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Home / Features / For your ears only: the 12 best audiobooks of 2016

For your ears only: the 12 best audiobooks of 2016

Think books should be heard and not seen? Fill your digital shelves with these modern classics...

Some people believe that audiobooks aren’t proper ‘reading’, like it’s somehow akin to eating music. But they are simple, mole-like creatures who are imprisoned by the tech and traditions of a bygone age.  

Not that we’re averse to settling down with a ‘real’ book, but there are so many occasions when we need our eyes for something else – checking the road for marauding cows, making sure we’re not walking into a lamppost, or pretending that we’re working.

So if, like us, you’ve burned through all your favourite podcasts and need an aural boxset to binge-read, add these to your digital shopping list – they’re the best audiobooks we’ve listened to this year…     

A Boy Made of Blocks, by Keith Stuart

A Boy Made of Blocks, by Keith Stuart

You might know Keith Stuart better as The Guardian’s video games editor, and his debut novel is heavily concerned with one of the medium’s biggest hits of recent years: Minecraft.

Young father Alex realises that the game’s imagination-firing construction elements are helping his autistic son Sam face the real world, with in-game mechanics providing metaphors to help Sam cope with difficult situations.

At almost 12 hours, this is a lengthy audiobook, but it’s well read, touching, insightful and funny. And you don’t have to be obsessed with building blocky virtual worlds to enjoy it.

Buy A Boy Made of Blocks (£19.99)

Infomocracy, by Malka Older

Infomocracy, by Malka Older

This cyberpunky political thriller is just the ticket for US election year. A search engine monopoly (think Google taken to the nth degree) has pioneered a paradigm shift from nation-states to ‘micro-democracies’, and now the only war anyone fights is for control of voters, power, and the very flow of Information itself.

The sheer infodump of strange new jargon and perspectives is confusing at first, but narrator Christine Marshall puts a lot of effort into making the voice of each character stand out.

This is still an audiobook you’re going to have concentrate on, but it’s worth it. Infomocracy is a post-cyberpunk House of Cards crammed full of surprises and great ideas.

Buy Infomocracy (£15.95)

Revenger, by Alastair Reynolds

Revenger, by Alastair Reynolds

That this is Reynolds’ first Young Adult book is apparent from the first-person narrated young female protaganist and the Treasure Island-ish adventure that rapidly unfolds.

But his universe creating imagination – so beloved by hard sci-fi fans – is at maximum output, even if the levels are tweaked slightly to suit the market. Clare Corbett has excellent range, diving from wondrous (slightly Cockney) teenager to swarthy space pirate without missing a breath.

If ever there was a wish for a fourteen-hour ferry delay on the M20 with the family in the car, this would be the audiobook that wished it.

Buy Revenger (£19.99)

Adnan’s Story: The Case That Inspired the Podcast Phenomenon Serial, by Rabia Chaudry


If you got sucked into the first season of podcast Serial and its tragic recounting of Adnan Syed’s imprisonment for the murder of Hae Min Lee, then this audiobook is essential listening.

Written and narrated by a family friend of the Syeds, it takes a more partisan view of the case with the help of new material you won’t have heard before, like Adnan’s letters from prison and further insights into his home life.

With the case now set to go to a retrial, this won’t be the last book written about it, but it’s the best so far.

Buy Adnan’s Story: The Case That Inspired the Podcast Phenomenon Serial (£19.99)

The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo, by Amy Schumer

The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo, by Amy Schumer

The best narrator of an autobiography is always going to be the author and, to be honest, we’re not sure you could persuade anyone else to read out loud Amy Schumer’s incredibly frank, open and uncensored story so far.

The US comedian du jour is both exactly like and completely different to her on-stage persona, and while this audiobook lacks the ensemble presentation that made Amy Poehler’s 2014 audiobook such a charming treat, Schumer’s tales of thefts, arrests, bad boyfriends, financial fortunes and family strife make for a very entertaining listen.

Buy The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo, by Amy Schumer (£12.99)

Nutshell, by Ian McEwan

Nutshell, by Ian McEwan

Coming in at a relatively brief five hours and twenty-six minutes, Ian McEwan’s 17th novel is engagingly read by Rory Kinnear, who brings all his actorly talents to bear in wrangling the oft-florid prose.

While this literary thriller’s premise is somewhat unconventional – it’s narrated by an unborn child, observing the outside world and a murderous plot through his available senses – its plot is low on big shocks; this is establishment McEwan rather than the dazzling McEwan of old.

But if you enjoy a gripping yarn, well told, have a crack at Nutshell.

Buy Nutshell (£19.99)

Homo Deus, by Yuval Noah Harari

Homo Deus, by Yuval Noah Harari

Homo Deus is the sequel to the brilliant Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by historian and futurist writer Dr Yuval Noah Harari. Rest assured this is no textbook – Harari is pithy, amusing, and ultimately he’s concerned with us becoming happier as a species.

It tackles some weighty topics: artificial life, the impact of longer lifespans, and an anxiety epidemic. Thankfully, everything is backed up by great analogies and delivered in such a conversational tone (from audiobook favourite Derek Perkins), that it’s always accessible.

If you’re looking for a primer on humanity’s near future to quote when pub chat turns philosophical, give this a spin.

Buy Homo Deus (£11.95)

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson

So You

People, dropping into large packs where they’re more or less safe from scrutiny, ruin other people. They do it without even really thinking about it, because that’s the nature of social media and its gleeful gang mentality.

Have you helped to ruin anyone lately? Ronson’s own soothingly drippy voice is the perfect vehicle for this funny and engrossing study of modern shaming and – the bit we should all probably think about a bit more – the consequences for the shamed.

They’re not always crooks, cheats or Daily Mail columnists.

Buy So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (£14.99)

Digging Up Mother: A Love Story, by Doug Stanhope

Digging Up Mother: A Love Story, by Doug Stanhope

In the retro, paper version of his book, outspoken US comic Doug Stanhope admits that he can’t really remember many of the events that he writes about, so for the audio version he’s recruited people who were there with him to fill in the blanks.

These parts are more like conversations, while Stanhope’s trademark drawl and tendency to veer off script as if he’s on stage mean his chapters are far from a straight read-through.

It’s a shame, then, that he hands large chunks over to his podcast pal Chad Shank. Nothing personal, Chad, but we paid for Doug.

Buy Digging Up Mother: A Love Story (£20.89)

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

In the 25th century, life isn’t simple. But at least it’s a technologically-abundant utopia, helped by replacing religions and holy figures with spiritual life-coaching-historians called ‘Sense-Sayers’.

It works, until Carlyle Foster, an enthusiastic young Sense-sayer, stumbles onto a secret that eventually causes a revolution. That secret, guarded by a fierce young woman and a wandering convict, is a young boy named Bridger whose touch can bring inanimate objects to life.

The motley band of protagonists, troubled Utopian setting and the smallest dash of magic makes for an engrossing, original, often philosophical sci-fi story.

Buy Too Like The Lightning (£18.95)

Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer

Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer

We’ve fantasized about climbing Everest for as long as we can remember. But cost and physical capabilities aside, one in four attempts end in death, which is a slightly off-putting statistic.

Better then to experience it vicariously through films like Everest and Jon Krakauer’s masterful first-hand account of the same fateful day in 1996, which saw the death of eight of his fellow climbers.

It took us a while to acclimatise to the US narrator’s slightly soporific voice, but Krakauer’s cathartic writing and clinical analysis of the events are a must for any mountain-obsessed dreamers. A harrowing, yet absolutely fascinating listen.

Buy Into Thin Air (£14.99)

The Dark Forest, by Cixin Liu

The Dark Forest, by Cixin Liu

You don’t have to have read the first book in Cixin Liu’s hard sci-fi trilogy to enjoy this follow-up. The question at its heart is a simple one: "what would humanity do if it knew about an alien invasion that would take 2,000 years to arrive?"

Luckily, the answer is a bit more complex than ‘put it in the calendar and buy some Pringles’. The Dark Forest masterfully blends real and speculative science, spans multiple centuries and – despite the epic scope – weaves in an intimately personal thriller, which is only enhanced by the narration.

And there’s always the imminent third instalment to look forward to if you enjoy the ride.

Buy The Dark Forest (£15.95)

Profile image of Mark Wilson Mark Wilson Features editor


Mark's first review for Stuff was the Nokia N-Gage in 2004. Luckily, his career lasted a little longer than the taco phone, and he's been trying to figure out how gadgets fit back into their boxes ever since. While his 'Extreme Mark Wilson' persona was retired following a Microsoft skydiving incident, this means he can often be spotted in the wilds of South West London testing action cams, drones and smartwatches, and occasionally cursing at them.

Areas of expertise

Smart home tech, cameras, wearables and obscure gadgets from the early 2000s.