Culture

The Most Controversial Writers of All Time  

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3.2k votes 318 voters 12.9k views 136 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)
Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade (French: [maʁki də sad]; 2 June 1740 – 2 December 1814), was a French nobleman, revolutionary politician, philosopher and writer, famous for ...more
2
Karl Marx is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
PaulOlsen added Dec. at 65 (1818-1883)
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
3
Ayn Rand is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 77 (1905-1982)
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
4
Charles Darwin is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dimos Dicoudis added Dec. at 73 (1809-1882)
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
5
Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 78 (1899-1977)
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
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)
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
7
George Orwell is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 47 (1903-1950)
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
8
Oscar Wilde is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 46 (1854-1900)
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
9
D. H. Lawrence is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 45 (1885-1930)
David Herbert Lawrence (11 September 1885 – 2 March 1930) was an English writer and poet. His collected works represent, among other things, an extended reflection upon the dehumanising effects ...more
10
H. P. Lovecraft is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 47 (1890-1937)
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
11
Hunter S. Thompson is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
BrandenShort added Dec. at 68 (1937-2005)
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
12
Christopher Hitchens is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 62 (1949-2011)
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
13
Henry Miller is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Henry Miller Dec. at 89 (1891-1980)
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
14
Voltaire is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 84 (1694-1778)
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
15
Allen Ginsberg is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 71 (1926-1997)
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
16
Salman Rushdie is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Salman Rushdie age 72
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
17
Dante Alighieri is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dimos Dicoudis added Dec. at 56 (1265-1321)
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
18
Truman Capote is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 60 (1924-1984)
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
19
Nicolaus Copernicus is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dimos Dicoudis added Dec. at 70 (1473-1543)
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
20
Kurt Vonnegut is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 85 (1922-2007)
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
21
Aldous Huxley is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 69 (1894-1963)
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
22
J. D. Salinger is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 91 (1919-2010)
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
23
James Joyce is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dec. at 59 (1882-1941)
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
24
John Calvin is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dimos Dicoudis added Dec. at 55 (1509-1564)
John Calvin (;French: Jean Calvin [ʒɑ̃ kalvɛ̃]; born Jehan Cauvin; 10 July 1509 – 27 May 1564) was a French theologian, pastor and reformer in Geneva during the Protestant Reformation. He was a ...more
25
Simone de Beauvoir is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Dimos Dicoudis added Dec. at 78 (1908-1986)
Simone Lucie Ernestine Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir (UK: , US: , French: [simɔn də bovwaʁ] (listen); 9 January 1908 – 14 April 1986) was a French writer, intellectual, existentialist philosopher, ...more