Ayn Rand
READING LIST

Ayn RandThe Best 5 Books to Read

Ayn Rand (1905 - 1982) is the pen name of Alice O’Connor, a Russian-born American writer and thinker. Early on in her career, Rand wrote short stories, plays, and screenplays, and in her later novels and essays went on to develop a philosophical system — which she named ‘Objectivism’ — which includes an epistemology, political philosophy, and a theory of art.

Rand’s Objectivist movement had a number of devoted followers. Her relationship with philosophy, however, was (and remains) rather controversial in that only a limited number of professional philosophers took her work seriously. This is due to the somewhat polemical style of her writing, and her rather cursory dismissal of other thinkers of the time.

Rand’s perceived lack of methodical rigor and philosophical engagement means her ideas have been rejected by some critics as mere ‘pseudo-philosophy’. Consequently, her influence in philosophy has been rather limited — though her novels, despite mixed critical reviews, continue to attract readers.

This reading list consists of the best books on and by Ayn Rand. After reading the books on this list, you’ll understand exactly why her ideas (and her presentation of them) continue to generate interest and controversy today. Let’s dive in!

1. Ayn Rand and the World She Made, by Anne Conover Heller

Anne Conover Heller’s brilliant and important 2009 biography of Ayn Rand outlines Rand’s life and work in detail. Extremely well researched, Heller’s book tells the story all the way from Rand’s childhood in Russia to her successes in America. While laying bare some of the more controversial and strange events that punctuated Rand’s life, Heller lets readers make up their own mind and come to their own judgments about Rand’s character and work. Essential for contextualizing Rand and the impact she’s had, Ayn Rand and the World She Made is a fantastic and highly recommended place to start for anyone interested in the polarizing figure of Ayn Rand. Both those who condemn her and those who celebrate her will find value in it.

Ayn Rand and the World She Made, by Anne Conover Heller

2. The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand

Turning to Rand’s fiction, and where better to start than with the book often lauded as her first critical success? Published in 1943, The Fountainhead tells the tale of gifted young architect Howard Roark as he seeks to defy conformist public opinion with his works. This provocative novel makes the philosophy that underpins it clear: Rand believes individual ego is the fountainhead of progress, and that nothing should be allowed to stand in its way.

The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand

3. Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand

Perhaps the most famous of her fiction, Atlas Shrugged is commonly perceived to be Rand’s magnum opus, and is the fullest expression of her Objectivist philosophy in fiction. At over 1,000 pages, it is also her longest. Rand imagines what would happen if the ‘brains’ of the world, society’s core individual innovators, went on strike, and tells most of the story — and conveys the bulk of her philosophical ideas — through very long dialogues between characters. Published in 1957, this is Rand’s major statement against the communism of Soviet Russia, and a full-blooded defense of capitalism and individualist values. It’s essential reading for anyone looking to fully immerse themselves in Rand’s worldview, though due to its length, not for the faint-hearted.

Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand

4. The Virtue of Selfishness, by Ayn Rand

If you’d prefer to understand Rand’s worldview through her essays rather than her fiction, then The Virtue of Selfishness is a good place to start. Published in 1964, this short collection of essays outlines the moral principles of Rand’s Objectivism, defending what you’d imagine from the collection’s title: selfishness. Rand asks why human beings need morality, and argues altruism is incompatible with human nature. For a quick route into Rand’s thinking, The Virtue of Selfishness is an effective read.

The Virtue of Selfishness, by Ayn Rand

5. Philosophy: Who Needs It, by Ayn Rand

While her 1967 Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology focuses more prominently on another important component of her thinking (i.e. her epistemology), it is Rand’s final collection of essays, Philosophy: Who Needs It, that offers a broader, more accessible overview of her philosophical ideas. Published posthomously in 1982, the essays were Rand’s last word, and cover her provocative thoughts on issues ranging from education and morality to censorship, inflation, and philosophy generally. If you want to understand certain strands of contemporary American political thinking and ideology, some of their roots can be found in this book.

Philosophy: Who Needs It, by Ayn Rand

Further reading

Are there any other books you think should be on this list? Let us know via email or drop us a message on Twitter or Instagram.

Explore more reading lists of the best philosophy books:

philosophy bookshop
READING LISTS

View All Reading Lists

Essential Philosophy Books by Subject

Philosophy Break
START LEARNING

Discover exactly what philosophy is and how it can improve your life with just 1 email per day for 3 days

Philosophy Basics

What is philosophy? Why is it important? How can it improve your life? Discover the answers to all these questions and more with our free, 3-lesson introductory email course:

1 email per day for 3 days. Join 50,000+ thinkers. No spam. Unsubscribe any time.

Philosophy Basics

NEW!


6-DAY COURSE

NEW!

6-DAY COURSE

Your Myth-Busting Guide to Nietzsche & His 5 Greatest Ideas

Introduction to Nietzsche

Learn everything you need to know about Nietzsche in just six 30-minute daily chapters. This course distills his best and most misunderstood ideas, from God is dead to the Übermensch.

★★★★★ (12 reviews)

Learn More about Course
Introduction to Nietzsche

Latest Course Reviews:

★★★★★  Amazing

This course is amazing! You can agree or not with Nietzsche’s views, but the professionalism, the methodology, the clarity, and deepness of the investigation is really comprehensive. I totally advise philosophy fans to do this course.

VERIFIED BUYER

  Elsa V. on 6 December 2022

★★★★★  Very informative

Very good and informative. Written with easy and comprehensible language. Enjoyed throughout - every line of the course was a delight. Keep doing what you're doing!

VERIFIED BUYER

  Milad A. on 24 November 2022

★★★★★  Excellent

The course was interesting and challenging and exceeded my expectations. The content was excellent, stimulating, and well written. A lot of depth was shared on each topic. There is much to learn from this great thinker. Thank you for the opportunities.

VERIFIED BUYER

  Robert J. on 19 July 2022

See All Course Reviews

Life's Big Questions

Latest Course Reviews:

★★★★★  Wonderful introduction

Easy to understand, entertaining and thought-provoking and has given me some new approaches that I’ll continue to think about. The first and last chapters were my favorites. I find the question 'why is there anything at all?' is a mind blower. And the last chapter (especially about absurdity) relates to that. Thanks!

VERIFIED BUYER

  Mario H. on 26 November 2022

★★★★★  Wonderful introduction

Wonderful, clear, concise, and very informative. This is a great introductory course, exactly what I was looking for in general and enough depth to inspire further investigations. I also really enjoy the reading lists at the end of the chapters and have taken up a few suggestions. Thanks!

VERIFIED BUYER

  Matt J. on 16 September 2022

★★★★★  Brilliant primers

Brilliant primers on all the major topics of philosophy. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect but the content provides a ton of value, it's all brilliantly written and delivered and covers so much. Highly recommend if you're at all interested in philosophy.

VERIFIED BUYER

  Rebecca L. on 7 August 2022

See All Course Reviews

Latest Breaks

Each philosophy break takes only a few minutes to read, and is crafted to expand your mind and spark your curiosity.

Aristotle On Why Leisure Defines Us More than Work
Life is Hard, by Kieran Setiya
Epicurus Principal Doctrines
If a tree falls in the forest, and there's no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?

View All Breaks