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The ability to read and to understand what you are reading does something to the human spirit. The ability to do so is probably one of the biggest milestones in human development. Books are part of our lives. That is true whether it’s a book written by your favorite author, your diary in which are storing your memories, the daily newspaper, a magazine, or any books relating to your studies or our religion.

It was predicted that the printed book will be a thing of the past early in the 21st century. Contrary to that the printed book is still with us, but the movement toward eBooks are gaining ground and is growing stronger. It is a fact that more and more people are reading and studying online, but let us take a step backward and have a look at where it all began.


Storytelling and recording history of what had happened was part of mankind since the beginning of civilized time. Historians believe that the first ‘books’ were written as early as 3400BC by the Sumerian civilization in what is today called Iraq. The first books were written on clay tablets and were a milestone for the civilized world of the time. The first-ever ‘story’ that was written was titled ‘The Epic of Gilgamesh.’ Fragmented version on twelve clay tablets was found in the ruins of the Kings Library in the ancient city of Nineveh and was dated around 2100BC. Believe it or not, the book is still available in a modern printed edition.


Writing on papyrus originated from ancient Egypt. The first evidence of this form of writing dates back to around 2400BC. Papyrus scrolls were glued or pasted together to form a ‘book.’ The average book was about 10 meters tall and was stored in a cylinder with the title written on the cylinder. The ‘History of Ramses III’ was 40 meters tall. One of the oldest scripts, found in Egyptian tombs, was ‘The Book of the Dead’ dating from an estimated 2670BC. The book, a guide to the afterlife, was ‘updated’ several times by the Egyptians themselves and was officially re-named by Western scholars. The book was about 100 ft tall and is available today in modern print.


The monopoly on handwritten books, mostly by the Catholic Church, was broken by Johannes Gutenberg with the invention of the printing press. It should be noted that  Gutenberg was not the first printer as such, woodblock printing originated from China and first appeared in 220AD. Bi Sheng (add the hyperlink in brackets here) discovered movable woodblock printing in 1040AD.

One of the first woodblock-printed books was called ‘The Diamond Sutra’ in 868 AD. But, Gutenberg was the man who changed history as far as printed matter is concerned. He also created the first form of printing ink from linseed and soot.

With that invention, he changed history forever. Imagine a life today without books to read. And yes, and what you read on your Kindle or tablet is called a book as well, an eBook!


Excluding religious books like the ‘The Holy Bible’ and ‘The Quran,’  itis a rather surprising fact that the ‘Quotations from the works of Mau Tse-tung (add the hyperlink in brackets here), with no less than 820 million copies sold is the top seller in the last fifty years.

There is no official record regarding the sales of books.  Most records don’t include the sales of eBooks.  Let us have a look at some of the interesting most read books in no particular order:

  • With an estimated 500 million copies, ‘Don Quixote,’ written by Miguel de Cervantes, is regarded as the most read book in the world. The book was first published in 1612 and is still popular today.
  • If you ever wondered about Harry Potter books, don’t despair, J.K. Rowling has recorded 400 million copies sold. This is indeed a remarkable achievement for a ‘modern-day’ writer.
  • The twentieth century delivered some other remarkable achievements. J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy achieved the fourth spot with 103 million copies sold. Some sources even quote a higher figure of 150 million copies sold.
  • Noteworthy is Dan Brown with his ‘The DA VINCI Code’ reaching 57 million printed copies.

Again, there is a discrepancy as a figure of 80 million is also mentioned by ‘How stuff works.’ The original sales figures soared when the Catholic Church decried it.


The most expensive book ever sold was the ‘Codex of Leicester’ written by none other than Leonardo Da Vinci. He wrote the book at the age of 50 in 1508 as soon as he finished his famous ‘Mona Lisa’ painting. You may wonder who the buyer was?

A young Bill Gates paid $30.8 million for the original handwritten copy!

Next in line is the ‘Book of Mormon’ that was sold for a staggering $35 million. You may wonder why it’s second on the list? The current inflation-adjusted price of $52 million for the ‘Codex’ is much higher than the $36 million of ‘Mormon.’ This book is the 1830 handwritten original by the father of Mormonism, Joseph Smith.

Another incredibly high-valued book is the ‘Rothschild Prayer’ with its illuminated pictures and gold linings. This book was stolen by the Nazis and found its way back to the Rothschild’s only in 1999.

If the Gutenberg Bible, printed in 1455, crosses your mind, its current value is in the region of $12.5 million. Shakespeare’s ‘First Folio’ is currently valued at some $9 million. 

Craig Donofrio names the most expensive current book on his list as ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,’ and the reason being that it is the first edition with a spelling error in the title. Donofrio listed the auctioned price at $90,000! Maybe you should quickly check your copy?


Comic books are by far not as valuable as other books but are as good an investment as any other book. It is a well-known fact that American comics are by far the most sought after and collectibles. A near mint (graded 9.0 CGC) of the first-ever SUPERMAN published in 1938 is currently valued at $3.5 million. But don’t look for a comic book called SUPERMAN; it was issued as ACTION COMIC No 1. 

Someway behind is AMAZING FANTASY No 15 at $1.1 million. The reason being it was the last issue of the series and also the issue that introduced Spider-Man to the world. The only other comic book crossing the S1 million barrier was the introduction of BATMAN in DETECTIVE COMICS no 27. 

The top-selling American comics’ books are Superman with 600 million, Batman with 484 million, and Spider-Man with 385 million copies printed! No surprises there! 

The European and Asian markets have different heroes and best sellers. Excluding the bestselling manga series called ONE PIECE from Japan, leading the pack with 470 million copies, the sales for other well-known characters are Asterix (370 million) Lucky Luke (300 million) Tinten (200 million) and Garfield with 135 million copies.


  • The smallest book in the world is the crystalline printed ‘Teeny Ted from Turpin Town’ by MD Chaplin, so small it is the width of a human hair.
  • The book with the largest word count is ‘Atarmene or Cyrus the Great’ written by Madeleine de Scudery consisting of 10,000 pages and 2.1million words.
  • The world weirdest book with its apparent supernatural illustrations was the ‘Codex Seraphinianus,’ Written by L Serafini.

Books have come a long way, and contrary to present-day beliefs, they are going to be with us for some time to come. And remember, with the demise of the printed book, the eBook is going to be with us. And one top of that, the first editions of printed books in all formats will always be an investment. As long as we exist there will be someone with a story to tell, history to be recorded, and someone that wants to read about it.

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