If we were to ask you what the most translated book in the world might be, you’d likely get it right: The Bible. This ancient text, together with the Quran, is one of the most translated books in the history of humanity. Translating a text is often the most effective way to promote its circulation and, in this case, to spread a system of beliefs.
Over the centuries, however, things have changed radically: among the texts written more recently, novels clinch the top spot at the most translated book format ever.
The 10 most translated books in the world
Excluding the Bible and the Quran, the second most translated book format in the world is the novel or novella. Almost all of the books featured in our list are about adventures, and many of them are for children but have also been read (and reread) by adults. Here is the definitive list:
- The Little Prince (France)
- Pinocchio (Italy)
- Alice in Wonderland (England)
- Han Andersen’s Fairy Tales (Denmark)
- Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (France)
- The Adventures of Asterix (France)
- The Adventures of Tintin (Belgium)
- The Alchemist (Brazil)
- Pippi Longstocking (Sweden)
- Harry Potter (England)
The importance of novels in world culture
If the Adventures of Asterix and Tintin (two comics) represent a classic exception to the rule, all the other books mentioned in this list are either novels or stories.
That’s because they’re often easier to read, are close to spoken language and are able to convey a wide range of messages.
Novels were one of the first forms of mass entertainment to exist, which is why they’ve been distributed much more widely than other written forms, such as essays or works of non-fiction.
As a side note, you might also notice that the world’s most translated books have been written almost exclusively in Europe, with the only exception being The Alchemist, which was written in a Portuguese-speaking nation that was once a Portuguese colony.
When the hero is a child: educational novels
Almost all of the protagonists in the world’s most translated books are children. Harry Potter is the most recent young protagonist on the list, but it’s also worth mentioning The Little Prince as a universal symbol of real-life and emotional childhood discoveries, while Pippi Longstocking, the only female protagonist featured in our list of novels – a literary form that has privileged male protagonists for centuries – is a memorable character from every point of view: she’s curious, intelligent, rebellious, and still remains a relatable heroine.
The top 10 most translated books are all educational or adventure novels about trips and discoveries that involve personal growth, and the forming of lifetime friendships (like the one between Harry, Hermione and Ron, the Fox and the Little Prince, and Pinocchio and his father).
The importance of literary translation
Literary translation is one of the most important sectors in the translation industry, as it helps to promote works of art that will survive for centuries, thereby moulding the cultural fabric of the globalised world.
At Eurotrad, we are perfectly aware of just how important it is to produce high-quality book translations (both for the world and for the author), which is why we only rely on mother tongue translators who love literature as much as we do, whatever the novel’s source language may be.