There is some writing that you just know will create controversy: things like Ann Coulter's books, writings by Holocaust deniers, anything about the Middle East. In fact, some of these exist solely to provoke.
But the surprise to me, as the Monitor's book editor for the past three years, has been to discover the unexpected pockets of turmoil, the surprising areas of intense controversy and the many "experts" who turn up online (through e-mail or comments posted on this site) every time certain topics are touched on in books.
I'm sure other editors and readers could fill this list out for me, but, off the top of my head, here are five burning-hot controversies I've been surprised to stumble onto in selecting books for review:
–Anything about animals (it's almost frightening to watch the clash between their passionate defenders and those who say we make too little of ourselves when we make so much of them)
–the American Civil War (I've often heard people say that this is still being waged but I've been stunned to discover how easily it is touched off again by books that go anywhere near the war between the states)
–the role/nature of the Russian army during World War II (am I the only one who didn't know that there was so much impassioned disagreement about this?)
–Ayn Rand (just post a comment – positive or negative – on her work on a website somewhere and see what happens)
–the Sacco-Vanzetti case (there appear to be people out there who have devoted their lives to studying this – again, I had no idea)
As for the people who argue online about these subjects, I don't know if any of them ever convince one another. I suspect not. But certainly in this age of the internet everyone is entitled to a free public opinion. And it's probably not a bad thing for the booksellers, either.