Whether you’re walking the dog, sitting in a hospital waiting room, or packed like a hot sardine on your first flight in years, audiobooks are the perfect way to keep your mind occupied. Below are some of the best summer listens available, from timeless classics to terrifying new thrillers.
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead
(Narrated by Dion Graham; 10 hrs 35 mins)
Compared to Colson Whitehead’s two previous emotionally devastating (but brilliant) novels, harlem shuffle it feels positively pleasant. Something akin to a caper, it brings 1960s Harlem to life in a story as old as time: the classic aftermath of a heist gone wrong. It’s hard to imagine a better time in the company of such thieves, schemers, swindlers, and stinking thugs.
sea of tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
(Narrated by Arthur Morey, Dylan Moore, John Lee, Kirsten Potter; 5hrs 46mins)
With extraordinary economy of language, Emily St John Mandel weaves an expertly crafted time-travel story spanning centuries that feels epic despite its brief length. Heavily colored by her previous work, with shades by Terry Gilliam. 12 monkeys, is a deeply satisfying and moving story about our primal need for human connection. Apologize to your friends and family in advance; You won’t be able to stop talking about this book.
Twelve Caesars: Images of Power from the Ancient to the Modern World by Maria Beard
(Narrated by the author; 10 h 11 min)
In general, we are familiar with many of the emperors of ancient Rome; the ambitious Caesar, the majestic Augustus, the mad Caligula. In twelve caesars, Mary Beard turns many of our assumptions upside down by looking at how these rulers have been depicted in art, from ancient times to the present day. It’s a clever and entertaining exercise that helps us rethink how we think about the distant past. The audiobook comes with a handy PDF that contains images discussed within.
Crossing by Jonathan Franken
(Narrated by David Pittu; 24hrs 22mins)
His best novel since The corrections, Franzen’s latest has all the wit and scalpel sharpness we’ve come to expect with the added surprising warmth of an Anne Tyler book. Scenes of excruciating embarrassment will have you howling; others will break your heart. The narration is excellent except for the incredibly irritating voice given to one of the characters, but it’s easy enough to forgive when everything else is so good.
Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are? band Frans de Waal
(Narrated by Sean Runnette; 10hrs 35mins)
Don’t let the clunky title put you off: this is an illuminating and scholarly examination of not only animal intelligence, but also how humans have historically failed to measure and understand that intelligence. De Waal, one of the world’s leading primatologists, is also an excellent writer: hardly a minute goes by without you marveling at the wonders of the natural world or learning some fascinating gem of animal behavior.
A ghost in the throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa
(Narrated by Siobhán McSweeney; 7 hrs 52 mins)
it is difficult to summarize A ghost in the throat In a sentence. Doireann Ní Ghríofa writes beautifully and honestly about his own life and that of Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, the 18th-century poet and composer of Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire. Although separated by centuries, the lives of these two writers now feel intimately and inextricably intertwined. Even if you’ve already read the book, the audio version is worth listening to; it almost feels as if, like the wail of anguish and anger itself, it had always been meant to be read aloud.
How the one-armed sister sweeps her house by Cherie Jones
(Narrated by Danielle Vitalis; 8hrs 41mins)
The story of three marriages on the deceptively beautiful island of Barbados, How the one-armed sister sweeps her house it can be a harrowing listen at times, filled as it is with domestic abuse, rape, murder and violence. A counterpoint to all this misery, and what ultimately makes it bearable, is the beautiful storytelling. With a lilting accent, Danielle Vitalis speaks in little more than a whisper, giving off an air of kindness and gentle intimacy that is much appreciated as the story progresses.
Love Towles Lincoln Highway
(Narrated by Edoardo Ballerini, Marin Ireland, Dion Graham; 16hrs 39mins)
In 1950s Nebraska, two young brothers must fend for themselves when their father dies and the bank forecloses on the family farm. In that very American tradition, they decide to make a new life out west, but fate takes them in the opposite direction, to New York City. A natural storyteller, Towels keeps the plot going very well in a solid holiday listen destined for the big screen.
Anne Tyler French Braid
(Narrated by Kimberly Farr; 9 hours and 4 minutes)
Another Anne Tyler novel, another family drama set in Baltimore. You might think that things would be getting repetitive by now, but it turns out to be quite the opposite. It’s becoming increasingly clear that we live in the darkest timeline, which is why each new Anne Tyler book feels more necessary than the last. They are the comfy blankets we need in a world ashamed to admit the need for comfy blankets. Here we follow the Garrett family, from a vacation in 1959 to the present day, and they look as wonderful as ever.
Lauren Groff Matrix
(Narrated by Adjoa Andoh; 8 hours and 52 minutes)
When Marie de France is expelled from the royal court of Eleanor of Aquitaine, she is sent to a ruined English abbey. The place is plagued by disease and deprivation, but Marie decides to change the fortunes of the abbey and create a kind of female utopia. A beautiful and seductive novel that totally and completely transports the listener to another world.
gasoline man by Colin Black
(Narrated by the author; 9 h 30 min)
Damn surgeons. Why do they take all the credit? Ask any anesthesiologist and they will tell you who the real heroes of the OR are. In gasoline manA highly entertaining and revealing account of what happens when you’re unconscious on the gurney, Colin Black takes us from accidental medical student to consultant pediatric anesthesiologist at Crumlin Children’s Hospital.
the only good indians by Stephen Graham-Jones
(Narrated by Shaun Taylor-Corbett; 8hrs 37mins)
Four young men go moose hunting on a forbidden part of their tribe’s land. Ten years later, what they did that day comes back to haunt them, metaphorically and literally. Both a somber meditation on Native American guilt and a satisfyingly gruesome horror story. the only good indians best enjoyed at night with the lights off. Sit around a campfire, if possible.
Sundial by Catriona Ward
(Narrated by Katherine Fenton; 12 hrs 58 mins)
Who doesn’t love a good psychological gothic horror about a particularly disturbing and toxic mother-daughter relationship? Sundial is one of those books where you’ll get the most out of going blind: it’s full of twists, turns, mystery, and paranoia. Part of the fun is guessing where he’s going next, and hoo-boy, he’s going to some pretty dark places. Not one for the family road trip to Clara Lara, then. Do people still go to Clara Lara?
War and peace by Leo Tolstoy
(Narrated by Thandiwe Newton; 60hrs 14mins)
An often overlooked benefit of listening to audiobooks is how they can enrich your life in the most unexpected ways. You could be lying on your couch, too hungover to get dressed, dying of acute dehydration, and eating cold pizza you don’t even want. But keep a little War and peace and bingo bango – you really are accomplishing something!
the plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz
(Narrated by Kirby Heyborne; 10hrs 43mins)
Sometimes you’re not in the mood to War and peace, and that’s fine. Sometimes he’s just in the mood for a no-nonsense three-star thriller to pass the time on a long road trip. Get into the plot. When a struggling writer steals someone else’s plot for his new novel, it jumps straight to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Things start to go off the rails when he gets an email that simply says, “You’re a thief.” Silly and fun in equal parts.
the night watchman by Luisa Erdrich
(Narrated by the author; 13 h 33 min)
If you listen to audiobooks on your phone, you may have noticed a handy button that lets you go back 30 seconds (or however long you set it). Sometimes you’ll use it because you missed a critical plot point. Sometimes you will use it because you were daydreaming and have no idea what the narrator just said. And sometimes, like listening the night watchman, you’ll use it to bask a little more in the warm glow of dazzling prose. Winner of the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, it follows a Native American tribe in North Dakota facing government-mandated termination in the 1950s.
The promise by Damon Galgut
(Narrated by Peter Noble; 10 hrs 12 mins)
Listen The promise you soon realize that you are in the presence of a Great Novel. A searing portrait of a white South African family over the decades, it keeps a watchful eye on broader political and social injustices. Peter Noble narrates beautifully: clipped cadences, rolling Pretorian R’s and stretched Afrikaans vowels give everything a warm authenticity.
Putin’s people: how the KGB took back Russia and then took on the West by Catherine Belton
(Narrated by Dugald Bruce-Lockhart; 18h 21m)
The ongoing tragedy in Ukraine cannot be understood without first understanding Vladimir Putin and his savagely corrupt and ruthless regime. Catherine Belton, the former Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times, has produced an extraordinarily detailed and well-researched account of Putin’s rise to power. It can be dense at times, and it’s easy to lose track of all the unfamiliar names, but this is one audiobook everyone should listen to.
Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keef
(Narrated by the author; 18 h 6 min)
You have no doubt heard of the current opioid crisis in the United States. Recent reports show that more than a million people have died from an opioid overdose. It is an amazing figure, and in empire of pain we learn about OxyContin, Purdue Pharma and the obscenely rich and insensitive family behind it all. Prepare to be infuriated by some Montgomery Burns levels of evil capitalism and utter disdain for the poor.