Ayn Rand Biography

Ayn Rand Photo

Novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand was born Alissa Rosenbaum on February 2, 1905 in St. Petersburg, Russia. Her family lived in a large, comfortable apartment above the chemist shop owned by her father.

From her earliest years, the girl felt alienated from the dark, brooding atmosphere of Russia, but loved the bright world projected in stories appearing in foreign magazines. At age nine she made the conscious decision to become a writer.

In her teens, she discovered the works of great romantic writers such as Victor Hugo and Edmond Rostand. But as her private vision of human potential expanded, the social horizons of human possibility were shrinking around her. In February 1917 she witnessed the first shots of the Russian Revolution from her balcony. Soon, a communist gang nationalized her father’s shop. Almost overnight, her family was reduced to crushing poverty.

Against the growing squalor of Soviet life, the young woman nurtured a burning desire to abandon Russia for the West. She obtained a passport to visit relatives in Chicago, and left Russia and her family in January 1926, never to return. She arrived in New York City weeks later, with only $50 in her purse.

After a brief stay with her Chicago relatives – where she selected the pen name of Ayn Rand – she moved to Hollywood. The day after she arrived, she was given a car ride, and a job as a movie extra, by film director Cecil B. DeMille. Soon after, on the set of DeMille’s film King of Kings, she literally stumbled into the actor who would eventually become her husband, Frank O’Connor.

Over the next decade, Rand worked at odd jobs. In her spare time she mastered English, and churned out screenplays, short stories, and a novel. Her extraordinary perseverance and talent eventually paid off with two Broadway plays, and publication of her first novel, We the Living.

But the book that made her famous was The Fountainhead. Published in 1943, this great novel of American individualism presented Rand’s mature portrait of “Man as hero,” in the character of architect Howard Roark. Roark demands the right to design and build loyal only to his own ideals and principles. In his long struggle to succeed – a struggle not unlike Rand’s own – he eventually triumphs over every form of spiritual collectivism. This novel first presented Rand’s provocative morality of rational egoism, and later became a film starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal. It has remained a bestseller for over half a century, selling millions of copies.

If The Fountainhead created controversy, Atlas Shrugged fomented a furor. In this gigantic Romantic epic, Rand dramatized the major elements of her challenging new philosophy of “reason, individualism, and capitalism,” which she called “Objectivism.” This novel was to be the capstone of her literary and philosophic career.

After publication of Atlas Shrugged in 1957, Rand turned to nonfiction, elaborating her philosophy in many essays, columns, and public appearances. Her colorful and tumultuous life ended on March 6, 1982 at her New York apartment.

But in the years since her death, interest in her ideas has only increased. Today, she and her philosophy are the focus of books, film documentaries, magazine and newspaper articles, and a growing intellectual movement of scholars, organizations, and publications.

More About Ayn Rand:
Ayn Rand Chronology

Ayn Rand Bibliography
Ayn Rand's Inspirations—In Real Life and In Fiction

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