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The Most Controversial Writers of All Time

Updated November 15, 2019 4.9k votes 456 voters 20.3k 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.

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  • Marquis de Sade1
    146
    33

    Marquis de Sade

    Dec. at 74 (1740-1814)

    BirthplaceParis, France

    NationalityFrance

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

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  • Karl Marx2
    125
    32

    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

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  • Friedrich Nietzsche3
    91
    14

    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

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  • Ayn Rand4
    127
    45

    Ayn Rand

    Dec. at 77 (1905-1982)

    BirthplaceSaint Petersburg, Russia

    NationalityUnited States of America

    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

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  • Charles Darwin5
    102
    30

    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

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  • Vladimir Nabokov6
    94
    28

    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
  • Oscar Wilde7
    78
    30

    Oscar Wilde

    Dec. at 46 (1854-1900)

    BirthplaceIreland, Ireland, Europe, Dublin

    NationalityIreland

    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

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  • H. P. Lovecraft8
    78
    32

    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

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  • George Orwell9
    86
    41

    George Orwell

    Dec. at 47 (1903-1950)

    BirthplaceMotihari, India

    NationalityEngland

    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

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  • Salman Rushdie10
    73
    34

    Salman Rushdie

    Age: 73

    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

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  • Voltaire11
    53
    18

    Voltaire

    Dec. at 84 (1694-1778)

    BirthplaceParis, France

    NationalityFrance

    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

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  • Christopher Hitchens12
    64
    32

    Christopher Hitchens

    Dec. at 62 (1949-2011)

    BirthplacePortsmouth, United Kingdom

    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

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  • D. H. Lawrence13
    50
    19

    D. H. Lawrence

    Dec. at 45 (1885-1930)

    BirthplaceEast Midlands, Nottinghamshire, Eurasia, Eastwood, United Kingdom

    NationalityEngland

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

    David Herbert Lawrence (11 September 1885 – 2 March 1930) was an English writer and poet. His...  more

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  • Hunter S. Thompson14
    44
    14

    Hunter S. Thompson

    Dec. at 68 (1937-2005)

    BirthplaceLouisville, Kentucky, United States of America

    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

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  • James Joyce15
    44
    17

    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

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  • Nicolaus Copernicus16
    32
    5

    Nicolaus Copernicus

    Dec. at 70 (1473-1543)

    BirthplaceToruń, Poland

    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

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  • J. D. Salinger17
    60
    34

    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

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  • Galileo Galilei18
    33
    8

    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

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  • Aldous Huxley19
    39
    14

    Aldous Huxley

    Dec. at 69 (1894-1963)

    BirthplaceGodalming, England

    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

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    #23 of 33 What The People Behind The Books You Read In High School Actually Look Like#12 of 69 The Most Psychedelic People Ever

  • John Calvin20
    27
    2

    John Calvin

    Dec. at 55 (1509-1564)

    BirthplaceNoyon, France

    NationalityFrance

    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

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  • Ernest Hemingway21
    51
    29

    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

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  • Dante Alighieri22
    31
    8

    Dante Alighieri

    Dec. at 56 (1265-1321)

    BirthplaceFlorence, Italy

    NationalityItaly

    WorksDivine Comedy, Inferno, Convivio, De Monarchia, La Vita Nuova

    Durante di Alighiero degli Alighieri (Italian: [duˈrante deʎʎ aliˈɡjɛːri]; Latin: Dantes),...  more

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  • Mark Twain23
    47
    27

    Mark Twain

    Dec. at 75 (1835-1910)

    BirthplaceFlorida, Missouri, United States of America

    NationalityUnited States of America

    WorksAdventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, The Prince and the Pauper, The Mysterious Stranger

    Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910), known by his pen name Mark...  more

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  • Henry Miller24
    38
    17

    Henry Miller

    Dec. at 89 (1891-1980)

    BirthplaceYorkville, New York City, New York

    NationalityUnited States of America, Germany

    WorksTropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn, Sexus, The best of Henry Miller, Sextet

    Henry Valentine Miller (December 26, 1891 – June 7, 1980) was an American writer. He was known...  more
  • V. C. Andrews25
    38
    17

    V. C. Andrews

    Dec. at 63 (1923-1986)

    BirthplacePortsmouth, Virginia, United States of America

    NationalityUnited States of America

    WorksFlowers in the Attic, Melody, Dawn, Runaways, Dark angel

    Cleo Virginia Andrews (June 6, 1923 – December 19, 1986), better known as V. C. Andrews or...  more