For millennium, knowledge has been passed on to newer generations through the written cord. Old novels and books, as we know them, have been around for about 600 years stimulating the imagination and intellect of readers, and have contributed to both mass education and mass entertainment. Was Johannes Gutenberg, a German goldsmith, blacksmith and publisher, aware of the impact he would have on the world by inventing the printing press around 1439? We can’t say it for sure. But, his invention had clearly opened the door to many novel writers in Europe and other parts of the world till the end of 16th century.
Literary scholars and intellects can debate endlessly over which novel is the “best” of all times, but finding out which ones have enjoyed being the top-seller or the best-seller should be a more concrete attempt. There is no central receptacle for total sales number to unravel “what novels are the best selling of all time”, or to measure the commercial success of a particular novel. Publishers and distributors may not share the sales figure for individual novels, their reported numbers are often inaccurate, and to cap it all, many novels come out in multiple editions over the years through entirely different publishers.
These problems are compounded when it comes to religious and political books like The Holy Bible, the Quran, Quotations from Mao Zedong, and many more. So, books like these which are often given away for free are not included in this list. For the record, these excluded books have a sales figure of hundreds of millions copies, a several billion in the Bible’s case.
With all those caveats in mind, here we run a countdown of “Top 10 Best Selling Novels Of All Time”. These top selling novels span multiple centuries, covering many genres and original languages. So, read on!
10. She: A History of Adventure
“She” is a fantasy, adventure, romance and Gothic mixture of novel written by Henry Rider Haggard, one of the classic authors of imaginative literature. First published in 1887, the novel follows a first-person narrative tracing the journey of Horace Holly and his ward Leo Vincey to a lost empire in some African interior. Through this work, Haggard pioneered the Lost World sub-genre, which was emulated for years by many other authors.
With over 83 million copies sold around the world in 44 different languages, She remains on of the best-selling novels of all time. Extraordinarily popular upon its release, the book is claimed to have never been out of print till today!
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Written by C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a religion-based fantasy novel for children published in 1950. It was the first of the seven novels in “The Chronicles of Narnia” series. Most part of the story is set in Narnia, a mystical land where the characters travel to encounter all types of fantastical people, godly lion and other anthropomorphic semi-animals.
The novel, with over 85 million copies sold worldwide, led to an entire series of Narnia novels and films. It shows the classic example of a “magical/mystical doorway” by which one can enter to and from a normal world and a magical one. This formula was in the later years better adopted to a greater success by J.K. Rowling in her Harry Potter series.
8. The Hobbit
The Hobbit is a children’s book and fantasy novel by English author J.R.R. Tolkien. It follows the quest of a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins to win a share of the treasure kept under wraps by the dragon, Smaug. The novel is Tolkien’s second best-selling work after The Lord of the Rings, and many believe his own experiences during the World War I was fundamental in shaping the overall story in the novel.
Published on 21 September 1937, the novel has since received a wide critical acclaim, being awarded “The Best Juvenile Fiction” prize from the New York Herald Tribune and a nomination for the Carnegie Medal. With over 100 million copies sold worldwide, The Hobbit is regarded as a pioneer of modern fantasy novels and films, and is also considered a classic in children’s literature.
7. Dream of the Red Chamber
This Chinese novel, written by Cao Xueqin, surrounds the story of the rise and decay of a family during the Qing dynasty in China. It is believed to be semi-autobiographical, stimulating the rise and fall of Xueqin’s own family, and overall intending to be a memorial to the women he knew in his youth. First published in 1791, the novel is one of the Four Great Classical Novels of China. It is often translated as A Dream of Red Mansions or Red Chamber Dream or The Story of the Stone.
With an entire field of literary study devoted to it, Dream of the Red Chamber is till today considered one of the classic and most influential works of Chinese literature. It is reported to have an estimated sales figure of over 100 million copies.
6. And Then There Were None
The detective novel by Agatha Christie was first published in the U.K. in 1939. It details a series of murder of 10 people on an island where they are lured or tricked by the inclement weather, and no one can escape due to the distance from the mainland. Each of them are killed in a manner seeming to parallel the deaths in Ten Little Niggers, a British nursery rhyme.
The novel is estimated to have a sales figure of over 100 millions worldwide, and is Agatha Christie’s best-selling work.
5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
The first novel in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is written by J.K. Rowling, and features a young wizard named Harry Potter. The story surrounds young wizards living in a magical modern world, and describes how Harry finds out he is a wizard. Rowling’s debut novel has over the years received very favorable comments on her humor, simple and direct style, clever plot construction and imagination.
First published by Bloomsbury in London on 26 June, 1997, the novel is estimated to have sold around 107 million copies worldwide, with different publishers for different nations.
4. Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince)
“The Little Prince”, written by French aristocrat, writer and poet, Antoine de Saint Exupéry, is a strange yet charming poetic tale of a prince who has fallen to earth from a tiny asteroid. A pilot meets him then, and the story begins to unravel the strangeness of the adult world. Published in 1943, the novel was and is still extremely popular in France and many other countries.
Translated into more than 250 languages and dialects, The Little Prince is one of the best-selling novels of all time, totaling more than 140 million copies sold worldwide, and boasting a sales figure of over a million copies per year. It is the most read as well as the most translated book in the French language.
3. The Lord of the Rings
J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” is arguably the ultimate fantasy novel, a literary stand out work that has established the modern fantasy genre. Most parts of the novel were written around the World War II – between 1937 and 1949, though the story began as a sequel to “The Hobbit”, a 1937 children’s fantasy novel by Tolkien himself. The story follows war and fantasy examining the life of hobbits, their allies and traveling companions and the Dark Lord Sauron over the course of the “War of the Ring”.
Although the original publishers divided “The Lord of the Rings” for some logistical reasons in 1954, for much of the history it has always been a single epic high fantasy novel. Here, it comes in our list as the third-best selling novel ever cum the second-best selling English novel, with more than 150 million copies sold worldwide.
2. A Tale of Two Cities
First published in 1859, Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” inspects the struggle of different social classes that led to the French Revolution. Set in London and Paris during the time of revolution, it intertwines the truth that sometimes those involved in the revolution are worse than the overall idea of establishment of it. Demonstrating the brutality shown by the revolutionaries towards the former aristocrats in France in the early years of revolution, the novel also parallels with social life in London during the same time period, following the lives of several characters like Charles Darnay, Sydney Carton, and more.
A Tale of Two Cities has been published in several editions by hundreds of publishers over the last 150 years. With over 200 million copies sold worldwide, it ranks among the best and one of the most influential works in the history of fictional literature.
1. Don Quixote
Written by Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote is a Spanish novel about a man who becomes so inspired with intense passion for the tales of knights that he decides to become one of them. In the novel, under the name Don Quixote, Alonso Quijano misadventures as he travels and wonders across the Spanish countryside to revive chivalry. On his way, he recruits Sancho Panza, a simple farmer who employs earthly wits while dealing with Quixote’s rhetorical speeches on medieval knighthood, initiating themes of meta-theater, literary representation, realism and intertextuality.
Published in two volumes in 1605 and 1615, Don Quixote is regarded as the first novel ever, and is also the oldest novel in this list. Many consider it to be the most influential literary work from the Spanish Golden Age and the overall Spanish literary canon. In Spain the sales figure of this novel is a guess, as there is no means to tally sales from early 1600s. Some up and coming sources suggest that Don Quixote has sold around 500 million copies till date.
Compared to the top 10 lists in regards to the best-selling novels on other websites, this countdown here is backed with the latest and near-accurate sales figures cumulatively added from year to year since the novels were first published. Additionally, the list is not prejudiced to English novels; there are some good non-English novels as well in the list.
So, what do you think of our “Top 10 Best-Selling Novels Of All Time”? Feel free to make comments and suggestions or start a debate on what other novels should have been included on the list. Thank you for reading.