What are The Most Sold Books of All Time?
By: Preston Simmons | Written: 30 Sep 2021
That’s a lot of Books
There are millions and millions of books published every single year. For a writer, if one of their books is purchased by a million people, they can consider themselves a widely successful author.
However, a million books sold for an author is rarely achievable. One of the most significant accomplishments for an author is making it to the New York Times Best Seller List. It’s a globally known list that is the pinnacle of many careers for a lot of authors. To make it on the highly prestigious list, you would think that an author needs to sell a massive amount of books, right?
Well, you would be surprised.
To make it on the NYT Best Seller List, an author only needs to sell 5,000 copies of their book in a week. If they achieve that, their book has successfully made it on the list, and they can now forever claim the title of “New York Times Best Selling Author.”
It’s an incredible achievement that should make any writer proud.
But that’s not who we are going to be talking about today.
In this article, I will discuss the books that make 5,000 sold copies a week look like a single drop of rain in a lake. I’m going to talk about the books that make a million sold copies look insignificant.
This article is focused on the most sold books of all time.
Disclaimer: This list will not include any religious texts as ones such as the Bible, Quran, etc., are often given away for free rather than purchased.
#10 – The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S Lewis
Copies Sold: 85 Million
First Published: 1950
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S Lewis placed 10th on the most sold books of all time list. This is the second book in the YA Fantasy series, the Chronicles of Narnia.
The story follows the four Pevensie siblings, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, as they enter Narnia through a magical wardrobe and fight to save the land from an evil witch with the help of Aslan, the lion.
What makes this book so good, and probably why it has sold so well for so many years, is that it’s a classic good vs. evil story suitable for all ages.
Where to Find: You can find The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe on Bookshop here!
#9 – And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Copies Sold: 100 Million
First Published: 1939 UK, 1940 US
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie is the 9th most sold book of all time, and it is also the only mystery book that appears on the list.
The story follows a group of people invited to stay at a mansion on a private, isolated island. One by one, the guests succumb to death in a similar fashion to a nursery rhyme displayed in each mansion room. Only the dead are innocent of the crime. Will the remaining guests figure out the culprit before none remain?
It’s no surprise that this is one of the most sold books of all time, considering how influential the story has become. There have been 12 film adaptations created based on the book, multiple BBC Radio Broadcast adaptations, and various stage plays, TV shows, and video games, all based on the book.
Where to Find: You can find And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie on Bookshop here!
#8 – The Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xuequin
Copies Sold: 100 Million
First Published: 18th Century
Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xuequin is the 8th most sold book of all time. It is also widely considered a masterpiece and one of the four pinnacles in Chinese literature alongside Journey to the West, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and Outlaws of the Marsh.
This is a story of a stone who wants to experience life in the human world and is allowed to do so. Reborn as Jia Baoyu, the story follows the boy as he experiences love and life in 18th Century China.
The book is one of the most important pieces of literature in Chinese history. The book generated a field of study called Redology, which Mao Zedong was a student of.
Where to Find: You can find Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xuequin on Bookshop here!
#7 – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.k Rowling
Copies Sold: 120 Million
First Published: 1997
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or Sorcerer’s Stone) by J.K Rowling is the 7th most sold book of all time and part of the most influential YA Fantasy series ever.
The book follows the 11-year-old Harry Potter as he discovers that he’s no ordinary boy; he’s a wizard. From there, he learns all about the new world of witchcraft and wizardry at Hogwarts. But even amongst other magical people, he’s special. Harry Potter is the boy who lived.
Harry Potter is the best-selling series of all time at 500 million copies. Each of the individual Harry Potter novels ranks in the top 20 most sold books of all time. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, book 7 in the series, is also the fastest-selling novel in 24 hours of all time, with 8.3 million copies sold in the US and 2.65 million copies sold in the UK.
Where to Find: You can find Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on Bookshop here!
Related: Best YA Fantasy Books RANKED
#6 – The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien
Copies Sold: 140.6 million
First Published: 1937
The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien is the 6th most sold book of all time and the prequel novel to The Lord of the Rings. Through the Hobbit, J.R.R Tolkien sets the stage for Middle Earth. In this book, readers are introduced to many different races, including dwarves, wizards, goblins, elves, and hobbits.
The Hobbit follows Bilbo Baggins as he is whisked away from his quiet home under the hill to go off on an adventure with Gandalf, the wizard, and a company of dwarves in order to reclaim their lost home from the dragon, Smaug.
Where to Find: You can find the Hobbit on Bookshop here!
#5 – The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien
Copies Sold: 150 million
First Published: 1954
The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien is the 5th most sold book of all time. It is the first book in the epic fantasy trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, and a direct sequel to the Hobbit.
The Fellowship of the Ring follows Frodo Baggins as he goes on a quest to save Middle Earth alongside eight other companions. To do so, he must take the One Ring, a conduit of the evil Lord Sauron, to Mount Doom and cast it into its fires. Only then will Middle Earth be free.
The Lord of the Rings is regarded by many as one of the most remarkable fantasy series of all time and one of the most important pieces of literature to date. In combination with its deep lore, iconic characters, and epic scope, the Lord of the Rings remains a pillar in fantasy even to this day.
Where to Find: You can find The Fellowship of the Ring on Bookshop here!
#4 – The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Copies Sold: 200 million
First Published: 1943
The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupéry places number four on the most sold books of all time list. It is highly regarded as one of the best children’s books ever written, so it’s no surprise that many people of all ages have read it.
The story follows a young prince who travels to various planets and addresses themes of loneliness, love, loss, friendship, and relationships.
The book has been translated over 300 times, making it the most translated non-religious text of all time. The Little Prince has also been adapted into many forms, including stage plays, radio broadcasts, anime, film, graphic novels, and opera.
Where to Find: You can find The Little Prince on Bookshop here!
#3 – A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Copies Sold: 200 million
First Published: 1859
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is one of the most sold books and 5th on this list. Charles Dickens was one of the world’s most famous authors credited for writing over 15 novels. Many of his books are household names like A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, and Bleak House. A Tale of Two Cities, however, is considered the best story of them all.
The novel tells the story of Doctor Manette, his imprisonment in the French Bastille in Paris, and his release to live in London with his daughter, Lucie, that he had never met. The story takes place directly before the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror.
The book covers many themes, including imprisonment, injustice, social anarchy, and resurrection. It is a literary classic in every sense of the word.
Where to Find: You can find A Tale of Two Cities on Bookshop here!
#2 – The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Copies Sold: 500 million
First Published: 1845
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas is 2nd of the most sold books of all time. It is considered one of the greatest adventure novels ever written and, in general, one of the best literary classics ever.
The story follows Edmund Dantes, a man thrown into prison for a crime he did not commit. There, he learns of a great horde of hidden treasures on the island of Monte Cristo. He becomes determined to escape the prison to unearth the treasure and use the wealth for revenge against the three men responsible for his imprisonment.
The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the most adapted pieces of literature with over 24 film productions made, 24 television shows made, a popular anime, games, and plays made retelling the story.
It is by far the most famous revenge story ever written, and it’s no wonder it’s one of the most sold books of all time.
Where to Find: You can find The Count of Monte Cristo on Bookshop here!
#1 – Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Copies Sold: 500 million+
First Published: 1605
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes sits at the top of the list of the most sold books of all time. Not only that, but it is the oldest book on the list by 100 years. In the literary world, the book had influenced many authors, including Dickens, Faulkner, Flaubert, Sterne, and Fielding. Many call Don Quixote one of the greatest works ever written, which would explain why it has sold so well for hundreds of years.
The story follows the adventures of a noble from La Mancha named Alonso Quixano, who reads so many chivalric romances that he loses his mind and decides to become a knight-errant to revive chivalry serve his nation under the name Don Quixote.
The book is considered the first modern novel ever written and has been adapted in various forms many times.
Where to Find: You can find Don Quixote on Bookshop here!
These are the most sold books of all time as of 2021. Looking at this list, you can take a few points away. First, the top three books (by a large margin) were written and published before 1900. Also worth mentioning is that all but two of the books on the list were written by men. Lastly, the difference in books sold between 3rd and 2nd place is 300 million copies sold.
Is time the most significant contributor to the number of book copies sold? Were people more willing to buy books written by men than those by women at one point in time? Will a book written in the 2000s ever reach the top 5?
Only time will tell.