden truths inevitably swell to the surface as the two women face up to the hand life has dealt them. With HBO securing rights to a limited series that should begin shooting post-lockdown, now is the perfect time to make a slot in your reading (or listening) library for this captivating book.

Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling (read by Stephen Fry)

The Harry Potter books are the literary equivalent of comfort food, and it only takes a few minutes of listening to this, the first in a series of seven wizarding novels, before you are whisked away into the magical world created by author JK Rowling. The books are a near-permanent fixture in the audio chart Top 10, and that is due in no small part to the utterly brilliant job Stephen Fry has done with the narration, not so much reading as performing his way joyously through the pages. One that the whole family will enjoy.

We Are All Birds Of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan (read by Taheen Modak, Sagar Arya)

Set between 1960s Uganda and present-day London, this blistering debut charts the pivotal moments in the lives of two men. In Uganda, Hasan is struggling to keep his family and business afloat following the death of his wife when a new regime seizes power, while in London, 26-year-old Sameer is floundering despite riding high as a lucrative City lawyer. Called home by tragedy, Sameer begins to delve into a past that until now has been shrouded in secrecy, and what he discovers will change everything. A nuanced and enlightening novel about identity, self and what it truly means to belong.

Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders (read by various)

Winner of the Man Booker in 2017, Lincoln In The Bardo is the fantastical creation of American master scribe George Saunders, who is but one of an astonishing 166-person cast in this audiobook production. Also lending their voices to tell the story of supernatural cohorts squabbling over the soul of a president’s son are David Sedaris, Lena Dunham, Bradley Whitford, Susan Sarandon, Ben Stiller and Don Cheadle, to name a mere few. The result is an endlessly riveting listening experience that is perhaps closer to theatre than simple audio – well worth downloading to enjoy in a single sitting.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (read by Philip Glenister, Daniel Mays, Catherine Tate et al)

If you are a recent convert to the wonders of audio narration, a good place to start can be with the classics – those books you may not have read since your schooldays, or perhaps not at all, thinking you would get around to them yet never quite managing it. The Audible platform often invites well-known actors to take on the roles within such literary gems, and Treasure Island has attracted the speaking skills of Ashes To Ashes star Philip Glenister, Line Of Duty’s Daniel Mays and comedian Catherine Tate. The resulting original drama performance is fabulously good fun and can be enjoyed by the whole family.

Where The Forest Meets The Stars by Glendy Vanderah (read by  Lauren Ezzo) 

An Amazon chart topper and Washington Post bestseller, this magical, mesmerising story is perfect for fans of Where The Crawdads Sing. After the loss of her mother and a battle with cancer, Joanna returns to her solitary work studying birds in rural Illinois. One day, a barefoot and bruised child appears at Joanna’s cabin, claiming to have been sent from the stars to witness five miracles. Enlisting the help of her reclusive neighbour Gabriel, Joanna agrees to let the girl stay while she works out what to do, and it is then that strange and wonderful things begin to happen…

Best feel-good audiobooks

If you want to listen to a story that will have you giggling, weeping, and reflecting all in equal measure, these lovely - but thought-provoking - feel-good reads should tick all of your boxes. Plus, some are narrated by some very famous names...

Us Three by Ruth Jones (read by the author)

The co-creator of Gavin & Stacey has penned a second novel – and this time she has narrated the audio for it as well. Lana, Judith and Catrin have been best friends since primary school, supporting one another through all the trials and tribulations of life. Following a trip of a lifetime, however, something happens that fractures the bonds between the three women. Can they forgive and forget, or were they fools to imagine that childhood friendships could stay the distance? Ruth Jones has created characters that feel like real friends and scenarios that are relatable, humorous and often moving, and having her read the audio is a marvellous bonus.

Grown Ups by Marian Keyes (read by the author)

If you’re after a story that will lift your spirits, make you chuckle and perhaps teach you a little about life along the way, then Marian Keyes should be at the very top of your Audible wish list. Her most recent bestseller Grown Ups follows a family that unravels in hilarious style after one of the three Casey brothers’ wives suffers a concussion, leading her to reveal some hidden truths. Marian herself does the narration, bringing both her witty dialogue and colourful cast of characters gloriously to life from the off, and proving yet again that she more than deserves her status as a national writing treasure.

Olive by Emma Gannon (read by Sian Clifford)

Fleabag actress Sian Clifford was the perfect choice to narrate this insightful, wryly observed and subtly poignant novel about a woman at an important crossroads in her life. Olive has always kept step with her friends as they leap over the hurdles of relationships, career and education, but when it comes to motherhood, a divide has begun to form. Because while Olive is a lot of things, she is not lured by the idea of becoming a parent, and for some reason it is this that ostracises her from those she cares about the most. An important book for women that refuses to flinch away from the challenges many of us must inevitably face.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (read by Laura Dern and a full cast)

When the big Hollywood adaptation of Little Women arrived in cinemas shortly before the pandemic, it saw a whole new generation of fans fall in love with the irresistible story of the March sisters. Set against the backdrop of the American Civil War, it charts the lives and loves of Jo, Amy, Beth and Meg as they each make their way out into a changing world. Laura Dern took on the role of the sisters’ mother in the film, and here she takes over the narration alongside a full cast of talented actors, all of whom do a brilliant job of bringing Louisa May Alcott’s classic tale to life.

Heartburn by Nora Ephron (read by Meryl Streep)

One for lovers of comedy, drama and food, Heartburn is the hugely enjoyable 1983 autobiographical novel by the writer who brought us Sleepless In Seattle. Drawing on her own marriage and subsequent divorce from her second husband, Nora’s story begins with a heavily pregnant wife, Rachel, discovering that her other half is having an affair, and goes on to chart the process of therapy, revenge and ultimate recovery that follows. Brilliantly sharp-witted and punctuated throughout with delicious recipes, it is a joy of a novel that becomes instantly enhanced by Meryl Streep’s divine narration.

Ghosts by Dolly Alderton (read by Holliday Grainger)

You can barely switch on the TV without seeing Holliday Grainger pop up in the lead role of the latest drama series, so the fact that she was chosen to narrate this modern debut is a testament to its calibre. Protagonist Nina is navigating her way through her thirties in London, juggling her job as a food writer with a burgeoning relationship, hectic social life and the slow fall of her beloved father into the vicious clutches of dementia. Author, journalist and podcast star Dolly Alderton found great success through her memoir, Everything I Know About Love, and she draws laudably on the honesty and easy humour of that non-fiction work here.

Luster by Ravel Leilani (read by Ariel Blake)

Edie is not so much living as existing. Her admin job in an all-white office is dull, she’s failing to indulge her passion of painting and she keeps sleeping with all the wrong men. Through this fug emerges Eric, a white, middle-aged husband and father to an adopted black daughter who convinces Edie that not only is his marriage open but that she should move in with his family. Exploring race, youth and the politics surrounding conventional relationships, Luster is a sharp-edged yet insightful and funny debut with a firecracker heroine at its heart – and the audio narration is brilliant.