It is a well known cliche — the “top selling book of all time” is the Christian Bible. While no one can authoritatively deny that, the Bible is not the only massively popular text, and some estimates of the Bible’s ‘sales’ include free copies given away at motels, for instance, or at charity events. So what are the top selling books? Based on sales numbers alone, the answers might surprise you.
Ten Top Selling Books of All Time
- Bible (2.5 – 6 billion copies) – The only “billion seller” in the world is also one of the most controversial texts, both inside and outside the world of Christianity. Since there are multiple “versions” of the Bible, it is almost unfair to place this sacred text on this list. Between King James’ Version and new “hip” editions for children, it is no wonder that so many billions of copies exist.
- Quotations from Chairman Mao (800 – 900 million copies) – In what would seem like an attempt to rival the Bible in terms of sales, 6-7 billion copies of this “most printed book of the 20th century” were printed, though only a fraction were actually sold or distributed. This is a text put together by the Communist government of China in the 60s and 70s.
- The Qur’an (Koran) (800 million copies) – This sacred text of Islam holds a special place in the homes of billions of people around the world. Notice that this book sold more than double the number of copies than the next book on the list. This is one of the world’s top selling books because Islam is one of the world’s two biggest religions. Sacred texts and political documents are always going to have a leg up on fiction or other books in that they are considered “essential” to a certain way of life.
- Xinhua Dictionary (400 million copies) – This Chinese dictionary is one of the top selling books of all time due to the huge population in China and the great need among the population there for a book that collects the nearly 12,000 unique Chinese characters into one edition.
- Chairman Mao’s Poems (400 million copies)
- Selected Articles of Mao Zedong (252.5 million copies)
- A Tale of Two Cities (200 million copies)
- Scouting for Boys: A Handbook for Instruction in Good Leadership (150 million copies)
- The Lord of the Rings (150 million copies)
- Book of Mormon (150 million copies)
Top Selling Business and Self Help Books of All Time
How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie
It seems like everyone has read this book — Carnegie’s 1937 text is a must-own both for business people and those interested in self improvement. Millions of copies of this text have been sold, and there’s probably a copy in your home right now. The most memorable moment in this text is when Carnegie suggest that success if only “15 % professional ability”, with the other 85% made up of the abilities to “express ideas, assume leadership, and arouse enthusiasm among co-workers”.
In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies, Peters and Waterman
This 1982 text came during a time of much uncertainty in the Western business world. Forty-three “excellent” companies are profiled, and eight common threads are found among these companies that lead to their “excellence”.
The One Minute Manager, Blanchard and Johnson
If you know a manager who works for a Fortune 500 company, they are guaranteed to be familiar with this text. Written simply, much like one of the parables of Jesus, The One Minute Manager is a hands-off guide to becoming an effective leader. There’s science to back up the “one minute goals” and “one minute reprimands” taught in this book — examples from the worlds of science and medicine to explain why the principles eschewed here will work for you.
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey
Endlessly knocked off (by titles like The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Christians, etc), Covey’s landmark 1989 book does something the other books on this list don’t dare to do — rather than promise you a quick fix with instant results, Covey recommends a “paradigm shift” in order to improve your life. Interesting side note, Covey studied characters from literature to form his theses. If you haven’t read this book and are interested in improving yourself, grab a copy as soon as possible.
The Practice of Management, Peter Drucker
Peter Drucker is considered the foremost business mind of the 20th century, and this nearly sixty year old book is as popular today as it was in the 50s and 60s. According to Drucker, the concept of “management” is one of the great innovations of the last 200 years. This book is the origin of the “three classic business questions” — what is our business, who is our customer, what does our customer consider valuable?
The top selling books in the world are on that list because they are sacred, valuable, or necessary to functioning in today’s world. From religious guidebooks like the Bible or the Book of Mormon to more contemporary self-help guides like How to Win Friends and Influence People, the top selling books on Earth teach us something about the nature of being human, namely that people want to gain an edge against other people, and that they’re usually more than willing to plunk down $20 to gain that end.
Though you can’t find the secrets to happiness or the fountain of youth between the cardboard covers of a book, you can learn how to be a better person, how to behave in a business setting, how to serve your God and earn eternal happiness and peace in the afterlife, how to tie a slip knot, or how to write “hot dog” in Chinese. In a sense, learning things like this from a book is the key to happiness on Earth, and all for a low price printed on the back cover.