Ever since the printing press was invented our culture has been dominated by books, and even to this day we bestow great importance on books written hundreds of years ago, either because of their memorable characters, gripping story, or portrayals of themes that were ahead of their time and still hold up today.
There are also many celebrated modern classics that we’re sure will be held in the same high esteem as older novels for years to come.
But while there are many celebrated novels we may consider to be the most popular or best-selling of all time, is that the case?
In our article today, we’ll be looking at the best-selling novels of all time as well as the best-selling authors of all time, as well as providing some insight on what has made these works so enduring.
If you’re joining us from delightreaders.com, welcome! We’ve recently acquired the site, and we’re all about recommending books and authors on the basis of comparing them with books you might have read and loved before.
We hope we can help you find your latest book obsession, and this article is a great place to start!
The Best-Selling Authors Of All Time
From prolific romance and crime authors, to beloved children’s authors who shaped so many generations, let’s see who are indeed the best-selling authors of all time!
Dame Agatha Christie was a prolific English writer, writing 14 short story collections and 66 detective novels, and is best known for her work involving the fictional detectives Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot.
She wrote her novels during what was called the ‘Golden Age of Detective Fiction,’ and she is referred to by book critics and her fans as the ‘Queen of Crime.’
Christie is also known for writing the murder mystery play The Mousetrap, which is the longest-running play in the world and has been performed in London’s West End since 1952.
With over 2 billion book sales worldwide, Agatha Christie is definitely a record-breaking author.
Next up we have another dame! This time Dame Barbara Cartland. But while Christie is considered the queen of crime, Cartland is considered the queen of another genre – romance!
Cartland has published both historical and contemporary romance novels, and her historical novels normally take place during the Victorian or Edwardian era.
Cartland is believed to have written a staggering 723 books, and it is estimated that she has sold over 600 million books worldwide.
There are prolific authors and then there is Barbara Cartland, who is said to have written 20 books a year. Now that’s impressive!
As noted in her obituary in The Guardian, some believed that Tellado was not a real person but a publishing house.
Corín Tellado is rather similar to Cartland, as she is also a prolific romance novelist. It is believed she wrote 4,000 to 5,000 books during her 63-year career, while others even claim her bibliography totals 400 million.
Although sources differ over her output, Tellado is still considered the best-selling author writing in the Spanish language, and her readership is equal to that of another iconic Spanish author, Miguel de Cervantes.
Tellado is a fascinating literary figure, but one point of interest is that she was writing during the rule of Francisco Franco, and her work would be heavily censored by authorities and returned to her.
Also known as Theodor Seuss Geisel, Dr Seuss was an American children’s author and cartoonist who wrote and illustrated over 60 books.
Publishers Weekly did a survey in 2001 to discover the best-selling children’s books. Dr Seuss had six books in the top 20 of that survey, with Green Eggs and Ham topping out at number 4.
In 2015, the Washington Post revealed that Dr Seuss had sold 650 million copies of his books in 95 countries, with Green Eggs and Ham being the most popular.
James Patterson is a notoriously prolific American author. His works include the Alex Cross, Daniel X, Maximum Ride, Michael Bennett, NYPD Red, Private and Middle School series, Witch & Wizard, and Women’s Murder Club series as well as a lot of stand-alone non-fiction, romance, and thriller novels.
Since 2001, James Patterson has consistently been considered to be the best-selling author in the world, and is also believed to be the first author to sell 1 million ebooks, and frequently features on the New York Times bestsellers list. Many writers have tried to become authors like James Patterson’s in both standing and quality, and he remains a shining figure in publishing.
Horatio Alger Jr. was an American author known for writing young adult novels about boys from working class or poverty-stricken backgrounds and how they overcame their tough beginnings to achieve middle-class security through acts of kindness.
His works were often called ‘rags-to-riches’ narrative and set in the quickly urbanizing United States. His novels had a massive impact during the Gilded Age.
Alger would even write a biographical novel about Abraham Lincoln in his novel Young Backwoods Boy or How A Young Rail Splitter Became President.
Leo Tolstoy was a Russian writer who is often considered one of the greatest authors of all time.
In fact, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature numerous times, from 1902 to 1096, and was even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901, 1902 and 1909. He never won though, which is a huge source of controversy.
Born Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, Leo Tolstoy was born in 1828 to a Russian aristocratic family, and his most famous works include War and Peace, and Anna Karenina that are usually referred to as the heights of realist fiction.
How many novels Tolstoy has sold remains a source of controversy, and the most popular belief that he’s sold over 400 million copies is based on a single line in a 1987 New York Times article.
However, it’s hard to dispute that Tolstoy has sold a considerable number of books since their publication. He has had a huge impact on the literary world, and his legacy has survived to the modern day.
For example, Anna Karenina was a selection for Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club in 2004, and the New York Times reported that while 20,000 copies of the novel were being sold on average every year, when Oprah picked it for her book club, that number jumped to 800,000.
Meanwhile, War and Peace broke into the UK Bookseller’s top 50 for the first time in 2016 thanks to a BBC adaptation of the epic novel. Even hundreds of years later, people are still drawn to Tolstoy’s work.
The Best-Selling Books Of All Time
Now that we’ve covered the best-selling authors of all times, let’s move onto the best-selling books of all time.
Here, you’ll find novels that captured the zeitgeist of the era they were written in, classical works of realist fiction, and books that introduced so many children to the magic of reading.
The Catcher In The Rye By J.D. Salinger
Since J.D. Salinger’s controversial novel was first published in 1951, it has sold over 60 million copies all over the world.
The novel takes place over two days, and focuses on the life of 16-year-old Holden Caulfield following his expulsion from prep school.
Disillusioned and confused, Holden has a desire to learn the truth and has disdain for what he perceives as the ‘phoniness’ of the adult world. At the end of the novel, he is emotionally exhausted and unstable.
Catcher In The Rye has been translated into many major languages and sells about 1 million copies a year.
It featured in Time Magazine’s 100 Best English Language novels article, and placed fifteenth in The Big Read survey conducted by the BBC.
The Alchemist By Paulo Coelho
First published in 1988 and written by Portuguese author Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist was originally written in Portuguese and is now one of the most translated books in the world, which propelled it to become an international bestseller.
The Alchemist tells the story of a young shepherd from Andalusia and his recurring dreams about discovering treasure in the Egyptian pyramids.
Eventually, the young shepherd sets off on an epic journey in search of the treasure he’s dreamed about.
The Da Vinci Code (Robert Langdon) By Dan Brown
Published in 2003, The Da Vinci Code is actually the second installment in Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series and is a mystery thriller novel.
Following a murder in the Louvre, Jerome Collet – a police detective – contacts Robert Langdon, a professor of symbology and asks him to visit the crime scene to gain his insights into the symbols carved into the victim’s body.
However, Langdon is unaware that he is also believed to be the murderer.
The novel soon became a phenomenon, selling around 80 million copies and being translated into 44 languages.
Due to the popularity of the book, in 2006 Columbia Pictures adapted the novel for the big screen, with Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon. The movie adaptation was the second-highest-grossing film of 2006, earning $758 million. Dan Brown remains a top internationally bestselling author.
She: A History Of Adventure By H. Rider Haggard
She: A History of Adventure has never been out of print since its publication in 1887, and has sold approximately 83 million copies.
The novel was written by English author H. Rider Haggard and is inspired by his experiences in South Africa under British Colonialism.
The novel is written in a first-person narrative and follows Horace Holley and Leo Vincey on their journey to find a lost African city.
The novel is famous for its exploration of female behavior and agency, and has been praised and criticized for its depiction of womanhood, particularly as Haggard is a male author.
The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe By C.S. Lewis
One of the most famous children’s books of all time, The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe has sold about 85 million copies since it was published in 1950, and was written by C.S. Lewis.
It is probably the most well-known novel in the Chronicles of Narnia series, and while it was originally published first, it was later changed to be the second installment in the series.
C.S. Lewis originally wrote the novel as a gift to his goddaughter, Lucy Lewis, and it’s been beloved by children all over the world ever since.
It featured in Time Magazine’s 100 Best Young Adult Books Of All Time article, and was number 9 in The Big Red Poll published by the BBC. There are several bestselling fantasy authors like C.S. Lewis but it’s hard to beat the original.
The Hobbit By J.R.R. Tolkien
Selling more than 100 million copies all over the world, The Hobbit is one of the best-selling books of all time.
Written by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit was originally published in 1937 and was soon nominated for the Carnegie Medial and won the New York Herald Tribune’s best juvenile fiction award.
The Hobbit has never been out of print and – like a lot of works mentioned in our article – was adapted into a film series in 2012, starring Martin Freeman as the iconic Bilbo Baggins.
Dream Of The Red Chamber By Tsao Hseuh Chin
Hailed as one of the 4 great classic novels of China, Dream Of The Red Chamber is a mid-18th century novel written during the Qing dynasty.
It tells the story of a son of a noble family who is born holding a magic stone in his mouth, and is believed to be semi-biographical.
The son is admired by all the women and girls around them, and rebels against the strict rules of his father as well as the wider social barriers that existed at the time.
The novel has received much praise since it was published and is often called a masterpiece of Chinese literature, selling over 100 million copies.
And Then There Were None By Agatha Christie
Another novel that has sold over 100 million copies is And Then There Were None, a mystery novel written by Agatha Christie that is often hailed as the best mystery novel ever written.
It tells the story of ten strangers who have been lured to Indian Island by a mysterious host who then accuses each of his 10 guests of murder.
The novel was first published in the UK in 1939 (originally under an incredibly offensive name) before it was published in the US in 1940. Her books are best enjoyed in the original format or as the exquisite Agatha Christie audiobook adaptations featuring incredible narration.
The Harry Potter Series By J. K. Rowling
The individual Harry Potter novels dominate lists of top-selling books and J.K. Rowling remains a super-bestseller, so they deserve their own mega entry!
The Harry Potter series follows the titular character, an orphaned child neglected by his cruel Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia who soon discovers that he is a boy wizard and known throughout the wizarding world as ‘The Boy Who Lived’ – a survivor of the deadly Lord Voldemort.
The final installment – Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows – has sold over 50 million copies, and was published in 2007.
Within the first 24 hours of its release, Deathly Hallows sold 8.3 million copies in the US, and 2.65 million copies in the UK. It was named by the American Library as the ‘best book for young adults.’
The fifth installment – Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix – has sold over 55 million copies, and was published in 2003.
Due to the loss of beloved characters, this book is often where Harry Potter fans say the series took a darker, more adult turn.
The novel won several awards, such as the American Library Association award for ‘Best Book For Young Adults’ including for the excellent Harry Potter audiobooks.
The fourth installment – Harry Potter and The Goblet Of Fire – has also sold around 55 million copies and is known for its inclusion of the Triwizard Tournament.
It was released in 2000, and is also notable for being the first book in the series to be released simultaneously in the UK and the US, and the first Harry Potter novel to win a Hugo Award.
The second installment – Harry Potter and The Chamber Of Secrets – has sold over 60 million copies since it was published in 1998.
The book was widely praised by critics and was later adapted into a movie in 2002, which became the fifth highest-grossing film ever.
The sixth installment – Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince – delves deeper into the lives of Voldemort and Dumbledore, and had an ending that absolutely shocked fans.
It has sold over 63 million copies, and sets the stage for the wizarding world’s final battle against Voldemort.
The novel was published in 2005, and sold 9 million copies in its first 24 hours of release. It also won the ‘Book of the Year’ award in 2006.
Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone/The Sorcerer’s Stone is the novel that started it all, and has sold around 120 million copies.
The novel was first published in the UK in 1997, and was published in the US under its alternative name – The Sorcerer’s Stone – in 1998.
The novel won numerous American and British book awards and topped the New York Times Bestseller list in 1999 and stayed there for almost a year.
It has been translated into 73 languages, opening the world to the magic of Harry Potter.
The Little Prince By Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Little Prince has sold over 142 million copies worldwide since its initial publication in 1943, where it was published in French and English.
The novel tells the story of a boy (the titular ‘Little Prince’) who regularly visits different planets and what happens when he encounters a pilot who has crashed into the Sahara Desert.
The novel is the most popular and successful of Exupéry’s work, and is known for its exploration of themes like friendship, loneliness, love, and loss. It is notable for being the most translated book of all time.
The Lord Of The Rings By J.R.R. Tolkien
Another novel by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings is a sequel to The Hobbit and is a thrilling fantasy novel.
The novel was intended to originally be published as a two-volume set, but a publisher asked Tolkien to publish the novel as three volumes over the course of a year.
These books are The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King.
Each novel in the The Lord of the Rings series was adapted into award-winning films and in 2003, The Lord of the Rings was named Britain’s best novel of all time in The Big Read, and has sold over 150 million copies.
A Tale Of Two Cities By Charles Dickens
A Tale of Two Cities was written by celebrated author Charles Dickens, and has sold over 200 million copies since it was published in 1859.
The novel is historical fiction, and takes place in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution.
In particular, the novel follows the imprisonment of the French Doctor, Manette, who is behind bars for 18 years in a Bastille prison. He is eventually released to live with his daughter Lucie in London.
A Tale Of Two Cities is one of Dickens’ best known historical fiction novels, and served as inspiration for the screenplay of the Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises.
Don Quixote By Miguel De Cervantes
Selling a staggering 500 million copies worldwide, Don Quixote is a Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes.
It was originally published in two parts, the first part was released in 1605, and the second was released in 1615.
It is often considered to be the most influential work of Western literature, and the ‘first modern novel.’
Don Quixote tells the story of the titular character, a middle-aged gentleman who lives in the La Mancha region of central Spain.
He is obsessed with tales of chivalry, so decides to take up his sword and become a vigilante, defeating the wicked and defending the helpless.
When his first adventure fails, he joins forces with a laborer named Sancho Panza, who he refers to as his faithful squire.
So there you have it! The best-selling authors and novels of all time and the numbers to prove it!
We hope our article has informed you, inspired you to read these classic novels if you haven’t already, and encouraged you to take a deep dive into the rest of our book recommendations. Happy reading!