Spoken stories, plays, and poetry have captured minds and hearts since long before the intellectual Middle Ages. Upon the advent of mass printing presses, books once relegated to the educated and rich in society were suddenly available to the populace.
While books such as The Bible have sold billions of copies over the centuries, exact numbers – and publishers – are hard to quantify. As such, all books of a religious or philosophical nature have been removed from consideration.
Listed in order from most to least, these are five of the highest-selling books of all time.
1. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Don Quixote is one of the most influential and well-known books of all time, especially among Spanish literature. It was written during the Spanish Golden Age is considered to be one of the “founding works” in Spanish and Western literature, often labeled as the greatest literary work of all time and “the first modern novel.”
Don Quixote also happens to be the highest-selling book of all time, with a grand total of 500 million known copies sold.
2. The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling
While considering a series may be a cheat, the entire 7-book line made history time and broke sales records time and again, starting with the first book to be printed. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone has sold over 120 million copies alone, and thus singly holds its place as one of the highest selling books of all time.
The entire Harry Potter franchise has sold more than 500 million copies altogether, which makes it the best-selling book series ever.
3. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
A Tale of Two Cities is often labeled as the highest-selling novel of all time, though it is surpassed by a select few religious and philosophical texts, as well as Don Quixote. If you think you know none of the elements of this story, think again – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” is the opening line of the novel.
A Tale of Two Cities has over 200 million known copies printed and sold in multiple translations worldwide.
4. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
The Lord of the Rings is known today to be a trilogy, but Tolkien’s original intent was for it to be published as a single novel. As the three books together totaled over 1,000 pages, the original publisher made the decision to divide the novel into a trilogy that would be sold as a box set.
As such, this makes The Lord of the Rings one of the highest-selling books of all time, with total sells in excess of 150 million copies.
5. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
The Little Prince is a novella, not a novel, but at over 140 million copies sold, it still deserves its place on our list of highest-selling books of all time.
This French story follows the adventures of a prince who visits extraterrestrial planets to make friends, experience loneliness and loss, and make poignant observations about human nature. As of 2017, The Little Prince had been adapted into 361 separates languages and dialects.
Storytelling is the pastime of our people – our global people. The written imagination captures the heart, the mind, and takes the soul for a glorious ride – all without leaving the couch. These five best-selling novels just prove it.