With adoring fans, rabid critics and very few in between, why does Atlas Shrugged evoke such impassioned responses? Because it grapples with the fundamental problems of human existence — and presents radically new answers. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand’s last novel, is a dramatization of her unique vision of existence and of man’s highest potential.
We all know that selfishness is evil, right? Ayn Rand challenges us to think again. A conception of selfishness that leads us to condemn an industrialist who produces a fortune and a gangster who robs a bank, “as equally immoral, since they both sought wealth for their own ‘selfish’ benefit” is deeply flawed.
“To redeem both man and morality,” she argues in the book, “it is the concept of ‘selfishness’ that one has to redeem.”
In this book, Ayn Rand shows how abstract ideas have profound real-life consequences. Contrary to the notion that philosophy is detached from practical concerns, Rand sees philosophy’s influence everywhere, arguing among others things that a person’s implicit worldview impacts his ambition and self-confidence, that the notion of “duty” destroys morality and a proper understanding of personal responsibility, and that placing faith above reason unleashed twentieth-century totalitarianism.
Ayn Rand created and defined her philosophy, Objectivism, in the pages of her best-selling novels, particularly The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and in a series of nonfiction books that address a wide range of fundamental issues in philosophy.
Born Alisa Rosenbaum in Tsarist St. Petersburg in 1905, Rand witnessed the Russian Revolution as a teenager and promptly condemned communism as immoral for sacrificing the individual to the collective. In 1926, shortly after graduating from the University of Leningrad, she fled to America, adopting the pen name Ayn Rand to shield her family from possible persecution once her anti-communism became well known.
In Hollywood, she wrote scenarios for famous director Cecil B. DeMille and met her future husband on a movie set, but the couple struggled financially for years. Then came a string of writing successes: a Broadway play, followed by her first novel, We the Living (1936), then a novella called Anthem (1938), and later her first best seller, the story of a fiercely independent architect named Howard Roark in The Fountainhead (1943). All these works of fiction feature gripping stories and exalted, egoistic, this-worldly heroes.
In writing Atlas Shrugged (1957) — the story of a man who said he would stop the motor of the world, and did — Rand had to define fully her new philosophy of reason, rational self-interest, and laissez-faire capitalism.
Thereafter, and until her death in 1982, Rand amplified and explicated her “philosophy for living on earth” in a stream of books whose theoretical essays and cultural commentaries cover important topics across the five major branches of philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics and esthetics.