The 22 Best-selling Books of All Time

By: Laurie L. Dove  | 
22 best-sellers
Publishing phenomenon and perennial New York Times bestseller J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series would be a good guess when it comes to best-sellers of all time, and although every one of the books makes this list, none of the Potter books appears in the top five. Wachiwit/Shutterstock

Scholars can debate endlessly over which book is the "best" of all time, but finding out which ones have enjoyed the 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 challenge 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.


These issues are compounded when you consider religious texts like the Bible, the Quran or the Book of Mormon. Not only are sales numbers impossible to verify, but these types of books are often given out to followers or handed out in public places. Comparing their sales numbers to the works of Charles Dickens or J.K. Rowling is like comparing apples to oranges. Therefore, these books, along with "Quotations from Mao Zedong," for example, have been excluded from this list.

With these caveats in mind, here is a current list of the 22 best-selling books of all time, as far as we can tell.


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. For the first time, "Xinhua Zidian" has overtaken “Don Quixote” for the top spot. In 2016 (the latest year in which data is available), Guinness World Records heralded "Xinhua Zidian" for globally selling 567 million copies during its lifetime.


2: "Don Quixote de la Mancha" – 500 million

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Cervantes' "Don Quixote de la Mancha" was originally published in two parts, in 1605 and 1615. Naeblys/Shutterstock

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. Originally published in two parts in 1605 and 1615, Quixote's misadventures as he travels across the Spanish countryside seeking wrongs to right and downtrodden people to uplift have amused and enthralled generations of readers and made best sellers lists for years. The book also gave us the idiom "tilting at windmills" to indicate a noble but futile endeavor.

While the novel enjoys surges in popularity now and then, especially in Spain, the sales number is still an educated guess. Truth is, "Don Quixote" is the oldest book on this list and it has had a long time to accrue sales. We don't have a time machine or a way to tally sales from the 1600s, but several sources suggest that "Don Quixote" has sold 500 million copies. We've placed it as the No. 2 best-selling book of all time because of its worldwide popularity over an impressive span of time and its estimated total sales number.


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."

Because "A Tale of Two Cities" is in the public domain and has been published in numerous editions by hundreds of publishers over the last 150 years, it's impossible to ascertain the exact number of copies sold. The number 200 million is a bit controversial, in that there's not an identifiable single source for the data. However, considering that "A Tale of Two Cities" is one of Dickens' best books and is regularly on the required reading lists of students in the U.S. and elsewhere, it's entirely fitting that it should come in at No. 3 on our list.


4: "The Lord of the Rings" – 150 million

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Frodo Baggins' epic journey across Middle Earth has drawn readers in all over the world since 1954 and made best-sellers lists for years. Fantasy, not science fiction, tends to permeate the all-time best-sellers list. Astfreelancer/Shutterstock

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.

Tolkien's original publisher divided his lengthy 500,000-word manuscript into three parts that were first published in 1954 and 1955, featuring character Frodo Baggins' epic journey across Middle Earth. The books included maps of verdant hillsides and stony dragon lairs originally drawn by Tolkien's son Christopher. The escapist tales remain popular today and are often sold together in lavishly decorated boxed sets.


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. There are monuments to "The Little Prince" worldwide, and astronomers even named an actual asteroid for the one the prince inhabits in the story.

Sources list lifetime book sales of "The Little Prince" between 140 million and 142 million, making this book No. 5 on our list.


6: "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" – 120 million

22 best-sellers
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.

Estimated sales come in at a solid 120 million copies sold of this series debut, making it No. 6 on our list and the first to benefit from modern sales tracking methods.


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.

The sales number is an estimate: Since 2017, Christie has been finding success as a Guinness World Record holder as the most-translated author, with 7,236 translations derived from her written works, including translations of "And Then There Were None," Christie's best-selling book. With at least 100 million in estimated copies sold of "And Then There were None," Christie takes the No. 7 spot on our list.


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.

"Dream of the Red Chamber" is revered for its depiction of classic Chinese culture of the era in which it was written and remains popular even today, with new theories and ideas continually rekindling interest about the novel's depiction of 400 characters, many of them women. The novel is widely considered to be one of the first to offer a window into women's lives within Chinese society in the 18th century. The novel's lifetime sales are estimated at 100 million, a figure considered by many to be on the low side, considering the book's sustained place in the literary canon.


9: "The Hobbit" – 100 million

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"The Hobbit" is one of the all-time best-sellling books, written by J.R.R. Tolkien. Herry Lawford/Flickr

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.

"The Hobbit," one of Tolkien's best books, has sold at least 100 million copies and kicked off the widely read "Lord of the Rings" franchise.


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.

In "Think and Grow Rich," Hill distilled his formula into a philosophical system for success that has continued to resonate with people struggling to get by. It stayed on best-seller lists for many years, and spawned an entire industry of books about how to be a more deliberately successful person.

11: "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" – 85 million

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"The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe" by C.S. Lewis, published in 1950, is a classic example of a "magical doorway" story. Hazel Nicholson/Flickr

C.S. Lewis published this religious-themed fantasy as hardcover fiction 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.

Lewis' young protagonists travel to a realm called Narnia during World War II, where they encounter all manner of anthropomorphized animals, fantastical people and a godly lion. This book led to an entire series of Narnia novels. Like nearly every book on this list that isn't a dictionary, it was also made into a film.

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).

Not only does "The Da Vinci Code" show that mystery novels are capable of holding their own against the fantasy books on this list, but Brown's book sparked renewed cultural interest in the shadowy underpinnings of the historical dark secrets of well-known organizations. His subsequent book, "The Lost Symbol," released in 2006, broke one-day sales records at the time. "The Da Vinci Code" remains Brown's best-selling book so far, with more than 80 million copies sold.

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.

Several sources indicate "The Alchemist" has sold 80 million copies worldwide.

14: "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" – 77 million

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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. Zety Akhzar/Shutterstock

The second book in the Harry Potter series, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" 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.

While it's difficult to say why some books in the perennial New York Times bestseller Harry Potter series sell more or less than others — there's not a large spread among the books — according to fans of the popular series, there's not a bad book in the bunch.

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.

16: "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" – 65 million

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"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" by J.K. Rowling centers on the Tri-Wizard tournament at Hogwarts and the further adventures of Harry Potter. It is the No. 16 top-selling book of all time. Zety Akhzar/Shutterstock

The fourth book in the series, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (2000), centers on the Tri-Wizard tournament, a supposedly friendly competition between representatives of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and two rival schools. This book features Harry's first face-to-face meeting with a newly corporeal Voldemort. With all seven books in the Harry Potter series making this list, the all-time best-sellers skew heavily toward fantasy because the genre accounts for one-third of the list.

17: "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" – 65 million

"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was released in 2003 and is the fifth book in the series. This installment introduces a secret society dedicated to resisting Voldemort's growing power. Whether this book, "Goblet of Fire," or "Prisoner of Azkaban" has sold more total copies is anyone's guess, and is probably immaterial. The series' combined royalties went toward making publishing phenomenon J.K. Rowling one of the richest women in the world, with a net worth estimated at $1 billion.

18: "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" – 65 million

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"Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban" by J.K. Rowling takes us on a time travel adventure in this third book in the series as we also learn more about Harry's parents, James and Lily, who died protecting him. Zety Akhzar/Shutterstock

The third book of the Harry Potter series, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," was released in 1999. In this book, Harry and his friends have further adventures — and plenty of misadventures — involving werewolves and time travel at Hogwarts. Along the way in this third book, readers learn more about Harry's parents, James and Lily, who died protecting him.

19: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" – 65 million

The final, seventh book in the Harry Potter popular series was released in 2007 and had sold 44 million copies just one year later — and that's before the paperback version of the seventh book of the New York Times bestsellers had even come out. Now, "Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows," the seventh book in the series, is in keeping with the rest of the popular series, each installation of which is around the $65 million in sales mark. We can't wait to see how the eighth book in the series, "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child," fares. Who would have thought there would be an eighth book in the series?

20: "The Catcher in the Rye" – 60 million

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J.D. Salinger's 1951 classic is required reading in many American high schools. hamdi bendali/Shutterstock

"The Catcher in the Rye," J.D. Salinger's 1951 book about teen disillusionment, is one of his best books and a must-read for adolescents everywhere about the angst that a high school kid inherits — literally, in many cases, as the book is part of the literary canon assigned to many high school readers. Like "A Tale of Two Cities," sales numbers for Salinger's novel likely benefit from frequent inclusion on high school required reading lists, but there's no denying that the book is a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of a teenage boy trying to sort out his future amid the angst that a high school kid inherits.

21: "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ" – 50 million

Lew Wallace wrote this biblical tale, publishing it in 1880. "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ," cleverly discusses the life and times of Jesus Christ indirectly, using the protagonist, Judah Ben-Hur, to observe Christ and other aspects of life in that era. Wallace meticulously researched the historical accuracy of the novel. It is credited with popularizing novels in the U.S., since the religious themes made it more palatable to readers at the time.

The sales number is an estimate — it was enormously popular in the years after it was first published, but it's more likely you've heard of it because of the 1959 film starring Charlton Heston or the 2016 remake.

22: "Lolita" – 50 million

This controversial novel by Vladimir Nabokov was first published in 1955. "Lolita" has often been banned due to the nature of its subject matter — it concerns a man, Humbert Humbert, who gets involved with a single mother and develops a sexual relationship and a potentially dangerous romance with his 12-year-old stepdaughter. Despite its lurid tale of a single mother and her sexually charged daughter, the novel does have its champions: 125 famous authors voted it one of the all-time great best books.

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