Ayn Rand – The New York Times

Ayn Rand's two most famous novels "The Fountainhead" (1943) and "Atlas Shrugged" (1957) are among the greatest word-of-mouth hits in American publishing. Both were scorned by the critics when they came out, went on to become enormous best-sellers, and to this day sell tens of thousands of copies annually. "Atlas Shrugged," Rand's magnum opus, is sometimes said to be the second-most influential book in American thought, next only to the Bible.

The reason for the books' success probably has less to do with their novelistic merits, or lack of them, than with the way they package in fictional form a philosophy Rand called Objectivism, which in effect turned the Judeo-Christian system on its head. In Rand's view, selfishness was good and altruism was evil, and the welfare of society was always subordinate to the self-interest of individuals, especially superior ones. In some ways, Objectivism is an extreme form of laissez-faire capitalism, a view that Rand came to naturally.

She was born in Russia in 1905, lived through the Russian Revolution, and by the time she emigrated to America, in 1926, determined to reinvent herself, she wanted no part of anything that resembled a state-run system. She sometimes wore a gold brooch shaped like a dollar sign, and the dollar sign is also the final image in "Atlas Shrugged," a novel in which liberals and humanitarians are ruinously taking over the world while the intellectual elite, led by the genius industrialist John Galt, hunker down in Colorado.

For a while in the '60s, Objectivism had almost cult status on some American campuses. Much of the fervor dwindled after Rands death in 1982, but the books continue to be rediscovered and passed from one initiate to another. Among the many people influenced by Rand are Camille Paglia, Hugh Hefner, Alan Greenspan and Angelina Jolie. -- Charles McGrath, Sept. 13, 2007.

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Ayn Rand - The New York Times

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