Ayn Rand's novels have inspired generations of readers to live their lives with greater integrity, passion and joy. Nearly seventy years after her first novel was published, Rand's fiction continues to stand out as a vivid and seldom-hear salute to the independent, creative spirit – to the rational, thinking mind – and to total competency in the realm of productive work.
We the Living
Ayn Rand began her formal career as a novelist with the publication of We the Living (1936). Set amidst the Bolshevik Revolution in St. Louis Petersburg, Russia, this novel tells the story of Kira, a passionate young heroine who risks everything to pursue the future she desires – and save the man she loves.
Rand said We the Living was "as close to an autobiography as I will ever write," and the novel itself is a bristling revelation of communism's deleterious effects on the human spirit. It was later adapted for the screen in Italy, in 1942, as the two-part movie Noi Vivi and Addio, Kira. The original, luscious footage from this screen adaptation was recently restored and re-released by American producer Duncan Scott.
Rand's second oeuvre is a novella penned while she was doing research for The Fountainhead.
Set in the distant future, Anthem (1938) is the story of a collectivist society where the word "I" has been eradicated from the language, crushing the very notion of individualism.
One bright young scientist, however, sets himself free from this new form of slavery, and discovers the joy and pride of individualism – of the self. His brief, stark story is an apt prelude to the introduction of Howard Roark.
With its famous opening line, "Howard Roark laughed," The Fountainhead (1943) follows the creative path of innovative architect Howard Roark as he struggles to make a career for himself in the midst of a mediocrity-laden architectural establishment. Roark's consecration to his work, his dedication to his aesthetic values, and his unwavering faith in his own worth enable him to absolutely succeed in his creative mission.
The Fountainhead dramatizes the importance of independence, and extols the individual, creative man as the fountainhead of human progress.
Howard Roark's struggle is amplified through his interaction with a host of colorful sub-characters, including the young architect Peter Keating, who is driven by a need to please others; the platinum-haired journalist Dominique Francon, who shares Roark's basic values but not his belief in their real-world viability; the powerful newspaper magnate Gail Wynand, a man of superlative competency and productive power who uses his gifts to coddle and placate the lowest common denominator; and the novel's arch-villain, arts reviewer Ellsworth Toohey, who envious disdain for Roark rivals only his passionate desire to take over the world.
Published in 1957, Atlas Shrugged was Ayn Rand's magnum opus. The novel's heroine, railroad executive Dagny Taggart, is a driven businesswoman struggling to keep her railroad alive in a society increasingly overrun by government bureaucrats, and marked by the mysterious, progressive disappearance of the country's great leaders – its scientists, artists, bankers, philosophers , and businessmen.
Dagny is surrounded by heroes who equal her in character: Francisco d'Anconia, the brilliant copper tycoon; Hank Rearden, the masterful industrialist; and John Galt, the man who threatened to stop the motor of the world – and succeeded.
Through its gripping story of romance, mystery, science fiction, and intrigue, Atlas Shrugged dramatizes Ayn Rand's bold ethics of rational selfishness, providing an artistic tribute to the power of reason in human life. The novel also illustrated the moral basis of laissez-faire capitalism, painting a chilling picture of the damaging consequences, materially and psychologically, of governmental incursions upon economic freedom. The novel is known for its suspense-filled plot, its breadth of integrative scope, and the evocative acuity of its literary style. Whereas The Fountainhead's theme concerns independence, Atlas Shrugged dramatizes the critical role of the rational, creative mind in modern society.
Atlas Shrugged continues to sell more than a hundred thousand copies per year, and in 1991 was rated the "second most important book for Americans today," after the Bible, according to a joint survey conducted by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club. In addition, the Boston Public Library has named Atlas Shrugged one of the "100 Most Influential Books of the 20th Century."
Ayn Rand's novels possess a freshness of literary approach that makes their appeal as timeless as their psychological and philosophical themes. They have changed career paths, brought people together, broken others apart, and inspired and influenced men and women of all persuasions and professions.
For some, the novels are life-long sources of insight and inspiration. For others, they mark a single moment of impact. Ayn Rand's novels are clearly among the most provocative and influential books of the Twentieth Century.