Finding out the books which have most commercial success should be a more concrete endeavor. We can just look at the sales numbers and rank them for a current list. Unfortunately, this turns out to be quite a herculean task itself.
There is no central repository or current list for total sales numbers for books. Publishers may not share sales numbers for individual books, or their reported numbers may be inaccurate. It gets even more complicated when you consider that popular books often are released in multiple editions, sometimes by entirely different publishers. Older works that are in the public domain may be published simultaneously by several different companies. The fact is, any worldwide sales figures for a book more than a few years old are probably an educated guess at best.
Yet keeping these points, we have for you a list of 15 books which are always welcomed by the readers.
1: “Xinhua Zidian” – 567 million
It may not be too surprising to see a reference book at the top of this list of all-time best-selling books, but did you know “Xinhua Zidian,” a Chinese-language dictionary, is probably the best-selling one of the bunch? “Xinhua Zidian” was first published in 1953 and became the standard dictionary among Chinese schoolchildren. Its widespread use in the most populous nation in the world (1.4 billion people as of 2022) gives this book a unique place on our list.
2: “Don Quixote de la Mancha” – 500 million
Cervantes’ “Don Quixote de la Mancha” was originally published in two parts, in 1605 and 1615.
Miguel de Cervantes’ novel about a man who becomes so infatuated with tales of knights that he decides to become one is believed to serve as the foundation for modern novels.
3: “A Tale of Two Cities” – 200 million
First published in 1859, this novel by Charles Dickens, one of the most popular authors of all time, examines the class struggles that led to the French Revolution, and the uncomfortable truth that sometimes the revolutionaries are worse than the establishment: “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”
4: “The Lord of the Rings” – 150 million
Bilbo Baggins’ epic journey across Middle Earth has drawn readers in all over the world since 1954 and made best sellers lists for years.
This high-stakes fantasy trilogy plays a big role on this list. “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien is believed to have established the modern fantasy genre, and it embodies a classic tale of good versus evil, and the lengths to which friends will go for each other.
5: “The Little Prince” – 140 million
“The Little Prince,” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, is a charming novella about a lonely young prince who tours a variety of planets, including Earth, from his home on a tiny asteroid. The book’s thematic exploration of loss and connection has resonated with readers all over the world, making it one of the most enduring publications on this list. “The Little Prince” was originally published in both English and French in 1943, and has become beloved because of its lessons for all ages, despite being written for children.
6: “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” – 120 million
We learn Harry Potter is a wizard at the same time he does in this, our first introduction to him and the Harry Potter books. RAY_EXPLORES/FLICKR
“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” is the first volume in perennial New York Times bestseller J.K. Rowling’s blockbuster series about young wizards living in a magical modern world of dark secrets, as the adventures begin in the Harry Potter series. The novel’s ability to immerse the reader in this introduction to Harry, who, on his 11th birthday, learns he is a wizard, has been enthralling readers ever since the book was first published in 1997.
7: “And Then There Were None” – 100 million
“And Then There Were None” is the best-selling book by British mystery legend Agatha Christie. The book, first printed in 1939, details the horrifying truth of a series of murders on an island in which each death coincides with a line from an old nursery rhyme, with the seemingly impossible crime explained in Christie’s ingenious epilogue.
8: “Dream of the Red Chamber” – 100 million
The Chinese novel “Dream of the Red Chamber” is a semi-autobiographical work that chronicles the rise and fall of a family during the Qing dynasty and was first published in 1791 by author Cao Xueqin. It’s considered one of the four great classic novels of Chinese literature and has been finding success, with an entire field of literary study devoted to it.
9: “The Hobbit” – 100 million
“The Hobbit” is one of the all-time best-sellling books, written by J.R.R. Tolkien.
A prequel to the popular “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien was published in 1937. It marked the first time readers the world over learned about Bilbo Baggins, a member of the Hobbit race of diminutive humanlike people, who undertakes an epic journey to regain stolen treasure guarded by a fearsome dragon. Along the way, Baggins fishes a magical ring from a stream that brings its own set of benefits and dangers to the story, highlighting the complexity of trustworthiness and friendship.
10: “Think and Grow Rich” – 100 million
Author Napoleon Hill is sometimes considered the father of the self-help movement in the United States. He studied successful and wealthy people and then created a formula for achieving personal success. “Think and Grow Rich,” his most popular book, was released in 1937 during the Great Depression and has since sold at least 100 million copies, making it not only one of the best-selling books of all time, but one of the most widely read self-help books of all time.
11: “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” – 85 million
“The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis, published in 1950, is a classic example of a “magical doorway” story. C.S. Lewis published this religious-themed fantasy novel in 1950. Intended as a children’s book, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is set during World War II and is a classic example of a “magical doorway” story, in which the adventures begin when a gate between the normal world and a magical one is discovered. This formula would, of course, be used to great success years later by J.K. Rowling.
12: “The Da Vinci Code” – 80 million
Dan Brown’s 2003 mystery novel, “The Da Vinci Code,” about a conspiracy hiding the horrifying truth of the dark secrets of the Catholic Church, was no doubt boosted in popularity when the Catholic Church decried it (and the inevitable film, starring Tom Hanks, which was released in 2006).
13: “The Alchemist” – 80 million
“The Alchemist,” Paulo Coelho’s mystical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy, comes in at No. 13 on our list. Written in Portuguese in 1986, and then translated into English in 1993, “The Alchemist” is touted as an allegorical masterpiece about a young shepherd who seeks his destiny in the desert.
14: “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” – 77 million
In J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” a mysterious elf tells Harry to expect trouble during his second year at Hogwarts, and trouble he gets when the adventures begin in this bestselling book series.
The book was released in 1998, and uncovers more of the mysteries of the wizarding school Hogwarts, the further adventures of harry and his friends, and the series’ prevailing villain, Voldemort. In this book, the adventures begin when Potter receives a mysterious message that his life will be in danger if he returns to Hogwarts, but return he must. Hogwarts, and his friends there, are what keep Potter going as he endures seemingly endless drudgery with the Dursleys each summer.
15: “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” – 65 million
“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” may have been the sixth book in the seven-book Harry Potter series, but it ranks as the third best-selling book in the series (all seven make this list). This book is notable for detailing the childhood of main villain Voldemort, and for an infamous death scene that shocked many fans with its dark turn of events. Not only has “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” sold millions of copies, it sold them incredibly quickly — 9 million copies sold within 24 hours of its release in 2005.