Reading is perhaps the most important and yet underrepresented hobby out there; it opens your mind up in magnificent ways, and exposes to new ideas and philosophies that are larger than life, and yet can still fit on something that is paper thin. There is a book out there that is perfect for each and every one of you, and yet there are thousands of books published every year that are destined to sit on a dusty shelf until they have long been forgotten; on the opposite side of things there are books which will never be forgotten: they have made such an incredible impact on the lives of readers everywhere that they have become more popular than the author themselves.
There have been some pretty big books published over the years, but which books (excluding religious texts) have sold the most copies? We’ve compared the biggest titles out there to find out, and these publications go back for hundreds of years! We’re going to be diving in to the history of some of your favorite books, and seeing exactly what made them so impactful. Here are the top ten books that practically sell themselves. How many have you read?
#10 – “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill ($70 Million)
At some point or another you have probably come across a self-help book that claims it can get you rich quick, but “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill was the first one that really established the legitimacy of the genre; it was published in 1937 during the Great Depression, and had sold 20 million copies by the time the author passed away in 1970. “Think and Grow Rich” provides a list of 13 core philosophies (with a chapter for each) which will lead you to success in business, as well as in other key areas of your life.
5,000 copies of “Think and Grows Rich” were made during its first printing, and all of them sold out within the first six weeks; 10,000 copies sold during the second six week print, and 20,000 copies during the third six week print. If you go to the library today and search for a copy of “Think and Grow Rich” you will likely find one of the versions that were revised in the 60s, but the original version of the book is said to be one of the most influential pieces of business literature to ever see the light of day.
#9 – “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown ($80 Million)
If you aren’t much of a book reader then you are probably familiar with “The Da Vinci Code” from its film counterpart starring Tom Hanks. The first publication of “The Da Vinci Code” ran in 2003, and was adapted to the big screen three years later following a massive rush of novel sales (80 million by 2009). “The Da Vinci Code” is one of the best conspiracy crime thrillers to ever be penned, and it features an incredibly gripping religious murder mystery that is slowly unraveled by a team of specialist investigators.
Headlines were buzzing in 2003 when “The Da Vinci Code” released: both for its risqué and unique look at Christian stories, and because it outsold the fifth book in the Harry Potter series; it was met with outrage and lawsuits by angry church heads who suggested that the book’s author, Dan Brown, had intentionally misrepresented biblical scripture, and Dan also received a handful of lawsuits by authors who claimed he plagiarized their work. Dan Brown let loose a massive sigh of relief after the courts (including the court of appeals) sided with him regarding his several suits, and “The Da Vinci Code” created an important precedent for an author’s free use of research in a fictional context.
#8 – “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C. S. Lewis ($85 Million)
Most everyone has heard of C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series, and “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is the first book in the popular seven book set (although it’s usually considered to be the second in recent editions); it was originally published in 1950, and initially there was some concern that the book would hurt Lewis’s reputation as an established author, but soon after its initial release it quickly made its way to the best seller list. Following the success of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” Lewis was being pressured to release more Narnia books: luckily for them had had already been working on them for a year in advance.
C.S. loved working on the Narnia novels, and was writing the sequels before the first book had even been picked up for publishing; when asked what draws him to the world of fantasy, he said that fantasy convinces us that anything can happen, and that it’s an important lesson to learn from fiction. “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” can currently be found on Time magazine’s “ALL-TIME 100 Novels” list, and has been re-printed in 47 languages.
#7 – “She: A History of Adventure” by H. Rider Haggard ($100 Million)
“She” is one of the oldest books on the list, but hasn’t been out of print since it first hit shelves in 1887; it’s the most influential work that H. Rider Haggard has ever released, which is impressive considering that he had nearly a hundred publications before he passed. “She” was not only a fantastic adventure novel, but also an incredibly poignant piece of feminist literature, that featured females in various authority roles; it also tackled social issues of class and slavery, and was based on the author’s actual experiences and travels overseas in South Africa.
Outside of works of theatre, “She” is one of the most heavily adapted films of all time: it currently has ten film adaptations, one of which, “La Colonne de feu,” was one of the first films ever produced; the original publication was met with a fair share of criticism regarding the literature’s progressive nature in the late 1800s, but there was no denying the novels’ pure quality: it had become a hit within its first year, and was then translated for distribution and sale overseas.
#6 – “The Hobbit” by J. R. R. Tolkien ($100 Million)
There are few books that are as “precious” to us as J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.” “The Hobbit” was the prequel to Tolkien’s later work (and his life’s most well received work), “The Lord of The Rings.” Even though “The Lord of The Rings” has sold 150 million copies, we won’t be including it on this list, since the book was sold in three separate volumes. It’s impressive enough for an author to have one publication that has reached over 100,000,000 copies sold, but for an author to have two? That’s pretty darn impressive!
“The Hobbit” has been adapted into just about every available since its publication in 1937, and it is widely considered to be the best standalone book in the entire fantasy genre; an original print of “The Hobbit” will fetch nearly a hundred thousand dollars through popular auction. “The Hobbit” was immediately successful following its release, but perhaps one of the more fascinating coincidences is that it would pave the way for another popular series: Tolkien’s good friend, C. S. Lewis, would go on to use Tolkien’s hit book as an inspiration for his Narnia novels!
#5 – “Dream of the Red Chamber” by Cao Xueqin ($100 Million)
“The Story of the Stone,” or more popularly known as “Dream of the Red Chamber,” is one of China’s “Four Great Classical Novels,” a series of four books which are accepted to be the four fictitious masterpieces of pre-modern China; it was first published in 1791 although it existed well before then under various different names, and it received an additional 40 chapters the following year. “Dream of the Red Chamber” features around 550 characters, which makes the novel comparable to an old literary epic in terms of its sheer size.
“Dream of the Red Chamber” was originally heavily criticized, and it seemed apparent that the work would never amount to anything significant, but by the 20th century the attitude towards the publication had shifted; the book was considered to be a foundation of national culture, and was seen as integral piece of work during the Cultural Revolution. Most people probably aren’t familiar with Cao Xueqin, but in the Eastern parts of the world his works are considered to be sanctimonious, and speaking ill of “Dream of the Red Chamber” is the cultural equivalent to insulting Shakespeare and Poe at the same time.
#4 – “And Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie ($100 Million)
“The Da Vinci Code” is surely a compelling mystery novel, but it will never be able to compete with the cultural significance of 1939’s “And Then There Were None,” whose original UK title is a bit too profane to include here; it was written by Agatha Christie, and was easily the most challenging piece of literature that she created over the course of her career. If you’re someone living in the United States, then you might recognize “And Then There Were None” by its English title, “Ten Little Indians.”
Regardless of what name you might know the book by, there is no disputing that it’s a particularly gruesome tale: so much so that it was heavily toned down when it was being adapted for the theatre; no such restrictions were needed when the novel was adapted for both radio and film, but television still had a considerable amount of restrictions when it was adapted as a show in the 70s. “Ten Little Indians” really isn’t all that violent by today’s modern standards, but it’s certainly a blast from the past to look back and see just how far we have come.
#3 – “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” by J. K. Rowling ($107 Million)
The Harry Potter series defined the reading habits of an entire generation of teens; it first hit shelves in 1997 with “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the U.S. release). J.K. Rowling was a literary unknown when she released her first book, and her publicist was essentially publishing the book as a favor: Rowling was practically homeless, and wasn’t capable of feeding herself without government assistance. It took Rowling six painstaking years to finish the first Harry Potter book, as well as an 8,000 pound grant.
Joanne’s financial problems were solved after “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” released, as it quickly became the number one book in the world; parents were buying the novel as a Christmas gift, and it was being featured across several media outlets. The first prints of the Harry Potter series were given directly to libraries in an effort to motivate children into reading, and today the books are still used in early academia as a way to teach reading skills to children all around the world: and there is hardly anything more magical than that!
#2 – “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry ($140 Million)
“The Little Prince” is less of a book and more of a novella, which was penned by the French poet Antoine de Saint-Exupéry; it is in the top five most translated book of all time, appearing in over 250 different dialects and languages, and racking up an additional two million unit sales each year. “The Little Prince” has become so popular that it has been adapted into completely different presentations, such as an operatic rendition at numerous theatres: it is currently the most popular “children’s book” in the world, although its meticulously written content makes it approachable by adults as well.
“The Little Prince” is accompanied by water color illustrations which help breathe life into the book, which also made the publication incredibly popular with parents looking to teach their kids to read; Antoine created a piece of art that appeals to so many different sub-cultures that it was essentially impossible to fail. Initially “The Little Prince” was met with proportionately “little” success, staying on the best sellers list for only two weeks, and receiving a fair share of negative reviews, but by the end of its first year the book was regarded as a masterpiece, and competes with “The Bible” in terms of how many U.S. households own their own copy.
#1 – “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens ($200 Million)
When you think of the literary greats there a few that come to mind: “The Great Gatsby,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Of Mice and Men,” “1984,” but none of them can hold a candle to “A Tale of Two Cities,” the bestselling book in the world! Published in 1859, “A Tale of Two Cities” is the greatest piece of writing to emerge from Charles Dickens, who is arguably the greatest writer to ever live; in the 58 years that he lived he made a greater impact in the writing community than most writers collectively have in a generation.
“A Tale of Two Cities” is a historical novel which details the harsh living conditions of the French peasants prior to the French Revolution; it has been adapted into every performing arts medium, and is considered to be one of the most dramatic novels in existence. “A Tale of Two Cities” certainly isn’t for everyone, and by modern standards most young readers would consider the book to be quite boring, but if you consider yourself to be a serious and critical reader, then you would be doing yourself a disservice by not checking out a life changing book…it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.