Ayn Rand was born to an affluent upper-middle-class family on February 2, 1905, in St. Petersburg, Russia. Rand formulated many of her strongly held beliefs early in life. Although her family was nominally Jewish, Rand thought of religion as a form of mysticism and became a committed atheist at the age of fourteen. She was passionately interested in politics, particularly after the beginning of the Russian Revolution in 1917. When the Bolshevik Party came to power at the end of 1917, it nationalized Rand’s father’s business and dimin-ished the family’s fortunes considerably. Rand opposed the Bolsheviks’ ideals, which included communism, socialism, and collectivization.
Rand graduated from the University of Petrograd with highest honors in philosophy and history. In 1925, Rand obtained a temporary visa to visit relatives in Chicago. She left Russia with no intention of returning. She moved to Hollywood to pursue a career as a screenwriter and took a job as an extra on the set of King of Kings, a film directed by the legendary Cecil B. DeMille. In California, Rand met Frank O’Connor, whom she married in 1929.
Over the next several years, Rand moved from job to job in Hollywood. In 1932, she sold her first screenplay, Red Pawn, to Universal Studios. That same year, Rand’s first stage play, Night of January 16th, was produced in Hollywood and then on Broadway. She completed her first novel, We the Living, in 1933, but all of the publishers she approached rejected the manuscript until 1936, when Macmillan published the novel in the United States. The novel was based on Rand’s life in Russia and drew strong criticism from leftist members of the American intelligentsia. Rand began work on The Fountainhead in 1938. Again she had trouble finding a publisher, but eventually Bobbs-Merrill accepted the novel in 1941. Over the next two years, The Fountainhead’s reputation grew by word of mouth and the novel became a bestseller when it came out in 1943.
In 1957, Rand published Atlas Shrugged. By this time her work had inspired a devoted following. Rand made numerous public appearances to lecture and explain the ideas behind her work. Rand disliked being associated with either the conservative or libertarian political movements in the United States. She felt her ideas were distinct and started her own movement, called Objectivism, which promoted her conception of rational self-interest and denounced altruism. The Fountainhead embodies Rand’s Objectivist philosophy, suggesting that egoism is an absolute moral good and therefore any person, institution, or system that blocks an individual’s freedom and talent is evil. The Fountainhead is an Objectivist parable. Each character in the novel represents a different level on the spectrum of good and evil. Like the authors of other satirical and allegorical works, Rand does not create complex, three-dimensional characters, but designs personalities to prove a point.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Rand promoted her ideas with the help of two young protégés, Nathaniel and Barbara Branden. Rand’s affair with Nathaniel Branden put an end to her alliance with the young couple. Rand died in her apartment in New York City on March 6, 1982. At the time of Rand’s death, more than twenty million copies of her books had been sold. Rand’s work continues to draw heated reactions from critics. She has been called a fascist, and some call her admirers devotees and worshippers, and even go so far as to call Objectivism a cult. Nonetheless, the Ayn Rand Institute and the Objectivist Center continue their work in America, and Rand’s novels still attract a global following.