Book Review: Balancing the Books, Noble Solitude

By MAGATTE WADEMORE ARTICLES BY AUTHOR

Magatte Wade reviews Anne C. Heller’s new book, Ayn Rand and the World She Made.

This biography of immigrant, novelist, philosopher and moral crusader Ayn Rand should fascinate even those who have never cared about Rand’s novels or philosophy. Devotees of such perennial bestsellers as The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged should find Rand’s own story just as compelling, although for somewhat different reasons.

An ambitious young woman arrives from Russia and works her way to success. Along the way she marries Frank O’Connor, a devoted suitor, only to indulge in a series of crushes on younger men while married, culminating in the nightmarish affair with her associate Nathaniel Branden. The affair between Rand and Branden, conducted with the full knowledge and approval of both their spouses, reveals the tragic flaw in this larger-than-life woman.

Rand made rationality the foundation of her Objectivist philosophy. But she was in fact the slave to her vanity, egotism, pride and lust. It is heart-wrenching to watch Rand destroy her husband, who is gradually reduced to drinking himself to death while Rand and Branden conduct their liaisons. When Branden finally broke with Rand after having an affair he kept secret from both her and his wife, Rand becomes increasingly brittle, breaking off with all but her most obsequious followers.

It is hard not to admire Rand’s extraordinary strength of will. She was a visionary who saw the value of capitalism and entrepreneurship when virtually all of the intelligentsia had turned against these principles. She was a powerfully sexual woman at a time when traditional sex roles still reigned–and for that reason alone, feminists ought to respect her. But by believing only in herself, she gradually separated herself from everyone except Frank O’Connor and supporter Leonard Peikoff, a young man who was too weak to take a stand against her.

With Frank incontinent and suffering from dementia, the thinker who emphasized “the virtue of selfishness” was left in her old age lying on rubber sheets next to the man she had destroyed. The novelist who stood above all for the dignity of the individual human spirit ended her late years largely alone and without dignity.

Anne Heller’s biography is an unforgettable portrait of a great woman who inspired noble ideals, but who was personally undone by her own dark side. •

Senegalese entrepreneur Magatte Wade, founder of Adina World Beverages, writes for the Huffington Post and blogs at magatte.wordpress.com.

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Book Review: Exasperating But Necessary

Ayn Rand was a kind of 20th-Century Jonathan Swift, with a keen eye for the inhumane underbelly of the humanitarian project

By PHILIP BOUNDS
Published :1 November 2010

AYN RAND WAS ONE OF THOSE WRITERS who exert immense influence in spite of being burdened with an unenviable critical reputation. The consensus among literary types is that her novels and essays are utterly derivative, two-dimensional and dogmatic. This has not prevented her from becoming a heroine to thousands of activists on the libertarian wing of conservative politics in the USA and elsewhere. No other apologist for ‘free markets and free minds’ has been loved quite so ardently by the battalion of youthful ideologues who regard capitalism as God’s greatest gift to mankind. The likes of Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises and Milton Friedman are all more highly esteemed by academics, but their work remains the property of the few. Only Rand has won the hearts of the rank and file.

One of the reasons for Rand’s cult status is the epic sweep of her life, which has now been recreated with great facility in Anne C Heller’s fascinating biography. Born in St Petersburg in 1905 to an affluent Jewish family, Rand spent her early years in a Russia traumatised by the decline of Czarism and the rise of communism. She seems to have been ferociously intelligent and unashamedly weird from early childhood onwards. Solitary, bookish and contemptuous of her mother’s social pretensions, she responded to the October Revolution with horror but took full advantage of the Soviet government’s policy of expanding the number of Jews in higher education. She had already sketched the outlines of what she would later call her ‘objectivist’ philosophy by the time she graduated from Petrograd State University in 1924.

American writer and philosopher Ayn Rand espoused her philosophy of objectivism and ‘rational selfishness’ in her novels, which included The Fountainhead.

Granted a visa to leave the Soviet Union in 1926, Rand fled immediately to the USA and remained there until her death in 1982. Her first three decades in the States were devoted to a tireless effort to achieve success as a writer of fiction. While working as a playwright and Hollywood scriptwriter she set out to dramatise her ideas in a series of novels, two of which—The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957)—became runaway bestsellers and remain her most widely read works. The latter in particular illustrates her enormously melodramatic cast of mind with great vividness. Set in an America where the smooth workings of the free market are increasingly undermined by industrial militancy, it lovingly depicts a co-ordinated attempt by the ruling elite to rid itself of the working-class menace. Its simple but arresting premise is that the best way for the capitalist class to reclaim control of society is to bend the strike weapon to its own purposes. Led by the improbably Promethean John Galt, Rand’s heavily idealised clerisy of industrialists, financiers and scientists simply remove themselves to a mountain retreat and refuse to put their talents (or their money) at the disposal of the common herd. The result is that America grinds to a halt as the limits of ordinary people’s competence rapidly become apparent. No other book has ever communicated love for the rich and contempt for the poor as vehemently as this.

Rand’s success as a novelist emboldened her into trying her luck as a leader of men. In the early 1950s she began to surround herself with a small group of disciples, each of whom was expected to play a role in popularising her objectivist philosophy. Among the most able of her early acolytes was the young Alan Greenspan, whose obdurate devotion to free-market principles came close to sinking the American economy when he served as Chairman of the Federal Reserve between 1987 and 2006. Inspired by the thought that she was doing more than anyone else to inoculate the public mind against socialism, Rand wrote voluminous amounts of non-fiction in her later years and eventually became the high priest of a substantial libertarian subculture. More than one writer has commented on the tension between her ostensible principles and her treatment of her followers. She was clearly the sort of person who loved the idea of individual liberty in the abstract but expected iron discipline from her associates in practice. As the British philosopher John Gray has recently reminded us, she even insisted—or at least was rumoured to insist—that her fellow objectivists use the same sort of cigarette holder as she used herself. Nor was she averse to inflicting terrible pain on the people closest to her. In her late 40s she openly embarked on an extramarital affair with Nathaniel Branden, the author and polemicist who later founded the Nathaniel Branden Institute in order to promote objectivist ideas. Rand’s position was that Branden’s wife and her own husband should accept the affair without demur. Why should the gifted be bound by the same standards as everyone else?

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Importance Of Being Selfish

I was first introduced to Ayn Rand at the age of 15, when I read The Fountainhead and, like most young Rand readers, was influenced to the point of being thunderstruck by her philosophy. This led to a flurry of reading Ayn Rand books: We The Living, The Night of January 16th, Atlas Shrugged. These were novels of ideas, in which Rand, in her own words, aimed for “the portrayal of a moral ideal”. Rand espoused a noble individualism, a “selfishness” and “egotism” that lead to the good of society as a whole. She believed man to be heroic, armed with reason and capable of great things when pursuing his own happiness.

In all her writings, Rand’s authorial voice was clear and unmistakable. She shone out of the pages of her works. Very soon after the publication of The Fountainhead in 1943, Rand had become a cult figure, with a dedicated group of followers and an equally vehement group of detractors. She was regarded a genius by some (or, in the case of her disciples, “the greatest human being who has ever lived”), and a “reactionary crackpot” by others.

It is a matter of some surprise then, that Anne C. Heller’s Ayn Rand and the World She Made, published 28 years after Rand’s death, is the first objective and investigative biography of this fascinating woman. The only previous biography, The Passion of Ayn Rand, published in 1986, was written partly in the form of a memoir by Barbara Branden, Rand’s friend and disciple, and the wife of Rand’s young lover, Nathaniel Branden.

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Tehelka Magaizine Reviews “Ayn Rand and the World She Made”

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 29, Dated July 24, 2010

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Catching them young. Ayn Rand (1905-1982)

Ayn Rand’s harangues have long assaulted the blameless. An unflinching biography tells us why but with dishonest intent, says ARUL MANI.

AYN RAND was responsible for my first book review some two decades ago. A classmate in college asked if I had heard of Atlas Shrugged and took my no as invitation to shove a new excerpt under my nose every day. Each excerpt was some long unreadable harangue that caused my eyes to glaze over but he mistook this for ecstasy. One day he pointed out some pithy saying on excellence or money, or both, and the note his father had scribbled in the margins— “read this now, and through the years”. I drew a pair of testicles below that line because I felt under pressure to offer some gesture of further benediction. He never spoke to me again. Rand has enjoyed for years an unacknowledged second life in India. She is for the unfortunate above a life-changing instructor in how to be modern. Her works, with their overt agenda of creating “a morality of rational self-interest to defend capitalism”, also provide a vocabulary for upper-class darlings unable to articulate their own discomfort with a changing world beyond mantric intonations of the word ‘merit’. This book allows us to see how the experiences of the impoverished Jewish student Alisa Rosenbaum in post-revolution Russia shaped her enthusiasm for America and provided the motor for the best-selling author that she became.

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AYN RAND: AND THE WORLD SHE MADE Anne C Heller Nan A Talese 567 pp; Rs 499

HELLER SURVEYS the limited reading life from which came Ayn Rand’s beginnings as author — primary inspirations seem to have been Victor Hugo and The Mysterious Valley, a serialised adventure for boys whose hero, Cyrus, meets his foes with defiant laughter, thus providing the template for all her heroes. She does not flinch from showing us Rand’s peptalks to herself (“You must be nothing but will, all will and all control”) nor from admitting the ‘gauzy sadomasochism’ of her love scenes (“His embrace”, Rand once wrote, “was like an act of hatred, like the cutting blow of a lash”). The Rand who described the content of her novels as ‘metaphysics, morality, politics, economics, sex’ is also discovered to have an overly “rhetorical pitch and a tin ear for American diction”. Documented with equal scrupulousness is ‘The Collective’, an Ayn Rand cult of ideal readers which decents into “a pallid kind of Stalinisation, marked by tantrums and purges.”

My quarrels with Heller arise from the fact that all this truthtelling is in aid of setting up its subject as a model of intellectual sexiness, albeit with faults. Ayn Rand is thus somebody who was conservative yet pro-abortion and anti-Vietnam, somebody who brought rigour and dazzle to the simple business of being right-wing, conservative and paranoid. Heller thus ducks all questions about Rand’s intellectual laziness and the small irony revealed in the fact that the cult of heroism Rand propounded needed millions of ordinary people swallowing such a fairy-tale without asking too many questions is also ignored.

The book’s saving grace is that it strikes a far less triumphal note than suggested by title and precedent. On the whole, I see no reason to revise the opinion of Ayn Rand I expressed in succinct hieroglyphics all those years ago.

OPEN Magazine: “Reason is All”

Book review published by Sudha G. Tilak of OPEN Magazine:

A new biography of Ayn Rand takes us closer to one of the more complex literary personalities of the last century.

Revisiting Rand has never been as interesting as reading Heller’s striking biography.

Revisiting Rand has never been as interesting as reading Heller’s striking biography.

It is impossible to have not known or read Ayn Rand. For most readers, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged were an introduction into the muscular world of Rand and her approach to individualism against collectivism. The appeal of Howard Roark, the young architect hero of The Fountainhead (published in 1943), who chased an individualistic approach, resisting the traditional, was enormous on her readers. Atlas Shrugged (1957), led by the hero John Galt, again spoke of a world where the government takes over collective control and the individual is expected to toe in, giving up on his mind and desires.

Rand’s influence on America had been a powerful one as a polemicist on objectivism, and her philosophy of staunch individualism, reason, capitalism or market economy found many supporters, especially among right-wingers. Rand’s compelling and persuasive philosophy about the pursuit of money and her career as a Hollywood screenwriter added to make her one of the most interesting personalities of our times.

At 19, Galt and Roark’s petitions as young rebels seeking subjective gratification against a monochromatic social or governmental order held great appeal for her supporters. Both in her times and later, Rand’s theories were challenged for advocacy of vulgar, selfish satisfaction and egoism. Whatever the position, Rand’s influence remains powerful and her books continue to sell in thousands.

Revisiting Rand has never been as interesting as reading Heller’s striking biography. It takes us closer to the creature that Rand was, a compelling entity whose advocacy of rebellion and individualism held a mesmeric quality over those around her, even detractors who rejected her idea of wealth. Heller includes interesting details of how Rand would wear dollar pins on her dress to advocate her support for capitalism, though she did not attach much importance to wealth when she gave up her royalties. Heller points out that for Rand, the wealth of ideas amounted to the intellectual capital she so cherished in her own life. Alan Greenspan might find her ideas appealing, but at heart Rand’s philosophy owed more to Nietzsche, hints Heller.

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Who Was Ayn Rand?

New book review by William R Thomas of The New Individualist.

Anne Heller. Ayn Rand and the World She Made. New York, 2009: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday. 567 pp. $35
Any book review partakes of the perspectives of its writer, and any book review can be objective insofar as it appeals to publically accessible facts and gives reasons for its idiosyncratic value judgments and personal impressions. That said, this review is more personal than most.

I know the author, Anne Heller, principally because she took a course in Objectivism from me while she was researching this book. I met her and communicated with her on occasions after that. From knowing her and appreciating the serious, independent approach she brought to her subject, I have been on tenterhooks awaiting this biography.

So I am particularly pleased to be able to say that Ayn Rand and The World She Made is biography done right: well-rounded, engaged, judicious, thoroughly-researched, occasionally revelatory, and often moving. It is focused on Ayn Rand as a person. With whom did she have personal relationships? What were the sources of her drive and independent thinking? What were the origins of her story ideas and her aesthetic approach? What was she really like, beneath the mythological view of herself that she presented to readers, fans, and even many friends?

Heller is an intelligent fiction critic, who, encountering Ayn Rand’s work in mid-life, was able to see its strengths and appreciate its inspirational power. This is rare. Usually becoming culturally literate involves hardening oneself against whatever is not intellectually modish. And Ayn Rand, though popular, was out-of-step with 20th century intellectual culture both by inclination and on principle.

Heller points out that Rand brought to her fiction elements as varied as her “nineteenth-century scope, her jaw-dropping integration of unfamiliar ideas into a drumbeat plot, or the Dickensian keenness of her eye for bureaucratic villainy” (p. 282, regarding Atlas Shruggedin particular). Rand’s writing was characteristically “logical, original, complex, and though sometimes overbearing, beautifully written.”  Heller recounts that she tore through Rand’s oeuvre after being introduced to her ideas, and states that she “became a strong admirer, albeit one with many questions and reservations.” (p. xii)

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Politics & Culture: Reconstructing Ayn Rand

by Maureen Minard

This article is from Edition 2010 Issue 2.

Review of Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne Heller, Nan A. Talese, 2009.

In the shadows of American conservative politics sits the memory of a stalwart intellectual, who molded the concept of capitalist individualism to mythical proportions. Most often recognized for the most famous son of her Collective, Alan Greenspan, Ayn Rand’s imprint on politics can be seen in the recent rantings of conservative commentators about institutionalized socialism in the United States. The fear represented by these politicos reflects the footprints of a bygone era in American politics, where communism appeared to threaten the foundation of society, and Rand fed that anxiety. Long supported by enthusiastic young neoliberals, Rand’s books Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead create a cult following, where her archetypes present a version of economic Objectivist truths. Rand sculpted a theory, which moved away from, in her view, the flawed altruism and toward a celebration of the individual. In this approach, the capitalist economy will reward innovation and advancement, which can only be produced by the competitive individual. Rand’s personal experience growing up in Czarist Russia, living through the Bolshevik Revolution, and working in Hollywood informed her philosophical viewpoint of the free market. Although Rand became famous for finding flaws in the arguments of others, she guarded her personal convictions closely, which mystified her presence in the American public.

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