What is an appropriate term to use when describing a polarising book (or other work) which has received widespread attention, indicating both its importance and controversial nature without "taking sides" about its merits.

influential, notable, important, significant - All seem to imply a positive evaluation or an established consensus about its merits.

widely-read - May or may not factually apply in such a case.

controversial - Does not clarify whether it's merely a work's content or its reception that are the subject of controversy, e.g. "A controversial, little-known book."

One can get by with some hedging combination of the above, but I wonder if a more precise term doesn't exist.

  • 1
    "Well-known" is the first term that comes to mind.
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 16, 2015 at 2:40
  • "Well-known and Controversial" comes closest in meaning, but falls short of a one-word-wonder... Jul 16, 2015 at 3:00

8 Answers 8


Widely-debated, since you didn't seem to mind the hyphen in widely-read.

Much-debated is more widely used, but could refer to intensity of debate rather than its renown.

Or merely renown as used above if the "debated" aspect is nonessential.

Maybe prominent.

  • None of the suggestions is immune to nitpicking, but this comes closest. Much/Widely-debated suggests controversy and a wide reaction, without reference to commercial success (or lack of it), the existence of a final positive/negative concencus, or divulges a speaker's personal attitude towards the work. Jul 17, 2015 at 1:54
  • Renown and prominent are both (more or less) positive terms. Jul 17, 2015 at 1:56

The best near-synonym I can come up with is much-publicized. This does not seem to carry positive or negative connotations. Indeed, early Google hits include

'The much publicized Spa and indoor pool' and

'John Gotti, New York's much publicized organized crime leader of the 1980s'.

  • While "publicized" probably originates from "public", I think the sense of "publicity" is inevitable, as in "much-advertised" or "aggresively marketed". Jul 17, 2015 at 1:51
  • If you mean that there is bound to be at least a slight negative connotation, I would agree, but as you imply, the negative nuance is directed at the publicising rather than the subject matter. Jul 17, 2015 at 11:02
  • 1
    It is not the negative connotation I mind, but the ambiguous sense. The d.d. of publicize overloads the "written about" sense with a "marketed" sense, leaving unclear which meaning was intended. I'm not trying to claim anything about the scope of the book's marketing. Additionaly, the first sense does not connote controversy as described in the OP, it could describe "a much-reviewed, universally-acclaimed book". Jul 18, 2015 at 1:50


  1. tending to argument or strife; quarrelsome: a contentious crew.
  2. causing, involving, or characterized by argument or controversy: contentious issues.
  3. Law. pertaining to causes between contending or opposing parties.



"Conspicuous" is defined by Merriam-Webster as "attracting attention". It's the most neutral word I could come up with, but it still might have a slightly negative connotation.


Undismissable (or undismissible) is an infrequently used word meaning that which cannot be dismissed.

Dismiss means to decide that something or someone is not important and not worth considering (Cambridge Dictionaries Online)

To dismiss something, it must first be recognized. Something that is undismissable would be of such importance that once it is recognized or noticed, it cannot be treated as insignificant, regardless of its merit or quality (by whatever standard you might want to use).

Another would be unmissable, meaning so clear and obvious that it cannot be missed. (Oxford Dictionaries). Miss means to fail to comprehend, sense, or experience. (Merriam-Websrter)

Like undismissable, something that is unmissable would be so without regard to its merit or quality.


For a thing that receives a log of attention it is usually said that it is in the spotlight:

Intense scrutiny or public attention (ODO)

Although "the spotlight" isn't an adjective, it can be used in several phrases (in the spotlight, share the spotlight etc.) to describe something that gets a lot of attention. It can even be used as a verb "to spotlight"

[with object]

Direct attention to (a problem or situation) (ODO)

And one can use the past participle(s) spotlighted or spotlit attributively.


My suggestion here is the word arguably.

Ex. Lebron James is arguably the best basketball player that has ever played the game.

Ex. (The name of the book to which you're referring) is arguably best book (of a certain subject, by a particular author, among a specific collection of varying books, etc.).

  • In the case of arguably <superlative>, I'd agree with you, but not not when opinion is divided roughly 50-50 between great! and terrible!. Also, given that any false statement can be made if qualified with arguably, it undermines the assertion. I wish to make an exact statement rather then avoiding the issue by appending "or maybe not" to it. Jul 15, 2015 at 22:26


to recognize or understand as being distinct or different

Source: The Free Dictionary

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