Instead of listening to pop on the radio or your buddy’s bands CD, download one of these epic audiobooks that will last you hours. Really, we mean a long time — like 90 hours, if you need it.
The best audiobooks for road trips don’t include stale, PBS-style classical literature — there’s a time and a place! — but enthralling stories about American pop culture, the scenic land, its history, and, yes, even the darkness buried beneath all these topics. These recordings are sure to keep you energized and give the trip greater meaning.
Now, let’s burn rubber.
On the Road – Jack Kerouac
Read by David Carradine
A good book does not a good audiobook make. Essential to the success of an audiobook is the voice, and we love David Carradine’s reading of the beat classic On the Road, our first obvious road trip go-to since the story is about a young man hitchhiking across America. The voice is reminiscent of the twang and spirit of the 1950s; it’s emotive without verging on sappy. Just remember, every hitchhiker you see isn’t going to be Sal Paradise, so maybe keep truckin’.
Hell’s Angels – Hunter S. Thompson
Read by Scott Sowers
You can literally smell the smoking cigarette in the hand of reader Scott Sowers, who does a tremendous job giving a voice to Hunter S. Thompson’s “strange and terrible saga,” Hell’s Angels. At a time when the biker gang was most feared by America, Gonzo took to the sidecar for an up-close and personal look at their rides, parties, and violence. It’ll make you look at motorcyclists passing by in a new light, not necessarily good or bad.
Dead Men’s Trousers – Irvine Welsh
Read by Tam Dean Burn
The author famous for Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh revisits the gang and gives an update on the lives of Sick Boy, Spud, Mark, and Begbie (spoiler alert: they’re still F!@#$% up) in Dead Men’s Trousers. In the sequel, released in March 2018, Tam Dean Burn delivers a thick Scottish accent and quick pace that brings to life the dialogue of these wicked yet darkly comical characters.
Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
Read by Wil Wheaton
How do you make a long, deserted highway fun? Pretend you’re driving in a video game (works especially well if you’re driving one of these badass cars). Ready Player One will help achieve this effect. In 2044, Wade Watt spends his time jacked into a virtual reality game where he uncovers a mysterious puzzle with high stakes. Plenty of action pursues. The book itself is getting a major pop after Steven Spielberg’s film hit theaters. No offense, but the audiobook is better.
Lonely Boy – Steve Jones
Read by Steve Jones
Gritty and streetwise, punk rock founding father Steve Jones reads his own brutish memoir, recalling tales from his time in the legendary Sex Pistols. This thick London street urchin accent is still pulsing with life, saying “I fink” instead of “I think.” We hear Jones recall his harrowing upbringing, 70s punk style choices, attitude toward authority, and how he shaped the cultural movement that was the Sex Pistols. Lonely Boy is raw memoir that has you going, no freaking way, every five minutes.
The Devil’s Highway – Luis Alberto Urrea
Read by Luis Alberto Urrea
Given the state of U.S,-Mexico border politics, this is a gruesome but masterful must-read (or must-listen). Narrated by author Luis Alberto Urrea, The Devil’s Highway pieces together the true facts from a border crossing case gone terribly wrong A group of 26 men attempted to cross the Mexican border into the Southern Arizona desert and 14 never made it out. Fascinated by true crime? This is your audiobook.
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers
Read by Cherry Jones
If your road trip dips into the American South, press play on The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Tennessee Williams called McCullers the greatest prose writer that the South has ever produced. The undercurrent of humanity in this story, based around moral isolation in a small southern mill town in the 1930s, will have you nodding to each passerby and seeking a real conversation at the roadside diner. After all, road tripping is all about hearing stories you’d never hear if you hadn’t ventured out.
A People’s History of the United States – Howard Zin
Read by Matt Damon and Howard Zinn
Learning the non-history-book history of the country you’re traversing can add meaning to even the most desolate of drives. We first read this Zinn staple in high school and it gets better every time we pick it back up.
My Struggle – Karl Ove Knausgaard
Read by Edoardo Ballerini
How many miles do you have left? Because we’ve got you a fix for roughly 90 hours of drive time. Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six-book literary autobiographical series, My Struggle (we’ve only got audiobooks for five out of those), at its most basic level, talks about the life of a 45-year-old Norwegian writer from childhood to school to sex to marriage to children, etc. The sensation of these books has been described as opening someone else’s diary and finding your own secrets inside. Knausgaard’s bare honesty makes you feel less alone, especially perfect if you’ve got a solo drive ahead. We’ll find extra loops to drive just to keep from stopping the tape.
Old Man’s War – John Scalzi
Read by William Dufris
Sci-fi? A lot of people shrug off the genre assuming it’s all aliens and lunar babes, but John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War is one of the most exciting, can’t-put-down books we’ve read. The tape will help you get through to the next pit top with action, unexpected plot turns, and characters you’d want in the passenger’s seat.
Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs – Chuck Klosterman
Read by Chuck Klosterman
Just shy of six hours long, this 2003 pop-culture manifesto looks at everything from movies, sports, television, music, books, video games, and even kittens, but most of all, it’s about American culture. Klosterman deconstructs Saved by the Bell episodes, the symbolic importance of The Empire Strikes Back, the Celtics-Lakers rivalry of the 1980s, and so, so much more. Hilarious and smart, this audiobook will keep you awake on long night drives.
No Country for Old Men – Cormac McCarthy
Read by Tom Stechschulte
Our all-time favorite audiobook is No Country for Old Men read by Tom Stechschulte. Why? The voice is spot-on with the story (about a serial killer in the American West) and pulls out every drop of blood in McCarthy’s language. Listen for two minutes and, if you’re not convinced, I owe you a beer. You’ll also feel a bit more like a cowboy badass arriving toward your destination.