Three weeks before Ayn Rand’s birth in St. Petersburg, Russia, her parents heard nearby gunfire from the uprising known as the 1905 Revolution, whose consequences would go far to shape Rand’s lifelong commitment to anti-Communism and unrestricted individualism. Ayn Rand and the World She Made traces the life of the twentieth century’s most outspoken and controversial proponent of individualism and capitalism from her early childhood in czarist Russia through the Russian Revolution of 1917 to her remarkable career as a novelist and polemicist in America, where she arrived at age 21.
Blunt and socially awkward, but also brilliant and single-minded, she began her improbable career as a junior screenwriter for Cecil B. DeMille in 1920s Hollywood. On the set of King of Kings, she spotted a handsome young minor actor, followed him, tripped him with her foot, and married him. She published her first novel in 1936. Seven years later, she produced The Fountainhead, a bible of individualism for four generations. Fourteen years after that, she finished Atlas Shrugged, whose critique of the welfare state changed the American political landscape forever. At age 50, she took as a lover a handsome young acolyte 25 years her junior. In the 1950s and 1960s, she and her acolyte built a national cult following. Objectivism, as they called their philosophy, may have given rise to the unlikeliest cult in history, but it secured her name as a social critic as well as a best-selling novelist.
Rand was a larger-than-life figure in her own time, and her cultural importance continues to grow. In a 1991 survey jointly sponsored by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club, readers named Atlas Shrugged the book that most influenced their lives, second only to the Bible. In 1998, when the Modern Library asked readers to name the 20th century’s 100 greatest books, Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead were numbers one and two on the list. Rand’s earlier novels, Anthem and We the Living, were numbers seven and eight, trumping The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath, and Ulysses. (In an echo of a theme running throughout the author’s life, her work didn’t appear at all on a companion list of great books compiled by American professors; until recently, she has largely been ignored by college teachers.)
Her ideas permeate contemporary American policies and institutions. Hundreds of former protégés, including Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan, Libertarian Party founder John Hospers, former Barron’s editorial director Robert Bleiberg, and best-selling psychologist of self-esteem Nathaniel Branden, lead government agencies, publications, corporations, and popular movements. Forbes and Fortune regularly mention Rand as a present-day hero of young Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Television hosts and Tea Party activists invoke her name. Hundreds of campus study groups and clubs continue to debate her views.
In this seminal biography, Anne C. Heller traces the controversial author’s life from her childhood in Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution to her years as a screenwriter in Hollywood, the publication of her blockbuster novels, and the rise and fall of the cult that formed around her in the 1950s and 1960s. Throughout, Heller reveals previously unknown facts about Rand’s history and looks at Rand with new research and a fresh perspective.
Based on original research in Russia, scores of detailed interviews with Rand’s acquaintances and former disciples, and previously unexamined archives of tapes and letters, Ayn Rand and the World She Made is a comprehensive and eye-opening portrait of one of the most significant and unlikely figures of the twentieth century.