Audio Books

Hear a BBC Radio Drama of Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov: Streaming Free for a Limited Time

in Audio Books, Literature | June 10th, 2016

Dostoyevsky - The Brothers Karamazov

A quick heads up: For the next two weeks, you can stream a BBC Radio 4 dramatization of Fyodor Dostoyevsky‘s final novel, The Brothers Karamazov. Published between January 1879 and November 1880, the philosophical novel has influenced generations of readers–certainly me, maybe you, and then some other notable figures like Einstein, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Freud and more. The radio dramatization is truncated, just 5 hours, whereas most complete versions run 34 hours. (Find those in our collection of Free Audio Books. Or get a professionally-read version on, by checking out Audible’s 30-day free trial program.) Below, you can find the installments of the BBC radio drama.

  • Episode 1: Russia, 1880: The unpredictable Fyodor Karamazov and his sons are reunited to discuss Dmitry’s inheritance. Stars Roy Marsden.
  • Episode 2: As Alyosha attends to dying Father Zosima, relations between Dmitry and his father turn ever more dangerous. Stars Paul Hilton.
  • Episode 3: Following a violent encounter at the Karamazov home, Dmitry flees the town in search of Grushenka. Stars Paul Hilton.
  • Episode 4: As Dmitry goes on trial for murder, Alyosha desperately seeks proof of his innocence. Stars Paul Hilton and Carl Prekopp.
  • Episode 5: Following Ivan’s dramatic appearance at his brother’s trial, Katerina prepares to deal Dmitry a fatal blow. Stars Paul Hilton.

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Hear Robert Frost Read His Most Famous Poems: “The Road Not Taken,” “Mending Wall,” “Nothing Gold Can Stay” & More

in Audio Books, Poetry | May 17th, 2016

Robert Frost has the dubious honor of being known the world over as the poet of a seize-the-day cliché. His poem “The Road Not Taken” (read by Frost above) appears on coffee mugs, autumnal motivational posters, upbeat email signatures, and in advertisements and television shows, all meant to inspire confident decision-making in uncertain times: unintentionally ironic, populist appeals to diverge from the herd.

If this is Frost’s legacy in the wider culture, it’s a fate most poets wouldn’t wish on their bitterest rival. The typical interpretation of this poem is an unfortunate misrepresentation of Frost’s work in general. Indeed, “The Road Not Taken” may be “the most misread poem in America,” as David Orr argues at The Paris Review.

Frost’s poetry does not often inspire confidence or motivation, but rather doubt, uncomfortable reflection, fear, and sometimes a kind of dreadful awe. Like Faulkner was in his day, Frost was, and still is, mistaken for a quaint, colorful regionalist. But rather than a poet of New England folk simplicity, he is a poet of New England skepticism and a kind of hard-headed sublime. Anyone who reads “The Road Not Taken” closely, for example, will note the speaker’s ambiguous tone in the final stanza, and final three lines—oft-quoted as a triumphant dénouement.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The traveler does not tell us what “difference” the choice will have made, nor why he should tell of this crossroads “ages and ages hence… with a sigh.” Implied in these lines, however, is at least the suggestion of unavoidable future regret, and a reckoning with irrevocable fate. The earlier line, “Oh, I kept the first for another day!” sounds more like an exclamation of rue than the celebration of a choice well-made.

And as Orr points out, the speaker’s initial encounter presents him with two paths that “equally lay / in leaves.”; the two roads are equally travelled—or untravelled as the case may be—and the traveller chooses one arbitrarily. In these final lines, he announces his intention to tell a different, perhaps self-congratulatory story about his decision. “The poem isn’t a salute to can-do individualism,” Orr writes, “it’s a commentary on the self-deception we practice when constructing the story of our own lives.”

One can hear even darker notes in another famous poem, “Mending Wall,” in which a nameless, unfeeling “Something” goes about its work of dismantling the speaker’s best efforts, and all human work generally. It’s a theme in much of Frost’s poetry that can, if fully appreciated, inspire a dread as potent as that in the most baroque and florid of H.P. Lovecraft’s weird tales. Frost developed his theme of cosmic indifference early, in “Stars,” from his first published collection, A Boy’s Will. He introduces the poem in the table of contents with this succinct description: “There is no oversight in human affairs,” a matter-of-fact statement that scarcely prepares us for the unnerving images to follow:

How countlessly they congregate
O’er our tumultuous snow,
Which flows in shapes as tall as trees
When wintry winds do blow!—

As if with keenness for our fate,
Our faltering few steps on
To white rest, and a place of rest
Invisible at dawn,—

And yet with neither love nor hate,
Those stars like some snow-white
Minerva’s snow-white marble eyes
Without the gift of sight.

In three short, devastating stanzas, Frost undercuts ancient, comforting pretentions about the stars’ (or gods’) sentient benevolence, with images and diction that recall Thomas Hardy’s bleak lament “In Tenebris” and anticipate Wallace Stevens’ impersonal and chilling “The Snow Man.” The snow and ice in Frost’s poems are not part of the pretty scenery, but metonymic figures of oblivion.

In short, the kindly old Robert Frost we think we know from the trivial misreading of “The Road Not Taken” is not the poet Robert Frost at all. Frost is a prickly, challenging, even somewhat devious character whose pleasingly musical lines and quaint, pastoral images lure readers into poems that harbor much less cheerful attitudes than they expect to find, and much more complex and mature ideas. The young Frost once described himself as “not undesigning,” and in his later, 1939 essay “The Figure a Poem Makes,” he famously declared that a poem “begins in delight and ends in wisdom.”

In the two Spotify playlists above (download Spotify’s free software here), you can hear Frost read some of his most famous poems, including “The Road Not Taken,” “Mending Wall,” “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” “After Apple Picking,” “Death of a Hired Man,” and several more. Not represented here, unfortunately, are poems from the wonderful debut A Boy’s Will, but you can read that full collection online here, and you should. Get to know the real Frost, if you haven’t already, and you’ll appreciate all the more why he’s one of the most celebrated poets in the American canon.

The readings above will be added to our collection, 700 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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4 Hours of Charles Bukowski’s Riotous Readings and Rants

in Audio Books, Poetry | May 10th, 2016

bukowski readings

Drawing by Graziano Origa, via Wikimedia Commons

An old man sits alone, ranting in a nasally monotonous drone. He breaks into rueful laughter, threats of violence, mockery, maudlin lament…. An angry drunken uncle crying out into the wilderness of a Tuesday night bender? A tough guy left behind in the world, unable to stomach its restrictions and blithe hypocrisies? A mad poet on his way to the grave? An everyman rambler whose seen-it-all candor and hardass sense of humor command the common people’s ear?

All of the above was beloved novelist, raconteur, poet, and trenchant essayist Charles Bukowski. It’s easy to caricature Bukowski for his lifelong romance with booze, a dominant theme in nearly all of his autobiographically-inspired poems and stories. But in writing of the life an alcoholic artist, himself, he also uncovered in extremis general truths about human existence that many people spend their lives trying to avoid. The pain, and solace, of loneliness, rejection, and self-doubt, the desperate need for fortitude in the face of seeming hopelessness.

Bukowski is not only a hero to so many would-be writers because of his epic barroom tales and rock-star-caliber drinking bouts. If that were so, his stories might quickly grow tedious. What Bukowski had over the run-of-the-mill pub regulars was a surprising amount of emotional vulnerability and self-awareness, and a desire to communicate his experiences with the same raw honesty as his literary hero, Dostoevsky. Put simply, Bukowski possessed an abundance of what Keats called “negative capability.”

He also had a good deal of luck. If even a handful of the stories he tells about his life are true, it’s a wonder he didn’t die several times over. Take his recounting below of a live 1979 Vancouver performance, footage of which became the documentary film There’s Gonna Be a God Damn Riot in Here. In a letter that year to a friend, he wrote:

Back from Canadian reading. Took Linda. Have video tapes of the thing in color, runs about two hours. Saw it a couple nights back. Not bad. Much fighting with the audience. New poems. Dirty stuff and the other kind. Drank before the reading and 3 bottles of red wine during but read the poems out. Dumb party afterwards. I fell down several times while dancing. They got me back on the elevator back at the hotel and I kept hollering for another bottle. Poor Linda. Afterwards in hotel room, kept falling. Finally fell against the radiator and cracked a 6 inch gash in skull. Blood everywhere. Hell of a trip…Nice Canadian people who set up reading, though. Not poet types at all. All in all, a good show…

The video tapes were Bukowski’s idea—he insisted on the recording as a condition for making the trip. And you can hear audio of the entire performance at the top on Spotify (get Spotify’s software here; or listen on Youtube here). Also on the playlist are two other Bukowski spoken-word albums, Charles Bukowski Master Collection, and Hostage. The latter, writes Amazon, “has to be one of the rowdiest poetry records ever released, which makes sense considering how drunk Bukowski plainly is.” But “the drink never gets in the way of his delivery,” and his tough-but-tender verse comes through plainly, even if it seems like there might be a riot any minute. Only Bukowski could have pulled this off and lived to tell the tale.

Find these Bukowski readings added to our collection, 700 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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Hear a Complete 24-Hour Reading of Moby-Dick, Recorded at the Southbank Centre in London (2015)

in Audio Books, Literature | March 21st, 2016

moby dick unabridged

Last week, Ted Mills told you how Plymouth University orchestrated a wonderful project called Moby-Dick The Big Read, which resulted in celebrities–like Benedict Cumberbatch, John Waters, Mary Oliver, Stephen Fry, and Tilda Swinton–reading the entirety of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, and making the recording free to download.

This weekend, we happily discovered another unabridged reading of Melville’s great American novel, this one coming out of the 2015 London Literature Festival, held at the Southbank Centre in London. Over four days, Moby-Dick was read by writers, actors, comedians, members of the public and even Melville’s great-great-great-granddaughter. You can stream a recording of the epic reading on Soundcloud right below. You might want to make a good strong pot of coffee because it runs 24 hours.

If you visit the Moby-Dick Unabridged website, you can get more background on the project. In the meantime, this latest recording will be added to our collection, 700 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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Hear Moby Dick Read in Its Entirety by Benedict Cumberbatch, John Waters, Stephen Fry, Tilda Swinton & More

in Audio Books, Literature | March 17th, 2016

moby dick big read
Image of Moby Dick by David Austen.

Three years ago, Plymouth University kicked off Moby Dick The Big Read, promising a full audio book of Herman Melville’s influential novel, with famous (and not so famous) voices taking on a chapter each. When we first wrote about it here, only six chapters had been unveiled, but boasted actors like Tilda Swinton (reading chapter one below), author Nigel Williams, and poet and journalist Musa Okwonga.

We’re glad to say the project, created out of a 2011 conference by artist Angela Cockayne and writer Philip Hoare, has reached its successful conclusion. And they’ve certainly called on an impressive roster of celebrity readers: Stephen Fry, Neil Tennant, Fiona Shaw, Will Self, Benedict Cumberbatch, China Miéville, Tony Kushner, John Waters, Simon Callow, Sir David Attenborough, even Prime Minister David Cameron. Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver finishes off the whole project, reading the Epilogue.

All 135 chapters are available to be listened to in your browserdownloaded on iTunes, streamed on SoundCloud, or even heard as a podcast. However, do check them out online, as each chapter comes with a work of art each created by 135 contemporary artists such as Matthew Barney, Oliver Clegg, and Matthew Benedict. (See David Austen’s work above.) The project is a mammoth undertaking befitting such a monumental book, and if you’ve never read it this just might be the way to go.

Copies of Moby Dick can be found in our collection of Free eBooks. Meanwhile, this big reading will be added to our collection of Free Audio Books.

Note: You can download professionally read versions of Moby Dick (and other great works) if you sign up for a 30-Day Free Trial with Find more information on that program here.

h/t Kottke

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

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Download Two Harry Potter Audio Books for Free (and Get the Rest of the Series for Cheap)

in Audio Books | February 15th, 2016

harry potter free audible

FYI: If you’re looking to download the Harry Potter series as audio books, here’s a way to get two books in the series for free, and the rest at a steep discount.

In recent months, Audible (the audio books company owned by Amazon) began making Harry Potter books available for download. Now here’s what you need to know: If you sign up for Audible’s 30-Day Free Trial Program, you can download two audio books for free, including two books from the Harry Potter series. Then, once the free trial is over, you can decide whether you want to become an ongoing Audible subscriber or not. Regardless of what decision you make, you can keep the two free audio books.

If you remain an Audible subscriber (like I have), you can download additional books at a rate of $14.95 each. That means you can get the remaining 5 books in the Harry Potter series for $74.75 in total—which is significantly cheaper than paying $242.94, the price that Pottermore currently charges for the set.

To get started, you can go to this page, sign up for Audible’s 30-Day Free Trial Program, and then download your first two Harry Potter books for free.

Finally, I should say that we have a long-standing partnership with Audible, and every time someone signs up for a free Audible trial, it helps support Open Culture. We thank you for that support.

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William S. Burroughs Reads Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death”

in Audio Books, Literature | January 26th, 2016

burroughs poe

The label “American original” gets slapped onto a lot of different people, but it seems to me that, especially in the realm of letters, we could find no two luminaries who merit it more in the 19th century than psychological horror pioneer Edgar Allan Poe, and in the 20th century William S. Burroughs, sui generis even within the Beat Generation. So how could we resist featuring the recording just below, free to hear on Spotify (whose software, if you don’t have it yet, you can download here), of Burroughs reading Poe’s tale — because, as you know if you read him, he wrote not stories but tales — “The Masque of the Read Death”?

The 1842 tale itself, still haunting today more than 170 years after its publication, tells of a prince and his coterie of a thousand aristocrats who, in order to protect themselves from a Black Plague-like disease—the titular Red Death—sweeping through common society, take refuge in an abbey and weld the doors shut. In need of amusements (this all takes place about century and a half before Netflix, remember), the prince throws a masquerade ball. What, then, should interrupt this good time but the inexplicable arrival of an uninvited guest in a costume reminiscent of the corpse of a Red Death victim — possibly an embodiment of the Red Death itself?

Poe could tell a seriously resonant tale, and so could Burroughs. Though completely different in form, aesthetic, setting, and psychology, both writers’ works strike just the right ominous tone and leave just enough unexplained to seep into our subconscious in vivid and sometimes even unwanted ways. And so it makes perfect sense for Burroughs and his voice of a jaded but still amused ancient to join the formidable lineup of Poe’s interpreters, which includes Christopher Walken, Vincent Price, Christopher LeeJames Earl JonesIggy PopLou Reed, and Stan Lee. But among them all, who better than Burroughs to articulate “The Masque of the Red Death’s” final line: “And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”

You can hear more of Burroughs reading Poe, in performances recorded for the computer game The Dark Eye, in Ted Mills’ previous post here.

Burroughs’ reading (which you can also hear on YouTube) will be added to our collection, 700 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Hear Jeremy Irons Read T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Naming of Cats’ (For a Limited Time)

in Audio Books, Poetry | December 30th, 2015

Briefly noted: For a limited time (for the next 23 days, to be precise), you can hear Jeremy Irons reading “The Naming of Cats,” a poem from T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939). The poem will certainly sound familiar to anyone who has ever seen Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, Cats.

As a bonus, if you revisit this post in our archive, you can hear Eliot, himself, reading poems from the very same collection. And this other Open Culture post features Eliot’s own cover design for Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. What angle haven’t we covered?

The clip above comes courtesy of BBC Radio 4.

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Fill Your New Kindle, iPad, iPhone, eReader with Free eBooks, Audio Books, Online Courses & More

in Amazon Kindle, Audio Books, Film, Online Courses | December 25th, 2015


Santa left a new KindleiPad, Kindle Fire or other media player under your tree. He did his job. Now we’ll do ours. We’ll tell you how to fill those devices with free intelligent media — great books, movies, courses, and all of the rest. And if you didn’t get a new gadget, fear not. You can access all of these materials right on a computer. Here we go:

Free eBooks: You have always wanted to read the great works. And now is your chance. When you dive into our Free eBooks collection you will find 800 great works by some classic writers (Dickens, Dostoevsky, Austen, Shakespeare and Tolstoy) and contemporary writers (Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, and Kurt Vonnegut). The collection also gives you access to the 51-volume Harvard Classics.

If you’re an iPad/iPhone user, the download process is super easy. Just click the “iPad/iPhone” links and you’re good to go. Kindle and Nook users will generally want to click the “Kindle + Other Formats links” to download ebook files, but we’d suggest watching these instructional videos (Kindle – Nook) beforehand.

Free Audio Books: What better way to spend your free time than listening to some of the greatest books ever written? This page contains a vast number of free audio books — 700 works in total — including texts by Arthur Conan Doyle, James Joyce, Jane Austen, Edgar Allan Poe, George Orwell and more recent writers — Italo Calvino, Vladimir Nabokov, Raymond Carver, etc. You can download these classic books straight to your gadgets, then listen as you go.

[Note: If you’re looking for a contemporary book, you can download one free audio book from Find details on Audible’s no-strings-attached deal here.]

Free Online Courses: This list brings together over 1150 free online courses from leading universities, including Stanford, Yale, MIT, UC Berkeley, Oxford and beyond.

These full-fledged courses range across all disciplines — historyphysicsphilosophypsychology, business, and beyond. Most all of these courses are available in audio, and roughly 75% are available in video. You can’t receive credits or certificates for these courses (click here for courses that do offer certificates). But the amount of personal enrichment you will derive is immeasurable.

Free Movies: With a click of a mouse, or a tap of your touch screen, you will have access to 725 great movies. The collection hosts many classics, westerns, indies, documentaries, silent films and film noir favorites. It features work by some of our great directors (Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Andrei Tarkovsky and more) and performances by cinema legends: John Wayne, Jack Nicholson, Audrey Hepburn, Charlie Chaplin, and beyond. On this one page, you will find thousands of hours of cinema bliss.

Free Language Lessons: Perhaps learning a new language is high on your list of New Year’s resolutions. Well, here is a great way to do it. Take your pick of 46 languages, including Spanish, French, Italian, Mandarin, English, Russian, Dutch, even Finnish, Yiddish and Esperanto. These lessons are all free and ready to download.

Free Textbooks: And one last item for the lifelong learners among you. We have scoured the web and pulled together a list of 200 Free Textbooks. It’s a great resource particularly if you’re looking to learn math, computer science or physics on your own. There might be a diamond in the rough here for you.

Thank Santa, maybe thank us, and enjoy that new device….

Dan Colman is the founder/editor of Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox.

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Hear Ray Bradbury’s Classic Sci-Fi Story Fahrenheit 451 as a Radio Drama

in Audio Books, Books, Literature, Radio | November 19th, 2015

fahrenheit 451

Last week we featured a list of 100 novels all kids should read before graduating from high school. Chosen by 500 English teachers from all over Britain, the list happens to have a lot of overlap with many others like it. Invariably, these kinds of young adult reading lists include Ray Bradbury’s novel of dystopian censorship and anti-intellectualism, Fahrenheit 451.  Why, I’ve always wondered, should this novel be pitched almost exclusively at teenagers, so much so that it seems like one of those books many of us read in high school, then never read again, even if we are fans of Bradbury’s work?

A strange disconnect emerges when we look at the history of Bradbury’s novel as a teaching tool. Although most high school students are presented with freethinking as an ideal, and given cautionary tales of its suppression, their own educations are just as often highly circumscribed by adults who fret about the effects of various bad influences. As Villanova University journal Compass notes, in a perverse irony, Fahrenheit 451’s publisher Ballantine “released an expurgated version of the novel to be used in high schools” in 1967; “Such words as ‘hell,’ ‘damn’ and ‘abortion’ were eliminated.”

The expurgations went unnoticed because readers did not compare this version to the original. The copyright page did not indicate any edits. The expurgated version ran for ten printings. At the same time, the authentic “adult” version was sold outside of high schools to the world at large. In 1973, after six years of publishing both editions, the publisher decided to publish only the censored work, so from 1973 to 1979 only that version was sold.

Bradbury himself did not become aware of the censored version until 1979, whereafter he demanded that it be withdrawn and wrote a forceful afterward to the restored, 1980 printing.

Whether, as a student, you read the bowdlerized or the “adult” version of Bradbury’s novel, perhaps it’s time to revisit Fahrenheit 451, particularly now that freedoms of thought, belief, and expression have again come under intense scrutiny. And in addition to re-reading Bradbury’s novel, you can listen to the 1971 radio play above. Produced in Vancouver by the CBC (and re-broadcast in recent years by the Radio Enthusiasts of Puget Sound podcast), the abridged, one-hour adaptation by necessity changes the source material, though for dramatic purposes, not to expressly soften the message. Ray Bradbury’s reputation may have been tamed over the decades. He became late in life an avuncular sci-fi master, primarily known as a writer of books for high school students. But at one time, his work—and science fiction in general—were so subversive that the FBI kept close tabs on them.

If you like the Fahrenheit 451 adaptation, you can hear many more Bradbury stories adapted into classic radio plays at our previous post.

Also note: Tim Robbins has narrated a new, unabridged audio version of Fahrenheit 451. It’s available via You can get it for free with Audible’s 30-day free trial. Get more details on that here.

via SFF

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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