How can one presume to judge literature? Literature, when viewed as artwork, brings on an entirely biased realm of critique. What is perfect to one person can be considered average or even subpar to another. The easiest way to judge the value of a book is by seeing how many copies have actually gotten sold. So we decided to use our online bachelor degree to dig deep into the archive of book sales. Listed below are the 12 best selling, most popular books in the history of book publishing. If you haven’t gotten a hand on these books then consider yourself in the minority.
The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit – 250 Million Copies.
We decided to combine ‘The Hobbit’ and the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy into one encompassing piece of work. J.R.R. Tolkien is one of the titans of literary history and he can be directly attributed with the cultivation and popularity surge of modern fantasy. Tolkien’s work in Middle Earth, the world in which the aforementioned books are set, created the boundaries by which all other fantasy fiction tend to be judged. The tale of the heroic journey undertaken by small heroes in a big world, a common trope, all started here. With Peter Jackson making the series popular once more thanks to his cinematic adaptations we have seen Tolkien’s legendary work continue to fly off of the shelves. Fantasy doesn’t typically stand the test of time in most literary circles but you won’t need an online degree to agree with the fact that Tolkien will always be there.
1984 – 25 Million Copies.
We are going to kick off our list with a book that is considered mandatory reading in most online courses from online universities, ‘1984’ by George Orwell. This novel was originally published back in 1949 and it follows Winston Smith in a dystopian world where Big Brother truly rules all. Known for mixing political work with deep story hooks, ‘1984’ is a novel that will speak to you on several different levels. While the number of copies sold will begin to pale as we go further down this list we can’t help but start it all off with some of the finest fiction to ever grace our eyes.
The Diary of a Young Girl – 30 Million Copies.
Sometimes truth is more compelling than fiction and that can be attributed to the massive commercial success of ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank. This book is the diary of Anne Frank, a young girl who hid for two years while the Nazi’s occupied Netherlands. Anne Frank and her family were eventually captured in 1944 and Frank would die a few years later in a concentration camp. Perhaps knowing her untimely fate makes the diary that much more compelling as it paints the heartbreaking picture of a young girl stuck in a world that is tremendously dark and uncaring. The diary has since been translated into over 60 different languages and now is one of the most successful nonfiction books ever to be sold.
To Kill a Mockingbird – 30 Million Copies.
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ was written by Harper Lee and published back in 1960. The novel found immediate success as it went on to win a Pulitzer Prize, eventually finding its way into the library of American classic literature. The novel follows the tale of Atticus Finch, a morally sound lawyer, as he tries to save a black man in the racially charged 30’s. The novel is renowned for its humor and depth while dealing with the profound issue of racial inequity. The novel was eventually translated to film where it was once again welcome to a boost in popularity thanks to an Oscar winning ensemble. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is considered one of the most important books for every adult to read.
War and Peace – 36 Million Copies.
Leo Tolstoy wrote ‘War and Peace’ and published it originally back in 1865. Tolstoy is world renowned for his work in literature with his other major piece of work being ‘Anna Karenina’. ‘Ware and Peace’ covers the history of France’s invasion into Russia as well as the politics and class structure surrounding the Tsarist society. The book doesn’t conform to conventional literature standards with no central narrative throughout the gigantic work (1,225 pages!) but that hasn’t stopped it from selling like gangbusters. Now ‘War and Peace’ is considered an important part of the literary world and one of the most iconic Russian works of all time.
Charlotte’s Web – 45 Million Copies.
We’re going to dip into some prime children’s literature by looking at the popularity of ‘Charlotte’s Web’ which was written by EB White and released back in 1952. This iconic little story, which has encountered numerous film adaptations, follows the story of a little pig named Wilbur and his friendship with a spider named Charlotte. The book would go on to win numerous awards under publisher Harper while also becoming the highest grossing children’s paperback book of all times.
Anne of Green Gables – 50 Million Copies.
This is probably the first big surprise of our list. ‘Anne of Green Gables’ was written by Lucy Maud Montgomery and published back in 1908. Though considered a child’s novel, ‘Anne of Green Gables’ is readable for people of all ages. The story follows Anne Shirly, an orphan mistakenly sent to a farm, and how she tries to make up for the mistake by growing into her new life. The book has seen several adaptations and it has been an instigator for tourism sent toward Prince Edward Island where the novel is set.
Catcher in the Rye – 65 Million Copies.
With an impressive sales count of 65 million copies we have ‘Catcher in the Rye’, the iconic novel by JD Salinger. ‘Catcher in the Rye’ has been translated into almost every major language in the world and it has been named as one of the top novels of the 20th century. ‘Catcher in the Rye’ follows Holden Caulfield as the 16 year old boy tells a story that spans three days. Caulfield is a symbol of teenage rebellion and one of the more interesting protagonists in the realm of ‘coming of age’ stories.
The Da Vinci Code – 80 Million Copies
Dan Brown is the writer behind the massively successful ‘Da Vinci Code’ novel, published back in 2003. This detective novel follows Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu, a symbologist and cryptologist, as they explore the world of alternate religious history in a violent and adventurous new way. Dan Brown masterfully weaves history and suspense into the type of pop fiction that leaves you feeling satisfied after you finish. Despite his fairly neutral approach to religion, ‘The Da Vinci Code’ has been highly denounced by religious organizations all over the world.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – 107 Million Copies.
We are wandering into the waters of fantasy juggernauts with this and the next item on our list, but we’ll talk about JK Rowling and her work with the ‘Harry Potter’ series. JK Rowling never knew that she would be one of the wealthiest authors of all time and she certainly wouldn’t have presumed to say that she’d create one of the most influential young adult series of all time either. ‘Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone’ is the first book in Rowling’s legendary 7 book series and it can be directly attributed to creating a love of reading in young people everywhere. The world of ‘Harry Potter’ became one of the most widespread cultural phenomenon around the globe and it all started with this tiny novel about a tiny boy who dared to live.
A Tale of Two Cities – 200 Million Copies.
Charles Dickens is one of the most notable authors of all time and his work on ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ will forever stand the test of time. This novel is the second best selling book of all time despite being published back in 1859. The story follows the conflict between both the peasantry and the French aristocracy before and amidst the French Revolution. The book is incredibly long but filled with complex material that makes for great analysis work.
Don Quixote – 500 Million Copies.
The story ‘Don Quixote’ was written by Miguel de Cervantes and published back in 1605 with a follow up, Part Two, being published in 1615. This is the highest selling book of all time. The work by Cervantes would go on to influence juggernauts in the world of literature with Alexandre Dumas, Mark Twain, and Edmond Rostand all looking back at the novel as a source of inspiration. The book follows Alonso Quixano and his attempts to ‘bring chivalry back’ after losing his sanity from reading so many romances.