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This FAQ addresses frequently asked biographical questions about Ayn Rand. These questions include inquiries that have been made to the ORC, issues raised on newsgroups and email lists, and ideas suggested by readers of earlier versions of this FAQ.
The detailed contents are as follows:
|1 About This FAQ|
|2 Ayn Rand Basics|
|2.1 Who is Ayn Rand?|
|2.2 When/where was Rand born? When/where did she die? Etc.|
|2.3 Why are people interested in Ayn Rand?|
|2.4 How is 'Ayn' pronounced?|
|2.5 Is 'Ayn Rand' her real name?|
|3.1 What did Rand write?|
|3.1.2 Short stories|
|3.2 Besides writing, what did Rand do?|
|3.3 Did Rand organize a cult?|
|3.4 How successful was Rand as a writer?|
|4.1 Who were Rand's parents? Did she have any brothers or sisters?|
|4.2 Was Rand married? Who was her husband?|
|4.3 Did Rand have any children?|
|4.4 Who are Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden? Did Rand have an affair with Nathaniel Branden?|
|4.5 Who is Leonard Peikoff?|
|4.6 Who is Alan Greenspan?|
|4.7 Who is Robert Hessen?|
|4.8 Did Rand "excommunicate" friends because they liked Beethoven's music?|
|4.9 What was Rand's relationship with Frank Lloyd Wright?|
|4.10 Was Ayn Rand a lesbian?|
|5 Ideas and Education|
|5.1 What is Objectivism?|
|5.2 What were Rand's views about ...|
|5.2.2 Copyrights and Patents (Intellectual Property)|
|5.2.3 Criminal Punishment/Capital Punishment|
|5.2.4 Drug Abuse|
|5.2.5 Gun Control|
|5.2.9 Race Relations|
|5.3 What was Rand's view of Immanuel Kant?|
|5.4 What was Rand's educational background?|
|5.5 Did Rand study under Russian philosopher Nicholas O. Lossky?|
|5.6 Was Rand influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche?|
|5.7 Did Rand say, "The cross is a symbol of torture"?|
|5.8 What political candidates did Rand support?|
|5.9 What did Rand read?|
|6 Miscellaneous Questions|
|6.1 What is an "intellectual heir?"|
|6.2 What is "tiddlywink music?"|
|6.3 I heard that Rand was addicted to speed. Is this true?|
|6.4 Did Rand have any hobbies?|
|6.5 Did Rand have any pets?|
|6.6 Did Rand donate her papers and manuscripts to the Library of Congress?|
|6.7 Why is she often referred to as "Miss Rand," even though she was married?|
|6.8 Who owns the rights to Rand's writings?|
|6.9 Was Ayn Rand Jewish?|
|6.10 Did Rand die from lung cancer?|
|7 Sources for More Information|
|7.1 What books contain biographical information about Ayn Rand?|
|7.2 Besides books, where else can I find biographical information about Ayn Rand?|
|7.3 Did Rand ever write an autobiography?|
This FAQ was last updated on November 4, 2009. Please note that multiple biographies of Rand have been published recently, and information from them is not fully accounted for below. Some changes to the material below are anticipated due to new information they contain.
Ayn Rand was a twentieth-century novelist and philosopher. She wrote several popular novels and developed a philosophy known as "Objectivism." A brief overview of Objectivism can be found at the website of the Ayn Rand Institute.
Rand was born on February 2, 1905 in St. Petersburg, Russia. She moved to the United States in 1926 (arriving February 18) and became a naturalized US citizen on March 13, 1931. She died of heart failure on March 6, 1982 in New York City.[*]
See pictures of St. Petersburg as Rand knew it.[*]
Millions of people have read Ayn Rand's work, especially her novels. Many have found them to be a great source of personal inspiration. Her focus on reason and individualism appeals to many people, some of whom have adopted her specific philosophical ideas as their own. Even among those who do not accept her philosophy as a whole, there are still many who find inspiration and support. The specific things that Rand's readers take from her work vary. However, few people read her work without some strong reaction -- even if it is a negative reaction.
Perhaps the thing that Ayn Rand appeals to most strongly is something she described in one of her non-fiction essays:
There is a fundamental conviction which some people never acquire, some hold only in their youth, and a few hold to the end of their days -- the conviction that ideas matter. In one's youth that conviction is experienced as a self-evident absolute, and one is unable fully to believe that there are people who do not share it. That ideas matter means that knowledge matters, that truth matters, that one's mind matters. And the radiance of that certainty, in the process of growing up, is the best aspect of youth.
Its consequence is the inability to believe in the power of the triumph of evil. No matter what corruption one observes in one's immediate background, one is unable to to accept it as normal, permanent or metaphysically right. One feels: "This injustice (or terror or falsehood or frustration or pain or agony) is the exception in life, not the rule." One feels certain that somewhere on earth -- even if not anywhere in one's surroundings or within one's reach -- a proper, human way of life is possible to human beings, and justice matters. ... And if justice matters, then one fights for it: one speaks out -- in the unnamed certainty that someone, somewhere will understand.[*]
Rand found that understanding from at least some of her readers, and they in turn find their own needs reflected in her vision and commitment to ideas.
It is a single syllable that rhymes with 'mine' and 'fine'. Some people pronounce it like 'Ann' or so that it rhymes with 'pain' and 'gain.' These alternate pronunciations are mistaken.[*]
'Ayn Rand' is not her birth name, but it is the name she used most of her life. She adopted that name when she left the Soviet Union.
Rand's Russian birth name can be transliterated into English as 'Alisa Zinovievna Rosenbaum.' (The first name is also sometimes transliterated as 'Alissa' or 'Alyssa,' or translated into 'Alice.')[*] In a letter to a fan, Rand wrote that "'Ayn' is both a real name and an invention. The original of it is a Finnish feminine name." This Finnish name is pronounced in Russian as "I-na" and would be written as 'Aino' in English. Rand shortened this to the single syllable 'Ayn'.[*]
How she came to choose 'Rand' as a last name is less clear, partly because of the many contradictory speculations about it:
This last seems the most likely explanation, because it is consistent with statements in media profiles that Rand's American name was a version of her Russian surname.[*] Unfortunately, without some firmer confirmation, this suggestion remains somewhat speculative. It has, however, been given a tentative endorsement by the Ayn Rand Institute in its newsletter and on its website.
After her marriage, Rand also used the names "Ayn Rand O'Connor" or "Mrs. Frank O'Connor" in some settings.[*]
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The following material gives very basic information about Rand's writings. A much more detailed bibliography of her works is available online. More detailed information on each of Rand's published books can be found in the ORC section on that subject.
For links to the full text of Anthem and excerpts from Rand's other novels, see the Texts section of the ORC.
"The Simplest Thing in the World" was her only short story published during her lifetime. A collection of unpublished stories, plays and other items was published after her death under the title The Early Ayn Rand.[*]
Two stage plays by Rand were produced during her lifetime:
Rand also wrote two other plays, Ideal and Think Twice, which were neither produced nor published in her lifetime. They are both included in The Early Ayn Rand, and in a collection of Rand's plays called Three Plays.
Three screenplays by Rand were produced during her lifetime:
In addition to these three, Rand also worked on the screenplay for The Conspirators. However, several other writers were also involved in multiple re-writes, and not enough of Rand's work survived for her to be listed in the credits.[*]
Rand also began unproduced screenplays for four other movies. One was called Red Pawn and was written the 1930s. It was her first professional writing sale.[*] Three others were written while she was under contract with Hal Wallis in the 1940s:
Before her death, she began work on a screenplay for a mini-series version of Atlas Shrugged. (This script is not the basis for the mini-series projects that have been attempted since her death.)[*]
Rand was not involved in the writing or production of the movie version of Night of January 16th (1941) or the Italian movie of We the Living, released in two parts titled Noi vivi and Addio Kira! (both 1942).[*]
Review the credits for the three produced movies written by Rand.
Six non-fiction books by Rand were published during her lifetime:
These books are largely collections of previously published essays. A number of additional books of Rand's non-fiction writings have been published since her death. See the ORC Books section for more extensive information about Rand's non-fiction books.
After graduating college in Russia, Rand worked briefly as a tour guide at the Peter and Paul Fortress in Leningrad, then emigrated to the United States.[*]
In the US, prior to her success with Night of January 16th, Rand worked in various jobs in Hollywood. Shortly after arriving there, she met, by accident, the famous director Cecil B. DeMille, who offered her a job as an extra in The King of Kings. As the movie was being completed, DeMille offered her a job preparing synopses of works that might be adapted for films. In 1927 she left DeMille's studio and for a time worked what she later described as "a bewildering number of jobs," such as waiting tables and selling newspaper subscriptions. In 1929 Rand took work as a filing clerk in the wardrobe department of RKO, eventually becoming head of the department. In 1932, while still running the wardrobe department, she made her first professional writing sale, a movie screenplay entitled Red Pawn (which was never produced). With $1,500 (equivalent to over $20,000 in 2005 dollars) in hand from that sale, Rand quit the wardrobe department. From that point forward she worked primarily as a professional writer.[*]
In 1934, when Night of January 16th was to be produced on Broadway, Rand moved to New York City. While there she primarily lived on the royalties from the play and her first two novels (her husband's earnings during this period were only sporadic, see section 4.2 below). At times she took work as a reader for RKO and MGM, similar to her earlier work for DeMille, in order to survive when other income was sparse. Also, during her research for The Fountainhead, she worked for several months without pay in the office of architect Ely Jacques Kahn, in order to learn about the business. The royalties from The Fountainhead freed her from the financial need to do any work other than writing.[*]
After the publication of Atlas Shrugged years later, Rand was in demand as a public speaker. She delivered annual speeches at the Ford Hall Forum in Boston, and also spoke at colleges, universities and other forums. From 1961 to 1976, she acted as editor and publisher for a series of magazines devoted to discussing Objectivist ideas, for which she also wrote numerous essays.[*]
No, although the accusation is sometimes made against her. To address the issue at length would take more room than is reasonable in this FAQ. However, for the purposes of this FAQ, some quotes from Rand herself seem relevant. After the dissolution of the Nathaniel Branden Institute (NBI), which had provided lectures and other services promoting Rand's ideas, she specifically disclaimed any desire for an organized Objectivist movement:
I regard the spread of Objectivism through today's culture as an intellectual movement -- i.e., a trend among independent individuals who share the same ideas -- but not as an organized movement. The existence (and the later policies) of NBI contributed to certain misconceptions among some of its students and the public at large, which tended to put Objectivism in an equivocal position in this respect. I want, therefore, to make it emphatically clear that Objectivism is not an organized movement and is not to be regarded as such by anyone.[*]
Several years earlier, in response to a fan who wrote her offering cult-like allegiance, Rand wrote the following:
My philosophy advocates reason, not faith; it requires men to think -- to accept nothing without a full, rational, firsthand understanding and conviction -- to claim nothing without factual evidence and logical proof. A blind follower is precisely what my philosophy condemns and what I reject. Objectivism is not a mystic cult.[*]
Rand's writings repeatedly stress the importance of individualism and independent thinking. Whatever one thinks of her otherwise, it is inappropriate to brand her a cult leader.
If success is measured in terms of books sold, then Rand was eventually very successful, although not as much as some authors. Rand's writing career had a couple of early successes, with the sale of a screenplay (Red Pawn) and a successful Broadway play (Night of January 16th). But her career stalled. Her first two novels sold poorly and fell out of print, and a play based on one of them flopped. Lasting success finally came when her third novel, The Fountainhead, became a best seller. She sold the movie rights and also obtained a contract to write movie screenplays. Her fourth and final novel, Atlas Shrugged, was another best seller. Rand's later success raised her profile and she was able to have her earlier works re-published to greater circulation than they initially achieved. Some of her subsequent non-fiction books have also sold relatively well considering their content. As of 2008, the total sales of Rand's books were over 25 million copies, with the most popular being the following (approximate number of copies sold as of April 2008 in parentheses)[*]:
Although Rand's work continues to generate strong sales over 25 years after her death, there are other contemporary books and authors with significantly higher sales.[*]
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Rand was the eldest daughter of Zinovy Zakharovich Rosenbaum and Anna Borisovna Rosenbaum (née Kaplan), known as "Anna". Rand's father had a degree in chemistry and was a successful pharmacist prior to the Russian Revolution. (After the revolution his pharmacy was siezed by the Soviet government.) Rand's mother was a dentist but became a housewife when she had children. After her husband's business was siezed, she took work as a teacher.
Rand had two younger sisters, Natasha (born in 1907) and Eleanora (born in 1910 and know as 'Nora'). All of her immediate family except Nora died during World War II, and Rand was not even aware that her sister was still alive until 1973. After they rediscovered one another, a brief visit to the US by Nora and her husband went badly and left the two sisters estranged. Nora returned to Russia and survived her sister's death until March 15, 1999.[*]
Rand married actor Charles Francis (Frank) O'Connor on April 15, 1929, having first met him when they both worked in Cecil B. DeMille's movie The King of Kings in 1926. O'Connor was born on September 22, 1897, in Lorain, Ohio. They remained married until his death on November 9, 1979. Although O'Connor was an actor when he and Rand met, he did progressively less acting work throughout the 1930s, and was unemployed for much of the Great Depression. Over the course of his life he dabbled in various jobs, including running the couple's California ranch (when they lived there) and designing floral arrangements. Later in life he was an amateur painter. His painting "Man Also Rises" has appeared as the cover art for The Fountainhead.[*] (Rand's husband should not be confused with the Irish writer known as "Frank O'Connor," whose real name was Michael Francis O'Donovan.)
See the screen credits from O'Connor's movie career.
No. Barbara Branden described Rand's attitude towards having children thusly:
It was a responsibility that she was not interested in assuming. When she was writing Atlas [Shrugged], she would sometimes say that she was "with book." The only children she wanted were her books.[*]
Nathaniel Branden (then known as Nathan Blumenthal) was a fan of The Fountainhead who first met Rand in person in 1950. He introduced Rand to his girlfriend, Barbara Weidman. Blumenthal and Weidman soon became close friends with Rand and her husband. After a name change and a marriage, the Brandens would go on to found the Nathaniel Branden Institute to deliver lectures on Rand's ideas. In 1962, Rand and Nathaniel Branden began co-publishing The Objectivist Newsletter (later The Objectivist), with Barbara Branden as the managing editor.
In 1968, Rand publicly broke all ties with the Brandens. She accused Nathaniel of "deliberate deception of several persons," failing to keep up with his duties at The Objectivist (which had fallen behind schedule), and financial impropriety regarding loans of money from The Objectivist (which Rand and Branden co-owned) to NBI (of which Branden was the sole owner). She also referred to unspecified "ugly actions and irrational behavior in his private life." Against Barbara, Rand said that she had issued "veiled threats and undefined accusations" when Rand had refused to endorse Barbara's plan to replace NBI with a new lecture service, and then refused to come to a meeting with Rand and others involved to explain herself. The Brandens issued denials of many of the accusations against them, and Nathaniel suggested that the break had come because he refused romantic advances from Rand.[*]
Years later, the Brandens would detail in biographical accounts that Nathaniel had a romance with Rand starting in 1954, which had been sexual from 1955 to at least 1959 (with the knowledge and consent of both their spouses). Rand had tried to resume this aspect of their relationship in 1964. By then, Nathaniel was secretly having an affair with a third woman, without telling either Rand or Barbara. Branden did not admit his new relationship, nor did he outright refuse to resume his romance with Rand. Instead, he made up various excuses for not renewing his sexual relationship with Rand, going so far as to ask for her help in counseling him to overcome his supposed problems. Branden has described his own behavior toward Rand in this period as "erratic ... my absentmindedness, my elusiveness, my coldness -- alternating, as always, with expressions of passionate devotion ... ."[*] Rand's personal journals from 1967 and 1968 indicate that she initially believed in many of Branden's manufactured problems, and spent considerable time and effort attempting to understand and resolve them.[*] This behavior on Branden's part, which extended over four years, is clearly a large part of what Rand meant in accusing him of "deliberate deception" and "irrational behavior in his private life." Because these accounts were written several years after Rand's death, she was never able to respond to them directly.[*]
Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden are divorced. She is a writer and lecturer. He is a therapist and author of a number of books on psychology and improving one's self-esteem, including The Psychology of Self-Esteem, Honoring the Self, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, and Taking Responsibility.
Leonard Peikoff was a friend of Rand from 1951 until her death. He met her through his cousin, Barbara Branden. He was an associate lecturer for the Nathaniel Branden Institute and wrote articles for each of Rand's periodicals. He completed a Ph.D. in philosophy in 1964. In the 1970s he wrote and delivered (with Rand's assistance and approval) a course on Rand's ideas, which eventually served as the basis for his 1987 book, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. Just before her death, Rand wrote an introduction for his earlier book, The Ominous Parallels.
After Rand's death in 1982, Peikoff became the heir to her estate. In 1985 he founded the Ayn Rand Institute to further the spread of Rand's ideas. He has since retired from active involvement in the ARI, as well as from a talk radio show he hosted in the late 1990s.
Alan Greenspan was born in New York City on March 6, 1926, just a couple of weeks after Ayn Rand's arrival there from Russia. The two first met in the early 1950s. The introduction came because Greenspan was briefly married to a childhood friend of Barbara Branden. Although initially skeptical of Rand's ideas, he eventually became a lecturer for the Nathaniel Branden Institute and a contributor of articles to The Objectivist Newsletter. He received a Ph.D. in economics from New York University in 1977. After serving on various commissions and councils for Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan, Greenspan was appointed by Reagan in 1987 to be chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. He was repeatedly re-appointed to this position by succeeding presidents, until his retirement in early 2006.[*] The significant events of Greenspan's life are recounted in the ORC's Alan Greenspan Timeline.
For many years it was not clear to what extent Greenspan still accepted Rand's ideas. Some reports suggested he was still loyal to the beliefs he held in the 1950s and 60s years ago, but many critics said his work at the Federal Reserve was incompatible with Rand's political and ethical philosophy.[*] In his 2007 autobiography, Greenspan wrote that although "the broader philosophy of unfettered market competition [is] compelling," he believes there are contradictions within Rand's ideas, and therefore he agrees with them only with "qualifications."[*]
Historian Robert Hessen wrote several articles for The Objectivist Newsletter and The Objectivist. Two of his articles were combined into a chapter of Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. He was also Rand's personal secretary from 1959 to 1961 and her friend until a disagreement in 1980 (they retained a business relationship until her death). He has written several books, including Steel Titan: The Life of Charles M. Schwab. He is a Senior Research Fellow (Emeritus) for the Hoover Institution.
No, she did not. Tales that Rand ended relationships with people over disagreements in musical tastes seem to stem primarily from Barbara Branden's book The Passion of Ayn Rand, in which Branden gives a brief account of several arguments between Rand and her longtime friends Joan Mitchell Blumenthal and Allan Blumenthal, over differences of taste in music and painting. According to the information in Branden's book, these arguments were part of a generally worsening relationship between Rand and the Blumenthals over several years in the 1970s, which culminated in the Blumenthals initiating a break with Rand (not vice versa) in 1978. Even if one believes that Rand ran a cult from which she excommunicated people, it is hard to see how these disagreements could be interpreted as instances of excommunication, since the Blumenthals remained friends with Rand for several years while these arguments were happening, and they were the ones who initiated the break.[*]
Other accounts of how Rand dealt with artistic differences also fail to support the "excommunication" interpretation. Alan Greenspan is reported to have disagreed openly with Rand's opinions on music, and even convinced her to moderate her negative opinion of Mozart.[*] At least one person who remained Rand's friend until her death was an admitted lover of Beethoven's music: Leonard Peikoff, who was Rand's closest friend for over a decade and the heir to her estate.[*]
Rand first attempted to contact the famous modernist architect when she was working on her novel The Fountainhead, in which the main character, Howard Roark, is an architect. She wrote Wright a letter asking for an interview. This and her other efforts at an interview were rebuffed, even after she was introduced in person to Wright at a dinner for the National Association of Real Estate Boards. However, when the novel was finally published, Wright read it and wrote a letter to Rand praising it.[*]
Wright and Rand met in person on a couple of other occasions, and corresponded about the possibility of Wright designing a country home for Rand and her husband. Drawings were done of the proposed home, but it was never built.[*] When The Fountainhead was made into a movie, Rand hoped that Wright would be hired to do the drawings of Roark's fictional buildings. Unfortunately, Wright demanded a fee so exorbitant that it amounted to a refusal of the project.[*]
One final note: it is sometimes suggested that the character Howard Roark is actually based on Wright, but Ayn Rand denied this.[*]
One of the numerous unsupported allegations about Rand that is occasionally encountered is the suggestion that she was either lesbian or bisexual.[*] If any justification is given, it is typically that she was not traditionally "feminine" in her mannerisms and had a more aggressive personality than was expected for a "feminine" woman. Aside from relying on stereotypes of what lesbians are supposedly like (aggressive and man-like), no evidence is ever offered that Rand had a romantic or sexual interest in other women. The biographical evidence is entirely to the contrary: she was married to a man, had an affair with another man, and wrote fiction that clearly shows her interest in the male body and heterosexual sex. No assignations with women have ever been documented or even credibly alleged.[*]
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'Objectivism' is the name Rand gave to her philosophy (she rejected some other possibilities, including 'Randism' and 'Rationalism,' before settling on the name). The Ayn Rand Institute offers Rand's own brief summary of the basics of Objectivism from an article entitled "Introducing Objectivism."
Because Rand commented widely on issues of contemporary politics and culture, one often sees questions asking her stands on various issues. Although the purpose of this FAQ is not to explain Rand's philosophy, simple factual questions of what Rand said on a given issue are sometimes asked. The items that follow discuss her known comments on several issues that are commonly discussed. For extensive additional quotations of Rand's comments on a wide variety of issues, please see The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism from A to Z, edited by Harry Binswanger.
Rand believed women had the right to choose an abortion. She wrote about this issue in several articles for Objectivist periodicals. In one essay for The Objectivist, she wrote:
An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, but only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not yet living (or the unborn).
Abortion is a moral right -- which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered. Who can conceivably have the right to dictate to her what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body?[*]
Rand supported the existence of patents and copyrights, sometimes referred to more generally as "intellectual property," similar to the ones that exist under US law today (which is not to claim that she would necessarily agree with every aspect of current US law on these subjects). In an article on the subject, she wrote:
The government does not "grant" a patent or copyright, in the sense of a gift, privilege, or favor; the government merely secures it -- i.e., the government certifies the origination of an idea and protects its owner's exclusive right of use and disposal. A man is not forced to apply for a patent or copyright; he may give his idea away, if he so chooses; but if he wishes to exercise his property right, the government will protect it, as it protects all other rights. ... The patent or copyright notice on a physical object represents a public statement of the conditions on which the inventor or author is willing to sell his product: for the purchaser's use, but not for commercial reproduction.[*]
While approving of the general idea of patents and copyrights, Rand was very critical of the contemporary handling of them by the government, calling the US patent system in the 1960s "a nightmare." It is not known what she thought (or would have thought) about more recent modifications of patent and copyright law.
Rand's general views on criminal punishment were summed up in a letter she wrote to philosopher John Hospers:
But you ask me what is the punishment deserved by criminal actions. This is a technical, legal issue, which has to be answered by the philosophy of law. The law has to be guided by moral principles, but their application to specific cases is a special field of study. I can only indicate in a general way what principles should be the base of legal justice in determining punishments. The law should: a. correct the consequences of the crime in regard to the victim, whenever possible (such as recovering stolen property and returning it to the owner); b. impose restraints on the criminal, such as a jail sentence, not in order to reform him, but in order to make him bear the painful consequences of his action (or their equivalent) which he inflicted on his victims; c. make the punishment proportionate to the crime in the full context of all the legally punishable crimes.
She specifically did not believe that criminal punishment should aim primarily at reforming criminals:
What punishment is deserved by the two extremes of the scale is open to disagreement and discussion -- but the principle by which a specific argument has to be guided is retribution, not reform. The issue of attempting to "reform" criminals is an entirely separate issue and a highly dubious one, even in the case of juvenile delinquents. At best, it might be a carefully limited adjunct of the penal code (and I doubt even that), not its primary, determining factor.[*]
With regard to the death penalty, Rand did not write about the subject herself, but she did publish a brief article by Nathaniel Branden responding the the question, "What is the Objectivist stand on capital punishment?":
There are grounds for debate -- though not out of sympathy or pity for murderers.
If it were possible to by fully and irrevocably certain, beyond any possibility of error, that a man were guilty, then capital punishment for murder would be appropriate and just. But men are not infallible; juries make mistakes; that is the problem. There have been instances recorded where all the available evidence pointed overwhelmingly to a man's guilt, and the man was convicted, and then subsequently discovered to be innocent. It is the possibility of executing an innocent man that raises doubts about the legal advisability of capital punishment. It is preferable to sentence ten murderers to life imprisonment, rather than sentence one innocent man to death.[*]
In her essay, "Apollo and Dionysus," Rand describes drug addiction among hippies as follows:
Is there any doubt that drug addiction is an escape from an unbearable inner state, from a reality one cannot deal with, from an atrophying mind one can never fully destroy? If Apollonian reason were unnatural to man, and Dionysian "intuition" brought him closer to nature and truth, the apostles of irrationality would not have to resort to drugs. Happy, self-confident men do not seek to get "stoned."
Drug addiction is the attempt to obliterate one's consciousness, the quest for a deliberately induced insanity. As such, it is so obscene an evil that any doubt about the moral character of its practitioners is itself an obscenity.
In a passage from a different essay, Rand says that "drug addiction is nothing but a public confession of personal impotence."[*] Her published comments all refer to addiction, and do not include any explicit reference to the idea of using illegal recreational drugs without abusing them or being an addict.
Rand never published a written statement about gun control. Her comments about it in response to questions suggest that she was skeptical of the idea but not strongly opposed to it. In a question and answer session in 1971, she stated:
I do not know enough about it to have an opinion, except to say that it's not of primary importance. Forbidding guns or registering them is not going to stop criminals from having them; nor is it a great threat to the private, noncriminal citizen if he has to register the fact that he has a gun. It's not an important issue, unless you're ready to begin a private uprising right now, which isn't very practical.
In a similar session in 1973, she said:
It's a complex, technical issue in the philosophy of law. Handguns are instruments for killing people -- they are not carried for hunting animals -- and you have no right to kill people. You do have the right to self-defense, however. I don't know how the issue is to be resolved to protect you without giving you the privilege to kill people at whim.[*]
Finally, an interview in 1979 contained the following exchange:
Raymond Newman: You have stated that the government ought to be the exclusive agent for the use of force under objective rules of law and justice --
Ayn Rand: That's right.
Newman: -- and yet at the same time today we see an alarming rise in violent crimes in this country and more and more people applying for gun permits and wanting to protect themselves. Do you see this as a dangerous trend, number one; and number two, do you favor any form of gun control laws?
Rand: I have given it no thought at all and, off-hand, I would say, no, the government shouldn't control guns except in very marginal forms. I don't think it's very important because I don't think it is in physical terms that the decisions and the fate of this country will be determined. If this country falls apart altogether, if the government collapses bankrupt, your having a handgun in your pocket isn't going to save your life. What you would need is ideas and other people who share those ideas and fighting towards a proper civilized government, not handguns for personal protection.[*]
An article published in The Intellectual Activist during Rand's lifetime was squarely opposed to gun control. This article presumably had Rand's approval.[*]
Rand's only known public comments on the subject of homosexuality come from question and answer sessions following speeches. In answer to a question in 1968 about "laws prohibiting homosexuality," she said:
All laws against homosexual acts should be repealed. I do not approve of such practices or regard them as necessarily moral, but it is improper for the law to interfere with a relationship between consenting adults. Laws against corrupting the morals of minors are proper, but adults should be completely free.[*]
In 1971, the exchange was as follows:
Q: This questioner says she read somewhere that you consider all forms of homosexuality immoral. If this is so, why?
A: Because it involves psychological flaws, corruptions, errors, or unfortunate premises, but there is a psychological immorality at the root of homosexuality. Therefore I regard it as immoral. But I do not believe that the government has the right to prohibit it. It is the privilege of any individual to use his sex life in whichever way he wants it. That's his legal right, provided he is not forcing it on anyone. And therefore the idea that it's proper among consenting adults is the proper formulation legally. Morally it is immoral, and more than that, if you want my really sincere opinion, it is disgusting.[*]
Reports of private conversations held before and after these answers were given indicate that she sometimes expressed a more qualified position, stating that because the psychological origins of homosexuality were not clearly understood, blanket moral condemnation would be inappropriate. For example, Harry Binswanger described her attitude thusly:
I asked her privately (circa 1980) specifically whether she thought it was immoral. She said that we didn't know enough about the development of homosexuality in a person's psychology to say that it would have to involve immorality.[*]
Because she did not speak at length on the subject in public and no essays about it were published by her or her associates during her lifetime, any further details of her positions are not known, although her personal disapproval and distaste for homosexuality are clear.
Like many terms, the word 'libertarian' is used in a variety of ways. In it's broadest uses, it is often applied to Rand's political philosophy, as well as to various other, conflicting ideologies. However, Rand herself did not use this term to describe her ideas. Instead, she used terms such as 'capitalism' (or 'laissez-faire capitalism') and 'individual rights' throughout her writings. During a series of lectures on writing, Rand explained her avoidance of many popular political designations:
... [T]ake the word "liberal." In the nineteenth century, this was a proper term which stood for one who defended rights and limited government -- except that it never represented a fully consistent political philosophy. So historically, what started as nineteenth-century liberalism gradually became modern liberalism. (Conservatives used to claim that they were the true liberals, but they have given up doing so.) Similarly, some people today use "libertarian" to designate the pro-free enterprise position, but there are some modern liberals who call themselves libertarians as well. This stealing of terms with undefined connotations is so prevalent today that I simply do not use any of these words. This is one reason I prefer "pro-capitalist" to "conservative." When what is being disguised or destroyed is not exactly what you uphold, then drop the word and use another.[*]
Her one use of the specific word 'libertarian' in her writings published before her death is negative:
Above all, do not join the wrong ideological groups or movements, in order to "do something." By "ideological" (in this context), I mean groups or movements proclaiming some vaguely generalized, undefined (and, usually, contradictory) political goals. (E.g., the Conservative Party, which subordinates reason to faith, and substitutes theocracy for capitalism; or the "libertarian" hippies, who subordinate reason to whims, and substitute anarchism for capitalism.) To join such groups means to reverse the philosophical hierarchy and to sell out fundamental principles for the sake of some superficial political action which is bound to fail.[*]
In a letter to a fan, which was published after her death, she was more explicit in her disapproval:
Please tell your daughter that I am profoundly opposed to today's so-called libertarian movement and to the theories of Dr. Murray Rothbard. [ORC Note: Rothbard was a well-known anarchist with whom Rand had a brief personal association in the 1950s.] So-called libertarians are my avowed enemies, yet I've heard many reports on their attempts to cash in on my name and mislead readers into the exact opposite of my views.[*]
In question and answer sessions after some of her public speeches, Rand was sometimes even more harsh, referring to libertarians as "plagiarists" of her political ideas and saying that the Libertarian Party was "rush[ing] into politics in order to get publicity."[*]
Rand strongly disapproved of anarchism and in her later years appears to have associated that ideology with the term 'libertarian.' This association is further reaffirmed by the comments of Harry Binswanger in an article published a few months before Rand's death, in which he repeatedly refers to "'libertarian' anarchists."[*]
Peter Schwartz's article "Libertarianism: The Perversion of Liberty," which appears in the Rand anthology The Voice of Reason, condemns Libertarians (Schwartz uses the capital 'L' throughout). This article was written several years after Rand's death. Therefore, it would be a mistake to attribute any of its specific details to her, since she never saw the article itself. However, it is an accurate reflection of her general views on the subject.
Rand mentioned privacy as a significant value occasionally in her writings, most notably in The Fountainhead:
Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage's whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.[*]
She did not discuss the concept of a right to privacy in any detail in her public writings, and made only a brief mention of it in a personal letter:
An issue such as "the invasion of privacy" cannot be discussed without a clear definition of the right to privacy, and this cannot be discussed outside the context of clearly defined and upheld individual rights.[*]
It seems clear, however, that Rand did believe there was some type of right to privacy. In addition to her comments above, she also allowed her lawyer to invoke it on her behalf in an article in The Objectivist.[*] She did not, however, expound on the scope or implications of this right.
Rand was strongly opposed to racism, which she described as "the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism." However, she was also opposed to civil rights laws that interfere with the right of private citizens to discriminate with their own property:
No man, neither Negro nor white, has any claim to the property of another man. A man's rights are not violated by a private individual's refusal to deal with him. Racism is an evil, irrational and morally contemptible doctrine -- but doctrines cannot be forbidden or prescribed by law. Just as we have to protect a communist's freedom of speech, even though his doctrines are evil, so we have to protect a racist's right to the use and disposal of his own property. Private racism is not a legal, but a moral issue -- and can be fought only by private means, such as economic boycott or social ostracism.[*]
Beyond racism as it is commonly understood, Rand was also opposed to biases based solely on the ethnic heritage of a smaller group, condemning both racial and ethnic bias as examples of "tribalism."[*]
Rand opposed compulsory taxation. In an essay on "Government Financing in a Free Society," she said that payment for governmental services (police, etc.) should be voluntary. She suggested a couple of possible methods for voluntary financing of government, and indicated that there were also other possibilities.[*]
Rand's negative view of Kant is widely known and is given expression throughout her writings, although she discussed him at length in only a few essays. Her comments about him include:
Rand's most extensive discussions of Kant are in "From the Horse's Mouth" (in Philosophy: Who Needs It) and the title essay of For the New Intellectual.[*]
Whether Rand's descriptions of Kant's ideas and motives were accurate is a subject of some controversy, and she is often accused of misrepresenting him.[*]
Rand entered the University of Petrograd on October 2, 1921, when she was just 16. (Petrograd was the new name of her birthplace, St. Petersburg.) Just over three years later, she received her degree on October 13, 1924, from the newly renamed University of Leningrad. (The city had changed names again as well.) Her study was with the "Department of Social Pedagogy." As researcher Chris Matthew Sciabarra describes it, the course of study with this department was an "integration of the historical and philosophical disciplines [which] sought to prepare students for careers as social science educators." Rand specifically majored in history, and minored in philosophy.[*]
Shortly after graduating from the university, she enrolled in the State Institute for Cinema Arts (also in Leningrad), with the intention of studying screenwriting. Her enrollment in the two-year course of study was to be cut short, because in late 1925 she was given permission to leave to Soviet Union. As a result, she did not actually get to study screenwriting at the Institute, because that subject was not taught until the second year. Rand left having taken courses on make-up, dance, art history, etc., but no writing courses.[*]
Rand took philosophy classes during her undergraduate studies at the University of Petrograd (see question 5.4 above). The early biography Who Is Ayn Rand? tells a story of Rand taking a single class "in the history of ancient philosophy" from "Professor N.O. Lossky ... a distinguished international authority on Plato's philosophy." In the story, Rand impresses Lossky and receives a perfect grade on her final exam. This story was based on Rand's own recollections and is repeated in a subsequent biography, The Passion of Ayn Rand.[*]
In Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, Chris Matthew Sciabarra raised questions about the accuracy of Rand's account. He noted that Lossky was ill during Rand's early college years, and was purged from the main university faculty by the Communists, making it difficult (although not impossible) for Rand to have taken a class from him.[*] These questions in turn led some critics to dismiss Rand's account as inaccurate or even invented.[*] However, Sciabarra's own subsequent research confirmed portions of the account that he had previously questioned, leading to a greater confidence that the story is essentially accurate. It is clear from her university transcripts that she took a class of the type she described, at a time when it would have been possible for Lossky to teach it. Unfortunately, no records have been uncovered that specifically indicate who the teacher of that class was, so Rand's recollection cannot be fully confirmed.[*]
In any case, it should be noted that the account has always been that Rand took one class from Lossky, not that she studied under him for an extended period. Similarly, answering whether Rand took a class from Lossky does not indicate how much she may have been influenced by him.[*]
Rand's early thinking was clearly influenced by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who is most famous for his idea of the "superman" who is "beyond good and evil." Signs of his influence can be found in the first editions of her novels We the Living and Anthem. (She later revised both books, including revision or elimination of the most obviously Nietzschean passages.)[*] Her journal entries for this period mention and quote Nietzsche in a number of places.[*]
During the period in which she wrote The Fountainhead, she turned solidly against Nietzsche's ideas. The tragically flawed character of Gail Wynand in that novel is often interpreted as a representation of Nietzschean ideals. In her introduction to the novel's 25th anniversary edition, she refers to her "profound disagreement" with Nietzsche, whom she calls "a mystic and an irrationalist." Still later she would say, "In all fundamentals ... Objectivism not only differs from Nietzsche but is his opposite. Therefore, I don't want to be confused with Nietzsche in any respect."[*]
Although the existence of some influence by Nietzsche on Rand is clear, the extent of that influence is a subject of debate. Some researchers claim Rand had a "Nietzschean phase" in which she adopted many (though probably not all) of his ideas. Others argue that while Nietzsche influenced the language and imagery of Rand's early writing, she never adopted his core philosophy and always had serious disagreements with many of his ideas, and thus should not be described as having such a "phase."[*]
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In 1960, an article in Time magazine covered a speech by Rand at Yale University. In the article, Rand is quoted as saying "The cross is the symbol of torture; I prefer the dollar sign, the symbol of free trade, therefore of the free mind." No such quote can be found in the published text of the speech.[*] However, in a letter to the editor published in the March 21, 1960, issue of the same magazine, Rand corrects a different quote, and then writes, "As to the rest of your report, the direct quotes were selected perceptively and fairly, ..." Her letter makes no specific mention of the "cross" quote, at least not in the version published by Time.[*]
An article in another magazine the next year identified the comment as part of an interview with Mike Wallace "for his column in the liberal New York Post," and provides a more extended quotation of the exchange.[*]
In an interview with Playboy magazine, the interviewer asked the following of Rand:
You've been quoted as saying "The cross is the symbol of torture, of the sacrifice of the ideal to the nonideal. I prefer the dollar sign." Do you truly feel that two thousand years of Christianity can be summed up with the word "torture"?
Rand's response explicitly denied making the statement quoted:
To begin with, I never said that. It's not my style. Neither literarily nor intellectually. I don't say I prefer the dollar sign -- that is cheap nonsense, and please leave this in your copy. I don't know the origin of that particular quote, but the meaning of the dollar sign is made clear in Atlas Shrugged. It is the symbol, clearly explained in the story, of free trade and, therefore, of a free mind. [...]
Now you want me to speak about the cross. What is correct is that I do regard the cross as the symbol of the sacrifice of the ideal to the nonideal. Isn't that what it does mean? Christ, in terms of the Christian philosophy, is the human ideal. He personifies that which men should strive to emulate. Yet, according to the Christian mythology, he died on the cross not for his own sins but for the sins of the nonideal people. [...] And it is in the name of that symbol that men are asked to sacrifice themselves for their inferiors. That is precisely how the symbolism is used. That is torture.[*]
Based on these sources, it is not clear whether Rand made the exact statement attributed to her by the press accounts, but she did agree with the ideas expressed in that statement.
Rand is known to have taken the following positions on candidates for President of the United States:
The accusation is sometimes made that Rand did not read philosophical or intellectual works from other writers. One critic went so far as to declare that she "read almost nothing but detective novels."[*] Such claims are exaggerated at best. Although Rand apparently did not read extensively in contemporary academic philosophy, she clearly read much more than "detective novels." Nor can it be said that she did not ready any contemporary academic philosophy, since she read such works by Brand Blanshard, John Hospers, John Herman Randall, and W.T. Stace. Works that Rand is known or believed to have read (from various biographical sources) are cataloged on the What Ayn Rand Read page. They include books on philosophy, history and economics, as well as a few detective novels.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Rand sometimes referred to Nathaniel Branden as her "intellectual heir." According to Branden, she once explained this to a journalist as follows: "It means Mr. Branden is the most consistent embodiment of what I write about, that he understands my philosophy better than anyone, and that he represents the next generation who will carry my work further." After her break with Branden in 1968, she ceased to apply this designation to him, and she is not known to have applied it to anyone else. Since her death, the term has sometimes been used to describe Leonard Peikoff, who is her legal heir and a prominent exponent of her ideas.[*]
Rand used this term to refer to lighthearted popular music that she enjoyed. According to Leonard Peikoff's description of it, "Tiddlywink music was basically turn-of-the-century popular music of which there is no equivalent today. Completely joyful, but unserious, unheavy, light-hearted, fast rhythms ... ."[*] Rand's reaction to such music is described by Barbara Branden:
I recall vividly ... the first time Nathaniel and I saw passionate joy in her, the first time we ever saw her totally happy and openly showing her feelings. As we were parking the car, we heard the sound of Ayn's tiddlywink music coming from the house. When we entered the living room, it was to the sight of this serious, austere woman, interested only in the most crucial issues of human life and thought, dancing around the room, spinning in circles and laughing, her head thrown back in a gesture of cheerful defiance, waving a baton that Frank had bought for her -- like a child to whom life was an endlessly joyous adventure.[*]
Examples of this music can be found at Dismuke's Virtual Talking Machine, a website devoted to early 20th-century music.
As with many claims about Rand, this one is rather exaggerated. According to the most reliable information available on the matter, Rand had an ongoing prescription from a doctor for a diet drug that included dextroamphetamine as one of its active ingredients. She took two pills per day until the early 1970s, when another doctor told her to stop taking them. If you refer to any and all amphetamines as "speed," then she did take "speed," although it is probably not accurate to say she was addicted to it. She certainly did not take the street drugs to which the term 'speed' is more commonly applied.
The documentary evidence on this subject is limited. Nathaniel Branden mentions the matter very briefly in his memoirs. All he says is the following:
I did not attach significance to the fact that, since her late twenties, she had been taking amphetamines daily for weight control, on the advice of a physician. I do not think the discovery had yet been made that a protracted use of amphetamines can precipitate paranoid reactions.
In a magazine interview, he expounded only slightly more on the topic:
She was taking a relatively small quantity of a drug called Dexedrine which in those days doctors were prescribing very freely for people who wanted to control their appetite. Today of course Dexedrine has a bad name and it's no longer recommended. But it was recommended to her, I think, when she was only twenty-eight years of age, and she had been taking two pills a day, I believe almost as long as she lived. I don't think she took heavy doses.[*]
Barbara Branden discusses the matter with more detail in The Passion of Ayn Rand. Her discussion in full is as follows:
It was during this period of nonstop work on The Fountainhead that Ayn went to see a doctor. She had heard there was a harmless pill one could take to increase one's energy and lessen one's appetite. The doctor, telling her there would be no negative consequences, prescribed a low dosage of a small green tablet which doctors had begun prescribing rather routinely. Its trade name was Dexamyl. Ayn took two of these pills each day for more than thirty years. They appeared to work: she felt that her physical energy had increased, although it was never high, and her weight stayed under reasonable control. In fact, medical opinion today suggests that they soon ceased to be a source of physical energy; their effect shortly became that of a placebo.
Dexamyl consists of two chemicals: an amphetamine and a barbiturate. It was not until the sixties that researchers investigated the effects of large doses of these chemicals. They found that extremely high doses were harmful, sometimes even resulting in paranoid symptoms; but to this day, there is only the most fragmentary and contradictory scientific evidence to suggest that low doses such as Ayn took could be harmful. As one pharmacological specialist has said: "Perhaps they hurt her, and perhaps they didn't."
In the early seventies, when for the first time she became seriously ill, her doctor took her medical history, and, quite innocently, she told him about the Dexamyl. Disapproving, he ordered her to cease taking them at once. She never took another.
I include this discussion only because I have learned that a number of people, aware that she took this medication, have drawn ominous conclusions about Ayn's mental health; there is no scientific basis for their conclusions.
When Barbara Branden refers to "this period of nonstop work," she is talking about the time between Rand signing the publishing contract for The Fountainhead in December 1941, and the due date for the finished text, which was January 1943. This indicates Rand would have been in her mid-thirties, not her late twenties as stated by Nathaniel Branden. Absent some other clarification, the exact timing of Rand's initial prescription and the exact drug she took (Dexamyl or Dexedrine) remain minor mysteries for future Rand biographers.[*]
Rand's best-known hobby was stamp collecting. She once wrote an article on "Why I Like Stamp Collecting," describing how she had resumed this childhood hobby:
Once I started sorting out the stamps I had accumulated, I was hooked. It was an astonishing experience to find my enthusiasm returning after more than fifty years, as if there had been no interruption. Only now the feeling had the eagerness of childhood combined with the full awareness, confidence and freedom of age.[*]
A 1961 article in The Saturday Evening Post declared that Rand's only hobby at that time was "collecting agates." Her practice of collecting stones is also discussed in Facets of Ayn Rand. In her later years, her reported hobbies also included playing the word game Scrabble and studying algebra.[*]
Beyond these, although "hobby" may not be the best word to describe it, one of Rand's obvious passions was discussing ideas. She regularly discussed philosophy, economics, and other topics with both friends and strangers. In the 1940s and early 1950s, many of these discussions were with prominent conservatives like Isabel Patterson and Henry Hazlitt. Over time, and especially after the success of Atlas Shrugged in 1957, Rand increasingly hosted such discussions with her own fans and admirers.
Rand had several pet cats over the years, including ones named Turtle Cat, Frisco, Thunderbird, Ali and Junior.[*]
No, although some of her manuscripts were donated by her heir, Leonard Peikoff. He later came to regret his decision.
An article in the December 1965 issue of The Objectivist Newsletter announced the following:
In October, 1964, Ayn Rand received a letter from L. Quincy Mumford, Librarian of Congress, which reads, in part, as follows:
"Among the most widely discussed philosophies of our time is that associated with your writings. In your fiction and essays you have made the Objectivist philosophy an issue affecting many levels of public discourse. When the history of our times is written, your work will have a prominent place.
"In order to insure that your work will be the subject of informed study, I invite you to place your manuscripts and personal papers in the Library of Congress. Here they will join a distinguished manuscript collection which includes the papers of most of the Presidents, statesmen, jurists, artists, writers, scientists, and philanthropists. In fact, all phases of our national past are documented through materials in the Library's Manuscript Division."
Miss Rand replied that she would be honored to accept the invitation.[*]
Although her initial response was positive, Rand never formalized her acceptance, despite efforts by the Library to have her do so. At her death, her papers and manuscripts were left to Peikoff, with no conditions or bequests to the Library. In 1991, he decided to donate a portion of her manuscripts (those for her novels) to the Library. However, he retained two pages of The Fountainhead as a memento.
In 1998, Peikoff mentioned in a newspaper interview that he still had the two pages. The Library subsequently threatened legal action against him. The government claimed that the pages were part of the materials he had donated, and thus were the property of the Library. In 2002, Peikoff acquiesced and turned over the pages, rather than fight the Library in court.[*]
The remainder of Rand's papers are in private hands. A large portion of them are in the possession of the Ayn Rand Institute Archives. The books Letters of Ayn Rand and Journals of Ayn Rand have been published based on these materials, and portions of her private journals are also included in the book The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics by James S. Valliant.
Another group of Rand manuscripts, consisting of draft versions of many of her non-fiction articles, were in the possession of Robert Hessen. When Hessen announced that he would sell these manuscripts at auction in 1998, Peikoff disputed Hessen's ownership of the papers. However, no legal action was filed. The auction was allowed to proceed, and included both Hessen's materials and some of Rand's papers that belonged to Barbara Branden. This material now in the hands of various private collectors.[*]
While they are not as widely used now, 'Miss' and 'Mrs.' were standard courtesy titles for women during Ayn Rand's lifetime. Although it is common for dictionaries and style guides to say that 'Miss' is a title used for an unmarried woman and 'Mrs.' is for a married woman, this explanation does not give a full picture of how these terms have been used. During Rand's lifetime, 'Mrs.' might be used with any variation of a woman's married name, regardless of whether she was currently married, divorced or widowed. When a woman used her maiden name or a professional name that was not her married name, then 'Miss' would be appropriate, even if the woman was currently or formerly married. Rand's married name could be stated as "Mrs. Frank O'Connor," "Mrs. Ayn O'Connor" or "Mrs. O'Connor." When referred to by her professional name, she was "Miss Ayn Rand" or "Miss Rand."
Present-day usage tends to drop courtesy titles altogether, or use 'Miss,' 'Mrs.' or 'Ms.' based on each woman's own preferred form of address (if known). Thus, she would be referred to simply as "Ayn Rand" or "Rand," or with a courtesy title as "Miss Rand," since 'Miss' is known to have been her preference when her professional name was used.[*]
When Rand died, her estate was inherited by Leonard Peikoff (see question 4.5 above). He now owns the copyrights to Rand's books, essays, plays, etc.
Ethnically, yes, Rand was Jewish. She was born into a Russian Jewish family (see question 4.1 above), although her parents were not particularly observant. As an adult, Rand did not practice Judaism as a religion, since she became an atheist at an early age. A number of Rand's close associates over the years, including Nathaniel Branden, Barbara Branden, Leonard Peikoff, and Alan Greenspan, have also been ethnic, but non-religious, Jews.[*]
No. The reported cause of Rand's death was heart failure.[*]
A few authors, apparently careless with their research, have stated that Rand died of lung cancer. Rand was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1974, but she underwent surgery, which she reported to be "a complete success." She also stopped smoking at this time. There is no evidence that she experienced any recurrence of the cancer or that it was directly involved in her death, which did not come until 1982.[*]
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The following books contain significant biographical information about Rand. Except where otherwise indicated, all of these books should be in print and available from retail booksellers.
The following works contain some biographical information, but are generally less useful than the ones listed above:
There are several books about Rand's literary output that also contain biographical material, primarily related to the writing of specific works:
More detailed information on all the books mentioned above can be found through the ORC sections on books by Ayn Rand and books about Ayn Rand.
One final note: Jerome Tuccille's It Usually Begins with Ayn Rand and It Still Begins with Ayn Rand (or his combination of the two, The Gospel According to Ayn Rand) are sometimes mistaken as books that might contain biographical information about Rand. They do not. These are highly fictionalized works of satirical memoir, and most of their content is not about Rand at all.[*]
In addition to the books mentioned above, there are a number of shorter works (articles, pamphlets, etc.) about Rand's life or some aspect thereof. Some of these are strongly biased and/or contain misinformation. A listing of every available item would be inappropriately long for this FAQ, but these shorter works include:
Additional biographical sources on the internet can be found through the ORC Biographical section's main page. Readers may also wish to consult Mimi Reisel Gladstein's book, The New Ayn Rand Companion, for an extensive listing of print sources discussing Rand as of 1999.
No. Rand did write a novel, We the Living, that is set in the Soviet Union during the time she lived there. In the foreword to a revised second edition of the novel, she wrote:
... We the Living is as near to an autobiography as I will ever write. It is not an autobiography in the literal, but only in the intellectual, sense. The plot is invented; the background is not. ... My view of what a good autobiography should be is contained in the title that Louis H. Sullivan gave to the story of his life: The Autobiography of an Idea. It is only in this sense that We the Living is my autobiography and that Kira, the heroine, is me. I was born in Russia, I was educated under the Soviets, I have seen the conditions of existence that I describe. ... The specific events of Kira's life were not mine; her ideas, her convictions, her values were and are.[*]
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Additional keywords: Ann Rand, Anne Rand, Any Rand, Leonard Peikof, Leonard Piekoff, Nathaniel Brandon, Barbara Brandon
The philosophy of Ayn Rand, a twentieth-century novelist and philosopher, is known as Objectivism. The Objectivism Reference Center provides resources about Rand, her ideas, her works, and places where those are discussed and debated. Visit the Site Information page for details on site policies. Suggestions for additional materials or additional links are welcomed.
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