We the Living

ISBN: 0451187849
ISBN 13: 9780451187840
By: Ayn Rand Leonard Peikoff

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About this book

Ayn Rand said of her fist novel, We the Living: "It is as near to an autobiography as I will ever write. The plot is invented, the background is not....The specific events of Kira's life were not mine; her ideas, her convictions, her values, were and are."First published in 1936, the theme of this classic novel is the struggle of the individual against the state. It portrays the impact of the Russian Revolution on three human beings who demand the right to live their own lives an pursue their own happiness. It tells of a young woman's passionate love, held like a fortress against the corrupting evil of a totalitarian state.We the Living is not a story of politics, but of the men and women who have to struggle for existence behind the Red banners and slogans. It is a picture of what those slogans do to human beings. What happens to the defiant ones? what happens to those who succumb.Against a vivid panorama of political revolution and personal revolt, Ayn Rand shows what the theory of socialism means in practice.This 60th Anniversary edition includes a new Introduction by Ayn Rand's heir, Leonard Peikoff.Description from back cover

Reader's Thoughts


Not as good as Atlas Shrugged but infinitesimal better than The Fountainhead.Everything Ayn Rand has written transcends time. This book even more so. If people wonder what the "first free country" will look like if we continue to elect political leaders who have a "death premise", such as we have, all they need to do is read this book and they'll know. I just hope it's not too late.I truly believe if We The Living and Atlas Shrugged had been mandatory reading for JR/Senior High school students, respectively, even as short a time as 10-13 Yrs ago, our country would be going in an entirely different direction. Or at the least we'd be in better position to turn it around. Unfortunately, I believe our children and grandchildren have an unimaginably more difficult fight ahead of them because of the socialistic ideals of the "God-Fearing Mystics" and "Selfless Humanitarians", leaders our generation voted into power,who's ideals are being spread like a plague across this amazing country and turned into policy as this is being written.I wish I could go back in time and show my parents the warnings to look for. But as a Romantic Realist, I know I can only try to change what happens tomorrow and the day after that. And the only way to do that is by spreading the philosophical ideals, the morals and the Life Premise that I learned from Ayn Rand. This story is about as close to an autobiographical account of Ayn Rands life in the USSR as we will ever know. The ideals, the values of our young heroine are all here in young Kira. Her younger sister drew caricatures just as Irena did. The physical description of her Uncle Vasilli is based on her father. The young character Leo, the man Kira loves, is fashioned after AR's first love in college. A character who became so entwined with the real Leo that even though she disliked the name, she couldn't separate the two and couldn't change the name. The Russia she sees...you see. The Russia she lived...you live.This Russia is not a character, but the real backdrop to her story and played a big role in who the person Ayn and "Kira" became. It is a love story. Two totally different men with different lives and seemingly two very different philosophies on life. The only thing they have in common is their "soul" (not a spiritual soul"). These two men, the way the act, react, and how they see life is what draws Kira to them. When the country takes away everything you own, uses you as an example of the worst of humanity, takes away your freedom to be who you are, say what you think, do what you want, live as you want to live ...what do you do?This is the premise of the story. What does communism do to your soul? What will it do to any country and to its people. It crushes their spirit. Destroys the individual with their hopes an dreams and desires. None of these things are allowed in a collective society. Every idea, thought, desire, anything that makes you an individual is stomped out of you. Every breath you take is not your own. It belongs to your comrades, your brothers and sisters. There is no "I" in socialism, communism, totalitarianism, whatever label you give it. There is only We. Spoiler alert.....Ayn Rand takes you from the beginning to the ending of the lives of these 3 young people. You will feel what they feel: joy, pain, disbelief, helplessness, hope, defiance, hopelessness, bitter cold, disgust, fear, courage beyond imagination, love without limits and the utter dispair when everything is lost and you are totally and completely alone.You will go through the ups and downs of the lives they lived, will understand who they are and what they believe in. Will wonder WHY did she do that to a beloved character, cry if you are anything like me at the loss of life and be completely in shock at how the story ends. This is no fairytale, so there is no fairytale ending. You will understand when you read her epilogue why she had to end it as she did. But you will still cry for Kira. For everything she lost and, at the very end, what she found.You only have 3 Choices when you live in a world that crushes who you are. When there's nothing left.1. suicide- it finally breaks you2. close off your mind completely. you don't compromise. you don't bend and you don'tbreak. but who you are disappears and you become an empty void.3. You run away, try to escape. you neither compromise what you believe, bend or break. but you don't give up either. you run until you can't run anymore and you either escape or die trying. but you remain unconquered. Each of these 3 characters took a different road. Each made a different choice and each has a different ending. AR explains why each of the 3 had to go down the road they did. This is a tragic love story but more importantly, it is a tragic "Life" story. A tragedy that seems more and more possible in the country that our original leaders created to be free, one in which we believe the promise that "Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Happiness" can not be taken from us. We need to open our eyes. open R

Richard Houchin

If you ever want to acquire a keen appreciation for food, read any story about the USSR. History or fiction, doesn't matter. Mildewed millet and one loaf of bread a month is enough to break anyone!We The Living is an illustration of the loneliness that seems the unavoidable consequence of any who possess an Objectivist viewpoint. One passage in the book made me laugh in appreciation for how true it rang in my life. Kira says,"Well, if I asked people whether they believed in life, they'd never understand what I meant. It's a bad question. It can mean so much that it really means nothing. So I ask them if they believe in God. And if they say they do--then I know they don't believe in life."This is because no matter to whom you are speaking, no matter what religion they follow, God is always the highest conception of the highest possible. A believer in God has placed their highest conception above their own possibility, above their own life. Whatever such a person believes in, it isn't life."It's a rare gift," Kira says, "to feel reverence for your own life and to want the best, the greatest, the highest possible, here, now, for your very own. To imagine a heaven and then not to dream of it, but to demand it."Just as celebrations are for those who have something to celebrate, life is for the living, not those who cherish the thoughts of their own death, and the after-life rewards which await them for their obedience.

Daniel Stevens

I really liked this book. The fact that she shows the protagonist going for the villain over the hero is interesting. I know Rand's favorite was the villain, Kovalensky, but I could relate more to the hero, Andrei Taganov. I found that I could relate more with him in the end than even the protagonist, Kira. Kovalensky, I found to be a worthless scoundrel. It's defintely worth a read for both the story as well as the view of what life was like in the early Soviet Union by someone who had actually lived there.


I still consider The Fountainhead my favorite Rand work, but We The Living definitely cuts close. As her first novel, it's less preachy and more about the story and the characters than the philosophy. In her words, it is as closest as she ever got to an autobiography. This book sealed my love for Ayn Rand, because it made me understand her, as a person- her passion, her strength, her determination to be her own person. It also gave me what is undoubtedly an accurate history lesson in Communism and Russian pride, which i find truly fascinating. The story is beautiful and heartbreaking in its closeness to reality when it comes to love. And what an epic ending. I think everybody should read this book. And no one should be able to criticize Rand until they've read it.


Just be yourself.Hasn't that been parents' advice to kids since the dawn of time? Don't try to impress people by putting on a show. Don't just tell people what you think they want to hear. Be who you are, and those who appreciate your genuine character will be true friends. I think this is the only book where Ayn Rand is true to herself, without putting on the big überconservative show which makes her later works so irritating. What's that? You think maybe Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead represent Ayn's true self? Well, I can't prove you wrong, but I don't think that's the case. We the Living doesn't smack of ulterior motives the way those other books do. It contains no larger-than-life robberbaron supermen, no fifteen-page speeches, and no fortunes built on miracle inventions. Where Altas Shrugged was really just a platform to espouse Rand's "philosophy" of Objectivism, We the Living is refreshingly 100% Objectivism-free (see my review of Anthem for more details). Better still, it has authentic three-dimensional characters who seem like they might be actual people Ayn knew. This is historical fiction, after all. Many of these events actually happened.We the Living tells the semi-autobiographical story of college-aged Kira Argounova, whose upper middle class family flees St. Petersburg during the 1917 revolution, and then returns in 1922, trying to make a new life for themselves within the communist system. When they show up at the doorstep of their former townhouse off Nyevsky Prospekt, they discover it has been seized and divided into a multiple-family dwelling. They are advised to apply for a license to live in one of the units if they feel a particular attachment to the old homestead, but as part of the hated former petty bourgeoisie, they should be aware their chances are slim. A similar scene occurs in Doctor Zhivago (but in DZ, the family actually obtains residence in their old home). It seems either such occurances were common, or perhaps Pasternak was influenced by We the Living. Food is rationed. Work is obtained only through a state agency, once the applicant has jumped through the many hoops needed to obtain a work license. Since political loyalty is valued more than ability, Kira discovers that many of her least-promising former classmates have risen to positions of authority over her. They hang around the city's most fashionable bars, dressed to the nines in leather finery unavailable to citizens outside the Party. They smoke tobacco the proles could never get their hands on, and enjoy luxuries like fresh fruit, which Kira secretly covets. Reading through these parts, one can practically feel the resentment rising in Ayn's blood as she writes it. Through a paper-thin veneer of fiction, anybody can see this is her story, narrated very personally, with a ring of truth her other novels lack.Consider how Ayn's life closely mirrors Argounova's: Ayn's father had owned a profitable pharmacy in St Petersburg before the revolution, just as Kira's father owned a successful textiles factory. Both Ayn and Kira's families fled St. Petersburg to the Crimea in 1917, fearing for their daughters' safety. As I said, this novel contains events which actually happened to real people.Ayn and Kira both returned to St.Petersburg (now Petrograd) in 1922, to find the social and political changes described in this book. They each managed to enroll at Petrograd University, after considerable bureaucratic resistance, and both found their career prospects after graduation to be severely limited, due to the continued stigma of their fathers' pre-Revolutionary social status. While both tried to leave the Soviet Union, only Ayn made it to America. Kira died at the border, which demands some explanation. Why did Ayn make the choice as an author to deny Kira a life in the West? Ayn always had a weakness for melodrama; did she kill Kira for the pure intense tragedy of it? Did she think it would put greater empahsis on the injustices of the Soviet system? (view spoiler)[ Why else end the novel with a sympathetic character both bleeding and freezing to death, alone in the dark, in the middle of nowhere? (hide spoiler)] It seems a bit too cruel, even for a novel whose entire point is outrage and cruelty. If you enjoy deriding Ayn Rand's wooden characters or her preachy, didactic writing style, this book won't be much fun for you. But if you're a more thoughtful type, who is curious about where her ideas came from, this is the book that tells it all. Sure, We the Living has hints of the moral certitude that makes Atlas Shrugged so shrill and irksome, but the story is heartfelt and the characters believable. Unfortunately, this best of Rand's novels also happens to be her first, so maybe she should have quit while she was ahead.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>

Marie Theron

In my reading of good books, I have awarded 5 stars only to a small number of them, but WE THE LIVING is just perfect: the structure, the characters, the story, the language! Has anyone ever described cities and nature in such a way that the reader hangs onto every word? The weather, the poverty, the food become characters of the story. The text is never clingy and sentimental but there is no light relief and throughout the telling the reader is waiting to exhale. It was tense up to the last sentence! There is already that tendency here in Ayn Rand's first novel to create men which are selfish above all else. Ayn Rand actually admired "the Leo types" of the world and such men grow more arrogant in Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.As far as history is concerned, what she describes is every autocratic regime in the world. Open a TIME magazine and it is still happening out there. This book will never "date"

Shanta Shastri

Mind blowing. Heartbreaking. Uncovers all effects when an impossible and irrational ideal is adapted by a country. The Communism.

Natalie Budesa

(Slight spoilers)This is probably one of my favorite books by Ayn Rand. It is also the most depressing one in my opinion. The story can be simply summarized to a few characters wanting to escape communist Russia. For those wholly unfamiliar with Rand and her writing style, expect sometimes dry description, seemingly inhuman personalities and exaggerated circumstances. Usually, this writing style is pretty effective in communicating Rand's philosophy moreso than a work of fiction. That being said, We the Living tones all this down and Rand's views don't seem as present and important to the plot as in her other works. The story seems more about the story - people who could have existed in the historical context of communist Russia. Her usual superhuman characters are toned down and more real-life. They aren't powerful societal or corporate figures and they don't achieve great things; no one even builds anything though the protagonist, Kira Argounova, is studying engineering. Because of all this, this book is a good introduction to Ayn Rand for those who are faintly aware or want to learn a little of her philosophy. The heroes of the story, who typically succeed in superhuman ways in her other books, surprisingly disappointed me. Not in that they were poorly written or imagined, but in that they were all only human in the end. Because of this, Rand's views probably are communicated in the best way possible - they are not preached for pages on end, but told more simply, in a story where not much happens plot-wise. But Rand's writing style communicates so much happening within the characters - lost hopes, loves, and freedoms. Instead of the reader learning what Rand supports and cherishes in life through dramatic victories or long speeches, it is told through loss. The sadness of the story did not make me feel like Rand was a boasting, hot-headed egoist, but someone who could have developed her views from honest, desperate circumstances (though the story isn't intended as autobiographical). One of the saddest scenes to me was the description of a character examining a drawer of clothes, and I think that says something about the powerfulness of the writing and story (as to why that's sad, you'll just have to read). What is good in life is not stuffed down the reader's throat, glorified in an utopia as in Atlas Shrugged; it is torn away, like a gaping wound, bleeding red (pun intended). I'm not a Rand enthusiast or full-fledged supporter, but the simpler circumstances of the setting and simpler goals of the characters communicate Rand's views in the most touching way out of all her works.


Started this book with some enthusiasm. I liked 'The Fountainhead' and to some extent 'Atlas Shrugged' also. So started to read this book in an attempt to complete all of Ayn Rand's works. I was surprised to find the book empty. I mean she does not convey anything new other than 'objectivism'. Alright, the idea of 'objectivism' is to stay 'logically selfish' - I mean do not hurt or trouble others (to the maximum extent possible!) in your self-happiness-seeking process (may be by staying honest) - and be productive and be true to your abilities... blah...blah...blah...but why the same thing in every novel? Huh!And there is this one more thing - a girl going behind another guy and that being justified...sounds so stupid! Kira 'uses' Andrei for 'saving' Leo. That way she hurts both Andrei and Leo really bad and hence loses both guys! Funny - her purpose was defeated by her own actions...she lost the guys she liked in the end simply because she did not consider the impact of her actions on those guys' emotions before doing those actions...stupid selfish thinking back-fired I should say :) If Rand says Kira went behind Andrei because Kira could not stay single for too long and Andrei was very difficult to resist, then it is ok. Even if Rand says Kira chose to stay with Andrei forever - which did not actually happen - after discovering Leo's illness moved him away from her, even that is acceptable to some extent. I would say Rand got confused while writing this book and did not know how to justify Kira's actions...

Jack Gardner

I really don't know that there is much I can say about this novel that hasn't already been said. We The Living is the most tragic of Ayn Rand's novels and possibly the most under appreciated. While it is clearly an early effort for her - her use of English is occasionally off and her style is not consistent throughout the novel - the story line is the most (I hate to use this word, but I can't think of a better way to put it) realistic of all her novels. There are no amazing machines or amazing feats in We The Living, the most amazing thing that anyone does is survive under the early Communist rule. However, the survivors are the villains of the book. Rand never allows her heroes to exist under tyranny. Kira and Andrei struggle against it in their own individual ways, one choosing death over a life of lost ideals and the other dying in an attempt to escape. Holding on to the idea of the individual must have been impossible in early Communist Russia. Rand should know - she escaped Russia in 1926. We The Living is probably one of the most accurate pieces of literature we have to depict what life was like under the initial Communist regimes. The 'great idea' that fueled the Revolution of 1917 turned in to what can only be called a 'great mess' that lasted for nearly 80 years and has still not completely resolved itself. If you are interested in life in the 1920's, We the Living is a must read book. The people of Russia had a very different experience with this decade compared to those of Europe and the US. While for much of the decade the big cities of the Western world were the Land of Plenty, the general Russian population was suffering hardships that made the poorest mid-western farmer seem to be living the life of a King. We the Living is a testament to man's ability to survive. It is a testament to Rand and held the seeds to her philosophy. It is an encouragement to all of us to strive to be the best we can be - even when the world is against us. It is also a warning to reason before revolt and to express as opposed to repress. You can take away an mans home, you can take away his possessions, you can take away his family, you can take his life, but his mind and soul are his and his alone unless he chooses to give them to you. It is a reminder to all of us, that every individual has that choice to make every day.


My first book in 2014! I started this year with my favourite author Ayn Rand.The book is as amazing as her every other book and is slightly different from her other best works as well. Unlike her other books its not about construction of a new world but the destruction of an old world. Its about a war to put an end to the Exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie, but it actually was a war against political power which exploited not just the citizens, but the comrades as well.Its about a girl who thinks - Be it capitalism, Be it communism, Be it socialism, Be it fascism, I want to live the life the way I want it. No one can teach me how should "I" live "MY" life.Its about comrades whose action contradict their own beliefs. Its about the struggle for living - We The living

Izzy Echartea

All Kira Argounova wanted to do was to live her life to the fullest, but being under a collectivist dictatorship, she was restricted to nothing more than what the government wanted. Ayn Rand does a powerful job of showing her readers the struggle between the human spirit and wanting more and the chilling consequences of doing so by the government. Much like Anthem, The Fountainhead, and her most famous novel, Atlas Shrugged, Rand expresses how much individual freedom and the right to one's own personal happiness means to her in We The Living. The story is set in Soviet Russia during the Communist Revolution, a time when even love was forbidden. Kira Argounova is the main character and heroine of this story. Throughout her journey, Rand's audience sees the constant trials that Kira has to make and how she does so, from starvation to ludicrous love triangles, the readers are shown how difficult life was for the people of Soviet Russia. I gave We The Living four stars because I was constantly enthralled by the circumstances and I believe that not only did Rand show Kira's views of the dystopian society, but she also conveyed her thoughts through Kira, as well. This novel was a great read for me and I most definitely recommend it to my peers.

Lora Grigorova

We the Living: http://readwithstyle.wordpress.com/20...We the Living by Ayn Rand is not another book about the communist rule in the USSR. It is not another propaganda or criticism. It is merely a novel about the Man against the State, about the continuous human struggle for individual happiness and satisfaction against the artificially installed responsibility towards society, about dictatorship whether it is in Soviet Russia or in Nazi Germany.Ayn Rand (Alisa Rosenbaum) is one of the most influential American writers and philosophers. Born in Soviet Russia, she emigrated in 1925 to the USA. We the Living is published in 1936, followed by The Fountainhead and her masterpiece Atlas Shrugged. Rand is famous for her philosophy objectivism, which encompasses the following postulates: 1) reality exists regardless of consciousness; 2) individuals connect with reality through sense perception; 3) the proper moral purpose of one’s life is the achievement of one’s happiness or rational self-interest; 4) laissez faire capitalism is the only social system, which values individual rights and is consistent with this philosophy; 5) art is the transformation of one’s metaphysical ideas into a physical form, which can be comprehended and responded to.Rand’s philosophy is largely influenced by her background: she spent her first 20 years in the USSR. In We the Living she depicts the Soviet reality after the 1917 Revolution, where human individuality is suppressed in favor of the greater social good. People are supposed to be equal (for those of you having never lived in a communist regime that means equally poor and deprived) yet some are more equal than others (if you know what I mean). Kira Argunova, the protagonist, is born in bourgeois family, which is a subject of constant suppression by the ruling communist regime. She is expelled from university, where she studies engineering, she has to pretend to believe in and love communism in order to receive the food coupons, and she is forced to live in poverty. Kira falls in love with a revolutionist, but she loses the war against society – at the end Leo’s mind is corrupted; he becomes a faithless hopeless alcoholic. Andrey, her communist friend, is disillusioned by the discrepancy between communist theory and practice in the USSR. At the end Kira decides to flee her home country only to realize she can never escape the regime.Read more: http://readwithstyle.wordpress.com/20...


I'm going to kind of branch out here and do a different review and talk just what I felt strongly about in this book. If you would like a brief summary, wikipedia does an excellent job.Anyways, this book was one of the most devastatingly beautiful books I've ever read. The scene between Irina and Sascha broke my heart - it's one of the moments where, in typical Rand fashion, she weaves her characters into such real but horrendously tragic situations you just weep. I would recommend this book to some who is either (a) lacking motivation in their life (b) wants to know more from a fictional perspective what communism is like to live in (c) has had their heart broken by an ideal (d) Rand lovers. I want to focus on the love triangle of Andrei-Kira-Leo here. What this book gets at is three types of love and the chaos that descends from them. For Andrei, it's infatuation. Oh Andrei, he's wonderful. The more the book progresses, the more you just want to remove him from the story line and rescue him from the horrors contained in this book. He's the dashing communist who falls in love with the revolutionary Kira, a woman of pure passion and ideals. He fights it, but his infatuation for this woman who encompasses everything he has ever wanted in a woman takes over and turns him into her pawn. Eventually, he breaks free, giving the ultimate sacrifice to Kira to show his "unending" (re: completely obsessive) love for her. Ultimately he (well, spoiler) loses, he takes his own life unable to bear to live without Kira. Weak. So, Kira; Yes, our strong female lead, modelled after Rand herself. She's beautiful, talented, intelligent, and most importantly she wants to live and experience more than anything. The fight and drive of this girl is incredible and truly inspirational. What's her flaw? While posing as a hooker one night, she "meets her one" Leo. She does everything for Leo on his command. At first, things are beautiful between them - they are each other's halves. They don't do things based on other's opinions, they act according to their passion (which is primarily for each other). Kira loves Leo, even after his transformation (going to Crimea), where Leo changes drastically. Although carrying on a passionate affair with Andrei, she is loyal (I know, it's a paradox) to Leo always and that is the one ember that keeps her going, this all encompassing love. Even when Leo breaks her heart, she takes it (and takes it out on other people) and continues to passionately love him. Really weak. Kira, starting out promising, ends up being the most disappointing female Rand character yet. Her strength < her idealistic obsession with Leo. Ugh. And Leo. He starts out wonderful, as I said, Kira's other half. However, he gives up on everything at one point. He may have loved Kira at one point, but he never loves her above himself. I think the ending here with Leo was a little farfetched, but essentially, Leo is an entirely selfish being. I give Kira this, the point Rand is trying to make is that without communism, Leo would have been the man for Kira, the one she first met. However, after he loses all hope, he becomes an alcoholic and mentally abusive towards Kira (especially in his frustration over her being the breadwinner). Leo becomes a character towards the end that you shake your head at and wonder how someone could be so ungrateful and so miserable. If only Kira had gone abroad with Andrei to live happily forever. But that isn't the way Rand wanted it; she wanted to show two things. One, obviously, communism is evil (duh, it's a Rand book) and (2) blinding love will destroy who you are. I think she tries to redeem Kira in the end there, but Kira's failure to pursue the life of her dreams is a total failure in my mind, and she sacrificed all her opportunities for a glimmer of the Leo she first new. That is not solid advice to offer the younger generations Miss Rand, but at least in my mind, she conveys this solidarity in true love (Irina and Sascha) vs the destructive love (Andrei, Kira). Read if you get a chance; The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged have better defined characters, yet as Rand's first novel, We the Living leaves its mark on the reader.


Erotica at its best. We the Living is about a young lady with a brilliant mind and a ferocious appetite for sex. The book begins with Kira, a hot little harlot who might have been working at a strip joint (if they weren't so damn bourgeois!), as she seeks to find a nightlife for herself in her newly Soviet city of Petrograd. Posing as a prostitute in a red light district, she quickly forms her first life-long sexual bond with the first guy who comes along. He happens to be a philosopher, and that's how this book meets its philosophy quota. Over time, her close personal friendship with a secret police agent (WTF?!?) becomes sexual, and the real story begins. Truly, trying to masquerade as faithful to multiple sexual partners is something we can all relate to. A must read for any hip cat.

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