Great Audiobook Performances

I thought I’d list a few audiobooks that aren’t just good books, but also feature the best performance by the audiobook artist. I think that in some cases, these audiobooks are almost the best way to experience the book because the audiobook performer does such a great job. Here are the ones that impressed me:

Bud, Not Buddy - James Avery died 10 years ago, but I still hear him every year in my job as a teacher and I am in the thin minority that remembers him mainly for his reading of Bud, Not Buddy. He was Uncle Phil on Fresh Prince and also Shredder in TMNT, but I would recommend everyone listen to him read Bud, Not Buddy. It’s top notch.

Lord of the Rings - Phil Dragash did all the voices and also mixed in Howard Shore’s score to the best version of Lord of the Rings you can find. He did not get the rights and did not charge, but it was pulled off his site anyone. It exists legally, I presume, on the Internet Archive. I consider this the ultimate way to re-read and experience the book. It’s that good.

You can find it here.

Harry Potter Series - Stephen Fry is simply amazing on these. I don’t think of Fry as an actor first, but his acting/performing on the Potter books is unbelievable.

Stargirl - John Ritter. What a loss John Ritter was to us as well. Here is a book that I think is often overlooked by people, but Ritter’s performance on it is incredible. He could have just read it straight, but he acted out the whole thing amazingly. I hear him every year with my students and like James Avery, it’s become the main thing I associate him with.

The voice cast for Neil Gaiman’s American Gods was absolutely amazing.

Edward Hermann also does an awesome job on The Boys in the Boat.

Simon Prebble did a great job on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was originally a BBC Radiophonics Workshop production (the book came later). It is not one person but a cast acting it out and sound effects and music.

It is absolutely fantastic. Superb for a long road trip…you’ll enjoy the whole 6+ hours.

I came in to say that any of Neil Gaiman’s books that he reads himself are a tremendous pleasure. There is a good sample of his readings of many different things at Open Culture Hear Neil Gaiman Read Aloud 15 of His Own Works, and Works by 6 Other Great Writers: From The Graveyard Book & Coraline, to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven & Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

Simon Slater’s reading of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall is one of the best audiobook performances I have ever heard.

The absolute standout for me is the author Frank McCourt reading Angela’s Ashes.

Peter Kenny is superb for the Iain M Banks Culture novels, I can’t just read them now, his voice is that world to me. He’s also perfect for the deadpan humor of the fabulous Jonas Jonasson books.

Rupert Degas did a great job narrating Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro: 2033. Creepy, foreboding and speaking smoothly over the Russian names that tripped me up when trying to read it.

The back half of the story suffers from some narrative issues but I can listen to Degas read the first half of the book many times.

He’s a great narrator, and contributes to the full cast recording of The Sandman, which is one of the only full cast recordings I’ve ever enjoyed. A truly stunning recreation of the comic.

Mel Brooks is a delight in his autobiography.

Jonathan Cecil was absolutely perfect as narrator for many PG Wodehouse Jeeves & Wooster books.

Check out his Mythos series. A phenomenal listen even if you’re already familiar with the source material. Well researched and often laugh out loud funny.

I’m very eager for him to do The Odyssey, which in think is next up for him.

Correct. And I wouldn’t limit it to just the Jeeves & Wooster books, although those are arguably the ones that work best as audiobooks, because of the first-person POV.

Anything narrated by Wanda McCaddon, aka Nadia May. I’ve discovered great books I wouldn’t otherwise have heard of, just browsing through titles she’s read.

On the flip side there are unfortunately a lot of audiobooks which are absolutely unlistenable due to their narration – either inexperience/unprofessionalism (mumbling, slurring), or strange affectation.

Julia Whelan and Kirby Heyborne do a fantastic job for Gone Girl. The book is written as alternating diary entries from the two protagonists, and neither character is even close to a reliable narrator.

The late David McCullough could read a dictionary and I’d listen. I particularly enjoyed The Wright Brothers, even if he glossed over how much their litigiousness screwed themselves and hampered early American aviation.

I thought Dennis Quaid did a great job with The Right Stuff.

One of the most moving and profound audiobook listening experiences I’ve ever had was Joe Morton’s reading of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ The Water Dancer.

Morton’s voice is like dark, sweet honey. His acting ability is unmatched. He even sings some of the working songs of the “tasked” (Coates’ word for enslaved people). I walked in my neighborhood while listening to the long (14-hr) book and many times stopped with tears running down my face. There was a moment so surprising and gratifying near the end of the book that I stopped short and cried out, “Holy shit!” and then turned around to see if anyone had heard me.

If anyone is wondering…there are no detailed scenes or descriptions of violence, beatings, or abuse. For those who have been burned by graphic scenes in other books about slavery. The undercurrent of fear is always in the background and the all-encompassing oppression of slavery is there but the reader (listener) is not subjected to episodes of graphic violence. Some in my book club read it, but those of us who listened enjoyed it a whole lot more. I fell in love with Morton’s voice. He’s an actor we’ve all seen on TV or in movies a time or two.

I think of him (and Simon Prebble) as the quintessential British readers. And often choose their books to fall asleep to (or, at 3 am, to fall BACK asleep to…).


On my library’s audiobook app (“Libby”), or on (a paid site for when I don’t want to wait 27 weeks for an audiobook, thank you very much), I often search for a favorite narrator’s name.


For deeper-voiced books, I search for Scott Brick, Simon Vance, George Guidall*, or the late Frank Muller … oh, and Dick Hill, for the Jack Reacher books.



*Had an odd experience picking up a print version of ‘The Cat Who Smelled a Rat’. It seemed so… pedestrian.
And I realized that “The Cat Who…” books really need to have newspaper man Jim Qwilleran voiced by George Guidall (at his most laconic and curmudgeonly).

Stephen Pacey does a fantastic job narrating Joe Abercrombie’s books, especially the First Law series. Very distinct and evocative character voices.

I just finished The Mirror and the Light on audiobook last week. Stunningly good series…