Whilst religious texts like the Bible and the Qua’ran are undoubtedly some of the most widely printed and distributed books in the world, it is very difficult to estimate the actual number of copies read and distributed due to the length of time they have been available for publication, often spanning centuries.
However, if you are to look at more contemporary fiction titles, there are many recognisable names, though surprisingly, the top selling book is not J.R.R Tolkien’s fantasy epic ‘The Lord of the Rings’, but rather it is ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, written by Charles Dickens.
‘A Tale of Two Cities’ was first published in 1859. The two cities in question are London and Paris, and it focuses on the collapse of Paris before and during the French Revolution. It’s not typically a Dickens’ book in that it has less humour, characters and sub plots than those found in other works by Dickens. The themes of social injustice, poverty, and a city in chaos have recently been translated into Hollywood blockbuster ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, and it just goes to prove the timeless relevance of a book that was published more than a century and a half ago. It is thought that the book has sold over 200 million copies to date, which is almost 50 million more copies than what Tolkien’s famous work has achieved.
Speaking of Tolkien, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ comes in second compared to ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, and it isn’t the only entry from Tolkien, with ‘The Hobbit’ also generating over 100 millions sales. These totals alone make Tolkien easily the best selling author in modern history, which isn’t bad for an English literature professor who wrote his books merely to exercise his own linguistic tendencies!
Both ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ were written and published in the mid twentieth century, which certainly gives them a head start on more modern titles. The most popular books in the last two decades includes ‘The Da Vinci Code’ by Dan Brown which was published in 2003. This conspiracy thriller, which entwines murder, religion and secret societies, has sold over 80 million copies, and is the only book published in the twenty first century to have shifted more than 50 millions copies.
So despite worries that technology might obsolete the written word, evidence points to the contrary. E-books mean that novels are enjoying as much popularity as they ever have done, and although the delivery might be different in the future, books will still prove to be a powerful force to be reckoned with.