The Most Controversial Writers of All Time

Over 600 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of The Most Controversial Writers of All Time
Voting 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.

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Ranked by
  • Karl Marx
    Dec. at 64 (1818-1883)
    152 votes
    • Birthplace: Trier, Germany
    • Works: The Communist Manifesto, Das Kapital, The Poverty of Philosophy, Grundrisse, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon
    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
  • Friedrich Nietzsche
    Dec. at 55 (1844-1900)
    128 votes
    • Birthplace: Röcken, Germany
    • Works: Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil, On the Genealogy of Morality, The Antichrist, Ecce Homo
    Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (, German: [ˈfʁiːdʁɪç ˈvɪlhɛlm ˈniːtʃə] (listen) or [- ˈniːtsʃə]; 15 October 1844 – 25 August 1900) was a German philosopher, cultural critic, composer, poet, philologist, ...more
  • Marquis de Sade
    Dec. at 74 (1740-1814)
    167 votes
    • Birthplace: Paris, France
    • Works: The 120 Days of Sodom, or the School of Libertinism, Juliette, Justine, Aline and Valcour
  • Vladimir Nabokov
    Dec. at 78 (1899-1977)
    126 votes
    • Birthplace: Saint Petersburg, Russia
    • Works: Lolita, Pale Fire, Speak, Memory, Pnin
    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. 10 ...more
  • Charles Darwin
    Dec. at 73 (1809-1882)
    128 votes
    • Birthplace: The Mount, Shrewsbury, 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
    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 all ...more
  • Nicolaus Copernicus
    Dec. at 70 (1473-1543)
    40 votes
    • Birthplace: Toruń, Second Polish Republic
    • Works: De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, On the revolutions, Das neue Weltbild, Minor works, Commentariolus
    Nicolaus Copernicus (; Polish: Mikołaj Kopernik; German: Nikolaus Kopernikus; Niklas Koppernigk; 19 February 1473 – 24 May 1543) was a Renaissance-era mathematician and astronomer, who formulated a ...more