Ayn Rand, a.k.a. Alice Rosenbaum, was born on February 2, 1905, in St. Petersburg, Russia. Her family was relatively wealthy; Rand’s father was a self-made man who owned a pharmacy. According to her biographer Barbara Brandon in The Passion of Ayn Rand, Rand was a precocious child who spent much time among adults, gathering information about the world around her. At the age of nine, she had already developed a strong fascination about the battle between good and evil, as well as her notion of the characteristics of the ideal man. “Intelligence, independence, courage. The heroic man,” she described him to her biographer. Rand later recreated this model in many of her fictional characters, including the mysterious John Galt in Atlas Shrugged.
Rand’s keen awareness of her ideological and political surroundings easily detected the problems that would begin to plague Russia in her childhood; she grew to despise the communist rule of Lenin’s Bolsheviks, who came into power with the 1917 revolution. Under communism, her family was forced to give up her father’s business, leave their home under the threat of ongoing internal conflicts, and almost starve to death. In her biography, Rand remembers that she “began to understand that politics was a moral issue” and that she detested any “government or society or any authorities imposing anything on anyone.”
While working on a bachelor’s degree in history in St. Petersburg, by then named Leningrad, Rand studied American history. She told Branden that she found it incredible: “I saw America as the country of individualism, of strong men, of freedom and important purposes. I thought, ‘This is the kind of government I approve of.’” In 1926 Rand got a chance to visit relatives in America; even before she took off, she had decided not to return from her trip.
As a struggling writer in America, Rand went from summarizing works to be adapted as Hollywood scripts, to writing plays (one of which was produced on Broadway), to publishing a semi-autobiographical first novel. However, it was not until the publication of her later novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, that she achieved fame on a grand scale. Her novella Anthem served as an outline for both of these works; in her fiction, Rand described the threat and immorality of communism while developing her own strictly capitalist philosophy of Objectivism. In Atlas Shrugged, her self-proclaimed masterpiece of Objectivist theory, she proposes the destruction of a parasite communist society as the only way to achieve the capitalist utopia. In the postscript to Atlas Shrugged, she described the essence of Objectivism and the novel’s major theme as “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with his productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”
Rand’s later theoretical pieces-The Virtue of Selfishness: A Concept of New Egoism, her newsletter The Objectivist, and other works-further develop the principles of her philosophy. Although her novels became bestsellers worldwide, Rand did not write fiction after Atlas Shrugged. She died on March 6, 1982; ironically, the author who used the cigarette as a symbol of glowing human intellect in her last novel lost a lung to cancer shortly before her death.