Extroidinary literature but may not be the place to start if you are not acquainted with Ayn Rand.
Anyway, after reading many of the reviews, I have noticed that even the people who loved the book have an erroneous idea of what Ayn Rand was saying.
First of all, ethically selfishness or self-interest means you have a right to your own life, that you own it and can dispose of it as you want, without imposing force on others. It does not mean you have the right TO DO ANYTHING YOU WANT OR TO IMPOSE YOURSELF ON OTHERS. It means you own your life, and are free to live it in the manner you deem right for yourself. In a political context, it means the government is prohibited from imposing itself on your life, by for example drafting you into the military, or prohibiting you from entering a certain career field.
When Ayn Rand attacked altruism and its component part self-sacrifice SHE WAS NOT ATTACKING HELPING OTHERS, OR DOING GOOD THINGS FOR OTHERS, OR BENEVOLENTLY SPREADING GOOD WILL IN THE WORLD. What she was attacking was the fundamental principle of altruism that YOUR LIFE BELONGS TO OTHERS AND CAN BE DISPOSED OF WITHOUT YOUR CONSENT.
We see the consequences of altruism all over the world. People living without the ability to own their lives. Cuba is a prime example. The communist party and Fidel Castro are the owners of everyone's life. They control and direct it with impunity. One has little or no control.
Helping others and spreading good will is as much a part of successful living as living and breathing, but when people are FORCED to sacrifice their lives in the name of helping others, state coercion follows, and this is the evil, Ayn Rand so eloquently refers to in Atlas Shrugged and her other writing.