The Second Best-Selling Book of All Time (2022)

Sure, the best-selling book of all-time is, of course, the Bible. It is also the most widely (and given some of the liberties taken, wildly) translated book of all time, too.

But who takes the silver medal in terms of sales? And also in terms of translations?

Not the Quran. Not Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book. Not Euclid’s Geometry. Not L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics.

Second-place goes to another Catholic classic, The Imitation of Christ by Thomas á Kempis.

While this kind of statement invariably stirs up ill-will amongst Muslims—who have a point that the Quran is more-widely disseminated, if not sold- and hard-core Chinese Maoists (and, for that matter, Scientologists), the most reliable data out there is that The Imitation (as it is almost always abbreviated) has sold more copies and been translated into more languages than any other text aside from the Bible itself.

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It’s not hard to see why: the book is a plethora of great, good spiritual advice and can guide you through a dark night of the soul, if not a full-blown spiritual meltdown.

Further, it’s broken up into short, bite-sized chapters which never go out of style.

And then there’s the strange and questionable provenance of the book itself. It is said to be the work of a fourteenth-to-fifteenth century German mystic and Canon Regular named Thomas á Kempis—but some scholars think another mystic, Walter Hilton, may have had a hand in at least part of the composition of The Imitation.

And then there’s the urban legend that á Kempis was accidentally “buried-alive” by mistake (German medicine in the fifteenth century was apparently a pretty inexact science). And when his body was exhumed, scratch-marks were found on the inside of his coffin lid, showing that á Kempis was not only alive, but trying to get out of his coffin. Some people like to stretch this to say that it’s the reason á Kempis was never formally canonized: a man buried alive should, apparently, resign himself to his premature death, take a deep breath and trust himself to God’s care. Or so the legend goes.

While there is almost nothing reliable about that last paragraph, such pseudo-hagiology is always popular and dies hard, no pun intended.

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What is certain, in addition to the sales numbers, is the bona fide popularity of The Imitation. In the beginning, as it were, the book had appeal with those somewhat disaffected with the institutional Catholic church—which was at that time barreling towards the Protestant Reformation without even knowing it—as the book charted the individual soul’s journey up to and including its mystical union with God, especially in the Holy Eucharist, in Book Four entitled “The Blessed Sacrament.” However, one cannot have the Blessed Sacrament without the Church, so á Kempis’s intention was clear: salvation came through the deposit of faith given to the Latin Church. But others, notably, Martin Luther, later concentrated mainly on the “individuality of the soul.” The upshot of this is that the book has been popular with both Catholics and Protestants right from the start.

Another reason The Imitation has not only aged well, but sold well these many centuries is its message: “I would rather feel compunction than know its definition,” á Kempis tells us in Book One, Chapter One, page one, and this is a leitmotiv of the text: the heart—especially the heart full of true sorrow that weeps over Christ’s sufferings for mankind—is more pleasing to God than a head full of scholastic wisdom.

Not that the book isn’t learned: no one can accuse á Kempis of being a theological lightweight. It’s just that, unlike St. Thomas Aquinas’s non-stop neo-Aristotelian questions-and-answers, or St. Bonaventure’s unique blend of mysticism and scholasticism, or Peter Abelard’s endless energy to win an argument, á Kempis goes right for the good old-fashioned Catholic guilt on a visceral level and never lets you forget it, either. For instance: “We think sometimes to please others by being with them; and we begin rather to disgust them by the evil behavior which they discover in us.” Also: “It will do thee no harm to esteem thyself the worst of all; but it will hurt thee very much to prefer thyself before anyone else.” And a personal favorite: “We are all frail: but see thou think no one more frail than thyself.”

And why stop there? At times á Kempis writes like a bona fide misanthrope: “It is truly a misery to live upon this earth,” “And take it not to heart when thou art forsaken by a friend, knowing that at one time or other we all must part,” and “Never think thou hast made any progress till thou lookest upon thyself as inferior to all.”

But this is all part of an overarching gestalt of humility that undergirds The Imitation—otherwise we’d be left with nothing but sturm und drang.

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In fact, The Imitation is one of those very rare books that you might quote without ever knowing you are quoting it: “All disquiet of heart and distraction of the senses arise from inordinate love and vain fear,” “Know that the love of thyself is more hurtful to thee than anything in the world,” and the bon mot that Umberto Eco quotes verbatim in his best-seller, The Name of the Rose: “I have sought everywhere for peace, but I have found it not save in nooks and in books.”

But the key to this seminal text is not a laundry list of aphorisms on the spiritual life but actual spiritual progress. And unlike the many mystics who came after á Kempis and whose writings may seem a bit slippery for the modern mind, á Kempis’s brand of mysticism—Germanic, earth-bound-but-heaven-gazing, has never gone out of style. If nothing else, it seems almost more applicable today than possibly any other time since the Reformation.

There are currently so many versions and translations of The Imitation for sale—the Catholic Book Publishing Company alone produces eight different versions—that it seems unfair to pick just one as the “definitive text.” However, when I entered graduate school a family friend sent me The Confraternity of The Precious Blood edition of The Imitation of Christ which has the added bonus of dozens and dozens of illustrations by Ariel Agemian. It is my personal favorite of the many versions of The Imitation out there, not only for sentimental reasons, but because it is literally pocket-sized (assuming you have rather capacious pocket), and on a subway, bus, or train-ride it’s the kind of book you can read to keep you calm (especially in a post-9/11 New York City).

But the artwork has a lot to do with my favoring this version of The Imitation (whose official title is MY Imitation of Christ).Latin Mass Magazine did an interesting piece on the artwork of Ariel Agemian a few years ago.Agemian’s style, which is sort of a mix between a Catholic Norman Rockwell and the apocalyptic work of Albrecht Durer, seems the perfect fit for this unequalled book.

Regardless of which translation you go for (and there are plenty to choose from) The Imitation of Christ is simply indispensable. And has provided me with a bit of advice I never tire of:“No created thing can fully quiet and satisfy my desires.” Amen.

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In this engraved frontispiece for this 1617 edition of the Imitatio Christi, Thomas à Kempis kneels in devotion before the Virgin Mary and Christ Child.

Editor’s note: The lead image above is a detail from the illustration titled “I Am the Way,” drawn by Ariel Agemian.

FAQs

What is the number 1 selling book of all time? ›

According to Guinness World Records as of 1995, the Bible is the best-selling book of all time with an estimated 5 billion copies sold and distributed.

What is the 2nd most popular book after the Bible? ›

He found that the Bible far outsold any other book, with a whopping 3.9 billion copies sold over the last 50 years. "Quotations from the Works of Mao Tse-tung" came in second with 820 million copies sold, and "Harry Potter" came in third with 400 million copies sold.

Which is the No 1 book in the world? ›

Top 100 best selling books of all time
RankTitleAuthor
1Da Vinci Code,TheBrown, Dan
2Harry Potter and the Deathly HallowsRowling, J.K.
3Harry Potter and the Philosopher's StoneRowling, J.K.
4Harry Potter and the Order of the PhoenixRowling, J.K.
45 more rows

What is considered the best book of all time? ›

The Greatest Books of All Time
  1. 1 . In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. ...
  2. 2 . Ulysses by James Joyce. ...
  3. 3 . Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. ...
  4. 4 . One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. ...
  5. 5 . The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. ...
  6. 6 . Moby Dick by Herman Melville. ...
  7. 7 . War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. ...
  8. 8 .

What book sells more than Bible? ›

The Guinness Book of World Records estimates that more than 5 billion copies of the Bible have been printed. Other religious texts are also high on the list: the Quran with 800 million copies, the Book of Mormon with 120 million.

What is the most sold book 2021? ›

2021 was a pretty good year for author Dav Pilkey. Not only is his children's book "Dog Man: Mothering Heights" USA TODAY's bestselling book of the year, but he also followed up the achievement with four more of his books landing in the Top 100 for 2021, more than any other author.

How many books sold 100000 copies? ›

The average book in America sells about 500 copies. Those blockbusters are a minute anomaly: only 10 books sold more than a million copies last year, and fewer than 500 sold more than 100,000. So are all the rest of the books simply failed blockbusters? Of course not.

What is the book most read? ›

The most read book in the World is Bible. This holy book so far has outsold any other in the world. During the last 50 years, a whopping 3.9 billion copies has been sold.

Did one piece outsell the Bible? ›

While 454 million copies and counting is a massive achievement, especially when you consider that the first issue was released on Oct. 20, 1999, no, it hasn't outsold the Bible.

Which book is last from the top? ›

(a) Plays (b) Poetry (c) Composition (d) Literature ... Clearly, the fourth book from the top is on Composition.

What is the first book ever written? ›

The first book ever written that we know of is The Epic of Gilgamesh: a mythical retelling of an important political figure from history.

Who has written the most books? ›

The most published works by one author is 1,084 by L. Ron Hubbard (USA) whose first work was published in February 1934 and the last in March 2006. Comments below may relate to previous holders of this record.

What are the top 10 best-selling fiction books right now? ›

FICTION
  • Fairy Tale by Stephen King. ...
  • The Butcher and the Wren by Alaina Urquhart. ...
  • Oath of Loyalty by Vince Flynn; Kyle Mills. ...
  • Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. ...
  • Blowback by James Patterson; Brendan DuBois. ...
  • All Good People Here by Ashley Flowers. ...
  • Carrie Soto Is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid. ...
  • The 6:20 Man by David Baldacci.
7 days ago

Who is the greatest author of all time? ›

The 10 Greatest Authors of All Time
  • Leo Tolstoy – 327.
  • William Shakespeare – 293.
  • James Joyce – 194.
  • Vladimir Nabokov – 190.
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky – 177.
  • William Faulkner – 173.
  • Charles Dickens – 168.
  • Anton Checkhov – 165.
2 Dec 2019

Who is the best author in the world? ›

TOP TEN AUTHORS BY NUMBER OF BOOKS SELECTED
  • William Shakespeare — 11.
  • William Faulkner — 6.
  • Henry James — 6.
  • Jane Austen — 5.
  • Charles Dickens — 5.
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky — 5.
  • Ernest Hemingway — 5.
  • Franz Kafka — 5.
30 Jan 2012

Which book should I read first? ›

The Diary of A Young Girl By Anne Frank

Read the book and find out. With the powerful reminder of the war, The Diary of A Young Girl is undoubtedly among the best books for beginning readers. The familiarity of the story (from our childhood textbooks) makes it even more interesting to read!

Who Wrote the Bible? ›

Even after nearly 2,000 years of its existence, and centuries of investigation by biblical scholars, we still don't know with certainty who wrote its various texts, when they were written or under what circumstances.

Is the Bible the greatest book ever written? ›

The Greatest Book Ever Written - YouTube

How many Bibles are in the world? ›

The Bible has been around since the 4th century B.C. There are currently about 2,000 versions of it in existence today. Some of these versions include the King James Version, New International Version (NIV), New American Standard Version (NASB) and New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

What is a number 1 New York Times bestseller? ›

THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE.

Who is the best-selling author 2022? ›

Top 10 Selling Books, 2022 Year-to-Date
RankTitleAuthor
1It Ends With UsColleen Hoover
2Where the Crawdads SingDelia Owens
3VerityColleen Hoover
4Ugly LoveColleen Hoover
6 more rows

Who is the best-selling writer in the world? ›

James Patterson is the world's highest-paid author by a wide margin, and has been the world's best-selling author since 2001. He has sold more than 350 million books worldwide, and is most famous for the "Alex Cross" crime novel series.

How many books sold 1 million? ›

Of the 500,000+ books that are published each year, less than 20 books sell a million copies (and that includes fiction novels!) Upon hearing that, you might think your odds are 1 in 25,000… But your odds are even lower than that.

Do you get paid for writing a book? ›

A typical book author barely makes more than minimum wage. You receive an advance and 10% royalties on net profit from each book. If your book retails at $25 per copy, you would need to sell at least 4,000 copies to break even on a $5,000 advance.

How hard is it to sell a book? ›

Selling books is not easy.

The fact of the matter is that it is getting harder and harder to sell books, even for traditional publishers. For a writer new to self-publishing, there is going to be a lot of hard work ahead; just to get noticed. So what can you do to get some attention?

What is the book most read? ›

The most read book in the World is Bible. This holy book so far has outsold any other in the world. During the last 50 years, a whopping 3.9 billion copies has been sold.

What are the top 10 best-selling fiction books right now? ›

FICTION
  • Fairy Tale by Stephen King. ...
  • The Butcher and the Wren by Alaina Urquhart. ...
  • Oath of Loyalty by Vince Flynn; Kyle Mills. ...
  • Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. ...
  • Blowback by James Patterson; Brendan DuBois. ...
  • All Good People Here by Ashley Flowers. ...
  • Carrie Soto Is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid. ...
  • The 6:20 Man by David Baldacci.
7 days ago

How many books sold 100000 copies? ›

The average book in America sells about 500 copies. Those blockbusters are a minute anomaly: only 10 books sold more than a million copies last year, and fewer than 500 sold more than 100,000. So are all the rest of the books simply failed blockbusters? Of course not.

What is the most sold book 2021? ›

2021 was a pretty good year for author Dav Pilkey. Not only is his children's book "Dog Man: Mothering Heights" USA TODAY's bestselling book of the year, but he also followed up the achievement with four more of his books landing in the Top 100 for 2021, more than any other author.

Is the Bible the number 1 selling book? ›

At the top of the list, unsurprisingly, is the Bible. The Guinness Book of World Records estimates that more than 5 billion copies of the Bible have been printed. Other religious texts are also high on the list: the Quran with 800 million copies, the Book of Mormon with 120 million.

What is your least favorite book? ›

Least Favourite Books
  • Looking for Alaska (Paperback) John Green (Goodreads Author) ...
  • The Alchemist (Paperback) ...
  • The Catcher in the Rye (Paperback) ...
  • Breaking Dawn (The Twilight Saga, #4) ...
  • This Lie Will Kill You (Hardcover) ...
  • The Song of Achilles (Paperback) ...
  • Normal People (Hardcover) ...
  • We Were Liars (Kindle Edition)

Which book is last from the top? ›

(a) Plays (b) Poetry (c) Composition (d) Literature ... Clearly, the fourth book from the top is on Composition.

What is a number 1 New York Times bestseller? ›

THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE.

What is the best-selling title in America? ›

As of 2006, it remains the all-time best-selling American title and is still in print today. Common Sense made public a persuasive and impassioned case for independence, which had not yet been given serious intellectual consideration.

What is a national bestseller? ›

Typically a book can only be labeled as a bestseller when it has appeared on a published bestseller list. Books can be labeled as a "National Bestseller" once they've appeared on a bestseller list published in a national publication, like The National Post.

How many books sold 1 million? ›

Of the 500,000+ books that are published each year, less than 20 books sell a million copies (and that includes fiction novels!) Upon hearing that, you might think your odds are 1 in 25,000… But your odds are even lower than that.

Do you get paid for writing a book? ›

A typical book author barely makes more than minimum wage. You receive an advance and 10% royalties on net profit from each book. If your book retails at $25 per copy, you would need to sell at least 4,000 copies to break even on a $5,000 advance.

How hard is it to sell a book? ›

Selling books is not easy.

The fact of the matter is that it is getting harder and harder to sell books, even for traditional publishers. For a writer new to self-publishing, there is going to be a lot of hard work ahead; just to get noticed. So what can you do to get some attention?

Who is the best-selling author 2022? ›

Top 10 Selling Books, 2022 Year-to-Date
RankTitleAuthor
1It Ends With UsColleen Hoover
2Where the Crawdads SingDelia Owens
3VerityColleen Hoover
4Ugly LoveColleen Hoover
6 more rows

Who is the best-selling writer in the world? ›

James Patterson is the world's highest-paid author by a wide margin, and has been the world's best-selling author since 2001. He has sold more than 350 million books worldwide, and is most famous for the "Alex Cross" crime novel series.

Who is the best-selling author right now? ›

Who Is the Best-Selling Author Alive? Currently, the #1 best-selling author alive is Danielle Steel. Although her books receive mixed feedback from literary critics, her romance novels have sold over 800 million copies and remain incredibly popular.

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