Top 10 Best Selling Books of All Time

This is not a list of favourite books, or books that received the most critical acclaim, it’s simply a list of books by sales volume. Precise figures can be difficult to get as many of these books have had multiple releases and different publishers, nevertheless, this is a best estimated based on the information available.

Our standard practice is to list multiple items in a single position if they are ‘tied’. This is certainly the case here.

Religious texts were excluded.

10 a. Lolita

Approximate Sales: 50 million
Author: Vladimir Nabokov
First published: 1955

This controversial novel was written in English by the Russian author, first published in Paris after being rejected by publishers in the US, banned by the French government, published in New York and finally translated by Nabokov into his native Russian. Quite a ride.

In the book the protagonist, a middle-aged professor, becomes obsessed with Lolita, a 12 year old girl. Although the story tells of their affair, it is not erotic, pornographic or even objectionable, other than in its construct.

Critics from around the world were wholly unanimous in their praise for the book and it has been on most ‘Best Novel’ lists since its release.

b. Anne of Green Gables

Approximate Sales: 50 million
Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery
First published: 1908

This literary classic tells the tale of an orphaned girl, Anne Shirley, as she grows up in rural Canada. It has been covered by just about every other medium including films, animations, musicals and plays, theatre productions and live television. It is also required reading in many schools around the world.

c. Black Beauty

Approximate Sales: 50 million
Author: Anna Sewell
First published: 1877

Black Beauty was written by Anna Sewell as she was invalid and house-bound in the final years of her life. The story is told in the first person by the horse, Black Beauty, and follows his life complete with hardships, cruelty and great kindness.

The book was released 5 months before Sewell’s death. Enough time for her to see it become a success.

9 a. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Approximate Sales: 60 million
Author: J. K. Rowling
First published: 1998

This is the second book in the Harry Potter series in which Harry continues to uncover strange goings-on at Hogwarts, the school for wizards.

b. The Catcher in the Rye

Approximate Sales: 60 million
Author: J. D. Salinger
First published: 1951

This is a novel about teenage angst, rebellion and disillusionment. It was initially banned in schools and libraries across the US but has subsequently become required reading in many parts of the English speaking world (which no doubt helps its sales numbers).

8. O Alquimista (The Alchemist)

Approximate Sales: 65 million
Author: Paulo Coelho
First published: 1988

The Alchemist was initially released in Portuguese and translated into English in 1993. This is an allegorical tale about a young Spanish shepherd who seeks treasure in Egypt after he dreams of the riches. On his journey he meets many people, falls in love and is guided by an old king. Is it treasure he seeks, or wisdom?

7. Think and Grow Rich

Approximate Sales: 70 million
Author: Napoleon Hill
First published: 1937

Released during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, Think and Grow Rich was the first self-help, personal motivation and development book that clearly had the right message at the right time and has stayed popular ever since.

The author, Napoleon Hill, studied over forty millionaires in an effort to find out what it was that made them successful. Moreover, he provided advice on how we, the readers, could emulate these people and be successful ourselves. An entire industry followed in his footsteps and our shelves now overflow with guides to wealth, health and happiness. Hold on, if they were working…

6 a. Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince)

Approximate Sales: 80 million
Author: Antoine de Saint-Exupery
First published: 1943

A pilot crash lands in the Sahara desert and meets a little prince from another planet. Seldom has a book dealt so deftly with the truths of the universe and shone light on the human condition in such a tender, charming way. This is the source of the much quoted “All grown-ups were once children, although few of them remember it”.

b. The Da Vinci Code

Approximate Sales: 80 million
Author: Dan Brown
First published: 2003

The Da Vinci Code was incredibly well marketed on its release with a suggestion in the press that it may in fact be true. This was helped no end by the Catholic Church who denounced the book. It is a mystery, detective thriller in which a symbologist and cryptologist investigate a murder in Paris and start to unravel a centuries old conspiracy involving the Holy Grail, Mary Magdalene and, well, everything we know, or think we know, about Christianity.

5. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Approximate Sales: 85 million
Author: C. S. Lewis
First published: 1950

This is another fantastical journey into a world of wise animals, danger and a lion like no other. Lewis made great use of the magical doorway in the wardrobe to link the real world with Narnia, the magical world of adventure. The concept of a magical gateway has been used in many novels since, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and Harry Potter not the least of them.

C. S. Lewis went on to write a series of books about Narnia.

4 a. Dream of the Red Chamber

Approximate Sales: 100 million
Author: Cao Xueqin
First published: 1754

Although written in 1754 the book was not formally published until 1791, almost 30 years after the author’s death. It follows the rise and decline of a family and various associates in the early years of the Qing dynasty, particularly a young boy who stands to inherit the family’s wealth. It’s a grand work that was unique at the time it was written and many would argue remains so today.

b. The Hobbit

Approximate Sales: 100 million
Author: J. R. R. Tolkien
First published: 1937

The world was introduced to Bilbo Baggins in this great novel that was recognised at the time of its release as a classic children’s fantasy book. Bilbo’s travels through Wilderland pitted him against all manner of trial and tribulation, ultimately resulting in his growth in wisdom as well as worldliness.

The publishers asked Tolkien for a sequel. 17 years later he gave them The Lord of the Rings.

c. She (A History of Adventure)

Approximate Sales: 100 million
Author: H. Rider Haggard
First published: 1887

Horace Holly is a professor at Cambridge University who raises a friend’s son after his friend dies, only to be drawn into the mysterious world of deepest, darkest Africa when the boy turns 25 years old. This is an imaginative ride that was without equal at the time of its release and a touchstone for the later works of C. S. Lewis, Tolkien and many others. The book has never been out of print.

d. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Approximate Sales: 100 million
Author: J. K. Rowling
First published: 1997

This would easily take out the prize for the fastest selling book in history. What a blockbuster it was. Wizardry in the style of Gandolf, but by kids who have an absolute ball battling the baddies and getting up to mischief. Wonderful characters, a fast paced storyline, tension and nice interludes into the real world made this an instant classic.

e. And Then There Were None

Approximate Sales: 100 million
Author: Agatha Christie
First published: 1939

Agatha Christie… wait a minute, there are some murders to be solved. Of course! Her name is synonymous with murder mysteries and this, her best selling book, is as good as it gets. Try to keep up with twists and turns as the clues are cunningly disclosed.

3. The Lord of the Rings

Approximate Sales: 150 million
Author: J. R. R. Tolkien
First published: 1954

It’s almost a rite of passage into literary adulthood to read this very long book from cover to cover, and what an impact it’s had over the last fifty years. It created this style of fantasy genre and has, more recently, given Hollywood a gold mine that keeps on giving and giving.

2. A Tale of Two Cities

Approximate Sales: 200 million
Author: Charles Dickens
First published: 1859

Charles Dickens gives us an authentic account of the struggle between rich and poor in the lead up to the French Revolution. Most surprisingly he takes no sides, showing the dark sides of the establishment and the revolutionaries with equal clarity.

1. Don Quixote

Approximate Sales: 500 million
Author: Miguel de Cervantes
First published: 1612

A man decides to become a knight and travels around Spain helping the poor and righting wrongs wherever they may be. It’s a classic tale that will always have relevance and now, even after 400 years, it still sells well. In fact a special release in 2005 sold 600,000 copies in two months.

Although the sales figures are impossible to verify it is widely agreed that this number represents a conservative estimate.

Top Team

Top Team

Top 10 Team spend hours reviewing products and services, comparing features, and diving into the nitty-gritty details and complies with top-notch lists to share meaningful information.

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