To help us provide you with free impartial advice, we may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site. Learn more

Best audiobooks 2020: The best fiction and non-fiction audiobooks you can buy

Don't let life get in the way of reading! We reveal the best audiobooks, whether you're a fantasy fan or biography bookworm

Once upon a time, all books were audiobooks. And just as your mum and dad once brought books to life at bedtime, today’s best audiobook narrators are magicians. Whether it’s Stephen Fry enthralling you with classic detective tales, Rocketman star Taron Egerton reading Elton John’s autobiography, or Peter Crouch recalling his football anecdotes, the right narrator breathes new life into even the best books.

Audiobook apps such as Audible have turned more people into readers than ever. Audiobook sales surged by 43% last year to £69 million in the UK alone – and printed book sales have also risen in recent years. Stories have never been so big.

So, as 2019 turns the page to 2020, we’ll celebrate by revealing the best audiobooks you can buy right now. First, here’s a guide for audio-curious bookworms.

READ NEXT: Audible review: The last word in audiobooks

How to find your perfect audiobook

Where do I buy audiobooks? Does it have to be Amazon?

Amazon’s audiobooks app Audible is the best platform for managing your audiobooks. (To find out why, read our in-depth review.) All the audiobooks in our rundown can be played in the Audible app, which is free to download.

In our rundown, we link to Amazon itself rather than to Audible. This is because the Amazon page also includes CD and other formats where available. What’s more, Amazon’s one-off prices are marginally cheaper than Audible’s.

Sign up for a 30-day Audible trial now

Why are Amazon’s audiobook prices so high?

Yep, they’re ridiculously high (£70!), but you’re unlikely to have to pay them. Instead, use Audible credits. Audible’s £7.99 monthly subscription gives you one ‘credit’ per month, which generally equals one book. Your books are yours to keep forever, and you can roll over unused credits until they expire after 12 months.

Watch out though, because books can be vastly different lengths and they all cost the same: whether they’re one hour or 25. Be sure to check the length before you buy.

Where else can I find audiobooks?

Here are a few more audiobook libraries and stores worth looking at…

Penguin UK Audiobooks: Browse thousands of audiobooks from the legendary UK publisher, then click Buy Now to download via third-party stores, including Audible. We love the site’s videos of star narrators in the audiobook studio, including Elisabeth Moss reading The Handmaid’s Tale and Michael Sheen reading Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust trilogy.

Downpour: Audible-style store and app with many of the same books as Audible. Either subscribe ($13/month) or buy one-off audiobooks, MP3s and downloads.

LibriVox Audio Books: 24,000+ completely free audiobooks to download and play via the free LibriVox app. You won’t find many A-list narrators here, but worth a try if you’re an adventurous reader who’s fed up paying for Audible.

Scribd Audiobooks: Unlimited audiobooks, ebooks and digital magazines – mostly US publications – for £8.99/month.

READ NEXT: How to nab TWO free audiobooks in Audible’s one-month free trial

The best audiobooks you can buy in 2020

1. Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection by Arthur Conan Doyle, read by Stephen Fry: Best classic fiction audiobook

Price: £70 (or 1 Audible credit) | Buy now from Amazon

Stephen Fry has been a fan of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes adventures since he was a boy, and that passion glows from every moment of his 72-hour reading of this glorious collection.

Fry really immerses you in Doyle’s twisty-turny detective stories, which include The Hound Of The Baskervilles and A Study In Scarlet. He’s particularly good at bringing characters to life with different voices, which stamp their identities on your imagination and help make sense of the unfolding plots.

Fry has also written his own insightful, personal introduction to each of the nine included volumes, and reads them with warmth, wit and wisdom.

Key specs – Length: 71 hours and 57 minutes; Publisher: Audible Studios; Released: 27 Feb 2017; Other digital formats: none

2. The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman, read by Michael Sheen: Best fantasy audiobook

Price: £28 (or 1 Audible credit) | Buy now from Amazon

Actor Michael Sheen is not only one of the world’s most listenable voices – think Richard Burton meets Doctor Who – but he’s also a master of accents and vocal tricks, making him the perfect choice of narrator for Philip Pullman’s latest book.

The Secret Commonwealth is the second part of The Book of Dust trilogy, picking up seven years after His Dark Materials. Heroine Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon are drawn into a dangerous new world, brought to spine-tingling life by Sheen.

Sheen also narrates La Belle Sauvage, the first part of The Book of Dust. Pullman himself narrates the His Dark Materials audiobooks.

Key specs – Length: 19 hours and 43 minutes; Publisher: Penguin Audio; Released: 3 Oct 2019; Other digital formats: Audio CD (£13.33), Kindle (£10)

3. The Body: A Guide For Occupants by Bill Bryson, read by the author: Best non-fiction audiobook

Price: £17 (or 1 Audible credit) | Buy now from Amazon

Bill Bryson has been around the world in 80 audiobooks, but he now explores lands closer to home. Much closer to home. In his journey around our body’s own physical and neurological map, Bryson unearths fascinating, often revolting and frequently hilarious facts, all delivered in his infectiously inquisitive US voice.

Bryson’s tones may be too soothing for the gym or while you’re trying to stay awake on the motorway, but for bedtime reading and long walks it’s spot on. There’s also an audiobook-exclusive section where people discuss the power of sound and voice.

Key specs – Length: 14 hours and 47 minutes; Publisher: Audible Studios; Released: 3 Oct 2019; Other digital formats: Audio CD (£58), Kindle (£10)

4. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, read by Ann Dowd: Best award-winning modern fiction audiobook

Price: £28 (or 1 Audible credit) | Buy now from Amazon

Ann Dowd, who did such a terrifyingly brilliant job of playing Aunt Lydia in Hulu/Channel 4’s adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, takes top billing this time as she and two other actors (Bryce Dallas Howard and Mae Whitman) read that book’s sequel. The captivating result is arguably even more gripping than the print version, which won the 2019 Booker Prize.

The audiobook of The Handmaid’s Tale, read by the adaptation’s star Elisabeth Moss, is also well worth downloading.

Key specs – Length: 13 hours and 18 minutes; Publisher: Penguin Audio; Released: 10 Sep 2019; Other digital formats: Audio CD (£14), Kindle (£10)

5. Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing by Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse, read by the authors: Best comedy audiobook

Price: £25 (or 1 Audible credit) | Buy now from Amazon

Much-loved TV comedians Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse entranced the nation when, after both being diagnosed with heart disease, they headed off on an angling expedition that was more chit-chat than fish-catch.

This TV show’s spin-off book works better as an audiobook than on the page. It feels like a natural extension of the show, and more intimate. In between the laugh out loud moments there are hours of engaging chat about life’s big questions, such as: How did we get so old? What are your favourite pocket meats? What should we do if we find a corpse?

Key specs – Length: 6 hours and 5 minutes; Publisher: Blink Publishing; Released: 30 May 2019; Other digital formats: Audio CD (£17), Kindle (£4)

6. Me by Elton John, read by Taron Egerton: Best biography audiobook

Price: £12.24 (or 1 Audible credit) | Buy now from Amazon

Elton himself introduces the audiobook of his autobiography – his audioautobiography, if you like – then narration duties are taken over by Taron Egerton, who played Elton in the hit movie Rocketman.

Good, because as great a singer as Elton is, his speaking voice is too raspy and monotone to hear for hours on end. By contrast, Egerton’s versatile delivery turns this occasionally hair-raising memoir into a rollercoaster treat. Just a shame there’s not more insight into the rock n’ roll among the sex, drugs and tantrums.

Key specs – Length: 11 hours and 47 minutes; Publisher: Macmillan; Released: 15 Oct 2019; Other digital formats: Audio CD (£15.37), Kindle (£12)

7. A Legacy Of Spies by John le Carré, read by Tom Hollander: Best spy thriller audiobook

Price: £17.50 (or 1 Audible credit) | Buy now from Amazon

John le Carre’s spy novels are spectacularly gripping but not the easiest stories to follow. His 2017 thriller – a prequel to 1963’s classic The Spy Who Came In From The Cold – is no exception, with pages and chapters that you find yourself having to re-read to figure out what’s going on.

No such problems with this audiobook, narrated by actor Tom Hollander, who starred in the BBC adaptation of another Le Carre novel, The Night Manager. Hollander’s deep, disquieting voice helps you distinguish between characters, remember names and places, and follow the story’s threads as it winds towards its conclusion.

Key specs – Length: 8 hours and 28 minutes; Publisher: Penguin Books; Released: 7 Sep 2017; Other digital formats: Audio CD (£19.25), Kindle (£5)

8. The Order Of Time by Carlo Rovelli, read by Benedict Cumberbatch: Best science audiobook

Price: £15.74 (or 1 Audible credit) | Buy now from Amazon

Benedict Cumberbatch reading a bedtime story about the meaning of time itself? Yes please. Rovelli’s book, which covers everything from the concept of nostalgia to Einstein and quantum theory, is elevated to sheer mesmeric delight by Cumberbatch’s velvet tones, which helped win it the 2018 National Book Award for best audiobook.

Key specs – Length: 4 hours and 18 minutes; Publisher: Penguin Books; Released: 26 April 2018; Other digital formats: Audio CD (£19), Kindle (£5)

9. How To Be A Footballer by Peter Crouch, read by the author: Best sports audiobook

Price: £19.24 (or 1 Audible credit) | Buy now from Amazon

Peter Crouch is famous for being good at football and very tall, but he’s also an incredibly engaging raconteur. No-one else could have narrated the audiobook of his memoir with quite such funny flair. You might find many of the stories familiar if you’re already a fan of his podcast, but he’s such good company that you may not mind hearing them again.

Key specs – Length: 7 hours and 36 minutes; Publisher: Random House Audiobooks; Released: 8 Nov 2018; Other digital formats: Kindle (£5)

10. How To Be Right by James O’Brien, read by the author: Best British politics audiobook

Price: £17.50 (or 1 Audible credit) | Buy now from Amazon

James O’Brien’s bestseller How To Be Right is a vigorously readable spin-off from his daily LBC radio show. The book uses examples of callers phoning into the show to pick apart the prejudice and muddled thinking that explains Brexit Britain.

It works especially well as an audiobook, thanks to O’Brien’s unfailingly committed narration, with actors re-enacting the radio conversations. You may not like everything he says, but his logic, wit and intelligence are riveting.

Key specs – Length: 4 hours and 57 minutes; Publisher: Random House Audiobooks; Released: 1 Nov 2018; Other digital formats: Kindle (£5)

11. Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas by Adam Kay, read by the author: Best short audiobook

Price: £11.37 ( or 1 Audible credit) | Buy now from Amazon

In his new book, Adam Kay takes us behind the grisly scenes of hospitals at Christmas, where 1.4 million NHS staff will work through the festive season. Like Kay’s bestseller This Is Going To Hurt, it swings between being hilarious, heartbreaking and frightening, but it’s always a joy to listen to thanks to Kay’s deadpan delivery. At just over two hours, you can get through the whole lot while you digest your figgy pudding, hopefully without incident.

Key specs – Length: 2 hours and 20 minutes; Publisher: Picador; Released: 17 Oct 2019; Other digital formats: Kindle (£3)

12. Stay Sexy And Don’t Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, read by the authors: Best self-help audiobook

Price: £17.50 (or 1 Audible credit) | Buy now from Amazon

The hosts of true-crime comedy podcast My Favorite Murder turn the focus on their own lives in this confessional audiobook. Anyone who’s ever been through anything will find something here to relate to and learn from.

Karen and Georgia take it in turns to narrate, intimately recounting their individual stories of depression, eating disorders and addiction, and sharing their biggest mistakes and deepest fears. Some parts are recorded in front of a live audience, and it’s all done with very little self-pity and masses of sass.

Key specs – Length: 6 hours and 31 minutes; Publisher: Orion; Released: 30 May 2019; Other digital formats: Audio CD (£24.18), Kindle (£10)

13. The Boy In The Dress by David Walliams, read by the author and Matt Lucas: Best audiobook for children

Price: £6.12 (or 1 Audible credit) | Buy now from Amazon

Comedian and actor David Walliams is now firmly established as one of the world’s leading children’s authors, but it’s only just over a decade since he published his first book, The Boy In The Dress. It’s loved by children and parents for its unpatronising sensitivity and uplifting escapism – and has many non-parent adult fans, too. This audiobook version is an absolute joy, elevated by brilliant vocal performances from Walliams and his Little Britain co-star Matt Lucas.

Key specs – Length: 2 hours and 23 minutes; Publisher: HarperCollins; Released: 4 Nov 2008; Other digital formats: Audio CD (£6.50), Kindle (£3)

14. The Irishman by Charles Brandt, read by Scott Brick: Best true-crime audiobook

Price: £21.87 (or 1 Audible credit) | Buy now from Amazon

What happened to crime boss Jimmy Hoffa? And what did Mafia hitman Frank ‘The Irishman’ Sheeran know about it? This epic tale of organised crime in post-war America has been squeezed into a three-and-a-half-hour Netflix movie by Martin Scorsese, but even he had to leave out most of the details, so here audiobook actor extraordinaire Scott Brick fills in the grisly gaps by narrating the book that the film is based on. And it’s a helluva ride: grim, gritty and haunting. Don’t have nightmares.

Key specs – Length: 15 hours and 12 minutes; Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton; Released: 22 Sep 2016; Other digital formats: Kindle (£4)

15. How Not to Be a Boy: Best autobiographical audiobook

Price: £19.99 (or 1 Audible credit) | Buy now from Amazon

Comedy performers’ memoirs aren’t always worth reading if you’re not a fan of the star in question, but Robert Webb’s book is an anomaly. As the title suggests, it sees the author questioning what it is to be both a boy and a man – and how it didn’t prepare him at all for the death of his mother when he was just 17 years old.

Webb critically examines the rules of manhood – don’t cry, don’t talk about your feelings, drink beer – and how they inevitably hurt everyone they touch, not just the men following the rules. It doesn’t hurt that the book is very funny, but that’s far from the main reason to pick it up.

Key specs – Length: 8 hours and 52 minutes; Publisher: Audible Studios; Released: 29 Aug 2017; Other digital formats: Kindle (£5.03); free on Kindle Unlimited

16. Red Notice, by Bill Browder, read by Adam Grupper: Best real-life thriller

Price: £20.89 (or 1 Audible credit) | Buy now from Amazon

The full title of this book is a lot more revealing about its contents – Red Notice: A True Story of Corruption, Murder and One Man’s Fight for Justice. 

This is a book that financier Bill Browder would no doubt rather have not written. Off the back of getting very rich in the post-Soviet Union privatisations, Browder made Vladimir Putin’s list of enemies. When Browder’s tax lawyer – Sergei Magnitsky – failed to sign a false confession, he eventually died in prison as the state failed to treat his pancreatitis. 

Browder’s revenge for his friend was ultimately a legal one: the Magnitsky Act freezes assets and suspends visas of officials from countries known to be guilty of human-rights offences, and is now law in the USA and Canada, with other nations set to follow. This book tells the whole story, and it’s a rollercoaster ride that’s well worth a listen.

Key specs – Length: 14 hours and 6 minutes; Publisher: Whole Story Audiobooks; Released: 9 Apr 2015; Other digital formats: Kindle (£5.99); Audio CD (£25.52)

Read more

Reviews | Books