Ayn Rand Remains a Divisive, Embarrassing Figure

An Indian Connection

By Sarita Ravindranath

Her two major novels are often quoted to be the most influential books after The Bible.

She has been revered – by a legion of followers that range from Alan Greenspan to Angelina Jolie, from students to CEOs to pop icons to anyone who wants to defy convention or authority – as passionately as she has been reviled by literary critics.

But there was very little the world knew about Ayn Rand, philosopher and author of the still-bestselling The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957), till recently. When she died in 1982, even her closest associates weren’t aware of the Russia-born Ayn Rand’s real name: Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum.

It was only in 2009 that the first “critical” biography of this writer, whose books returned to the bestseller list after recession hit the world in 2007, was published.

Journalist Anne C Heller‘s Ayn Rand and the World She Made,( Nan A. Talese/Tranquebar), escaped the fate of Rand’s own novels, which were trashed by newspapers and literary magazines of the day. Critics loved the book (“Far more interesting than anything in Rand’s novels”, said the New York Times) and a paperback edition of the biography is out this week.

Heller, the former fiction editor of Esquire and Redbook, discovered Rand and her speech in defence of money (Atlas Shrugged) as an adult in her forties – unlike most of her peers who read Rand in their teens. “I became a strong admirer, albeit one with many questions and reservations,” she says.

Ayn Rand and the World She Made traces Rand’s early life, her escape from Communist Russia and her life as a Hollywood screenwriter before she found fame with The Fountainhead. The book exposes the terrible contradictions that built the Ayn Rand cult: The champion of individuality expected and demanded total conformity from her acolytes. Rand was a cheerleader for the free market economy, but never got around to investing her own money.

Heller writes of how Rand first found her hero – not in America – but between the pages of an illustrated story set in British-ruled West Bengal that she read when she was nine. Cyrus, the brave, arrogant British hero of The Mysterious Valley who slays “savage” Indian villains, was her “first love”. The template for her fictional heroes and the ones she looked for in real life.

Anne Heller is the first outside Rand’s inner circle to chronicle the writer’s explosive extra-marital affair with her former fan Nathaniel Branden, 25 years her junior. Their spouses consented to the affair and were the only ones who knew of it during Rand’s lifetime.

In an exclusive interview with, Heller speaks about the larger-than-life world that Ayn Rand created, her philosophy and the curious appeal of her novels to the young.

Read the Interview >



Fox & Friends: The Morality of Money

On the subject of Ayn Rand and money, more remains to be said than time permitted on Fox & Friends on April 30 (video below). Here are a few essential passages from Rand that I especially like and that illuminate her views. The first, a fictional scenario,  comes from a 1963 essay called “The Money Making-Personality”:”*

“Suppose you have observed two young men on their way through college and, on graduation day, are asked to tell which one of them will make a fortune,” Rand proposed. “Let’s call them Smith and Jones. Both are intelligent [and] ambitious. . . . Smith is aggressively social and very popular. He belongs to many campus groups and is usually their leader. Jones is quiet, reserved; he is usually noticed but neither liked nor disliked; some people resent him for no apparent reason. . . .

“Smith adjusts himself to people easily, but finds it harder to adjust himself to changing circumstances. Jones adjusts himself to circumstances, but is inflexible with regard to people.

“Smith’s scholastic grades are uniformly excellent. Jones’s grades are irregular: he rates ‘A plus’ in some subjects and ‘C’ in others.

“Smith’s image in people’s minds is one of sunny cheerfulness. Jones’s image is grimly earnest. But some rare, fleeting signs seem to indicate that in the privacy of their inner worlds their roles are reversed: it is Jones who is serenely cheerful and Smith who is driven by some grimly nameless dread.

“Which would you choose as the future fortune maker?

“If you subscribe to the currently prevalent ideas, you would choose Smith–and you would be wrong. Jones is the archetype of the Money-Maker, while Smith is a deceptive facsimile who will never make money, though he may become rich; to describe him accurately, one would have to call him the ‘Money-Appropriator.’

Rand’s readers will recognize more than a trace of Peter Keating and Howard Roark in these descriptions. For Rand, the person of reason, purpose, and independent self-esteem is able to create value–add something new to the world–and so cannot only  acquire money but also create wealth.

As to making money, here is what Rand wrote in Atlas Shrugged:

“If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of Americans, I would choose–because it contains all the others–the fact that they were the people who created the phrase, ‘to make money.’ No other language or nation had ever used these words before. Men had always thought of wealth as a static quantity–to be seized, begged, inherited, shared, looted, or obtained as a favor. Americans were the first to understand that wealth has to be created. The words ‘to make money’ hold the essence of human morality.”

Finally, also from Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged, there is this:

“An honest man is one who knows that he can’t consume more than he has produced.”

As to the Francisco d’Anconia quote that Fox & Friends flashed onscreen at the beginning of the Rand segment (“‘Let me give you a tip on a clue to men’s characters. The man who damns money has obtained it dishonorably; the man who respects it has earned it'”), the statement doesn’t exclude the possibility that some people who have obtained their money dishonorably–by extracting rather than adding value or new wealth to the economy–will extol it, such as CDO gamblers Richard Perry and John Paulson may well do.

President Obama’s videotaped cry that “at a certain point, I do think you’ve made enough money,” is surely naïve: Who has made enough money? At what point in the wealth-creation cycle is enough enough? And who will collect the “excess,” whatever that means?

Yet I did not intend to suggest or agree with Gretchen Carlson and Steve Doocy that Obama is right for the part of Ellsworth M. Toohey, attempting to “squash the American Dream.” The national dream is of making money, not appropriating it. I think Obama, confused as he may have been, made it clear that he agrees.

* “The Money-Making Personality” appeared in the April, 1963 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine. (That was two years before the less idea-driven Helen Gurley Brown took over). It was republished in The Objectivist Forum in February, 1983.

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My Q&A with The Atlasphere

My interview with Kurt Keefner of

How did she discover Ayn Rand? What intrigued her enough to write a biography? What challenges did she encounter in her research? Anne Heller answers these and other questions for Atlasphere readers.

The Atlasphere: How did you discover Ayn Rand? You didn’t find her novels as a teenager, like many of her fans.

Anne Heller: No, I didn’t read her novels as a teenager. In high school and college I was interested in Nineteenth Century poets and novelists, such as George Eliot and Charles Dickens. I first read Rand eight years ago and was surprised to discover that, in some respects, she too was a kind of Nineteenth Century literary artist: the author of epic tales of moral and social conflict that cast light on the pivotal issues of the day.

I was editing a trial issue of a new financial magazine at Condé Nast Publications in 2002 when a contributor to the magazine sent me a copy of the famous “Money Speech” from Atlas Shrugged. The speech, given by a young copper baron to an assembled crowd of liberal politicians, argues that money, far from being the root of all evil, as the politicians pretend to think, is really “the root of all good” and “the barometer of a society’s virtue.”

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