PBS announced the results of The Great American Read on October 23, 2018. Out of 100 novels, fans placed Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird at the top of the list of America’s favorite reads. Fans of Ayn Rand too had their say: Atlas Shrugged came in at number 20 -- indeed skyrocketing up from number 43 earlier in the competition, reflecting not just Rand’s enduring appeal, but resurgence in popularity.
First published in 1957, Atlas Shrugged remained on The New York Times Bestseller List for 21 weeks, peaking at number four. Sales of Atlas Shrugged averaged 74,000 copies per year in the 1980s; 95,300 copies per year in the 1990s; 167,098 copies per year in the 2000s, and 303,523 copies in the 2010s. In 2011 alone Atlas Shrugged sold 415,000 copies. And Atlas Shrugged has made numerous “best of” lists. In 1991 the Book of the Month Club and Library of Congress asked readers to name the most influential book in their lives: Atlas Shrugged came in second only to the Bible.
The novel made the New York Public Library’s list of Best Books of the Century in 1996, and Radcliffe Publishing ranked it 92 out of the top 100 novels of the 20th century. In 1999, Atlas Shrugged was number 37 in the list of 100 Favorite Novels of Librarians. A Harris poll placed Atlas Shrugged on America’s Top 10 Favorite Book List in 2008, and The Modern Library ranked it the number one best novel published in the English language in 2009. The novel is listed as number six on Boston Library’s list of 100 Most Influential Books of the Century, and it ranks number five on the list of the 20 Most Inspirational Books ever written. Atlas Shrugged has been translated into 14 languages, including Chinese (2007).
In recent years, however, awareness of Ayn Rand has seemed to ebb -- with book sales slowing and recognition waning. But the strong showing of Atlas Shrugged on The Great American Read suggests those trends may be reversing -- despite the best efforts of many in the mainstream media and academia to marginalize the author.
Voting for The Great American Read took place in tandem with an eight-part television series hosted by Meredith Vieira on PBS stations. The series was “designed to get the country reading and passionately talking about books.” Using an independent polling company, the creators of The Great American Read asked a demographically and statistically representative group of Americans to name their “most loved novel.” The poll resulted in a list of 100 novels from which viewers were invited to vote for their favorite. From May 22 to October 18, 2018, readers voted.
Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was featured in the category Other Worlds, which focused on “how America’s favorite novels about other worlds reflect our own.” In episode seven of the television series, fan representatives Robert Begley and Carrie Ann Biondi explained why Atlas Shrugged is their favorite novel. “It made me think really hard about what did I believe, was I living well, and how could I live differently,” Biondi said.
Fans of Ayn Rand include some “Atlases” of the arts, industry and government. Justice Clarence Thomas admits he’s “partial to Ayn Rand.” KISS frontman Gene Simmons calls Rand “one of my heroes.” Chip Wilson, iconoclastic founder and former CEO of Lululemon made Objectivism part of corporate culture. Shark Tank hosts Marc Cuban and Kevin O’Leary are both Ayn Rand fans. Cuban likes The Fountainhead, O’Leary Atlas Shrugged.
That Atlas Shrugged placed in the top 20 of best-loved novels in a national vote is no surprise to Jennifer Grossman, CEO of The Atlas Society. "These results are highly encouraging -- and confirm what The Atlas Society is seeing out in the field at the many conferences where we exhibit and engage with students. Ayn Rand is definitely on the rise. We are seeing it in our explosive social media growth, in attention to our videos, and in attendance at our events."
Thanks to Ayn Rand, liberty and individualism remain prominent ideas in American literature, and Dagny Taggart, Francisco d’Anconia, Henry Rearden, Ellis Wyatt, Ragnar Danneskjöld, John Galt and the others have left an indelible mark on American popular culture.