65 years ago, prolific author and philosopher Ayn Rand published her longest fiction novel, Atlas Shrugged. Her work always received mixed reviews in the press, and this time was no different. One review described prose “ladled from a bottomless vat of molten lead” and “delivered at the piercing, relentless pitch of a shriek” (Evening Star). Despite these reviews, the dystopian novel that railed against government and idolized capitalism would grow to become a conservative favorite.
“Individualism will be my theme until I die,” Rand stated while writing Atlas Shrugged. Rand’s philosophy of promoting individualism over conformity, and her love of capitalism, were formed during her childhood in Russia. Her family experienced great financial loss after her father’s business was confiscated by the Bolsheviks. This experience can be seen clearly in her first fiction novel, We the Living, which was published in 1936. In addition to writing novels, she was also a playwright. Her plays, such as The Unconquered, usually included anti-communist and pro-capitalist themes as well.
Rand started her writing career in Hollywood though, and her hatred of communism was never more clearly visible than when she happily testified against her Hollywood colleagues in front the U.S. House Committee on Un-American Activities (commonly known as HUAC). In an interview with the Evening Star she stated, “My coming here is not a patriotic duty, so much as it is something I wanted to do, part of what I am trying to say.”
Rand’s relationship with the press was complex. Throughout her career, she relied on newspapers to promote her books and plays, but the reviews were often harsh. A newspaper publisher was even featured as one of the main villains in her novel The Fountainhead. Despite vilifying newspaper publishers, when The Fountainhead became a success she worked with illustrator Frank Godwin to create syndicated, illustrated strips from the novel’s story. This serialized version of the story appeared with comic strips in newspapers daily throughout late 1945 and early 1946. They can be found in our Chronicling America* collection of digitized newspapers through the Detroit Evening Times.
Although The Fountainhead was a success, not all of her works were so well received. When her novella Anthem could not find a publisher in the U.S., she turned to the pulp magazine Famous Fantastic Mysteries to get it printed in 1953.
Her views became more extreme over time. After publishing Atlas Shrugged in 1957, she turned to writing non-fiction to promote her philosophy called Objectivism. She even published and edited her own periodicals on the topic, which are available in the Library’s collections: The Objectivist Newsletter, The Objectivist, and The Ayn Rand Letter.
Despite the controversial nature of her writing and views, Rand’s novels and philosophy remain popular to this day. Her works and life continue to inspire new publications, new stories in the media, and new criticism.
Ayn Rand Papers, 1933-1976 Finding Aid
Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (1957). Books that Shaped America, exhibit, Library of Congress.
Ayn Rand Institute. Web Archive, Library of Congress.
*The Chronicling America historic newspapers online collection is a product of the National Digital Newspaper Program and jointly sponsored by the Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
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