Books. We love them. Whether they be nail-biting thrillers, self-help tomes, or erotic novels, books have played a central role in human history. Despite the timelessness of all books, some are clearly more popular than others and more widely read than the rest. Due to the difficulty of accurately estimating publication and sale numbers for certain books (e.g. the Bible, Quran, “Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung”, “The Odyssey”) – whether it be because they were published by various different publishers or published across many centuries or before clear records were not kept – they have been omitted from this list. (As a reference, by the Guinness World Records Book standard, the Bible is the best-selling book in history with over five billion copies sold.) Also, if a book has the same number of reported sales as another book, whichever book was published more recently is placed higher in the list as it has had less time to achieve that success. As autumn and winter begin to fall over the Northern Hemisphere, check out this list of the most widely-read books to find your next few readings. Curl up with a hot coffee or tea as you nuzzle into this list of the 25 Best Selling Books in History.
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Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ - 50 million
The first fictional book to be blessed by a Pope (Leo XIII), “Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ” recounts the story of fictional Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur, enslaved by Roman rulers. Vowing revenge on the Romans, Judah becomes a charioteer and Christian, all while living in Jerusalem where Jesus Christ was emerging at the same time. Lew Wallace’s knock-out novel, “Ben-Hur” is known as “the most influential Christian book of the 19th century” and won 11 Academy Awards in 1960 for its film adaptation.
Anne of Green Gables - 50 million
The most popular book written by a Canadian author, “Anne of Green Gables” follows the life of 11-year-old Anne Shirley with her adopted parents (who originally wanted a boy). Selling over 50 million copies, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s book has become one of the best-selling books in history. Montgomery drew on the popular “formula Ann” orphan stories of her time to create Anne and used her own childhood on Prince Edward Island for the setting.
The Mark of Zorro - 50 million
Johnston McCulley’s classic “The Mark of Zorro” has become a cult icon in pop culture. The American equivalent of Robin Hood, Zorro is the secret identity of Californian noble Don Diego de la Vega who defends the common man and humiliates corrupt officials. A widely popular 1920 film solidified Zorro’s place in our psyche as a masked crusader of justice.
The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care - 50 million
One of only three non-novels on this list, “The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care” by Dr. Benjamin Spock (unrelated to the Star Trek character of the same last name) was published in 1946. The best-selling book in America during the 20th century, this tome was written for parents, especially mothers, as a manual on child care. Post-World War II, Baby Boom mothers found great relief in Spock’s uncomplicated, supportive tone.
Charlotte's Web - 50 million
A children’s classic especially after being made into a film by the same name, “Charlotte’s Web” tells the story of young pig Wilbur and his spider friend Charlotte who spins her web to convince the farmer to keep him alive. Written by E.B. White, the book is listed as the best-selling children’s paperback in history by Publishers Weekly.