Ayn Rand is the high priestess of undiluted capitalism and a champion of looking after number one. With an estimated 25m copies of her books in print, including Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, her ideas about small government and unfettered markets still resonate in conservative circles, with a young Paul Ryan, the Republican vice-presidential candidate, being a big fan.

"I just want to speak to you a little bit about Ayn Rand and what she meant to me in my life and [in] the fight we're engaged here in Congress. I grew up on Ayn Rand," Ryan told an audience in 2005. "I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are."

The Russian-born American author, a refugee from Soviet communism in the 1920s, wrote at a time when collectivism was widely seen as a blueprint for the future. However, her vision was for a free society where the strong flourished and egoism ruled over altruism. In Rand's world, material achievement had spiritual value and unproductive citizens were "parasites," "looters" and "moochers". There are no state benefits, no national healthcare.

She believed that humans are rational and self-interested, thriving if left to their own devices. Rand said, : "Making more money means we are making more use of our brains." Admiration of the rich only stopped with those who inherited their wealth, whom she viewed as living well from cronyism and nepotism.

Rand argued her theories with almost messianic passion, winning a coterie of acolytes , including eminent members of the Reagan administration (notably Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve Chairman, who became a lifelong fan.) Another devotee is the influential conservative talk radioshock jock Rush Limbaugh.

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