Movable type printing presses were in use in both Europe and Asia by 1500. It represented one of the greatest inventions of the last millennium. Printing presses were producing millions of books every year by 1600.
An interesting way to look at the big picture of books in history is to look at the best-selling book of each century. Before the advent of the printing press, books were written and copied by hand, which limited their use a few bastions of academia. The most popular books during this time were religious texts such as The Bible and the Quran.
These are the best-selling books for each of the past several centuries.
Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes.
The data are unreliable estimates, but this is a good guess.
Dream of the Red Chamber (The Story of the Stone), by Cao Xueqin.
One of China’s four great classical novels.
A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens.
It is the best-selling novel in history.
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung sold more copies than The Lord of the Rings, but people were forced to own it.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling.
There are still 83 years to go in this century, but this book is off to an early lead.
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