Over the last five years, the Festival of Dangerous Ideas has quickly forged a reputation for bringing the world's most controversial speakers to the Sydney Opera House – from Julian Assange and Christopher Hitchens, to George Pell AC and Philip Nitschke.

This year is no exception, with more than 30 sessions tackling the kind of topics that are taboo at most dinner parties, from decriminalising drugs and open marriage, to gender wars, gay rights, asylum seekers and the Arab Winter.

Here are our top picks for FODI:

Erwin James
"SHOCK! Horror!" the newspapers cried, the organisers want to bring a convicted double murderer to Australia. Well, the festival wouldn't exactly be living up to its name if it didn't push the boundaries a little, now would it? The felon in question is Erwin James, who spent 20 years in jail for the murders of two men in the UK and was released in 2004. Now a Guardian commentator, he will reflect on crime and punishment and ponder whether we should make prisons more humane in order to make prisoners more human. James may never make it to the Opera House stage if his visa is denied, but we hope the authorities have the good sense to let him in.

Dan Savage
The best thing to come out of Seattle since Nirvana, Dan Savage started out in the early 1990s as a sex columnist for The Stranger. His frank and fearless sex column Savage Love has since been syndicated internationally and Savage himself has developed a cult following. Now an author, media pundit and podcaster, Savage is also the gay activist behind the It Gets Better campaign for prevention of LGBT youth suicide. Savage will tackle the myth of monogamy. He argues we should embrace the idea that our longterm relationships may not always be monogamous and extramarital sex shouldn't lead straight to divorce lawyers.

David Simon
The most hotly anticipated guest at this year's FODI is creator of The Wire David Simon. The former Baltimore Sun crime reporter is the brains behind some of the most blisteringly brilliant television to come out of HBO, including his current series Treme, revolving around the lives of musicians in post-Katrina New Orleans. Simon argues that there are two Americas: one in which banks get bailed out and bankers never go to jail, and another in which poor (often black) people end up in jail, languish in minimum wage jobs and have their homes foreclosed on or destroyed in natural disasters.

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Hanna Rosin
In the US, 40 per cent of women now earn more than their partners and more university graduates are women than men. American journalist Hanna Rosin is a senior editor at the Atlantic and Slate's women’s section, and a bestselling author. Her bestselling book The End of Men and the Rise of Women looks at how, in the West, sisters are doing it for themselves and men are struggling to keep up. Rosin questions how this social upheaval will change society and what it means for both sexes.

Dennis Altman
Forty years ago, Dennis Altman wrote the groundbreaking book Homosexual, examining the burgeoning gay rights movement he had witnessed while living in New York City after Stonewall. In the decades since he wrote that book, we have seen a seismic shift in attitudes towards the gay community from the gay sex being criminalized to openly gay celebrities gracing the covers of magazines, and same sex marriage becoming a possibility (even if it isn't yet a political reality). Amid the triumphs, Altman ponders what has been lost, and whether marriage equality spells the end of gay culture.

Peter Hitchens
The brother and sparring partner of the late, great Christopher Hitchens, Peter Hitchens takes aim at the War on Drugs and questions the morality of taking drugs.

These agent provocateurs are among the 80 speakers from 10 countries who will form part of this year's FODI which also includes Everything Is A Remix documentary filmmaker Kirby Ferguson, Evgeny Morozov, Arlie Hochschild and many more.

The Festival of Dangerous Ideas will run from Saturday November 2 to Sunday November 3, 2013 at the Sydney Opera House, presented by the Sydney Opera House and St James' Ethics Committee.

For the full line-up, further details and to book tickets, visit: