The Atlasphere Reviews “Ayn Rand and the World She Made”

REVIEW by Henry Mark Holzer – Jan 29, 2010

Anne C. Heller’s new biography offers fascinating glimpses of the influences that helped shape not only Ayn Rand’s life, but also certain aspect of her novels. It’s a book you’ll want to read for yourself.

Ayn Rand was one of the most intriguing, complex, and seminal American thinkers of the Twentieth Century. For seven decades — from her 1905 birth in czarist Russia’s St. Petersburg to her 1982 interment in New York’s Kensico cemetery — she was the vortex around which she drew family, friends, acquaintances, and lovers, sometimes to their benefit, sometimes to their detriment.

As the subtext of Anne C. Heller’s Ayn Rand and the World She Made reveals, close relationships with Rand were, as Charles Dickens wrote in A Tale of Two Cities, the best of times and the worst of times.

Heller begins her biography with Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum’s 1905 birth in St. Petersburg, Russia and ends with Ayn Rand’s 1982 death in New York City. Structuring her book in chronological order, albeit interspersed with significant events, Heller enables the reader to see Rand’s development as person, woman, and writer.

The early “Russian” chapters are particularly fascinating as they zero in on the virtues and values young Alissa developed in an alien czarist and soviet world and adhered to tenaciously throughout her life.

Far from being raised in a country that respected individual rights, free market capitalism and an objective rule of law, St. Petersburg was a boiling cauldron of the opposite, exemplified by what Heller calls “the most anti-Semitic … nation on the European continent.”

Heller’s prodigious research — through primary sources, historical materials, and personal interviews — portrays a young girl at the mercy of a czarist regime that gave way to the horrors of the Bolshevik Revolution.

And Heller succeeds admirably in integrating Alissa Rosenbaum’s personal experiences with some of the fictional events and characters Ayn Rand would create decades later in America. For example, Alissa’s mother was apparently a lightweight social climber with a cruel streak. Heller connects that characteristic with We the Living, Rand’s quasi-autobiographical first novel, where “…the heroine, Kira Argounova, views her mother as an unprincipled conformist.”

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2 thoughts on “The Atlasphere Reviews “Ayn Rand and the World She Made”

  1. dr. holzer has some of the meatier, more interesting writing on rand around. his umbrage at not being identified by name in “ayn rand and the world she made” as one of the people who recovered the movie of “we the living” seems a little grumblesome.

    • You might enjoy reading the Holzers’ longer, original review of my book, published on their site (http://www.henrymarkholzer.citymax.com/f/ruminations.pdf), and my reply, below:

      Dear Mr. and Mrs. Holzer,
      A friend sent me a link to your reflections on my book, and I want to thank you for taking care to describe the book, particularly its early chapters, so thoughtfully.
      The most interesting sections–at least to me–have to do with your own experiences. Once again, they make me wish that I had been able to interview you. If I had, I would not have neglected the case of Rand v. Hearst or the birth and death of Verdict magazine, which I had not heard of before. I would have tried to include some of Mrs. Holzer’s insights into Rand’s mature teaching style. And I would have benefitted from knowing more about your final 18 months with Rand than I could glean from Full Context interviews and Duncan’s Scott’s Objectivist History Project.
      I’d also like to address a few points that I may not have made clear in my book.
      First, about the loan amount to NBI from to The Objectivist: When you recall (on page 20) that the loan was for $16,000, not $25,000, I believe you may be deducting rent and other expenses for The Objectivist offset against the loan. In “To Whom It May Concern,” Rand stated that the original loan amount was $25,000 and that $16,500 was still owed at the time of the break.
      More importantly, about the post-break rumors that Nathaniel Branden had been financially malfeasant: I didn’t state, or mean to imply, that Mr. Holzer actively contributed to the stories that circulated. I wrote that you were silent, according to the many people I interviewed for the book. That said, by your own account (on page 22) you reviewed and approved her published statement, including that Branden had tried “to exploit me financially” and that “we are still checking the records”–not an accusation but still strong words, coming from Ayn Rand. This is another instance in which I would like to have interviewed you.
      As to the copyrights, I regret writing that Rand “refused” to turn them over. Setting conditions is not the same thing as refusing.
      I am sorry not to have fulfilled for you the promise I made to tie Rand’s Jewish and Russian heritage to her development and literary work. I tried: by pointing out that the Jewish entrepreneurs, industrialists, and capitalists of 19th- and early 20th-century Europe, including the Russia of her childhood, were punished for their virtues by those less gifted, just as her entrepreneurial heroes would be; that her hatred of “death-worship” was partly tied to her childhood disgust with the Russian Orthodox idolatry of the cross, of suffering, and of sacrificing the “best” to the worst; and that the utopian strain in Russian literature strongly affected her approach to her own novels. To the degree that those themes aren’t strongly developed the book loses power.

      Yours truly,
      Anne

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