Books that have sold over 50 million copies

Written by:
August 1, 2019

Books that have sold over 50 million copies

What defines a true literary classic? Over the centuries, countless books have been enshrined in popular culture—whether through cinema or as required school reading. Some of the most famous classics, like “Moby Dick,” were panned upon first release, but now have become mainstays in first-year English classes. Old dystopian sci-fi works such as George Orwell’s “1984” and Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” never quite faded, but they both found new relevance in the tumultuous political climate after the 2016 election—and an Emmy-winning Hulu TV series for one of them.

These are the kinds of books an English teacher or a film buff might recommend as “must-read classics,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean people are reading them. After all, how many people do you know that have read “Moby Dick” for fun instead of for a school assignment? A book can be an artistic masterpiece, but to quote sci-fi luminary Ursula K. Le Guin, “The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.”

To see which books stand above the rest in terms of popularity and become great stories by Le Guin’s standards, Stacker researched book sales to create a definitive list of ultimate best-sellers—books that have sold at least 50 million copies worldwide since publication. Excluding religious, political, or ideological texts, this list covers 39 books that have reached this achievement, the overwhelming majority of which are fictional novels featuring stories that capture our imagination or change how we view the world.

From "Charlotte’s Web" to "The Da Vinci Code," read on to see which "Harry Potter" book sold more copies than any other book in the series, which mythical novel sparked a national phenomenon, and how many copies have been sold of one of the oldest modern novels of our time. Grab a cup of hot tea, cozy up in a blanket, and enjoy.

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#39. Black Beauty

Author: Anna Sewell
Year published: 1877
Approximate sales: 50 million

Written the year before she passed, English author Anna Sewell’s "Black Beauty" was an immediate success, although she did not live to see the book reach its fame. "Black Beauty" was Sewell’s only book and has sold an estimated 50 million copies worldwide.

#38. Heidis Lehr- und Wanderjahre (Heidi's Years of Learning and Travel)

Author: Johanna Spyri
Year published: 1880
Approximate sales: 50 million

A Swiss children's story about an orphan named Heidi that lives with her grandfather in the Swiss Alps, "Heidi’s Years of Learning and Travel" was written by prolific children's book author Johanna Spyri. 

#37. Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ

Author: Lew Wallace
Year published: 1880
Approximate sales: 50 million

"Ben-Hur: A Tale Of The Christ" was a monumental work, quoted as "the most influential Christian book of the nineteenth century" in an article by editor Amy Lifson, published in a 2009 issue of Humanities magazine. The book has remained one of the best-selling American novels of all time; the film adaption starring Charlton Heston won 11 Academy awards. It was also the first ever novel to blessed by a pope, receiving the blessing from Pope Leo XIII.

#36. Anne of Green Gables

Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery
Year published: 1908
Approximate sales: 50 million

Lucy Maud Montgomery’s novel is centered around the story of an orphan girl who is mistakenly sent off to work for two siblings who are looking for a young boy to help on their farm. The book follows the adventure of 11-year-old Anne Shirley as she makes her way through life on the farm. The book has sold over 50 million copies and has been adapted into a film, made-for-TV movies, and plays.

#35. The Mark of Zorro

Author: Johnston McCulley
Year published: 1924
Approximate sales: 50 million

The original tales of Zorro were contained within a five-part series of stories published in All-Story Weekly. The tale by Johnston McCulley was eventually turned into a novel as "The Mark Of Zorro" only after the 1920 film adaptation’s commercial success. Based on the fictional adventures of a masked vigilante, "The Mark Of Zorro" inspired numerous Hollywood adaptations and TV series.

#34. The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care

Author: Dr. Benjamin Spock
Year published: 1946
Approximate sales: 50 million

One of the few nonfiction books on the list, "The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care," written by Dr. Benjamin Spock, was an instant hit, selling 500,000 copies within six months of its 1946 release. The book was a favorite among post World War II mothers and was considered revolutionary at the time for its advice for mothers around trusting their maternal instinct.

#33. Charlotte's Web

Authors: E. B. White; illustrated by Garth Williams
Year published: 1952
Approximate sales: 50 million

E. B. White captured the imaginations of children everywhere with his seminal novel, "Charlotte's Web." The tale has been a mainstay in children's literature for over 60 years, telling the story of a pig named Wilbur and a heroic spider, Charlotte, that tries to save Wilbur from slaughter by writing messages in her web.

#32. Lolita

Author: Vladimir Nabokov
Year published: 1955
Approximate sales: 50 million

While covering some risqué subject matter, Russian American novelist Vladimir Nabokov’s "Lolita" has found significant commercial success. It has also received literary accolades as it was named one of the Modern Library’s 100 best books of the 20th century. Lolita was made into a film by famed director Stanley Kubrick in 1962.

#31. The Ginger Man

Author: J. P. Donleavy
Year published: 1955
Approximate sales: 50 million

This landmark novel is set in Dublin and follows the promiscuous misadventures of a law student, Sebastian Dangerfield. Written by J. P. Donleavy, the novel was so racy that many publishers originally turned it down until a small publisher in Paris published it under their pornography imprint. This infuriated Donleavy, who would spend years trying to avenge the book and eventually sent his wife to buy Olympia Press out of bankruptcy at a public auction, returning the publishing rights to Donleavy.

#30. Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude)

Author: Gabriel García Márquez
Year published: 1967
Approximate sales: 50 million

Considered a godfather of the Latin literary movement of the 1960s and '70s, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s "One Hundred Years of Solitude" was a groundbreaking work in Latin America's literary boom. Marquez’s novel is a work of fiction, but still critically examines momentous historical moments in Colombia's storied history.

#29. Watership Down

Author: Richard Adams
Year published: 1972
Approximate sales: 50 million

Another children's adventure tale that has topped 50 million in sales is Richard Adams' "Watership Down." The book, which was released to rave reviews in Europe, found mixed enthusiasm with its North American release. It took Adams 25 years to publish a sequel.

#28. The Eagle Has Landed

Author: Jack Higgins
Year published: 1975
Approximate sales: 50 million

Another British author to make the list is Jack Higgins with his World War II-themed novel "The Eagle Has Landed." Higgins weaves real-life historical moments with fiction in this thriller, which would later become a major motion picture.

#27. The Hite Report

Author: Shere Hite
Year published: 1976
Approximate sales: 50 million

Hite’s book focuses on female sexuality and was met with stark criticism upon release. While "The Hite Report" was a commercial success, Hite received several death threats leading her to renounce her U.S. citizenship in 1995.

#26. Il Nome della Rosa (The Name of the Rose)

Author: Umberto Eco
Year published: 1980
Approximate sales: 50 million

Another novel with religious themes is author Umberto Eco’s debut novel "The Name of The Rose." Eco’s novel, which was first published in Italian, is a murder mystery set in an Italian monastery.

#25. You Can Heal Your Life

Author: Louise L. Hay
Year published: 1984
Approximate sales: 50 million

One of the few self-help books to make the list, "You Can Heal Your Life" found commercial success after author Louise L. Hay was featured on both "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and "Donahue." Her book examines the possibility that physical trauma is often related to deep-seated emotional trauma.

#24. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Author: Jules Verne
Year published: 1870
Approximate sales: 60 million

This classic science fiction novel was published in 1870 and has since sold over 60 million copies across the globe. This deep sea adventure follows Capt. Nemo on his journey to hunt a giant sea monster. It is still regarded as one of the classic adventure novels and is said to pay homage to Homer’s "Odyssey."

#23. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Year published: 1887
Approximate sales: 60 million

This prolific series of 12 short stories follows Sherlock Holmes and his trusty sidekick Watson as they stumble through misadventures while administering their own brand of justice in London, England. The book has inspired numerous blockbuster film adaptations.

#22. Think and Grow Rich

Author: Napoleon Hill
Year published: 1937
Approximate sales: 60 million

Another book that made the list in the self-help category, Napoleon Hill’s "Think And Grow Rich," was inspired by business tycoon Andrew Carnegie and has sold over 100 million copies worldwide.

#21. The Bridges of Madison County

Author: Robert James Waller
Year published: 1992
Approximate sales: 60 million

One of the more modern titles to find its way onto the list, Robert James Waller’s novel was first published in 1992, making it one of the best-selling books of the 20th century. Waller’s novel tells the story of a lonely postwar Italian woman who has an affair with a National Geographic photographer while her husband and children are away at the Iowa State Fair.

#20. The Catcher in the Rye

Author: J. D. Salinger
Year published: 1951
Approximate sales: 65 million

J. D. Salinger's controversial "The Catcher In The Rye" is a defining coming of age story with themes of teenage rebellion and identity. Salinger’s novel follows protagonist Holden Caulfield on an existential journey through New York City after expulsion from prep school.

#19. The Alchemist

Author: Paulo Coelho
Year published: 1988
Approximate sales: 65 million

Another South American author making the list is Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, whose international best-seller has been translated into 70 languages worldwide. "The Alchemist" is the story of a young shepherd who is drawn to Egypt after having recurring dreams of discovering treasure there. The novel was written in only two weeks.

#18. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Author: J. K. Rowling
Year published: 1999
Approximate sales: 65 million

"Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" is the third installment in the "Harry Potter" series from author J. K. Rowling, with all books selling over 65 million copies. The book, which was released in 1999, only took Rowling one year to write and won numerous awards including the Bram Stoker award for superior achievement in dark fantasy and horror writing.

#17. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Author: J. K. Rowling
Year published: 2000
Approximate sales: 65 million

Telling the story of Harry Potter’s fourth year of Hogwarts, "Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire" was released to much critical and commercial success. It is the only book of the series to win the distinguished Hugo Award. "Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire" was adapted for a blockbuster film as well as a video game.

#16. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Author: J. K. Rowling
Year published: 2003
Approximate sales: 65 million

The longest book in the series was published in June 2003. The novel which details Harry Potter's fifth year at Hogwarts sold 5 million copies within the first 24 hours of publication.

#15. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Author: J. K. Rowling
Year published: 2005
Approximate sales: 65 million

The penultimate novel in the "Harry Potter" series focuses on Lord Voldemort as Harry Potter prepares to battle the ongoing antagonist in the sixth book of the series. The book performed even better than its predecessor, selling 6.9 million copies during the first 24 hours after its release.

#14. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Author: J. K. Rowling
Year published: 2007
Approximate sales: 65 million

The final book in the "Harry Potter" series sold 8.3 million copies in the first 24 hours, setting new records for initial sales. The book was written for the maturing audience of Harry Potter fans, capping off the saga with a dramatic and decisive battle with Lord Voldemort. It was eventually adapted into a two-part feature film.

#13. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Author: J. K. Rowling
Year published: 1998
Approximate sales: 77 million

J. K. Rowling, who reportedly wrote the first two "Harry Potter" books while still on welfare benefits in the Edinburgh, Scotland, was worried "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," would not live up to the success of the first book. Little did she know, it was only early days and the entire series would sell over 450 million copies around the world. Not everyone was a fan of the second book, though: A Lewiston, Maine, preacher held a party to mark the release of the second book in which he shredded "Harry Potter" copies. 

#12. The Da Vinci Code

Author: Dan Brown
Year published: 2003
Approximate sales: 80 million

Dan Brown’s international best-seller became a sensation because of Brown’s blending of fiction and historical references. Brown’s novel was so convincing that it sparked a fair amount of controversy due to its claim that the Bible’s Holy Grail mythology was actually a metaphor for the bloodline of Christ, who Brown’s novel fictionalized as having children with Mary Magdalene.

#11. She: A History of Adventure

Author: H. Rider Haggard
Year Published: 1887
Approximate Sales: 83 million

What is said to be the book that sparked the lost world subgenre, "She: A History of Adventure" follows Horace Holly and Leo Vincey as they journey into the African interior to find a lost kingdom ruled by the white queen Ayesha. 


#10. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Author: C. S. Lewis
Year Published: 1950
Approximate Sales: 85 million

The first book in the "Chronicles of Narnia" series, "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" is a children's novel by famed British author C. S. Lewis. The book follows four siblings who move to the countryside to escape the German bombing of London during World War II, where one child finds a magic wardrobe that leads into the fantasy land of Narnia. In 2005 Time named it one of the 100 best English language novels published since 1923.


#9. 紅樓夢/红楼梦 (Dream of the Red Chamber)

Author: Cao Xueqin
Year published: 1754–1791
Approximate sales: 100 million

Considered one of China’s four great classical novels, the "Dream of The Red Chamber" is considered semi-autobiographical of both the author and the Qing Dynasty. Officially published in 1791, the book inspired a formed a field of study specifically dedicated to the novel dubbed "Redology."

#8. Alice in Wonderland

Author: Lewis Carroll
Year published: 1865
Approximate sales: 100 million

This classic tale has been a worldwide best-seller for over 150 years. The novel follows the young protagonist Alice as she falls down a magical rabbit's hole into a vivid fantasy land of mad hatters, talking caterpillars, and grinning Cheshire cats. The novel has sold over 100 million copies and has inspired several blockbuster film adaptations.

#7. The Hobbit

Author: J. R. R. Tolkien
Year published: 1937
Approximate sales: 100 million

Released to both critical and commercial acclaim in 1937, "The Hobbit" has continued to be a mainstay in modern children's literature. The book has sold over 100 million copies and continues to find worldwide success, eventually adapted into a blockbuster film series paired with "Lord of the Rings" that has become one of the highest-grossing film series of all time.

#6. And Then There Were None

Author: Agatha Christie
Year published: 1939
Approximate sales: 100 million

Prolific English author Agatha Christie is listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the best-selling novelist of all time, selling over 2 billion books. She wrote 66 detective novels, but her most acclaimed work is "And Then There Were None," which has sold over 100 million copies.

#5. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Author: J. K. Rowling
Year published: 1997
Approximate sales: 120 million

The first novel in the famed Harry Potter series, "Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone" is by far the most commercially successful, having sold over 120 million copies worldwide. The novel follows Harry as he discovers his magical powers through his first year at Hogwarts.

#4. Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince)

Author: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Year Published: 1943
Approximate Sales: 140 million

Author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote "The Little Prince" while living in North America as a refugee of the Second World War. The book, which has become one of the best-selling books of all time, follows a stranded pilot and a young prince who is visiting earth from outer space. Not only did Saint-Exupery write the book, but he also painted the watercolor illustrations featured in the story.

#3. The Lord of the Rings

Author: J. R. R. Tolkien
Year published: 1954–1955
Approximate sales: 150 million

The sequel to "The Hobbit’s" blockbuster success, "The Lord of The Rings" is a monumental work. In 2003 the BBC named "The Lord of The Rings" the best-loved British novel of all time.

#2. A Tale of Two Cities

Author: Charles Dickens
Year published: 1859
Approximate sales: 200 million

This classic piece of literature tells the story of a French doctor who is imprisoned during the French Revolution and the struggle he faces upon his subsequent release. Dickens’ classic was published in 1859 and has become a mainstay in the literary classic canon. The novel’s opening line “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” has become iconic amongst literature fans.

#1. Don Quixote

Author: Miguel de Cervantes
Year published: 1605
Approximate sales: 500 million

Taking top honor with over 500 million copies sold is Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s "Don Quixote." Following the adventures of the Spanish noble Don Quixote, the book is a mixture of adventure and wit. It is considered the de facto novel of the Spanish Golden Age and was named the author’s choice for "Best Literary Work Ever Written" by the Bokklubben World Library.

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