vote on everything
422 voters

The Most Controversial Writers of All Time

Updated November 15, 2019 4.7k votes 422 voters 18.3k views134 items

List RulesVote 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.

  • 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)

    BirthplaceParis, France


    WorksThe 120 Days of Sodom, or the School of Libertinism, Juliette, Justine, Aline and Valcour

  • 2
    Karl Marx is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time

    Karl Marx

    Dec. at 65 (1818-1883)

    BirthplaceTrier, Germany

    NationalityKingdom of Prussia, Germany

    WorksThe 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,... more on Wikipedia
  • 3
    Friedrich Nietzsche is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time

    Friedrich Nietzsche

    Dec. at 56 (1844-1900)

    BirthplaceRöcken, Germany

    NationalityKingdom of Prussia

    WorksThus 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];... more on Wikipedia

    More Friedrich Nietzsche 

    The Tortured, Fascinating Life of Friedrich NietzscheThe Best Friedrich Nietzsche Quotes

  • 4
    Ayn Rand is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time

    Ayn Rand

    Dec. at 77 (1905-1982)

    BirthplaceSaint Petersburg, Russia

    NationalityUnited States of America, Russia, Soviet Union

    WorksAtlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, The Fountainhead, Anthem, Love Letters

    Ayn Rand (; born Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum; February 2 [O.S. January 20] 1905 – March 6,... more on Wikipedia

    More Ayn Rand 

    The Best Ayn Rand BooksThe Best Ayn Rand Quotes

  • 5
    Charles Darwin is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time

    Charles Darwin

    Dec. at 73 (1809-1882)

    BirthplaceThe Mount, Shrewsbury, United Kingdom

    NationalityUnited Kingdom

    WorksOn 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,... more on Wikipedia
  • 6
    Vladimir Nabokov is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time

    Vladimir Nabokov

    Dec. at 78 (1899-1977)

    BirthplaceSaint Petersburg, Russia

    NationalityUnited States of America, Russian Empire

    WorksLolita, Pale Fire, Speak, Memory, Pnin

    Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov (; Russian: Влади́мир Влади́мирович Набо́ков [vɫɐˈdʲimʲɪr... more on Wikipedia
  • 7
    Oscar Wilde is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time

    Oscar Wilde

    Dec. at 46 (1854-1900)

    BirthplaceIreland, Ireland, Europe, Dublin


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

    Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) was an Irish poet... more on Wikipedia

    More Oscar Wilde 

    The Best Oscar Wilde QuotesThe Best Oscar Wilde Books

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

    Salman Rushdie

    Age: 72

    BirthplaceMumbai, India

    NationalityIndia, United Kingdom

    WorksThe Satanic Verses, Midnight's Children, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Midnight's Children, Shame

    Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie (born 19 June 1947) is a British Indian novelist and essayist. His... more on Wikipedia


    The Best Salman Rushdie Books#5 of 208 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

    H. P. Lovecraft

    Dec. at 47 (1890-1937)

    BirthplaceProvidence, Rhode Island

    NationalityUnited States of America

    WorksThe 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

    Howard Phillips Lovecraft (US: ; August 20, 1890 – March 15, 1937) was an American writer of... more on Wikipedia

    More H. P. Lovecraft 

    Details From The Short, Tragic Life Of H.P. LovecraftA Timeline Of Guillermo Del Toro's Seemingly Cursed Lovecraft Movie, 'At The Mountains Of Madness'

  • 10
    George Orwell is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time

    George Orwell

    Dec. at 47 (1903-1950)

    BirthplaceMotihari, India


    WorksNineteen Eighty-Four, Animal Farm, Down and Out in Paris and London, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Coming Up for Air

    Eric Arthur Blair (25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950), better known by his pen name George... more on Wikipedia

    More George Orwell 

    16 Things You Didn't Know About George OrwellThe Best George Orwell Books

  • 11
    Voltaire is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time


    Dec. at 84 (1694-1778)

    BirthplaceParis, France


    WorksCandide, Zaïre, The age of Louis XIV, The White Bull, Letters on the English

    François-Marie Arouet (French: [fʁɑ̃swa maʁi aʁwɛ]; 21 November 1694 – 30 May 1778), known by... more on Wikipedia

    More Voltaire 

    The Best Voltaire Quotes12 Fun Facts About Voltaire, The Jon Stewart of 18th Century France

  • 12
    Truman Capote is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time

    Truman Capote

    Dec. at 60 (1924-1984)

    BirthplaceNew Orleans, Louisiana, United States of America

    NationalityUnited States of America

    WorksThe Innocents, In Cold Blood, Utterly Cold Blooded, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Beat the Devil

    Truman Garcia Capote (; born Truman Streckfus Persons, September 30, 1924 – August 25, 1984)... more on Wikipedia

    More Truman Capote 

    How Truman Capote Went From A New York City "Party Boy" – To A Social RuinerThe Best Truman Capote Books

  • 13
    Christopher Hitchens is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time

    Christopher Hitchens

    Dec. at 62 (1949-2011)

    BirthplaceEngland, Portsmouth

    NationalityUnited States of America, United Kingdom, England

    WorksThe Missionary Position, Blaming the Victims, Left Hooks, Right Crosses, No one left to lie to

    Christopher Eric Hitchens (13 April 1949 – 15 December 2011) was an English-American author,... more on Wikipedia
  • 14
    D. H. Lawrence is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time

    D. H. Lawrence

    Dec. at 45 (1885-1930)

    BirthplaceEastwood, United Kingdom


    WorksLady Chatterley's Lover, Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow, Women in Love, The Plumed Serpent

  • 15
    Nicolaus Copernicus is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time

    Nicolaus Copernicus

    Dec. at 70 (1473-1543)

    BirthplaceToruń, Second Polish Republic

    NationalityKingdom of Poland

    WorksDe revolutionibus orbium coelestium, On the revolutions, Das neue Weltbild, Minor works, Commentariolus

    Nicolaus Copernicus (; Polish: Mikołaj Kopernik; German: Nikolaus Kopernikus; Niklas... more on Wikipedia
  • 16
    Hunter S. Thompson is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time

    Hunter S. Thompson

    Dec. at 68 (1937-2005)

    BirthplaceUSA, Kentucky, Louisville

    NationalityUnited States of America

    WorksFear 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

    Hunter Stockton Thompson (July 18, 1937 – February 20, 2005) was an American journalist and... more on Wikipedia

    More Hunter S. Thompson 

    14 Bizarre Stories From Hunter S. Thompson's LifeHunter S. Thompson Spent A Year With The Hells Angels And This Is What Happened

  • 17
    Kurt Vonnegut is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time

    Kurt Vonnegut

    Dec. at 85 (1922-2007)

    BirthplaceIndianapolis, Indiana, United States of America

    NationalityUnited States of America

    WorksSlaughterhouse-Five, Cat's Cradle, Breakfast of Champions, The Sirens of Titan, God Bless You

    Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (; November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007) was an American writer. In a career... more on Wikipedia

    More Kurt Vonnegut 

    The Best Kurt Vonnegut Books#29 of 208 The Best Science-Fiction Authors

  • 18
    Allen Ginsberg is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time

    Allen Ginsberg

    Dec. at 71 (1926-1997)

    BirthplaceNewark, New Jersey, United States of America

    NationalityUnited States of America

    WorksHowl, Collected poems 1947-1980, Kaddish, The Yage Letters, Howl and Other Poems

    Irwin Allen Ginsberg (; June 3, 1926 – April 5, 1997) was an American poet, philosopher and... more on Wikipedia

    More Allen Ginsberg 

    #27 of 369 The Greatest Poets of All Time#33 of 250 The Best Gay Authors

  • 19
    John Calvin is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time

    John Calvin

    Dec. at 55 (1509-1564)

    BirthplaceNoyon, France


    WorksInstitutes of the Christian Religion, Devotions & prayers of John Calvin, The Bondage and Liberation of the Will, Brève Instruction chrétienne, The catechism of the Church of Geneva

    John Calvin (;French: Jean Calvin [ʒɑ̃ kalvɛ̃]; born Jehan Cauvin; 10 July 1509 – 27 May 1564)... more on Wikipedia

    More John Calvin 

    #137 of 2,443 The Most Influential People of All Time#781 of 1,357 The Greatest Minds of All Time

  • 20
    James Joyce is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time

    James Joyce

    Dec. at 59 (1882-1941)

    BirthplaceRathgar, Republic of Ireland

    NationalityRepublic of Ireland

    WorksUlysses, Finnegans Wake, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen Hero, Dubliners

    James Augustine Aloysius Joyce (2 February 1882 – 13 January 1941) was an Irish novelist,... more on Wikipedia

    More James Joyce 

    The Best James Joyce Books#14 of 171 The Best Short Story Writers of All Time

  • 21
    Galileo Galilei is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time

    Galileo Galilei

    Dec. at 78 (1564-1642)

    BirthplacePisa, Italy

    NationalityGrand Duchy of Tuscany

    WorksDialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Sidereus Nuncius, Two New Sciences, The Assayer, On the Shoulders of Giants

    Galileo Galilei ( GAL-il-AY-oh, also US: -⁠EE-oh, Italian: [ɡaliˈlɛːo ɡaliˈlɛi]; 15 February... more on Wikipedia

    More Galileo Galilei 

    #48 of 753 People We Wish Were Still Alive#29 of 403 Famous Role Models We'd Like to Meet In Person

  • 22
    Aldous Huxley is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time

    Aldous Huxley

    Dec. at 69 (1894-1963)

    BirthplaceGodalming, United Kingdom

    NationalityUnited Kingdom, England

    WorksBrave New World, Island, Point Counter Point, Eyeless in Gaza, The Doors of Perception

    Aldous Leonard Huxley (26 July 1894 – 22 November 1963) was an English writer and philosopher.... more on Wikipedia
  • 23
    J. D. Salinger is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time

    J. D. Salinger

    Dec. at 91 (1919-2010)

    BirthplaceNew York City, New York

    NationalityUnited States of America

    WorksThe Catcher in the Rye, Franny and Zooey, Nine Stories, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction

    Jerome David Salinger (; January 1, 1919 – January 27, 2010) was an American writer known for... more on Wikipedia

    More J. D. Salinger 

    The Best J. D. Salinger Short StoriesEvery J.D. Salinger Book, Ranked

  • 24
    Ernest Hemingway is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time

    Ernest Hemingway

    Dec. at 62 (1899-1961)

    BirthplaceOak Park, Illinois, USA

    NationalityUnited States

    WorksThe Old Man and the Sea, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Sun Also Rises, A Moveable Feast

    Ernest Miller Hemingway (July 21, 1899 – July 2, 1961) was an American journalist, novelist,... more on Wikipedia

    More Ernest Hemingway 

    Ernest Hemingway Was Secretly Hired As A KGB Spy - And Sucked At ItWild Stories About Ernest Hemingway's Truly Manly Life

  • 25
    Simone de Beauvoir is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Most Controversial Writers of All Time

    Simone de Beauvoir

    Dec. at 78 (1908-1986)

    BirthplaceParis, France


    WorksThe Second Sex, The Mandarins, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, All Men Are Mortal, Conversations with Jean-Paul Sartre

    Simone Lucie Ernestine Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir (UK: , US: , French: [simɔn də bovwaʁ]... more on Wikipedia
WritersPeopleBooksLiteratureControversialtop 50top 100