Born Alisa Rosenbaum in Russia. She left it after it had turned communist but before Stalin took over, and she was very much anti-communist. She took it much further than most people, though.
She was already coming up with Objectivism even when her early works, We the Living and Anthem, were written. But The Fountainhead was her first big success (due to word of mouth rather than advertising).
The success of The Fountainhead led to Atlas Shrugged, a novel indisputably capable of stopping doors and being used an effective lethal weapon, not that Rand would approve of that except perhaps in self-defence, and the Ayn Rand Society (which is still going).
Ayn Rand helped keep American libertarianism in general alive after the 1930s. Objectivism, while not the same thing as libertarianism (Objectivism is a full philosophy whereas libertarianism is a specific political ideology), is in some ways one of its parent ideologies, though more extreme in some regards -- it is against not just communism and socialism, but also altruism (Auguste Comte's definition of 'altruism,' not the commonly-used definition) in general, which it feels keeps people dependent on others and unable to take care of themselves. As for the Libertarian Party itself, though, Rand denounced them as the "hippies of the right".
Ayn Rand and Objectivism are both very polarizing subjects on the internet and elsewhere. Internet Backdraft often results from mentions of her work, largely because of the emphasis of the philosophy.
Recently, her books have begun to show up on reading lists for some political philosophy courses, and the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies was established. Think-tanks founded by Objectivism's proponents, such as the Ayn Rand Institute and The Atlas Society, also promote Objectivist ideas. Penn State Press's Rereading The Canon series, which was a collection of volumes of Feminist interpretations of specific philosophers, included a book on Ayn Rand. Rand-influenced academics like Tara Smith, David Kelley and Chris Matthew Sciabarra have published many works expanding upon Objectivism and detailing the implications of her ideas.
Unfortunately, Rand as a figure generates intense feelings of either seething hatred or (some say) cultish adoration and as such debates over the content of her ideas have a general tendency to spill over into debates about her as a person. For instance, several Rand critics question her ability to stay true to her own principles. She may have also received government aid after getting lung cancer, but Rand herself argued that if someone had paid taxes to fund these systems then they "have a clear right to any refund of their own money" (see here). These aspects of Rand's character have been criticized by several Objectivists. While Rand's personal eccentricities do not necessarily prove anything about the validity or invalidity of her philosophy, Rand did once point to herself as proof that her philosophy could work in the real world.
(Note: In recent years, left-wing critics of Rand spread a story claiming that Rand had a Draco in Leather Pants admiration of serial killer William Hickman. In reality, Rand called Hickman a purposeless monster, and Hickman is only mentioned in notes for a story in which she describes the protagonist as being the exact opposite of Hickman. More commentary on this, as well as objectivist responses to other criticisms of Rand can be found here.)
Some Americans are finding her writings especially evocative in the current economic climate (circa early 2009). Her sales are on the rise and commentators have noted it. Mind you, the sales of Karl Marx's works are also on the rise. There could be other reasons as well. Her pen name is allegedly a contraction of her birth name: "Рзнбаум" (Cyrillic for Rznbaum) resembles "Randayn" when handwritten. Her name is pronounced like the German 'Ein' - rhymes with "mine", though some online detractors use the mnemonic "Ein Reich, Ein Volk, Ayn Rand". Annoying objectivists by consistently, repeatedly pronouncing it as if it were merely a creative spelling of "Ann" can also be fun.
Unfortunately, given the polarizing nature of Rand's work, this page can be caught up in an Edit War from time to time. To make it clear, this page is NOT about what your evaluation of Rand, her works or her ideas is. Any contributions should observe the Rule of Cautious Editing Judgement.
Though her works have their own pages, it might be worthwhile to note here Ayn Rand's relationship to the Strawman Political trope. Indeed, her villains are very much Strawman Politicals. For example, in Atlas Shrugged, they simply want to feed off of the talent of the gifted. Ayn Rand's personal diaries note that each protagonist is planned to show either why they will succeed because of their adherence to Objectivist principles, or why they will fail because of their non-adherence, or doubt, or acceptance of anti-Objectivist principles such as Comtean altruism. These notes also compare each character to the Ultimate Objectivist Messiah, John Galt. So in essence, even her protagonists can be considered Strawman Politicals.
The above is especially true for Rand's later writing. Comparison of her three novels could indicate a clear deterioration in the quality of characters representing the opposite ideology. Her first novel, "We, The Living" is very harsh on Communism as an ideology and on the Soviet regime as a regime, but it has a major character, Andrei Taganov, who is a Communist, senior member of the Party, and who is very much a Good Guy: heroic, idealistic, generous, in fact a Knight in Shining Armour and his lady's bodyguard - he is deeply in love with the book's female protagonist who returns his love quite a bit and is always torn between him and the other man in her life who is anti-Communist (and Rand admitted in the forward to the book that this character to a considerable degree represents herself!). In her second book, "The Fountainhead", the character who represents Roosevelt's New Deal, Ellsworth Toohey, is an unquestioned Bad Guy, a Man You Love to Hate - but he is a brilliant Chessmaster, always spinning webs of very clever and complicated Conspiracy, in short a Worthy Opponent with whom the female protagonist has (at least in the early parts of the book) a complicated Love Hate Relationship. There is also Peter Keating, who's basically a sympathetic Anti-Villain with an equally complicated relationship with the main hero, Howard Roark. In "Atlas Shrugged" - which Rand herself considered her best, but not everybody agrees - there is nothing of the kind. All characters representing the opposing political and social point of view are miserable, disgusting nothings, who never do or say a single thing deserving of the reader's appreciation.
Ayn Rand's works provide examples of:
- A God Am I: Characters in Anthem echo Rand's belief that man at his greatest is a godlike being.
- Awesome Ego: A big part of her philosophy was the importance of thinking highly of oneself, which she herself certainly did. See Plato Is a Moron below.
- Badass Boast: When told by a sarcastic interviewer that she wasn't smart enough to say that there wasn't a God, she answered "Yes I am, we all are; that doesn't take much intelligence."
- Deadpan Snarker: Could be very snarky, especially when it came to Collectivism or irrationality. Most of the protagonists in her books are Deadpan Snarkers as well.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: As Nathaniel Branden learned to his cost when she found out that he was cheating on her. Some have accused her of hypocrisy in his respect because she was having an affair with Branden while both were married but to be fair, she had asked her husband for permission and insisted that Branden ask his wife while he went and embarked on a second affair behind both of their backs. Whether or not that's adequate reason to slap someone whilst calling them "a goddamned bastard" is for you to decide.
- Plato Is a Moron: She certainly thought so. She described the three greatest philosophers in human history as "the Three As: Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinus and Ayn Rand."
- Tall, Dark and Bishoujo: Most of her heroines.
- Ubermensch: Most of her protagonists, though Rand herself distanced herself from Nietzsche's ideas later on, calling him a mystic and an irrationalist.
Works and Creators influenced by Rand:
- Steve Ditko is an Objectivist, and let that seep into such acclaimed comics as The Question, Hawk and Dove, and to a less acclaimed, more tracty extent, in Mr. A. Everybody's favorite sociopath Rorschach from Watchmen is Alan Moore's variant of The Question.
- Frank Miller's Martha Washington Goes to War was influenced by Atlas Shrugged.
- L. Neil Smith's The Probability Broach has an alternate history wherein which Rand was not only a President of the alternate-United States (the North American Confederacy), but was also the first person on the moon.
- Terry Goodkind is a massive fan of Rand's works, and his Sword of Truth series incorporates Objectivist themes. To the extent that a few critics have described one book in the series, Faith of the Fallen, as "plagiarizing The Fountainhead in a fantasy setting". Much moreso in real life than in his novels; and has been known to get into very heated arguments regarding Objectivist philosophy on the Internet.
- A hologram of her is a major character in Matt Ruff's novel Sewer Gas and Electric.
- The Ferengi from Star Trek are often considered exaggerations of Jewish stereotypes, but it would be more fair to consider them caricatures of Objectivist philosophy
- Neil Peart of Rush originally put a lot of Objectivism in to the band's songs and gave her a thank you credit in the liner notes of 2112, but as of the remaster removed it and has moved away from such vehement support (though when asked he says there are still areas he agrees with her).
- The philosophy of Objectivism is a strong theme in the FPS Bioshock and its success obviously gave those views a fair bit of exposure. Fan opinion is divided on whether the game's setting is meant to showcase the philosophy's flaws, or whether it's meant to show Rapture as an Objectivist utopia destroyed by collectivist villains (parasites, as Rand would call them) and hypocrisy on the part of Andrew Ryan; Word of God says the game's real message is that Humans Are Flawed and Extremism is Bad, allowing the developers to sidestep the pro-Rand/anti-Rand Flame War.
- Not to mention the fact that Ryan is a Spear Counterpart Captain Ersatz for Rand. He's even of Russian origin, just as she was.
- FUN FACT: Whether this was intended or not, one can successfully anagram "Andrew Ryan" to say "We R Ayn Rand"
- The sequel goes on to skewer collectivism, with Sofia Lamb replacing Andrew Ryan. This supports the idea that the real evil is any idea taken to extremes.
- Francis hates her. Robotic doubles available for sale there.
- The Elder God Roark in Lusternia is named after the protagonist of The Fountainhead, and his teachings are suspiciously similar to Rand's. (The administrator who plays Roark freely admits that he's a big fan of Rand.)
- Kreia of Knights of the Old Republic II: Sith Lords could be considered the Ayn Rand of Force users, as she believes that the Jedi and the Sith have been overreliant on the force itself and she plans to destroy the force itself. She fails in the end by the Exile.
- The Chaos Timeline has a rough equivalent with Sophie Stein: Both were born Jewish but later became atheists, had to flee from a leftist dictature, changed their name, took radical anti-leftist positions and are very controversial.
- Jay Naylor's works, including Better Days and Original Life contain a lot of Objectivist themes; and even a few direct quotes.