Bestselling books of all time

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Bestselling books of all time

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Edited: May 8, 2008, 8:08pm

This is according to Bookwormsearch:

10. In His Steps: "What Would Jesus Do?" by Rev. Charles Monroe Sheldon "Although virtually unknown today, American clergyman Charles Sheldon (1857-1946) achieved fame and fortune with this 1896 instructive religious treatise on moral dilemmas." 760 copies on LT

9. The Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann "This tale of sex, violence, and drugs by Jacqueline Susann (1921-74), first published in 1966, is perhaps surprisingly the world’s bestselling novel. Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, (5,032 copies on LT) which has achieved sales approaching 28,000,000, is its closest rival." 951 copies on LT

8. World Almanac "Having been published annually since 1868 (with a break from 1876 to 1886), this wide-ranging reference book has remained a constant bestseller ever since." 46 copies on LT

7. The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care by Dr. Benjamin Spock "Dr. Spock’s 1946 manual became the bible of infant care for subsequent generations of parents. Most of the sales have been of the paperback edition of the book." 281 copies on LT

6. A Message to Garcia by Elbert Hubbard "Now forgotten, Hubbard’s polemic on the subject of labor relations was published in 1899 and within a few years had achieved these phenomenal sales, largely because many American employers purchased bulk supplies to distribute to their employees." 40 copies on LT

5. The McGuffey Readers by William Holmes McGuffey "Published in numerous editions from 1853, some authorities have put the total sales of these educational textbooks, originally compiled by American anthologist William Holmes McGuffey (1800-73), as high as 122,000,000. It has also been claimed that 60,000,000 copies of the 1879 edition were printed, but - since this is some 10,000,000 more than the entire population of the U.S. at that time - the publishers must have been extremely optimistic about its success." 48 copies on LT

4. The Guinness Book of Records "First published in 1955, The Guinness Book of Records stands out as the greatest contemporary publishing achievement. There have now been 37 editions in the UK alone (it was not published annually until 1964), as well as numerous foreign-language editions." 92 copies on LT

3. American Spelling Book by Noah Webster "First published in 1783, this reference book by the American man of letters Noah Webster (1758-1843) remained a bestseller in the U.S. throughout the 19th century." 19 copies on LT

2. Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung (Little Red Book) "Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book could scarcely fail to become a bestseller: between the years 1966 and 1971 it was compulsory for every Chinese adult to own a copy." No copies on LT. Is that possible?

1. The Bible "No one really knows how many copies of the Bible have been printed, sold, or distributed. The Bible Society’s attempt to calculate the number printed between 1816 and 1975 produced the figure of 2,458,000,000. A more recent survey, for the years up to 1992, put it closer to 6,000,000,000 in more than 2,000 languages and dialects. Whatever the precise figure, the Bible is by far the bestselling book of all time." I quit counting the various editions on LT at 10,140. I'm sure there's more.

May 8, 2008, 8:15pm

10, 8, 7 and 1 are all titles I have owned at one time or currently own.

May 9, 2008, 2:35am

I own the Bible and the McGuffey Readers.

May 9, 2008, 2:57am

I read Valley of the Dolls when it was new and probably still have a copy. There's a World Almanac in sight as I type. I wish my parents had read Dr. Spock even though I predate its first publication. A Message to Garcia was something of a catchphrase when I was a boy, and Elbert Hubbard was known as something of a folk philosopher. I think I have some one of volumes from The Guinness Book of World Records around here. I am more sure that I have the Little Red Book. Finally I have a plethora of Bible's despite my not being an Abramist.

It'll be lovely when I have all my books catalogued.


May 9, 2008, 7:33am

Is this list up to date? I thought I read somewhere that there have been 500,000,000 to 600,000,000 Harry Potter books sold. Even dividing by seven would give some pretty large numbers.

May 9, 2008, 7:59am

For combined sales of all books, Agatha Christie is most widely published author of all time, only outsold by the Bible and Shakespeare. Over 4 billion volumes worldwide.

Edited: May 13, 2008, 9:33am

The World Almanac and Book of Facts is much bigger in LT than 46 because of multiple authors over the years. I have come up with about 1100 copies from various years. I own at least 10.

The Bible is huge, but it is considerably disorganized in LT.

Another book that has sold pretty well for centuries is the Book of Common Prayer.

I think William Shakespeare has been a good seller for centuries too, but its editions are quite variable, and I'm sure the Collected Works are not near the top of the list. The link is:
I did see that the Riverside Shakespeare has 9,091 copies in LT.

May 19, 2008, 12:58am

>> #6: That's interesting; I'd've thought Dickens would've easily beat out Dame Agatha.

I have a couple dozen Elbert Hubbard monthlies ("Little Journeys" series from the turn of the century). Sad end to a brilliant life (for those who don't know, he -and his wife- went down in the sinking of the Lusitania).

May 19, 2008, 11:50am

Agatha Christie has the more numerous number of works, but they are considerably shorter than most of Dicken's works. If we could get a total count of pages printed, the two would probably even up.

May 20, 2008, 8:35am

#9 vpfluke interesting idea.... total pages printed. Also a good point that most of hers were shorter than Dickens.

One point in favor of Dickens is that most of his novels were serialized and printed in magazines first, then turned into book form. I think that one, perhaps two, of Christie's books were handled that way.

However, I still think that Dame Agatha would win. I couldn't find anything about total # of books printed for Dickens, but 4 billion books for Christie is pretty amazing.

Jul 13, 2008, 4:56pm

methinks we are thinking ethnocentrically on this subject. there are a few candidates that probably beat out at least six of the ones mentioned by #1, e.g.,

The Quoran (Koran)

The Beowulf

Mein Kampf (every German must own one from 1939 through 1945.)

Don Quiote de la Mancha (in its various languages and editions) Miguel Cervantes

And last, but not least, I betcha if we took all of Walt Disney's books ever published, the number would be close to a billion.

Jul 13, 2008, 8:31pm

11> Beowulf certainly couldn't; it wasn't published until 1715 and the first translations into modern English weren't until the 19th century. (It was no big shakes in the original languages, as it was only found in one copy.) A successful work in modern times--the largest work composed of Beowulf is 100 in popularity--but I see no evidence that it's been drastically more popular in the past then now.

Sep 1, 2008, 10:45pm

the point is well taken, but I believe it was THE BEST SELLER from circa 800 A.D. through the mid-15th century. Haw.

Edited: Mar 26, 2009, 2:19pm

What about The Imitation of Christ? I read somewhere that it was the second most widely read and owned book after the Bible, over the centuries which have passed since it was written, whenever that was.

Jul 13, 2010, 8:39am

Valley of the Dolls, Benjamin Spock and The Bible for me - although I must admit I haven't sat down and read The Bible from cover to cover, just heard it read to me in installments on Sundays.

Oct 2, 2010, 11:29am

There's some pretty funny errors in the touchstones for that list, especially Numbers One and Two, lol

Edited: Oct 2, 2010, 12:55pm

Trying out # 2 Little Red Book Mao, I put Mao into the title and got what appears to be the right Touchstone. Not a bestseller on LT with only 643 copies.

Edited: Oct 2, 2010, 1:00pm

I tried Holy Bible for # 1 and got what appears to one of the English translations of the Bible (in this case, NIV) -- by going into the other selections. This didn't really work, so I'll try Bible KJV and see what happens

Edited: Oct 2, 2010, 1:04pm

I don't dare edit post 18 again. The Touchstone that manage to come up on KJV has only one copy in LT. I'll try Holy Bible KJV, and see what happens. Went into others on the edit. This didn't work right either, I'll try Holy Bible AV. No go

Oct 2, 2010, 1:06pm

Well, I made something work in Message 19. A 75 copy version of the King James Bible (also known as the Authorized Version).

The problems with common book Touchstones is why some people despair with them.

Oct 3, 2010, 3:34pm

#20: The bible is completely impossible in LT, and probably will be unless they let us combine all editions into one work.

Nov 16, 2011, 5:08pm

I absolutely agree that The Bible is the best-selling book ever - but when so many free copies are distributed, I'd imagine it's quite difficult to quantify, as this list of the best selling books (of all time, fiction books and non-fiction) points out. It's really interesting to see how many true classics are ranked highly, as opposed to the newer "hits" (i.e. Potter, Twilight, etc.). I do wonder how the newer books will fare over the long haul, probably pretty well.

Aug 18, 2015, 10:39am

Somewhere in my travels I've come to understand the bestselling novel of the 19th century was Uncle Tom's Cabin, and The Vicar of Wakefield was the winner of the 18th. So if Valley of the Dolls wins for the 20th, that's three strikes and I'm handing in my badge as I entirely discard this means of determining what I should read.

Edited: Aug 18, 2015, 11:24am

In His Steps is still a worthwhile book to read. Sheldon wrote this challenge to nominal Christians and posited a community of believers who actually acted on Christ's teachings. A couple of decades ago, his great (maybe great great) nephew* wrote an updated version titled What Would Jesus Do?

*Wikipedia says great grandson.

Aug 18, 2015, 11:16am

I found a copy of Chairman Mao's Little Red Book at a Friends of the Library sale. In it was a handwritten note saying it had been smuggled into the US from Canada in the 60s. I did try to read it and found the Chairman to be pretty trite and dull. If it had not been compulsary to own a copy it would never have made the list.

Aug 23, 2015, 7:06pm

When I was compiling some of these best-seller lists, it was seldom that I found more than three of the ten titles worth reading. But that is still true when I look at the books in one of the currentl weekly issues of the New York Times Book Review.

Sep 3, 2016, 2:11pm

I can see how most of these made the top list(s). The Bible is certainly the #1 book in the world, I've even read that in other languages. It is also the most stolen book from libraries and bookstores (go figure). Now, I literally loved Valley of the Dolls but never really bragged so because I thought that was my own little dirty secret! But now, hey, perhaps I've been vindicated!

Sep 9, 2016, 10:38am

Wikipedia posits a rather different set of bestselling books (noting that it excludes all work of a "religious, ideological, philosophical or political nature").

Of course the thing about Wikipedia is it quotes other sources, and those other sources quote who knows what.

Edited: Sep 19, 2016, 9:48pm

Quotations from Chairman Mao is now over 1,000 copies in LT.
In his Steps has 3,143 now.
Valley of the Dolls has 2,609.
The World Almanac and Book of Facts has many editions which must be over 2,000 together.