Culture

The Most Controversial Writers of All Time 

Ranker Books
Updated November 15, 2019 3.6k votes 358 voters 15.6k views 134 items

List Rules Vote up the writers and authors whose careers were most embroiled in controversy.

As writing can be a provocative practice that often requires challenging social norms and common convention, it's no surprise history has given us so many controversial novelists. Love them or hate them, no one can argue the infamous authors below were sources of great public scrutiny and debate. These scribes penned some of the most commonly banned books and took a lot of heat from the public, their contemporaries, literary critics, and the occasional frantic parent high on moral panic

What makes an author controversial? Sometimes, the ideas they present spark outrage. Ayn Rand has a long history of provoking anger amongst those who do not take kindly to her impassioned libertarian ideals and Christopher Hitchens certainly did not make many friends of the religiously inclined. Sometimes, however, it's less the content and more the execution that makes an author debate-worthy. Some of the most controversial writers of the 21st century, like Stephenie Meyer and E.L. James, have been panned for their subpar prose. There are also children and young adult authors whose work is thought to be a little too raunchy for impressionable minds. There's a reason Judy Blume's work frequently shows up on banned books lists. 

Which of the below authors do you think is the most controversial? From recent writers to historic scribes, cast your vote below to decide on the most controversial writer of all time! Then explore a different method of shocking the bourgeoisie with our photo survey of every decade's counterculture since 1900.

list ordered by
1
Marquis de Sade is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Marquis de Sade Dec. at 74 (1740-1814)

Birthplace: Paris, France

Nationality: France

Works: The 120 Days of Sodom, or the School of Libertinism, Juliette, Justine, Aline and Valcour, + more

More Marquis de Sade 

#287 of 1,176 The Best Writers of All Time #1,353 of 2,835 The Most Influential People of All Time #913 of 925 People We Wish Were Still Alive

2
Ayn Rand is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 77 (1905-1982)

Birthplace: Saint Petersburg, Russia

Nationality: United States of America, Russia, Soviet Union

Works: Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, The Fountainhead, Anthem, Love Letters, + more

Ayn Rand (; born Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum; February 2 [O.S. January 20] 1905 – March 6, 1982) was a Russian-American writer and philosopher. She is known for her two best-selling novels, The ...more

More Ayn Rand 

The Best Ayn Rand Books #515 of 1,176 The Best Writers of All Time #1,190 of 2,835 The Most Influential People of All Time

3
Karl Marx is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
PaulOlsen added Dec. at 65 (1818-1883)

Birthplace: Trier, Germany

Nationality: Kingdom of Prussia, Germany

Works: The Communist Manifesto, Das Kapital, The Poverty of Philosophy, Grundrisse, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, + more

Karl Marx (German: [ˈkaɐ̯l ˈmaɐ̯ks]; 5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883) was a German philosopher, economist, historian, sociologist, political theorist, journalist and socialist revolutionary. Born in ...more

More Karl Marx 

The Best Karl Marx Quotes #311 of 1,176 The Best Writers of All Time #57 of 2,835 The Most Influential People of All Time

4
Vladimir Vladimirovich N... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 78 (1899-1977)

Birthplace: Saint Petersburg, Russia

Nationality: United States of America, Russian Empire

Works: Lolita, Pale Fire, Speak, Memory, Pnin, + more

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov (; Russian: Влади́мир Влади́мирович Набо́ков [vɫɐˈdʲimʲɪr nɐˈbokəf] (listen), also known by the pen name Vladimir Sirin (Russian: Влади́мир Си́рин); 22 April [O.S. ...more

More Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov 

#39 of 1,176 The Best Writers of All Time #499 of 1,471 The Greatest Minds of All Time #40 of 177 The Best Short Story Writers of All Time

5
Charles Darwin is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dimos Dicoudis added Dec. at 73 (1809-1882)

Birthplace: The Mount, Shrewsbury, United Kingdom

Nationality: United Kingdom

Works: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, The Voyage of the Beagle, The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms, Insectivorous Plants, The foundations of the Origin of species, + more

Charles Robert Darwin, (; 12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882) was an English naturalist, geologist and biologist, best known for his contributions to the science of evolution. His proposition that ...more

More Charles Darwin 

What Actually Happened Right After The Theory of Evolution Was Published? #84 of 1,176 The Best Writers of All Time #34 of 2,835 The Most Influential People of All Time

6
Friedrich Nietzsche is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
PaulOlsen added Dec. at 56 (1844-1900)

Birthplace: Röcken, Germany

Nationality: Kingdom of Prussia

Works: Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil, On the Genealogy of Morality, The Antichrist, Ecce Homo, + more

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (, German: [ˈfʁiːdʁɪç ˈvɪlhɛlm ˈniːtʃə] (listen) or [- ˈniːtsʃə]; 15 October 1844 – 25 August 1900) was a German philosopher, cultural critic, composer, poet, ...more

More Friedrich Nietzsche 

The Tortured, Fascinating Life of Friedrich Nietzsche #20 of 1,176 The Best Writers of All Time #118 of 2,835 The Most Influential People of All Time

7
George Orwell is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 47 (1903-1950)

Birthplace: Motihari, India

Nationality: England

Works: Nineteen Eighty-Four, Animal Farm, Down and Out in Paris and London, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Coming Up for Air, + more

Eric Arthur Blair (25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950), better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English novelist and essayist, journalist and critic, whose work is characterised by lucid ...more

More George Orwell 

16 Things You Didn't Know About George Orwell #8 of 1,176 The Best Writers of All Time #68 of 2,835 The Most Influential People of All Time

8
Salman Rushdie is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Salman Rushdie Age: 72

Birthplace: Mumbai, India

Nationality: India, United Kingdom

Works: The Satanic Verses, Midnight's Children, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Midnight's Children, Shame, + more

Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie (born 19 June 1947) is a British Indian novelist and essayist. His second novel, Midnight's Children (1981), won the Booker Prize in 1981 and was deemed to be "the ...more

More Salman Rushdie 

The Best Salman Rushdie Books #268 of 1,176 The Best Writers of All Time #5 of 207 The Greatest Living Writers & Most Famous Authors Today

9
H. P. Lovecraft is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 47 (1890-1937)

Birthplace: Providence, Rhode Island

Nationality: United States of America

Works: The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, At the Mountains of Madness, The Dunwich Horror and Others, Re-Animator, The Watchers Out of Time and Others, + more

Howard Phillips Lovecraft (US: ; August 20, 1890 – March 15, 1937) was an American writer of weird fiction and horror fiction. Born in Providence, Rhode Island, he spent most of his life there, ...more

More H. P. Lovecraft 

Details From The Short, Tragic Life Of H.P. Lovecraft #48 of 1,176 The Best Writers of All Time #619 of 2,835 The Most Influential People of All Time

10
Christopher Hitchens is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 62 (1949-2011)

Birthplace: Portsmouth, United Kingdom

Nationality: United States of America, United Kingdom

Works: The Missionary Position, Blaming the Victims, Left Hooks, Right Crosses, No one left to lie to, + more

Christopher Eric Hitchens (13 April 1949 – 15 December 2011) was an English-American author, columnist, essayist, orator, journalist, and social critic. Hitchens was the author, co-author, ...more

More Christopher Hitchens 

The Best Christopher Hitchens Books #978 of 1,176 The Best Writers of All Time #673 of 925 People We Wish Were Still Alive

11
Oscar Wilde is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 46 (1854-1900)

Birthplace: Ireland, Ireland, Europe, Dublin

Nationality: Ireland

Works: The Picture of Dorian Gray, The importance of being Earnest and other plays, An Ideal Husband, The Importance of Being Earnest, Le déclin du mensonge, + more

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) was an Irish poet and playwright. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of London's most ...more

More Oscar Wilde 

The Best Oscar Wilde Quotes #243 of 362 The Funniest People Of All Time #19 of 1,176 The Best Writers of All Time

12
J. D. Salinger is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 91 (1919-2010)

Birthplace: New York City, New York

Nationality: United States of America

Works: The Catcher in the Rye, Franny and Zooey, Nine Stories, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction, + more

Jerome David Salinger (; January 1, 1919 – January 27, 2010) was an American writer known for his novel The Catcher in the Rye. He was raised in Manhattan and began writing short stories while ...more

More J. D. Salinger 

The Best J. D. Salinger Short Stories #55 of 1,176 The Best Writers of All Time #906 of 1,471 The Greatest Minds of All Time

13
Voltaire is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 84 (1694-1778)

Birthplace: Paris, France

Nationality: France

Works: Candide, Zaïre, The age of Louis XIV, The White Bull, Letters on the English, + more

François-Marie Arouet (French: [fʁɑ̃swa maʁi aʁwɛ]; 21 November 1694 – 30 May 1778), known by his nom de plume Voltaire (; also US: , French: [vɔltɛːʁ]), was a French Enlightenment ...more

More Voltaire 

12 Fun Facts About Voltaire, The Jon Stewart of 18th Century France #88 of 1,176 The Best Writers of All Time #69 of 2,835 The Most Influential People of All Time

14
D. H. Lawrence is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 45 (1885-1930)

Birthplace: East Midlands, Nottinghamshire, Eurasia, Eastwood, United Kingdom, + more

Nationality: England

Works: Lady Chatterley's Lover, Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow, Women in Love, The Plumed Serpent, + more

More D. H. Lawrence 

#119 of 1,176 The Best Writers of All Time #37 of 177 The Best Short Story Writers of All Time #53 of 302 The Best Novelists of All Time

15
Allen Ginsberg is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 71 (1926-1997)

Birthplace: Newark, New Jersey, United States of America

Nationality: United States of America

Works: Howl, Collected poems 1947-1980, Kaddish, The Yage Letters, Howl and Other Poems, + more

Irwin Allen Ginsberg (; June 3, 1926 – April 5, 1997) was an American poet, philosopher and writer. He is considered to be one of the leading figures of both the Beat Generation during the 1950s ...more

More Allen Ginsberg 

#404 of 1,176 The Best Writers of All Time #21 of 256 The Best Gay Authors #190 of 373 The Greatest Poets of All Time

16
Hunter S. Thompson is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
BrandenShort added Dec. at 68 (1937-2005)

Birthplace: Louisville, Kentucky, United States of America

Nationality: United States of America

Works: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72, Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, The Curse of Lono, The Great Shark Hunt, + more

Hunter Stockton Thompson (July 18, 1937 – February 20, 2005) was an American journalist and author, and the founder of the gonzo journalism movement. He first rose to prominence with the ...more

More Hunter S. Thompson 

15 Particularly Insane Hunter S. Thompson Stories #177 of 1,176 The Best Writers of All Time #2,352 of 2,835 The Most Influential People of All Time

17
Truman Capote is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 60 (1924-1984)

Birthplace: Area code 504, United States of America, United States, with Territories, Louisiana, + more

Nationality: United States of America

Works: The Innocents, In Cold Blood, Utterly Cold Blooded, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Beat the Devil, + more

Truman Garcia Capote (; born Truman Streckfus Persons, September 30, 1924 – August 25, 1984) was an American novelist, short story writer, screenwriter, playwright, and actor. Several of his ...more

More Truman Capote 

How Truman Capote Went From A New York City "Party Boy" – To A Social Ruiner #217 of 1,176 The Best Writers of All Time #646 of 1,471 The Greatest Minds of All Time

18
James Joyce is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 59 (1882-1941)

Birthplace: Rathgar, Republic of Ireland

Nationality: Republic of Ireland

Works: Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen Hero, Dubliners, + more

James Augustine Aloysius Joyce (2 February 1882 – 13 January 1941) was an Irish novelist, short story writer, poet, teacher, and literary critic. He contributed to the modernist avant-garde and ...more

More James Joyce 

The Best James Joyce Books #17 of 1,176 The Best Writers of All Time #255 of 2,835 The Most Influential People of All Time

19
Henry Miller is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Henry Miller Dec. at 89 (1891-1980)

Birthplace: Yorkville, New York City, New York

Nationality: United States of America, Germany

Works: Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn, Sexus, The best of Henry Miller, Sextet, + more

Henry Valentine Miller (December 26, 1891 – June 7, 1980) was an American writer. He was known for breaking with existing literary forms and developing a new type of semi-autobiographical novel ...more

More Henry Miller 

The Best Henry Miller Quotes #163 of 1,176 The Best Writers of All Time #803 of 1,471 The Greatest Minds of All Time

20
Kurt Vonnegut is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 85 (1922-2007)

Birthplace: Indianapolis, Indiana, United States of America

Nationality: United States of America

Works: Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat's Cradle, Breakfast of Champions, The Sirens of Titan, God Bless You, + more

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (; November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007) was an American writer. In a career spanning over 50 years, Vonnegut published fourteen novels, three short story collections, five ...more

More Kurt Vonnegut 

The Best Kurt Vonnegut Books #46 of 1,176 The Best Writers of All Time #1,283 of 2,835 The Most Influential People of All Time

21
Aldous Huxley is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 69 (1894-1963)

Birthplace: Godalming, United Kingdom

Nationality: United Kingdom, England

Works: Brave New World, Island, Point Counter Point, Eyeless in Gaza, The Doors of Perception, + more

Aldous Leonard Huxley (26 July 1894 – 22 November 1963) was an English writer and philosopher. He authored nearly fifty books—both novels and non-fiction works—as well as wide-ranging essays, ...more

More Aldous Huxley 

#32 of 1,176 The Best Writers of All Time #785 of 2,835 The Most Influential People of All Time #183 of 1,471 The Greatest Minds of All Time

22
Richard Dawkins is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Age: 78

Birthplace: Nairobi, Kenya

Nationality: United Kingdom

Works: The Selfish Gene, Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder, The God Delusion, Climbing Mount Improbable, + more

Clinton Richard Dawkins, (born 26 March 1941) is an English ethologist, evolutionary biologist, and author. He is an emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford, and was the University of Oxford's ...more

More Richard Dawkins 

The Best Richard Dawkins Books #239 of 1,176 The Best Writers of All Time #848 of 2,835 The Most Influential People of All Time

23
Ezra Pound is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 87 (1885-1972)

Birthplace: Hailey, Idaho

Nationality: Italy, United States of America

Works: Social Credit. An Impact, The Cantos, A B C of economics, The translations of Ezra Pound, Unwobbling pivot & the Great digest, + more

Ezra Weston Loomis Pound (30 October 1885 – 1 November 1972) was an expatriate American poet and critic, and a major figure in the early modernist poetry movement. His contribution to poetry ...more

More Ezra Pound 

The Best Ezra Pound Quotes #208 of 1,176 The Best Writers of All Time #1,280 of 2,835 The Most Influential People of All Time

24
Dante Alighieri is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dimos Dicoudis added Dec. at 56 (1265-1321)

Birthplace: Florence, Italy

Nationality: Italy

Works: Divine Comedy, Inferno, Convivio, De Monarchia, La Vita Nuova, + more

Durante di Alighiero degli Alighieri (Italian: [duˈrante deʎʎ aliˈɡjɛːri]; Latin: Dantes), commonly known by his pen name Dante Alighieri or simply as Dante (, also US: , Italian: [ˈdante]; ...more

More Dante Alighieri 

Things Even A Lot Of History Buffs Don't Know About Dante Alighieri #62 of 1,176 The Best Writers of All Time #102 of 2,835 The Most Influential People of All Time

25
Nicolaus Copernicus is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dimos Dicoudis added Dec. at 70 (1473-1543)

Birthplace: Toruń, Second Polish Republic

Nationality: Kingdom of Poland

Works: De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, On the revolutions, Das neue Weltbild, Minor works, Commentariolus, + more

Nicolaus Copernicus (; Polish: Mikołaj Kopernik; German: Nikolaus Kopernikus; Niklas Koppernigk; 19 February 1473 – 24 May 1543) was a Renaissance-era mathematician and astronomer, who ...more

More Nicolaus Copernicus 

#49 of 2,835 The Most Influential People of All Time #14 of 1,471 The Greatest Minds of All Time #1 of 28 Here's What Famous Historical Figures Really Looked Like