A Free Cartoon Biography of Ayn Rand: Her Life & Thought

rand cartoon bio

Ayn Rand is one of the most divisive figures in 20th Century American thought. In some circles, particularly on Wall Street and in Washington DC think tanks, she’s seen as a patron saint of laissez faire capitalism. She preached the virtues of individualism and decried government handouts and taxes before it was cool, after all. In other circles, her bestselling books are thought to be little more than justifications of sociopathic behavior couched in stilted, preachy prose. Whittaker Chambers famously dismissed her final book, Atlas Shrugged, in a review for William F. Buckley’s National Review: “Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal.”

Yet Rand’s thought found a great deal of appeal among American conservatives. Alan Greenspan, the former head of the Federal Reserve, was a member of Rand’s inner circle. Former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and likely presidential contender Rand Paul are both noted followers. Whether you agree with her or not, Rand is someone you need to understand if you want to get a sense of what’s going on with American politics. So for those of you who might blanche at the thought of wading through one of her phonebook-sized tomes, check out Darryl Cunningham’s cartoon biography of Rand.

Cunningham traces her life — her family’s loss of wealth and property at the hands of the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution, her immigration to America at age 21, and her eventual rise in fame and fortune. Elegantly and concisely, Cunningham not only lays out Rand’s philosophy but also paints a complex portrait of a deeply contradictory person. All with the help of cartoons.

Rand preached the virtue of individuality but she ruthlessly excommunicated anyone in her cult-like inner circle who deviated from her ideology. She praised reason over emotion but her spectacularly complicated personal life was riddled with petty jealousies and long simmering feuds. She abhorred government aid for the poor but she lived on Social Security at the end of her life. And perhaps strangest of all, considering the current American political climate, Rand vocally supported both atheism and abortion rights, but she has been utterly embraced by the American right.

You can see a page of Cunningham’s work above, or you can read his entire work, 66 pages of comic goodness, at ACT-I-VATE.

via io9

Related Content:

The History of Economics & Economic Theory Explained with Comics, Starting with Adam Smith

William F. Buckley Flogged Himself to Get Through Atlas Shrugged

Ayn Rand Talks Atheism with Phil Donahue

Great Shakespeare Plays Retold with Stick Figures in Three Simple Drawings

Free Online Philosophy Courses

Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring one new drawing of a vice president with an octopus on his head daily.  The Veeptopus store is here.

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Comments (12)
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  • Skid Roe says:

    Her family’s loss of wealth and privilege? That pretty much explains everything.

    • John Donohue says:

      Agreed, since that type of psychologism can be applied to anyone. For instance, Freed Black Abolitionists in the 19th century were only against slavery because they suffered the tortures of slavery, and Progressives only hate capitalism because growing up they saw they would never succeed.

  • Burke says:

    For over 50 years I’ve had one piece of advice for anyone who wants to understand Ayn Rand’s ideas. Go read her works. Don’t start out reading *about* her. There is no substitute for the original, not even the writings of her supporters.

    If after reading her works, you don’t like her, there is no hope for you and arguing with you is a waste of time-except sometimes in a public forum, as a foil.

    Simple as that.

    If this seems closed minded, I ask only that you remember that she is virtually the only real voice of reason among major philosophical firgures today.

    And I have no difficulty whatsoever dismissing mystics outright.

    • John Donohue says:

      Agreed and nicely put.
      Add: suggestion for anyone infuriated by the title of her book “The Virtue of Selfishness” to read it. If you can’t/won’t read the entire book, just read the introduction; your eyes will be opened to exactly what she means by “selfishness.”

    • fishygod says:

      I haven’t read all of Rand’s works, but I have read “The Fountainhead,” “Anthem” and “Atlas Shrugged.” I have also read the Bible and “Capital.” And there is at least one thing that Jews, Christians, Marxists and Randites have in common. They know that there is no hope for me, because I don’t like their books, their heroes or their conclusions. Sorry, guys.

    • himagain says:

      Hi there, You are just “trolling” here aren’t you? :-)

      I personally am so old that I have seen it all and sadly, do not see any improvement in Society in my hard-won experience.
      It is hard to accept that you are not just another wide-eyed <25 y.o. of no real mental development yet.

      The greatest thinkers in the real world all tend to have many things in common, not the least of which is the adage:
      "Know your enemies better than your own kind"
      You will never, can never, achieve wisdom unless you do "learn to walk a mile in the other man's shoes."

      "You are only fearing conversion, if you fear to listen"

  • jackcade says:

    An argumentum ad hominem, is a form of criticism directed at something about the person one is criticizing, rather than the legitimacy their values or ideas. Often using some unproven, irrelevant or intentionally misleading suppositions about the author or the person being criticized it rests on an appeal to ignorance – seeking the acclaim of the ill-informed, see for example Cunningham’s criticism of Rand’s ‘selfishness,’

    Is Cunningham a knave or merely a fool? – hard to say but Cunningham’s uncritical support of the openly-racist Murray Rothbard speaks volumes.

  • himagain says:

    Jonathan Crowe’s summary on this page is an excellent introduction to
    anyone interested in understanding “the other side’s view” – whether you
    are pro Rand or con!
    Indisputably, she was a very sick puppy! But the idea is to read her CLAIMED philosophy, not her real other life.
    devoted (literally) followers are the elite of the USA governing
    structure. You can literally ask these (necessarily) professional liars
    just one thing to get at their true beliefs :
    “What do you think of the writings of Ayn Rand?”
    In modern Western politics there are two diametrically opposed schools:
    1. Democratic/Socialist/Interventionist
    2. Totalitarian/Free Enterprise/Piratical
    Unfortunately, neither choice works for the ordinary individual.

    But, very obviously, if you are in the bottom 70% of the population anywhere in the West,you do need to fear the Rand Acolytes.

    • John Donohue says:

      The mind blanches at the impulse to point out ‘false dichotomy’ to this; it would be too pale a rebuttal.

      Additionally: what do you mean by “other side’s view?” Hopefully you don’t mean his summary fairly represents Ayn Rand, as worse than blanching would then be called for.

  • John Donohue says:

    Objectivism (there is no such thing as “randyism”) is never going away. This, despite irrelevant attacks on Ayn Rand’s person by various personages that you cite.

    Yes, some people fired in the soul by Ayn Rand give up their inner passion and accept the gray default of duty, mediocrity, and the bondage of political collectivism. No problem. Unless you ban and burn all her books, you can’t stop the next generation from being kindled by the fire.

  • Pavel Urubcik says:

    How about actually considering the ideas of Objectivism? Ideas are either valid, consistent and non-contradictory or they are not. Authors opinions are completely irrelevant. If new discovery is made in physics, do we care what religion and cultural background the scientists grew up in? Same applies to all fields of knowledge. Just think about it or stay ignorant. Your choice.

  • Eric says:

    I tried reading Atlas Shrugged: I seriously thought I’d be reading something that I’d disagree with but that was at least entertaining and well written. Nope! Bad writing, one-dimensional characters, and dumb themes no thanks!

    “There is no hope for you”
    If by that you mean there’s no hope for me ever becoming an objectivist, you’re probably right!

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