Ayn Rand: Extremist or Visionary?

Two new biographies dissect Ayn Rand's personal and intellectual life. Debate on her capitalist extremism rages on

LEONARD MCCOMBE / TIME LIFE PICTURES / GETTY

The books of Ayn Rand, above in 1964, are still popular a half-century later. More than 25 million copies have been sold.

She knew how to make an entrance. Her dark hair cut in a severe pageboy, Ayn Rand would sweep into a room with a long black cape, a dollar-sign pin on her lapel and an ever present cigarette in an ivory holder. Melodramatic, yes, but Rand didn't have time to be subtle. She had millions of people to convert to objectivism, her philosophy of radical individualism, limited government and avoidance of altruism and religion. Her adoring followers--some called them a cult--revered her as the high priestess of laissez-faire capitalism until her death in 1982 at age 77.

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