Television host Mike Rowe (b. 1962) has accrued millions of fans for his work glorifying “dirty jobs.” Novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand (1905–1982) has likewise gained millions of readers by depicting the sorts of hardworking men and women who could fit perfectly into one of Rowe’s shows. What could explain their popularity? In large part, their fans yearn to see the values of self-reliance and hard work made visible in all their glory.

Rowe’s rise to fame began with launching the show Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel in 2003. It ran for eight years, and Rowe has since proven that he’s no one-hit wonder. Somebody’s Gotta Do It aired in 2014 on CNN and ran for four seasons, Returning the Favor ran on Facebook Watch from 2017 to 2020, and his podcast The Way I Heard It has been running weekly since 2016. He founded MikeRoweWORKS and the MikeRoweFoundation in 2008 and published Profoundly Disconnected in 2014 to spark interest in the skilled trades and raise scholarship money for those pursuing a career in these fields.1 As of September 20, 2022, his Facebook page has six million followers, with many fans calling for Rowe to run for U.S. president.2

Rand, who created a system of philosophy called Objectivism, has inspired countless individuals with vivid depictions of uncompromising heroes in her novels Atlas Shrugged (1957), The Fountainhead (1943), Anthem (1938), and We the Living (1936). More than sixty years after their publication, her novels have sold millions of copies and have been translated into dozens of languages, with annual sales exceeding six figures for decades.3 Every year, tens of thousands of high school students enter essay contests in which they read and write about her novels. And organizations devoted to teaching people about Rand’s ideas are proliferating across the globe.

Rowe and Rand have captured the hearts, minds, and imaginations of their fans for many of the same reasons. Their audiences appreciate the unapologetically heroic exemplars set before them. Some of these heroes maintain bridges and sewer systems, whereas others run railroads and steel mills. But all of them possess ennobling grit, confidence, and determination that inspire admiration and emulation.

Their mediums and manner may differ, but Rowe and Rand have a lot in common. . . .

1. “About,” MikeRoweWORKSFoundation, https://www.mikeroweworks.org/about/; and Mike Rowe, Profoundly Disconnected (MikeRoweWORKSFoundation, 2014). These are private endeavors where he offers a place for employers to post about openings and training programs and provides scholarship opportunities for those who would like to learn a trade.

2. https://www.facebook.com/TheRealMikeRowe..

3. Allan Gotthelf and Gregory Salmieri, eds., A Companion to Ayn Rand (Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2016), 15 n. 1.

4. Mike Rowe, interviewed by host Evan Hafer, Black Rifle Coffee Podcast, ep. 209, May 20, 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=heCD6ftsYlw. Rowe has also briefly discussed Rand’s ideas on his podcast The Way I Heard It (see, e.g., “Jack Carr Is a Tomahawk Kinda Guy,” ep. 261, July 26, 2022, https://audioboom.com/posts/8127355-jack-carr-is-a-tomahawk-kinda-guy; and “Let’s Get Alex Epstein on Bill Maher,” ep. 263, August 9, 2022, https://audioboom.com/posts/8135565-let-s-get-alex-epstein-on-bill-maher).

5. Rowe, Profoundly Disconnected, 117.

6. Mike Rowe, Facebook post, January 25, 2015.

7. “Mike Rowe’s Own Dirty Job: Selling Knick-Knacks Overnight,” National Public Radio, All Things Considered, February 16, 2014, https://www.npr.org/2014/02/16/277979918/mike-rowes-own-dirty-job-selling-knick-knacks-overnight.

8. Rowe, Profoundly Disconnected, 118.

9. Rowe, Profoundly Disconnected, 89–94.

10. Ayn Rand, “The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made,” in Ayn Rand, Philosophy: Who Needs It (New York: New American Library, 1982), 24.

11. Rowe, Profoundly Disconnected, 113.

12. Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” in Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness (New York: New American Library, 1964), 25.

13. See the S.W.E.A.T. Pledge, https://www.mikeroweworks.org/sweat/.

14. Rowe, Facebook post, January 25, 2015.

15. Rowe, Profoundly Disconnected, 147.

16. Rand, “Objectivist Ethics,” 26.

17. Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (New York: New American Library, 1985 [1957]), 680.

18. Rand, “Objectivist Ethics,” 15–27.

19. Ayn Rand, “The Goal of My Writing,” in Ayn Rand, The Romantic Manifesto, rev. ed. (New York: New American Library, 1975 [1971]), 169.

20. Rand, “Objectivist Ethics,” 26.

21. Rand, Atlas Shrugged, 12.

22. Rand, Atlas Shrugged, 670.

23. Rand, The Fountainhead (New York: New American Library, 1971 [1943]), 93.

24. Rand, Fountainhead, 92–93.

25. Rand, Fountainhead, 134.

26. Rowe, Profoundly Disconnected, xi.

27. Rowe, Profoundly Disconnected, 75.

28. See the S.W.E.A.T. Pledge at https://www.mikeroweworks.org/sweat/.

29. Ayn Rand, “What Is Capitalism?,” in Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (New York: New American Library, 1967), 16–17.

30. Rand, Atlas Shrugged, 25.

31. Rand, Atlas Shrugged, 917.

32. Rowe, Profoundly Disconnected, ix.

33. Rowe, Profoundly Disconnected, 56.

34. Rand, Atlas Shrugged, 988.

35. Ayn Rand, “America’s Persecuted Minority: Big Business,” in Rand, Capitalism, 44.

36. Rand, “America’s Persecuted Minority,” 48.

37. Rowe, Profoundly Disconnected, xxix.

38. Rowe, Profoundly Disconnected, 9.

39. Rowe, Profoundly Disconnected, 122.

40. Rowe, Profoundly Disconnected, 80.

41. Rowe, Profoundly Disconnected, xl.

42. Rowe, Profoundly Disconnected, 121–23, 128–30, and 143–45. See also item #9 of the S.W.E.A.T. Pledge: “I believe that my education is my responsibility, and absolutely critical to my success. I am resolved to learn as much as I can from whatever source is available to me. I will never stop learning and understand that library cards are free.”

43. Rand, “Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made,” 24.

44. Rand, “Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made,” 24–25.

45. Rand, Atlas Shrugged, 861.

46. Rand, Fountainhead, 198–99.

47. Rowe, Profoundly Disconnected, 103.

48. Rowe, Facebook post, February 5, 2015.

49. Rowe, Profoundly Disconnected, 143.

50. Rowe, Profoundly Disconnected, 146.

51. Rand, Atlas Shrugged, 846.

52. Rand, “What Is Capitalism?,” 19.

53. Rand, “America’s Persecuted Minority,” 62.

54. Rand, “Objectivist Ethics,” 31.

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