If you’re a reader, you understand that when a book takes wings, selling millions of copies, that book often gives us a peek into the collective conscious.
There’s a reason so many people bought and read that book.
It taps into something at the core of our being.
So I was curious to know which books are the best selling of all time. Curious to know if they say something about humanity as a whole.
They do. I see it. I wonder if you will, too.
But first… the books I didn’t include
If you Google best selling books of all time, you’ll find some books I didn’t include on this list. For example? Some sites say Don Quixote is the top selling book of all time. Some sites estimate sales at 500 million.
Know what that’s based on? The fact that it was published in 1612. Surely, since it was the first fiction book published, it must be the best selling, they say. But we don’t know that. There are no documented sales. It’s a guess.
Same with A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. It was published over 150 years ago and no one has any idea how many copies it sold over the years. People making the lists say that since it’s required reading in many schools, it “must have” sold millions. But again, we don’t know that.
Instead, I dug around to find the best selling books with documented sales.
The 5 best selling books of all time…
Most are old classics, read by generation after generation. Only one is not.
1. J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings — 150 million
The Dark Lord is seeking a ring that’s been lost for centuries. A classic battle of good versus evil, filled with Elves, Men, Dwarves, Wizards and Orcs. The fate of the world lies in the hands of one small hobbit. Ironically, Tolkein wrote LOTR because his readers wanted to read more about hobbits. LOTR is the ultimate fantasy novel, the work that established the modern fantasy genre.
There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for. — The Lord of the Rings
2. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit — 150 million
Bilbo Baggins is a home loving hobbit, quietly living a simple life with his fellow hobbits in the shire, until the wizard Gandalf arrives and convinces him to join a group of dwarves on a quest to win a share of the treasure guarded by Smaug the dragon. Classic Hero’s journey, where the battles fought and won turn the Hobbit into a hero. The Hobbit was Tolkien’s first book.
“It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.” — The Hobbit
3. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince — 140 million
The Little Prince, loved by adults and children, is the story of a pilot who was stranded on a strange planet for 8 days after his plane broke down. As he tries valiantly to fix the plane, he meets The Little Prince, who makes poignant observations about life and love, pain and conflict and finding joy. 15 months after the book was published, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry got into his little plane and flew off into the blue skies, never to be seen again.
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” — The Little Prince
4. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone — 120 million
Harry Potter is a young orphan living with family that don’t particularly want him when he discovers that he’s the son of two powerful wizards who were murdered by an evil wizard. On his 11th birthday, Harry learns he has been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
“It is our choices … that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” — Dumbledore, Harry Potter
5. C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe — 95 million
During the World War II bombings of London, four English children are sent to a country house to stay safe. One day, the little girl finds a wardrobe that transports her to a magical world called Narnia. It’s a land of talking animals and mythical creatures, ruled by the evil White Witch. The girl brings her brothers to Narnia and they help the magical lion fight the evil witch.
Some journeys take us far from home. Some adventures lead us to our destiny. — C.S. Lewis
Why these 5 books give us hope for humanity…
In 1949, a scholar named Joseph Campbell observed that the most beloved stories all had a similar storyline.
The story structure, he said, was as old as time.
He called it the Monomyth. The Hero’s Journey.
And it goes something like this. An ordinary person is faced with a challenge. He accepts the challenge and embarks on a journey.
Through the journey, he encounters friend and foe. Those who will help and those that must be vanquished. He must fight and slay the dragons so that evil is conquered and good can prevail. In the end, he returns home victorious.
It’s the classic battle of good versus evil, where an ordinary man rises up and faces his fears and the challenges before him to ensure good will prevail.
The 5 best selling books of all time are all written with the Hero’s Journey as the storyline. Frodo and Bilbo, The Little Prince, Aslan and the children, even Harry Potter — once ordinary beings that rose to the occasion and battled their own fear and challenges to ensure that good prevailed over evil.
And in this time of strife and stress, I am glad to know these are our most beloved stories. Written as children’s books, perhaps, but loved by as many adults in equal measure.
If this is us? If we hold the hero in our hearts, if we care that good prevails over evil — perhaps there is hope for us after all.
“Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.” — G.K. Chesterton
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