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Who Is Ayn Rand?

Who Is Ayn Rand?

March 15, 2024

Who is Ayn Rand? 

  • A phenomenally successful novelist whose books have sold millions of copies. 
  • Founder of a revolutionary philosophy named Objectivism. 
  • Someone who has amassed legions of fans who say her books changed their lives.
  • And legions of detractors who mostly haven’t read her, and don’t want you to either.

So, who is the woman behind all the controversy?

Born Alissa Rosenbaum on February 2, 1905, in St. Petersburg, Russia—at twelve years old she and her two little sisters witnessed the first shots of the Russian Revolution from the window of their apartment. The Communists nationalized her father’s pharmacy, leaving the family with barely enough to survive.

Against the growing squalor and oppression of life under Soviet rule, she longed to escape to the West. On the eve of her 22nd birthday, she got her chance. With her mother’s help, she obtained a passport to visit relatives in Chicago and left Russia in January 1926, never to see her family again. She arrived in New York City weeks later, with just $50 to her name. A name she would later change to Ayn Rand, in part to protect the identity of her family back home.

After a few months in Chicago, she set out for Hollywood. A chance meeting with film director Cecil B. DeMille landed her a job, first as a movie extra, then as a junior screenwriter. It was soon after, on the set of DeMille’s film King of Kings, that she literally stumbled into the actor Frank O’Connor, who would eventually become her husband of 50 years.

Over the next decade, Rand mastered the English language, writing many screenplays and short stories. Her extraordinary perseverance eventually paid off, with two Broadway plays and the publication of We The Living. Drawing on her own experience growing up in Russia, this first novel exposed the “noble experiment” of communism for the murderous deception it really was.

When one of her plays was made into a movie in which the studio turned her hero into a villain, she was infuriated—but the experience gave her an idea . . . for a novel about a visionary architect who would not compromise his creative vision for the sake of others.

Twelve publishers rejected The Fountainhead before it was finally published in 1943, which was then made into a movie with Gary Cooper and Patricia O’Neil.  Rand had arrived and achieved fame and prosperity in her new homeland.

But back in Russia, millions were dying as Communism destroyed that country and poisoned other countries. For Rand, that was bad enough, but worse still was that her new country, America, romanticized those Communist ideals. 

It was the era of Big Labor, and workers were being organized to go on strike. That gave Rand another idea: what if the creative producers, who built businesses, financed industry, invented cures, and composed great music—what if they went on strike?

After a dozen years of work, Ayn Rand published Atlas Shrugged in 1957 about what would happen if “the men of the mind” went on strike. The novel was the fullest dramatic encapsulation of her philosophical ideas thus far, the idea that man is a heroic being who should pursue his own happiness, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. 

Rand called this philosophy Objectivism and went on to further elaborate it in dozens of essays, books, and public appearances. Her work represents a monumental philosophical and artistic achievement. Yet, in the final years of her life, Rand acknowledged: “The elaboration of a system is a job that no philosopher can finish in his lifetime . . . there is still an awful lot of work to be done.” 

Ayn Rand died on March 6th, 1982. She left humanity with the incalculable gift of her joyous vision of the world and of life’s glorious possibilities. It is a vision that resonates anew with each new reader who discovers her novels for the first time and through them discovers a new vision of themselves as individuals.

For further reading, check out these related articles:

1 My Name is Ayn Rand (Draw My Life Video)

2 New to Ayn Rand?

3 Ayn Rand

4 Ayn Rand’s Thoughts on the Middle East and Israel

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