Ayn Rand's works: Where to start?
07 Aug 2011
Someone asked on Quora: “For the Objectivist, what are Ayn Rand’s most important works? I want to get into Ayn Rand and her philosophy but don’t know where to start.” Here is my answer:
Start with Ayn Rand’s fiction. It is more motivating than her non-fiction (to most people), and it will give you a view of her philosophy as an integrated whole, with all of its implications for how man should live his life. Start with Atlas Shrugged, or perhaps The Fountainhead. These are her two major novels. I tend to recommend Atlas for people who are more interested in politics, society, history, and culture; and Fountainhead for people who are more interested in personal ethics—how to live one’s life and deal with others. (Atlas, though, is not primarily about politics; it presents an entire philosophy.)
If you’d like to learn more about Objectivism after you read these two novels, or if for some reason you prefer to start with non-fiction, you should pick a book according to whatever subject interests you most:
- For ethics, The Virtue of Selfishness
- For politics, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal
- For epistemology, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology
- For art, The Romantic Manifesto
All else being equal, I’d suggest reading them in the order they were published, which will help you follow Rand’s thinking as she developed it. The Ayn Rand Institute has a chronological list.
If you have some very specific topics you’d like to know Rand’s opinion on, or if you’d like to browse and sample her work, check out The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism from A to Z, which is available free online. When you find a particularly interesting passage, look up the essay and book it’s from and start there.
Apart from Rand’s own work, the most important book is Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, by her student and close associate Leonard Peikoff. This is the only single book that summarizes the entire philosophy of Objectivism; Rand never wrote such a book herself. When you’ve read some of Rand’s original works and would like to get an overview of the philosophy, this is an excellent place to turn.
The Ayn Rand Institute also has a suggested reading list.