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 CEOs 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 BB&T, one of the largest banks in the US. “It offers something other books don’t: the principles that apply to business and to life in general. I would call it complete.” One of Rand’s most famous devotees is Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, whose memoir, The Age of Turbulence, will be officially released on Monday.
Greenspan met Rand when he was 25 and working as an economic forecaster. She was already renowned as the author of The Fountainhead, a novel about an architect true to his principles. 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’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 property of the state. She fled the Soviet Union in 1926 and arrived later that year in Hollywood, where she peered through a gate at the set where the director Cecil B. DeMille was filming a silent movie, King of Kings.
He offered her a ride to the set, then a job as an extra on the film and later a position as a junior screenwriter. She sold several screenplays and intermittently wrote novels that were commercial failures, until 1943, when fans of The Fountainhead began a word-of-mouth campaign that helped sales immensely.
Shortly after Atlas Shrugged was published in 1957, Greenspan wrote a letter to The New York Times to counter a critic’s comment that “the book was written out of hate.” Greenspan wrote:
Rand called Atlas a mystery, “not about the murder of man’s body, but about the murder — and rebirth—- of man’s spirit.” It begins in a time of recession. To save the economy, the hero, John Galt, calls for a strike against government interference. Factories, farms and shops shut down. Riots break out as food becomes scarce.
“Atlas Shrugged is a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should.”
Critics faulted the book’s philosophy and its literary ambitions. Both conservatives and liberals were unstinting in disparaging the book; the right saw promotion of godlessness, and the left saw a message of “greed is good.”
Rand had a reputation for living for her own interest. She is said to have seduced her most serious reader, Nathaniel Branden, when he was 24 or 25 and she was at least 50. Each was married to someone else. In fact, they called their spouses to a meeting at which the pair announced their intention to make the mentor-protégé relationship a sexual one.
“She wasn’t a nice person, “ said Darla Moore, vice president of the private investment firm Rainwater Inc. “But what a gift she’s given us.”
Some business leaders might be unsettled by the idea that the only thing members of the leadership class have in common is their success. James M. Kilts, who led turnarounds at Gillette, Nabisco and Kraft, said he encountered Atlas at “a time in college life when everybody was a nihilist, anti-establishment, and a collectivist.” He found her writing reassuring because it made success seem rational. Related Stories What the world is readingWhat the world is reading Ad Links Ayn Rand Book The Fountainhead Anthem