Authors: Ayn Rand

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2017

Russian American author and philosopher

February 2, 1905

St. Petersburg, Russia

March 6, 1982

New York, New York

Biography

Alisa (Alice) Rosenbaum was born into a middle-class Russian Jewish family. When her father’s pharmacy was nationalized following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Alisa, who had been writing stories since she was nine, acquired a subject: She turned against collectivism and elevated individualism—personal, moral, economic, political—into a philosophy which eventually attracted a large, occasionally distinguished, following.

Alisa accepted an invitation from relatives in Chicago and came to the United States in early 1926. She had graduated from the University of Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) with a major in history, but her interests already encompassed several other disciplines, such as philosophy, mathematics, and even engineering. She also studied English.

Ayn Rand

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(Library of Congress)

Upon arrival in New York, Alisa renewed her love affair with the Manhattan skyline and skyscrapers, which she had seen in American silent movies in Russia. She also restyled herself Ayn (pronounced “ine,” as in “shine”) Rand, the names being inspired by that of an obscure Finnish author and her Remington Rand typewriter. After a few months of uneasy coexistence with the Portnoy family in Chicago, Rand went to Hollywood, hoping to find work as a screenwriter. At first, she could only be a movie extra. Later, her persistence paid off, and her first sale was to Universal Pictures of a screenplay about a Soviet prison. Indeed, her early works all had to do with criticizing the Soviet system, and Rand soon became known as the most driven of American literary anti-Communists. Her first screenplay was never produced. However, her next work—a play retitled Night of January 16th—was a Broadway success in 1935. Its success was attributable partly to Rand’s gimmick of using members of the audience as jurors and having them render a verdict in her courtroom drama. Her first novels, We the Living and Anthem, passionately anti-Communist propaganda, attracted little attention. Her third novel, The Fountainhead, catapulted Rand into the literary and philosophical forefront. Here she tells the story of an architect (reportedly modeled after Frank Lloyd Wright) who projects himself as the ideal man standing against the forces of mediocrity and collectivism. The Fountainhead was on the best-seller list in 1945 and experienced a strong revival after the production of the film version in 1949 starring Gary Cooper as the fearless and seductive Howard Roark. Rand wrote the script.

Her philosophy extolling the myth of absolute, rugged individualism was to climax in what turned out to be her last work of fiction, several years in the making: the monumental, nearly twelve-hundred-page Atlas Shrugged, published in 1957. Here the ideal hero John Galt of Twentieth Century Motors leads the “men of the mind” on strike against all the leeches and parasites they had been sustaining. Again there is a spontaneous repudiation of all forms of altruism, including religion (Rand had declared herself to be an atheist at age thirteen), as collectivist traps, incompatible with a new, free society based on the credo “I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask any other man to live for mine.” This was the philosophy that Rand and her followers were to call Objectivism, preaching the morality of rational self-interest. The work’s influence was great and lasting.

Rand subsequently devoted herself exclusively to being a philosopher. She spoke on numerous college campuses and wrote for The Objectivist and The Ayn Rand Letter. She also was active in the Nathaniel Branden Institute, created to spread her ideas until her break with Nathaniel and Barbara Branden in 1968. The Brandens had occupied an important role in Rand’s life.

Rand’s marriage to Frank O’Connor, a onetime minor actor, lasted for fifty years until his death in 1979. In the meantime Rand, a chain smoker since her twenties (a loaded cigarette holder had become a symbol of her persona as much as her dollar signature pin) was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1974. She died on March 6, 1982, in New York City, where the O’Connors had moved in 1951. Her wake was attended by hundreds, including Alan Greenspan, economic adviser to several presidents and a longtime disciple of Rand’s cult of freedom from government interference. Her thirteen major publications have sold well over twenty million copies in English and in translation.

Author Works Long Fiction: We the Living, 1936 Anthem, 1938, revised 1946 The Fountainhead, 1943 Atlas Shrugged, 1957 The Early Ayn Rand: A Selection from Her Unpublished Fiction, 1984 (Leonard Peikoff, editor) Ideal, 2015 Drama: Night of January 16th, pr. 1934, pb. 1936 (also titled Woman on Trial and Penthouse Legend) The Unconquered, pr. 1940 (adaptation of We the Living) Screenplays: Love Letters, 1945 You Came Along, 1945 (with Robert Smith) The Fountainhead, 1949 Nonfiction: For the New Intellectual: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, 1961 The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism, 1964 Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 1966 Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 1967, enlarged 1990 (Harry Binswanger and Leonard Peikoff, editors) The Romantic Manifesto: A Philosophy of Literature, 1969, revised 1971, 1975 The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, 1971 Philosophy: Who Needs It?, 1982 The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism from A to Z, 1984 (Peikoff, editor) The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought, 1988 (Peikoff, editor) The Ayn Rand Column, 1991 Letters of Ayn Rand, 1995 (Michael S. Berliner, editor) Journals of Ayn Rand, 1997 (David Harriman, editor) Russian Writings on Hollywood, 1999 (Michael S. Berliner, editor; Dina Garmong, translator) The Art of Fiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers, 2000 (Tore Boeckmann, editor) The Art of Nonfiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers, 2001 (Robert Mayhew, editor) Edited Texts: The Objectivist Newsletter, 1962–1965, later The Objectivist, 1966–1971 (editor) The Ayn Rand Letter, 1971–1976 (publisher) Bibliography Baker, James T. Ayn Rand. Boston: Twayne, 1987. An academic’s brief but objective and highly readable treatment of Rand’s life and work. Includes a chronology, references, and a bibliography. Binswanger, Harry. The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts. Los Angeles: Ayn Rand Institute Press, 1990. Written by a philosopher, this is a scholarly work focused on the connection between biology and the concepts at the roots of ethics. Branden, Nathaniel. Judgment Day: My Years with Ayn Rand. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989. A personal account by Rand’s disciple, organizer, spokesman, lover, and, ultimately, enemy. Includes photographs. Branden, Nathaniel, and Barbara Branden. Who Is Ayn Rand? New York: Random House, 1962. This book contains three essays on Objectivism’s moral philosophy, its connection to psychological theory, and a literary study of Rand’s methods in her fiction. It contains an additional biographical essay, tracing Rand’s life from birth to her mid-fifties. Britting, Jeff. Ayn Rand. Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press, 2005. A readable biography of Rand’s literary and personal life but lacking in scholarly analysis. Gladstein, Mimi Reisel. The Ayn Rand Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984. A compendium of the plots and major characters of Rand’s fiction. Heller, Anne C. Ayn Rand and the World She Made. New York: Nan A. Talese, 2009. This volume sheds light on Rand’s personal life, including her marriage to actor Frank O’Connor, and her affair with psychologist Nathaniel Branden. Heller also discusses in detail Rand’s feuds with author William F. Buckley and with her sister who lived in Russia. Fans of Rand will find this biography fascinating. Includes photos. Mayhew, Robert. Ayn Rand’s Marginalia. New Milford, Conn.: Second Renaissance Books, 1995. This volume contains Rand’s critical comments on more than twenty thinkers, including Friedrich Hayek, C. S. Lewis, and Immanuel Kant. Peikoff, Leonard. Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. New York: Dutton, 1991. This is the first comprehensive overview of all aspects of Objectivist philosophy, written by the philosopher who was closest to Rand during her lifetime. Pierpont, Claudia Roth. Passionate Minds: Women Rewriting the World. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000. Evocative, interpretive essays on the life paths and works of twelve women, including Rand, connecting the circumstances of their lives with the shapes, styles, subjects, and situations of their art. Rasmussen, Douglas, and Douglas Den Uyl, eds. The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984. A collection of scholarly essays by philosophers, defending and criticizing various aspects of Objectivism’s metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics. Reisman, George. Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics. Ottawa, Ill.: Jameson Books, 1996. A scholarly work by an economist, developing capitalist economic theory and connecting it to Objectivist philosophy. Sciabarra, Chris M. Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995. The evolution of the author as a philosopher, of her dialectics, and of her objectivism, beginning with her early years. Includes a bibliography and photographs. Torres, Louis, and Michelle Marder Kamhi. What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand. Chicago: Open Court, 2000. An amusing but respectful application of Rand’s definition to the body of twentieth century art.

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