The Top 10 Best-Selling Books, Ever (Plus 11 Lesser-Known Recommendations).

Maybe this is why we read, and why in moments of darkness we return to books: to find words for what we already know.

~ Alberto Manguel

I came across this intriguing infographic recently that shows the world’s most read books, based on sales over the past 50 years.

How many of the top 10 best-sellers have you read?

I knew the Bible was popular, but more popular than Harry Potter? That was unexpected.

I’ve read five of the ten—I think. I’ve watched the entire movie, Gone with the Wind; it’s really long. Does that count? I can’t remember if I made it all the way through The Alchemist. (It was that bad.) And Twilight? Really?

In conclusion, I was not that impressed by this list. As an English teacher and lover of literature, I’d like to offer some alternative book recommendations.

These are books from all genres that have touched me deeply. Books I wish I’d gotten to read in high school, or at least college, instead of whatever boring text was required by the syllabus. Books I find that I can come back to and reread and enjoy and benefit from and see differently, time and time again.

Here they are—11 truly amazing books that you absolutely must read if you haven’t—in no particular order:

1. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote: a chilling, captivating “nonfiction novel” about two men who murdered a Kansas family in their small-town farmhouse in 1958

2. The Poisonwood BIble by Barbara Kingsolver: the story of a family, told in the alternating voices of four daughters, as they, their docile mother and evangelical missionary father move to Africa and are forever changed

3. What is the What by Dave Eggers: a staggeringly brutal, beautiful story of Valentino Achek Deng, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan

4. Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh: mindfulness 101 from one of the greatest, most accessible modern Buddhist teachers

5. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris: hilarious stories about learning a new language and living in a foreign country, among other things

6. At Home in the World by Joyce Maynard: an engrossing memoir about growing up in America in the 60s, writing, sex, love and self-acceptance

7. Taking the Leap by Pema Chodron:  this book focuses on the Tibetan Buddhist teaching of shenpa and how to get unstuck when we find ourselves dealing with negativity and fear

8. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg: an amazing and practical book with humorous, innovative advice designed to enhance every writer and aspiring writer’s craft

9. American Veda by Philip Goldberg: the well-researched and documented story of how yoga invaded American pop culture via the Beatles and dozens of other gurus

10.  The Reader by Bernhard Schlink: this concise, wonderfully-written novel about a woman who worked for the Nazi regime during the Holocaust knocks me to my knees

11. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby: the author of this phenomenal 1997 memoir wrote this book using the only part of his body that he could move, his left eyelid. If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is.

I hope some of these recommendations resonate with you. Feel free to share more favorite titles in the comments; we can never have too many good books to read!


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micah Jan 4, 2016 9:15am


adam Jan 21, 2015 10:17am

I thing you missed one book that could be number 1 in your list. The holly Quran is what millions of Muslims read everyday, everywhere the last 1436 years.

Krishna Nov 18, 2014 7:24am

All the books suggested seem pretty similar — except Capote. I wonder why no one mentions Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Richard Llewellyn’s How Green was my Valley, and A J Cronin’s The Green Year:s three books that are sadly forgotten these days. Martinez’s Book of Murder and Higashino’s Devotion of Suspect X are two others that I recently read and enjoyed a lot.

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Michelle Margaret Fajkus

Michelle Margaret is a heart-centered writer, teacher and creator of Yoga Freedom.

She has been a columnist on Elephant Journal since 2010 and has self-published inspiring books. She incorporates dharma, hatha, yin, mindfulness, chakras, chanting and pranayama into her teachings and practice. A former advertising copywriter and elementary school teacher, she is now a freelance writer and translator. Michelle learned yoga from a book at age 12 and started teaching at 22. She met the Buddha in California at 23 and has been a student of the dharma ever since. Michelle is now approaching her forties with grace and gratitude.

Join Michelle for a writing and yoga retreat this summer at magical Lake Atitlan in the western highlands of Guatemala! https://yogafreedom.org/group-retreats/