• 12.04.13

Infographic: See Just How Popular The Most Popular Books Ever Written Are

Here’s how your favorites stack up against history’s most popular books.

Infographic: See Just How Popular The Most Popular Books Ever Written Are
[Image: Flickr user Alan Strakey]

Sometimes literary popularity is subjective. A person could live and work in, say, New York City, see commuters constantly reading the latest from Tao Lin, and assume that it has taken the book-buying community by storm. Objectively popular literature, though, transcends a regional sample and becomes ubiquitous. (Think 50 Shades of Grey, for a recent example, or perhaps never think of 50 Shades of Grey ever again.) But the only way to gauge how popular such wildfire phenomenon books really are is to put them in a historical perspective, and crunch the numbers.


Created by British book blog Love Reading, “The Most Popular Books Of All Time” is an illuminating infographic that measures literary proliferation. This easily digestible collection of data stacks up all manner of classics, both ancient and modern, and shows how they compare to each other in three categories: sales, number of editions, and number of translations. Pretty much every book you’d expect to be there is indeed accounted for, but some of the facts about them might surprise you.

For instance, who knew that Harry Potter sold three times as many copies as The Lord of the Rings, and was translated into nearly twice as many languages? Considering Tolkien’s 40-year head start and the continuing popularity of the film franchise, it seems as though perhaps the disparity would be smaller. Most people looking at this infographic are probably interested in who the big winners are, though. The Holy Quran has printed a half-billion more copies than the King James Bible, making it the most popular book ever (though the numbers don’t mark “sales” and these books have been on the market a while). Homer’s Odyssey had the most translations with over 250, while Alice In Wonderland had the most editions at 1,513. Curiously, since Shakespeare’s works were never copyrighted, there’s no knowing for sure how many copies he sold. Probably a lot, though! Check out the other top sellers in the infographic below, and sound off on any big omissions in the comments.

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About the author

Joe Berkowitz is a writer and staff editor at Fast Company. His next book, Away with Words, is available June 13th from Harper Perennial.