Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Top Ten All-Time Best-Selling Books.


So, over the Christmas break I'm going to put up ten posts running down the top-ten best-selling books of all time. If you want to know what those ten books are, you can follow this link to the Wikipedia page that tells you. But why would you want to do that? That would spoil our fun over the following ten posts, don't you think? Oh, alright, please yourself. I'm not the boss of you.

Here are the parameters, lifted straight from the online encylopedia itself:
Religious books, especially the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible and the Qur'an, are probably the most-printed books, but it is nearly impossible to find reliable sales figures for them. Print figures are missing or unreliable since these books are produced by many different and unrelated publishers. Furthermore, many copies of the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible and the Qur'an are printed and given away free, instead of being sold. The same goes for some political books, such as the works of Mao Zedong or Adolf Hitler. Thus it is impossible to determine either the number printed, or the proportion of those printed that are sold. All such books have been excluded from this list for those reasons.
So, if you exclude the Bible, Qu'ran and Little Red Book, what is the all-time best-selling top ten? Stick with me and you'll see. [Although, having said that, the 'kipedia still include this title in their top 20, despite it being in effect a Seventh Day Adventist holy text. Ah well: consistency is for losers, I guess].

Two notes. One: I'd already read all but two of the titles on this top-ten before starting this exercise. That may or may not surprise you. Two: no Rowling or Steig Larsson in the top 10! Blimey.

12 comments:

Al R said...

Bit surprised not to see Gulliver's Travels anywhere on that Wiki page. Surely it must have shifted a few units?

Adam Roberts said...

Hmm. People talk about Jules Verne as an author who sold globally in the many-millions, yet he's not on the list either.

Liviu said...

For me the big surprise was to see Happy Hooker - which I read and was unexpectedly engaging but pretty mild as explicitness goes today - on the extended list at 20M+ and not to see the angry fantasy hooker aka Terry Goodkind anywhere

As for Jules Verne, he wrote 80+ novels (of which I read all but one or two as a child) and it may be a factor of "everyone heard about though not everyone read" factor involved too

Liviu said...

actually as a correction 9and apologies for misspellings and double post) I see that Wikipedia lists only 54 Jules Verne novels, but there is no Golden Volcano, Mission Barsac, Dr. Ox to name a few I read and enjoyed

anyway, while it may be closer to 60 than 80, there are a lot of novels to spread the sales around

Adam Roberts said...

Liviu: many 'Jules Verne' novels were actually written by his son, especially towards the end of his life, and (I think I'm writing in saying) all the posthumously published ones: including Le Volcan d'or and -- one of my favourites, actually -- La Chasse au météore. There's a fuller list of all Verne's list on Wikipedia.fr than on the English Wikipedia, unsurprisingly.

Adam Roberts said...

erm '... I think I'm right in saying ...'

Liviu said...

I saw the notes about authoring when checking Wikipedia.fr, though from my remembrances of 30 years ago I could not discern a difference between say Mission Barsac and the earlier Verne.

My clear favorites have always been the trio of (imperfectly) connected Twenty Leagues Under the Sea, Captain Grant's Children and The Mysterious Island which I literally read tens of times in my childhood, but I enjoyed even the (imho) lesser Verne novels like The Lottery Ticket or The Green Ray

Adam Roberts said...

Twenty Leagues Under the Sea: a modest little adventure ... but twenty is probably far enough.

pbrn999 said...

Glad that you've read 8 of the 10 already as knocking out LotR in a day would be mightily impressive.
I am also not too embarrassed to say that I hadn't even heard of "Think and Grow Rich" at #10 on the wiki list; shame you couldn't "discount" it and do Catcher instead...

Gareth Rees said...

This is an interesting project, but as the Wikipedia article points out, it's always going to be an uncertain one. There appears to be no good source of data, especially for books that are out of copyright, like The Three Musketeers and Don Quixote.

A more recent example: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is credited with 44M sales, while the Harry Potter series as a whole is credited with 450M sales. If both of these figures are correct, then at least one other book in the series has sold more than Deathly Hallows. You can find claims on the Internet to the effect that Philosopher's Stone sold more than 100M copies, which I think would put it into your top ten if the claims were at all verifiable.

Adam Roberts said...

Gareth: that's a very good point. Many of the numbers in that wikipedia list are soggy -- the '450 million copies' figure for all of Harry Potter you mention is sourced: 'Neil Blair, of the Christopher Little Literary Agency, said in an e-mail to ABC News' ... hardly copper-bottomed. But I'm not sure what to do about this, other than throw up my hands and abandon the whole project, which would be a shame I think.

Gareth Rees said...

I think the project is an interesting one, and just needs an acknowledgement of the inevitable uncertainty involved: it's not really the "top ten best-selling books of all time" but rather the "top ten best-selling books for which Wikipedia contributors were able to find plausibly-sourced sales figures". No-one can fairly expect you to do better than the combined contributors to Wikipedia.