Ayn Rand and Life

Diana Hsieh recently asked, on her blog, “At what point in reading Ayn Rand did you realize that she had something really significant to contribute to your understanding of the world?”

Several of her many readers responded with their first encounters with Objectivism. Most of them are appallingly young, recounting first experiences during their high school years. Would that Ayn Rand’s works had been available during my high school years!

If I had replied to Diana’s question, it would have gone something like this: I happened on Atlas Shrugged in the early 1960’s. My mother, a voracious and indiscriminate reader of any new library books, had read AS several years previously, but had said something about the story going “on and on,” and she didn’t understand it. The book was huge, and that, along with Mom’s somewhat negative review, made it uninteresting to me at the time.

In 1963 the 13th printing of the paperback Signet edition of AS was in the drug store book racks (price: $0.95). I recall being discouraged about the novels being published at the time. My conscious thought was, “I don’t think I’ve ever read anything worthwhile by a woman author. Maybe I should give this a try.” I was about 31 years of age.

The story was gripping and its ideas were intriguing. As many people have done, I questioned whether people like Ayn Rand’s protagonists were even possible, but I certainly found them inspiring.

The answer to my question (and to Diana’s) happened when I came to the “About the Author” page at the end of the book. The quotation there was, “My personal life is a postscript to my novels; it consists of the sentence: ‘And I mean it.’ I have always lived by the philosophy I present in my books — and it has worked for me, as it works for my characters. The concretes differ, the abstractions are the same.”

It was then that I realized I had not just read a great story. I had happened onto something that would make an enormous difference in my life.

–Ken

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