Source of unsolicited Ayn Rand?
September 17, 2016 1:50 PM   Subscribe

I received a copy of Atlas Shrugged in the mail today. Where did this come from?

The book came in a white bubble mailer sent via US Mail Innovations, Media Mail rate. My name and address were on a printed mailing label, nothing out of the ordinary in terms of spelling or addressing. The return address lists the sender as "Reading America Foundation" at 3430 Connecticut Ave NW #11880, Washington, DC 20008.

Inside was a copy of Atlas Shrugged, Signet 50th Anniversary Edition. A postcard tucked inside the front cover is addressed to "Fellow Reader" and references the Library of Congress and "Books That Shaped America."

Atlas Shrugged is indeed on the LOC list, but Google doesn't seem to think "Reading America Foundation" (with quotes) exists. That address appears to be a box at the Post Office in Cleveland Park. And I'm not finding anyone else posting online about unsolicited Ayn Rand.

What in the world?!?!
posted by kittydelsol to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Here you can request free copies of Ayn Rand books. Maybe someone wanted you to have a free book?
posted by FallowKing at 1:55 PM on September 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

Is it possible that this is a prank? Have you asked your FB list?
posted by bunderful at 2:10 PM on September 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

I guess you can at least rest assured that no actual Randian would want you to have a book for free.
posted by No-sword at 2:15 PM on September 17, 2016 [134 favorites]

Are you in education? I know that we got offers of free class sets all the time when I taught HS English.
posted by guster4lovers at 2:24 PM on September 17, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks for the ideas! I'm not sure that free objectivist book site works in a way that would let someone request a book for someone else, unless I'm misunderstanding. The postcard (be sure to read the full text) seems to suggest something more coordinated than a one-off prank. I'm not in education, though I am a librarian; however, I received this book at home, not at work. I am in Ohio in case someone thinks it might influence my vote? Keep the ideas coming!
posted by kittydelsol at 2:28 PM on September 17, 2016

Hi! So my husband (and not me) got one of these in the mail today too. We're in New Jersey and are both registered Democrats. He doesn't work in education and he's not a librarian. Needless to say, we are confused.
posted by bananana at 2:39 PM on September 17, 2016 [15 favorites]

Maybe just a rather expensive, and kind of subtle, political mailer? I'm going to assume Republican as the Libertarians couldn't afford the postage, let alone the books.
posted by COD at 3:08 PM on September 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

Twitter search for "Reading America Foundation" turned up one other Atlas Shrugged recipient, as well as someone who got a bible.
posted by donnagirl at 3:21 PM on September 17, 2016 [5 favorites]

You could always write them back and ask them for more information about their foundation!
posted by juniperesque at 4:25 PM on September 17, 2016

The address is just a slightly elliptical way of disguising a PO Box from a casual glance.

If the self wants to give away books for free, it's the right kind of selfishness, per Rand, to give them away.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:24 PM on September 17, 2016 [6 favorites]

No results for "Reading America Foundation," but Googling just "Reading America" suggests scam-o-rama.

Have you humoured any telemarketers lately? It seems one organization called "Reading America" has been cold-calling people with deals on magazines, asking for information (including banking info, natch), then cleaning out every account.

Another possibility is that they've moved on from that scam to the classic where the scammer sends you merchandise out of the blue, then later sends you a whopping bill for it.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:00 PM on September 17, 2016

Can you mark "return to sender" and stick them with the cost of the return postage?
posted by she's not there at 7:09 PM on September 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

After reading the mailer, and since it's from Cleveland park (DC), I would bet this is simply political propaganda from a libertarian org. The mailer heavily suggests that the this is Officially Certified Very Respectable Opinion, and official recognition of Rand is the kind of thing I can imagine some rich Rand fan seeing as a great PR opportunity. That doesn't answer the question of how you got on the list, of course.
posted by ropeladder at 8:00 AM on September 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: An update to note that quite a few others are beginning to report additional unsolicited books from this mysterious Reading America Foundation. (Thanks to donnagirl for the tip to search Twitter!)

More copies of Atlas Shrugged.

Other people have gotten The Bible, the Libertarian Mind, an unnamed Paul Krugman title and a totally unnamed title received gratefully. Even though none of these are on the LOC list, they all apparently had the same insert.
posted by kittydelsol at 9:31 AM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The answer may be the Cato Institute: Inside the GOP’s Effort to Close the Campaign-Science Gap With Democrats.
This spring, the Cato Institute identified 600 Americans who read more than 20 books per year and made arrangements to send them each one more. The libertarian think tank split these readers into three groups. One group received a free copy of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, one got longtime Cato executive David Boaz’s The Libertarian Mind, and one a book that Cato scholars considered a useful placebo to free-market doctrine: the Bible. After three months, six months, and 12 months, members of all three groups would be surveyed to see if the unsolicited books they had received could explain differential response rates to one question: Do you consider yourself a libertarian?

The Cato researcher behind the project explained to other members of a below-the-radar Republican group known as the Center for Strategic Initiatives, or CSI, that the 600 books were just part of a pilot test. If the design appeared to work properly, the experiment would be replicated on a larger scale: 12,000 books this time. “Political books have never been tested,” says David Kirby, now a vice president and senior fellow at Cato. “Think tanks think that books persuade people. Do they?”
Guess I won't be surprised if I get surveys in three months, six months and 12 months!
posted by kittydelsol at 5:32 PM on September 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Looks like many of us book recipients are also Knowledge Panel participants. I do recall taking a survey recently that asked how many books I read in the last year. Mystery solved?
posted by kittydelsol at 5:52 AM on September 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Just got a Knowledge Panel follow-up survey asking if I received the book. It also asked some questions about how I felt about progressives, libertarians, capitalism and socialism. What a crazy research project!
posted by kittydelsol at 2:59 PM on March 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

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