Ayn Rand’s Literature of Capitalism
Harriet Rubin, September 15, 2007
One of the most influential business books ever written is a 1,200-page novel published 50 years
ago, on Oct. 12, 1957. It is still drawing readers; it ranks 388th on A
’s best-seller list.
The book is “Atlas Shrugged,” Ayn Rand’s glorification of the right of individuals to live
entirely for their own interest.
For years, Rand’s message was attacked by intellectuals whom her circle labeled “do-gooders,”
who argued that individuals should also work in the service of others. Her book was dismissed as
an homage to greed.
described its philosophy as “nearly perfect in its immorality.”
But the book attracted a coterie of fans, some of them top corporate executives, who dared not
speak of its impact except in private. When they read the book, often as college students, they
now say, it gave form and substance to their inchoate thoughts, showing there is no conflict
between private ambition and public benefit.
“I know from talking to a lot of Fortune 500 C.E.O.’s that ‘Atlas Shrugged’ has had a significant
effect on their business decisions, even if they don’t agree with all of Ayn Rand’s ideas,” said
John A. Allison, the chief executive of
, one of the largest banks in the United States. “It
offers something other books don’t: the principles that apply tobusiness and to life in general. I
would call it complete,” he said.
One of Rand’s most famous devotees is
, the former chairman of the Federal
Reserve, whose memoir, “The Age of Turbulence,” will be officially released Monday. Mr.
Greenspan met Rand when he was 25 and working as an economic forecaster. She was already
renowned as the author of “TheFountainhead,” a novel about an architect true to his principles.
Mr. Greenspan had married a member of Rand’s inner circle, known as the Collective, that met
every Saturday night in her New York apartment.Rand did not pay much attention to Mr.
Greenspan until he began praising drafts of “Atlas,” which she read aloud to her disciples,
according to Jeff Britting, the archivist of Ayn Rand’s papers. He was attracted, Mr. Britting
said, to “her moral defense of capitalism.”
Rand’s free-market philosophy was hard won. She was born in 1905 in Russia. Her life changed
overnight when the Bolsheviks broke into her father’s pharmacy and declared his livelihood the