10 of the Best-Selling Authors of All Time

Nomadsoul1/iStock via Getty Images
Nomadsoul1/iStock via Getty Images

A few months back, we brought you a list of some of the top-selling books of all time. Now, what about the best-selling authors?

As before, many disclaimers are required. For this list, the question of what counts as an "author" takes center stage. Both Stephen King and J.K. Rowling have written under pseudonyms (Richard Bachman and Robert Galbraith, respectively) and both were outed. While it seems reasonable to count books written under those pseudonyms within their respective author’s totals, some situations are not so cut and dried. The 18th-century work A General History of the Pyrates (a key source for information about the Golden Age of piracy), for example, is credited to one Captain Charles Johnson. However, historians have never been able to find evidence of a Captain Charles Johnson, so in 1932 one scholar decided that it was written by Daniel Defoe—and as a result the book is now frequently listed as one of his works. In the past few decades, though, that attribution has been doubted in favor of a journalist named Nathaniel Mist. So, should this best-seller’s numbers be credited to Defoe, Mist, or left off the list entirely?

Historians are also increasingly theorizing that Shakespeare wasn’t the sole author of many of his plays—according to The New Oxford Shakespeare, “His last three plays were all co-written with [John] Fletcher—who, in all three, seems to have written more of the surviving text than Shakespeare.” How then to deal with Shakespeare? Should his works be divvied up? Or should an asterisk be placed on the record? These questions can get into surprisingly deep philosophical territory.

With those caveats out of the way—and the further caveat that this list doesn’t include religious works, and is, with a few exceptions, steering away from authors who appeared on the best-selling books list; it’s also not complete, exhaustive, or a "top ten" list—here are some candidates for best-selling authors of all time.

  1. Mao Zedong // Untold billions

Mao Zedong appears on our best-selling books list for Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong, but he’d likely still be on the list even without Quotations. According to sociologist Zhengyuan Fu, “The scale of the production and consumption of Mao’s icons and symbols is unprecedented in human history. During the ten years from March 1966 to August 1976, there were 1,820 ... state-owned printing factories that printed 6.5 billion volumes of Quotations from Chairman Mao (the little red book), 840 million sets of Selections of Mao Zedong’s Works (3.36 billion volumes), 400 million volumes of Chairman Mao’s Poems, and 2.2 billion sheets of Mao’s standard photo portraits, which came in five standard sizes.” As always when dealing with these kind of numbers, some sources go smaller, but the total is definitely immense.

  1. Agatha Christie // Estimated 2 billion books sold

According to Guinness World Records, Agatha Christie has the title of “world’s best-selling fiction writer,” with estimated sales of over 2 billion. UNESCO also lists Christie as the most translated author in history.

  1. Barbara Cartland // Possibly over 600 million

Romance novelist Barbara Cartland illustrates the inherent difference between best-selling authors and best-selling books. Sources differ, but it’s generally agreed she wrote around 723 books (over 600 of which were novels) with estimates for her total sales ranging from 600 million to a billion books. Doing some division shows that each book may have sold only a touch over a million copies, but her sheer output—she’s said to have, at times, written 20 books a year—makes her a best-selling author.

  1. Corín Tellado // Possibly around 400 million

According to her obituary in The Guardian, some erroneously believe that Corín Tellado was a publishing house rather than a person. Much like Barbara Cartland, Tellado wrote romantic novels, but a lot more—estimates put her total number of books at anywhere from 4000 to 5000 over a 63-year career; she is said to be the best-selling author in the history of the Spanish language, and on par with Miguel de Cervantes for readership. As an example of the number of books she could produce, she worked some of her career during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, when authorities would heavily censor her books and send them back; The Times of London reports, “In some months as many as four of her novellas might be rejected by the regime’s censors.”

  1. Dr. Seuss // Somewhere between 100 and 650 million

In 2001, Publishers Weekly did a survey to determine the best-selling children’s books. Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel wouldn’t enter the list until number 4 with Green Eggs and Ham at 8 million, but he had six of the top 20. Nowadays, The Washington Post says that Dr. Seuss has sold 650 million copies in 95 countries, with Green Eggs and Ham still leading the way at 17.5 million copies sold.

  1. Charles Schulz // Unknown, though at least 300 million

Newspapers create a fundamental problem for lists like this. If someone writes an article a day for a newspaper and the newspaper has a circulation of a million, it adds up quickly. Though few people buy a newspaper for one writer, Charles Schulz is special. According to a 1999 Wall Street Journal article, his books alone have sold 300 million copies. But it’s the comic strip, Peanuts, that truly shines. At one point it had 355 million readers, appeared in around 2600 newspapers in 75 countries, and according to the Washington Post, Schulz drew “every frame of his strip, seven days a week, since its inception in October 1950” until it ended in early 2000. Robert Thompson of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University proclaimed Peanuts was “arguably the longest story told by a single artist in human history.”

  1. Eiichiro Oda // 450 million

Eiichiro Oda is the mangaka (manga creator) behind One Piece, which has reportedly sold 450 million copies worldwide since 1997—though just 70 million of those have been outside Japan. In 2015, Guinness World Records recognized it as the "Most copies published for the same comic book series by a single author.”

  1. James Patterson // An estimated 300 million

Patterson is frequently thought to be the best-selling author in the world today, and has been since 2001. He’s also credited as the first author to sell 1 million e-books, and is generally listed as the author with the most New York Times bestsellers.

  1. Horatio Alger // Claims of up to 200 million

Horatio Alger was a 19th-century master of the dime novel. His books featured rags-to-riches stories of young boys in the rapidly urbanizing United States. Later on, he’d even shoehorn a presidential biography—Abraham Lincoln, the Young Backwoods Boy; or, How a Young Rail Splitter Became President—into his incredibly successful formula.

  1. Leo Tolstoy // Possibly over 400 million

As always, statistics are hard to come by for older authors, and Tolstoy has this problem in spades. The common internet assertion that he has sold over 400 million copies is based on a single throwaway line in a 1987 New York Times article on Pushkin. With such little evidence, why does he deserve his place on the list? For one, he has definitely sold a lot of books, even if not everyone claiming to have read him is telling the truth; a 2016 BBC survey found that Tolstoy had two of the top five books people most lied about reading (War and Peace at number 4 and Anna Karenina at number 5).

In addition, Tolstoy’s works have become surprise hits in the 21st century. In 2004 Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club picked Anna Karenina; The New York Times reported that, while ordinarily the publisher would be lucky to sell 20,000 copies a year, they upped their press run to 800,000 in preparation for the pick. Meanwhile, in 2016 War and Peace entered the UK Bookseller’s top 50 for the first time thanks to a BBC adaptation. No matter the accuracy of the 400 million number, Tolstoy has had a surprisingly good 21st century.

10 of the Best Indoor and Outdoor Heaters on Amazon

Mr. Heater/Amazon
Mr. Heater/Amazon

With the colder months just around the corner, you might want to start thinking about investing in an indoor or outdoor heater. Indoor heaters not only provide a boost of heat for drafty spaces, but they can also be a money-saver, allowing you to actively control the heat based on the rooms you’re using. Outdoor heaters, meanwhile, can help you take advantage of cold-weather activities like camping or tailgating without having to call it quits because your extremities have gone numb. Check out this list of some of Amazon’s highest-rated indoor and outdoor heaters so you can spend less time shivering this winter and more time enjoying what the season has to offer.

Indoor Heaters

1. Lasko Ceramic Portable Heater; $20

Lasko/Amazon

This 1500-watt heater from Lasko may only be nine inches tall, but it can heat up to 300 square feet of space. With 11 temperature settings and three quiet settings—for high heat, low heat, and fan only—it’s a dynamic powerhouse that’ll keep you toasty all season long.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Alrocket Oscillating Space Heater; $25

Alrocket/Amazon

Alrocket’s oscillating space heater is an excellent addition to any desk or nightstand. Using energy-saving ceramic technology, this heater is made of fire-resistant material, and its special “tip-over” safety feature forces it to turn off if it falls over (making it a reliable choice for homes with kids or pets). It’s extremely quiet, too—at only 45 dB, it’s just a touch louder than a whisper. According to one reviewer, this an ideal option for a “very quiet but powerful” heater.

Buy it: Amazon

3. De’Longhi Oil-Filled Radiator Space Heather; $79

De’Longhi/Amazon

If you prefer a space heater with a more old-fashioned vibe, this radiator heater from De’Longhi gives you 2020 technology with a vintage feel. De’Longhi’s heater automatically turns itself on when the temperatures drops below 44°F, and it will also automatically turn itself off if it starts to overheat. Another smart safety feature? The oil system is permanently sealed, so you won’t have to worry about accidental spills.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Aikoper Ceramic Tower Heater; $70

Aikoper/Amazon

Whether your room needs a little extra warmth or its own heat source, Aikoper’s incredibly precise space heater has got you covered. With a range of 40-95°F, it adjusts by one-degree intervals, giving you the specific level of heat you want. It also has an option for running on an eight-hour timer, ensuring that it will only run when you need it.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Isiler Space Heater; $37

Isiler/Amazon

For a space heater that adds a fun pop of color to any room, check out this yellow unit from Isiler. Made from fire-resistant ceramic, Isiler’s heater can start warming up a space within seconds. It’s positioned on a triangular stand that creates an optimal angle for hot air to start circulating, rendering it so effective that, as one reviewer put it, “This heater needs to say ‘mighty’ in its description.”

Buy it: Amazon

Outdoor Heaters

6. Mr. Heater Portable Buddy; $104

Mr. Heater/Amazon

Make outdoor activities like camping and grilling last longer with Mr. Heater’s indoor/outdoor portable heater. This heater can connect to a propane tank or to a disposable cylinder, allowing you to keep it in one place or take it on the go. With such a versatile range of uses, this heater will—true to its name—become your best buddy when the temperature starts to drop.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiland Pyramid Patio Propane Heater; Various

Hiland/Amazon

The cold’s got nothing on this powerful outdoor heater. Hiland’s patio heater has a whopping 40,000 BTU output, which runs for eight to 10 hours on high heat. Simply open the heater’s bottom door to insert a propane tank, power it on, and sit back to let it warm up your backyard. The bright, contained flame from the propane doubles as an outdoor light.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Solo Stove Bonfire Pit; $345

Solo Stove/Amazon

This one is a slight cheat since it’s a bonfire pit and not a traditional outdoor heater, but the Solo Stove has a 4.7-star rating on Amazon for a reason. Everything about this portable fire pit is meticulously crafted to maximize airflow while it's lit, from its double-wall construction to its bottom air vents. These features all work together to help the logs burn more completely while emitting far less smoke than other pits. It’s the best choice for anyone who wants both warmth and ambiance on their patio.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Dr. Infrared Garage Shop Heater; $119

Dr. Infrared/Amazon

You’ll be able to use your garage or basement workshop all season long with this durable heater from Dr. Infrared. It’s unique in that it includes a built-in fan to keep warm air flowing—something that’s especially handy if you need to work without wearing gloves. The fan is overlaid with heat and finger-protectant grills, keeping you safe while it’s powered on.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Mr. Heater 540 Degree Tank Top; $86

Mr. Heater/Amazon

Mr. Heater’s clever propane tank top automatically connects to its fuel source, saving you from having to bring any extra attachments with you on the road. With three heat settings that can get up to 45,000 BTU, the top can rotate 360 degrees to give you the perfect angle of heat you need to stay cozy. According to a reviewer, for a no-fuss outdoor heater, “This baby is super easy to light, comes fully assembled … and man, does it put out the heat.”

Buy it: Amazon

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Who Is Enola Holmes? 7 Facts About Nancy Springer’s Hit YA Book Series

Henry Cavill as Sherlock Holmes, Millie Bobby Brown as Enola Holmes, and Sam Claflin as Mycroft Holmes in Netflix's Enola Holmes (2020).
Henry Cavill as Sherlock Holmes, Millie Bobby Brown as Enola Holmes, and Sam Claflin as Mycroft Holmes in Netflix's Enola Holmes (2020).
Robert Viglaski /Legendary ©2020

For mystery fans searching for female sleuths in the same league as Sherlock Holmes, the pickings are pretty slim. So it’s no wonder that the new Netflix film Enola Holmes has become a breakout hit and rallying cry for young people searching for projects that center around non-male detectives.

Enola is Sherlock Holmes’s much smarter and more worldly teenage sister. Though her name may be lesser known, she’s been around for more than a decade. The film is based on Nancy Springer’s young adult mystery book series, which puts the intrepid teenage detective smack in the middle of the Holmes boys' club. If the movie has left you anxious for a sequel, you might want to pick up the books.

1. The Enola Holmes books bring an old fan theory back to life.

Springer’s six-part book series revives an old fan fiction about a third Holmes sibling. In William S. Baring-Gould’s Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street, Sherlock and Mycroft have an older brother named Sherrinford who manages the family estate. While the BBC's Sherlock conjured up Eurus Holmes, their secret sister, Springer’s books predate the hit series starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Published between 2006 and 2010, the Enola Holmes books borrow characters and themes from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s canon, but Enola is Springer’s own creation.

2. Netflix's Enola Holmes is largely based on the first book in the series, The Case of the Missing Marquess.

The first Enola Holmes book, 2006's The Case of the Missing Marquess, builds on Baring-Gould’s fan theory. Like Sherrinford, Enola and her mother inhabit Ferndell Hall, the Holmes family’s country estate. Enola meets her famous, semi-estranged brothers for the first time in 10 years after her mother disappears on the eve of her 14th birthday. Following clues involving anagrams and ciphers, she sets off for London to find her missing mother, and proves herself a worthy detective in her own right. The new Netflix adaptation closely mirrors this book.

3. Sherlock Holmes is often Enola Holmes's greatest antagonist.

Sherlock may seem rather open-minded in the Enola Holmes film, but in Springer's series he is sexist to the extreme and largely dismissive of his younger sister. "Thoughtful and imaginative perhaps, but certainly no stranger to the weakness, the irrationality of her sex," Sherlock says of Enola at one point. One of the most arresting aspects of Springer's series is the way the tables are turned on Sherlock: For the better part of the series, he is the bad guy—and Enola stands in great contrast to him.

4. Being a young woman is partly why Enola Holmes is able to regularly best her brothers.

Enola follows in the footsteps of her trailblazing suffragist mother, and disrupts her brothers’ attempts to cart her off to a finishing school. And she knows how to use the trappings of 19th-century womanhood (skirts, bustles, corsets, etc.) to her investigatory advantage. She solves cases that leave her much more experienced brothers baffled. In one instance, the brothers fail to track down some runaways because they don't realize what can be stored in a bustle. They don’t know the languages of fans, sealing-wax, or dangling handkerchiefs either, and thus find themselves being constantly outwitted by Enola.

5. Strong female bonds are at the heart of Enola Holmes.

Penguin Random House

Throughout the series, Enola alternates between trying to escape Sherlock and working with him to solve mysteries. In The Case of the Left-Handed Lady, Enola is determined to rescue the missing Lady Cecily—a young woman Enola does not know, but feels a strong kinship with and who is being held prisoner—so she disguises herself as a nun to save Cecily, and try to learn more about her own mother's whereabouts. But her disguise is also a way to evade her brothers and guard her own freedom.

6. Dr. Watson plays a part in Enola Holmes's life, too.

Dr. Watson is very much around in the books. He goes missing in The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets, but Sherlock doesn’t have the slightest clue as to where Watson could be. Enola is intrigued by the disappearance, especially when she learns that a bizarre bouquet—with flowers symbolizing death—has been delivered to the Watson residence. Getting involved in the hunt to find Watson could prove to be disastrous to Enola, since she’s still on the run from her brothers, but she’s determined to help and ends up beating Sherlock at his own game.

7. Netflix's Enola Holmes prompted a lawsuit from the Conan Doyle Estate.

Millie Bobby Brown and Helena Bonham Carter in Enola Holmes (2020).Alex Bailey/Legendary ©2020

Sherlock Holmes is one of the most adapted characters in literary history, in large part because the bulk of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's books about the brilliant detective are in the public domain. Still, that didn't stop Conan Doyle's estate from suing Netflix over Enola Holmes based solely on the fact that the filmmakers dared to give Sherlock some actual, human feelings. Since it wasn't until the later Sherlock Holmes books—the ones that are still copyrighted—that Sherlock started to reveal shreds of his humanity, the lawsuit alleges that the Sherlock seen in Enola Holmes was based on the later, more emotion-prone Sherlock:

"After the stories that are now in the public domain, and before the Copyrighted Stories, the Great War happened. In World War I Conan Doyle lost his eldest son, Arthur Alleyne Kingsley. Four months later he lost his brother, Brigadier-general Innes Doyle. When Conan Doyle came back to Holmes in the Copyrighted Stories between 1923 and 1927, it was no longer enough that the Holmes character was the most brilliant rational and analytical mind. Holmes needed to be human. The character needed to develop human connection and empathy."

The lawsuit is ongoing.