Author, Actor, Playwright, Excellent Parallel Parker

Rules of the Lake and Ashes to Water are now available for Kindle and Nook!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The 15 Top-Selling Books of All Time, With Commentary By Yours Truly

‘Huffington Post’ named the 15 top-selling books of all time:

This doesn't include the Bible, with approximate sales of 2.5 billion copies, including all translations. Add in the copies given away, and the total comes closer to 6.0 billion. So just toss that one aside. It ruins the curve. So here are the 15 top sellers:

    Quotations from Chairman Mao (The Little Red Book). This collection of quotations from Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong was put together by the People's Liberation Army in 1964 and has sold over 800 million copies worldwide. (Yeah, but they were forced to buy them at gunpoint.)
    The Qur’an. This ancient Islamic religious text has sold over 800 million copies. (I'm fairly sure most of those were purchased after the fatwah was placed on Saloman Rushdie's head, but I could be wrong.)
    Xinhua Dictionary (primary editor: Wei Jiangong). This Chinese dictionary, first published in 1957, has sold over 400 million copies. (Well, sure, because in order to quote Mao, one must be able to spell Mao.)
    The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien. This cult classic was published in 1954 and has sold 150 million copies worldwide. (Before the movie, it was like, 444,000th. The Hobbit is currently 443,999th, with the movie due out in 2011. Stay tuned.)
    The Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, Jr. This religious text was published in 1830 and has sold over 120 million copies worldwide, (And none of them to women.)
    Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, J. K. Rowling. The first novel of J. K. Rowling's famous "Harry Potter" series sold over 107 million copies after its 1997 publication. (Yeah, okay. Even I read this one.)
    And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie. Published in 1939, this murder mystery has sold over 100 million copies. (Yeah, but do you own one? Have you ever seen one? I have a feeling the UK is fanning the numbers because Benny Hill's Merry Master of Mirth was the real number one, and they don't want to admit it.)
    The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown. This wildly popular adventure novel has sold over 80 million copies since its publication in 2003. (That makes sense, really, because mainstream fiction is the best-selling genre, and books on religion come in second. Brown combined the two, and bingo. I thought of it first, but he had a better agent. We're still battling it out in the courts.)
    Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J. K. Rowling. "The Half Blood Prince" was the sixth installment of the "Harry Potter series." The 652-page book sold 65 million copies after its 2005 publication. (Spoiler alert: Harry dies. No, he doesn't. Yes, he does. Nyeah nyeah.)
    Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J. K. Rowling. The second installment of the "Harry Potter" series sold over 60 million copies after its 1999 publication. (Oh, come on. Who cares?)
    The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger. This classic coming of age story, first published in 1951, has sold over 60 million copies. (The Howard Hughes of literature hits the jackpot with whiny Holden Caulfield. I'd like to read a deconstruction from Phoebe's point of view.)
    Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J. K. Rowling. The third installment of the "Harry Potter" series sold 55 million copies—as did the two that followed—after its 1999 publication. (My fingers are in my ears: lalalalalalalala.)
    Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J. K. Rowling. The fourth book in the "Harry Potter" series sold over 55 million copies worldwide after its publication in 2000. (There is a gun in my mouth.)
    Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J. K. Rowling. The fifth book in the "Harry Potter" series also sold 55 million copies worldwide after its publication in 2003. (^#*@^*&^$%#%)
    Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ, Lew Wallace. This book has sold 50 million copies worldwide since its original publication in 1880. (See The Da Vinci Code)
The Southern Review noted some conspicuous absences, specifically:
American Spelling Book, Noah Webster (1783), up to 100 million copies sold. (Well, duh. There are more Chinese people so their spelling book numbers can wax the floor with our spelling book numbers.)
The Guinness Book of Records/Guinness World Records (1955 ff.), over 95 million copies sold. (Because we can never get enough enjoyment knowing how many hot dogs can be stuffed up a single nostril.)
World Almanac (1868 ff.), over 80 million copies sold. (Yet people still get lost. Go figure.)
The Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins has sold more than 60 million copies. (Huh? Wha-?)
The McGuffy Readers, William Holmes McGuffey (1836), 60 million copies. (Then along came Dick and Jane. Take THAT, Mr. McGuffy, you old fart.)
The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, Benjamin Spock (1946), over 50 million copies. (But nobody got past the potty-training chapter, which kind of explains a lot.)

Me? I'm surprised To Kill a Mockingbird isn't there. And where the heck is Garfield Saves the Day?

I mean, crikey.

And what's The Left Behind series?  Am I the only one scratching my head over that one?

Of course, all this is put into depressing perspective when you consider a Neilsen BookScan report from 2006:

“Of the 950,000 titles out of the 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen Bookscan sold fewer than 99 copies. Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies. Only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies. The average book in America sells about 500 copies.”
-- Publisher’s Weekly, July 17, 2006 

Of course, a first novelist can get a boost from library sales. I found out you can look up how many libraries have a copy of a particular title on I looked up Ashes to Water.


I'm going to drink alcohol now.


  1. Wow - that list makes things interesting and your commentary almost had me spitting drink onto my monitor.

    I loved Ashes to Water, that has to count for something right. You just need a movie deal and Peter Jackson for a director (or whoever directed The DaVinci Code or the Harry Potter movies - I haven't seen those - they didn't have Viggo Mortensen in them).

    I'll quietly admit now that I read the first 5 books of The Left Behind series before I got bored with it. Since then my tastes have improved. I have also only read one Harry Potter, but did read Lord of the Rings after seeing the movies :) I read DaVinci Code because of the media stir (pre-movie). I don't read spelling books (as can be evidenced by some facebook posts, nor books in chinese or other religions, nor have I read Catcher in the Rye (gasp). I agree where is To Kill a Mockingbird? That was the only book I was forced to read in school that I actually liked (wait - I liked Anthem too, but hated most of the rest of them). And Garfield is a classic for sure.

    Good luck Irene - I hope your sales continue to increase because Ashes to Water is an excellent book!

  2. This list makes me want to kill myself.

  3. A mostly soul-killing list to be sure, but your commentary made it all go down a lot easier.

  4. The Left Behind series is a set of 16 novels. I find it unfair to count the whole series as a lump number considering that they gave each Harry Potter book an individual listing. Left Behind is a telling of the events in Revelation in mainstream action fiction style, like the Da Vinci code, except Dan Brown can write. (If you think Dan Brown can't write, you haven't read enough Left Behind books.) They're pimped by a lot of fundamentalist christian groups, especially the "the world is going to end in ___ years" type of fringe groups.

    There is also a children's series, for reasons I can't fathom.

  5. You should write the deconstruction of Catcher in the Rye!

  6. Dear, I like all your post. Everything looks so sweet, I admire this kind of life and the best wishes for you. Hope that we can communicate with each other. By the way, anybody want to boost app ranking ? This one is useful.