Booked Bio: Who is Ayn Rand?

A new book review by

By Hannah Elliott
Hannah Elliott is a Lifestyle Reporter at Forbes

The aptly-titled Ayn Rand and the World She Made provides new and illuminating insight into the psyche of one of the most influential philosophers of the last century.

Exhaustively researched by Anne C. Heller, its 413-pages cover Rand’s early days in Russia, time in Hollywood, development of her trademark philosophy of Objectivism, parlays with contemporary thought-leaders, and dysfunctional relationships with acolytes, including one with her lover/protege, the Canadian psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden. Heller has set a new benchmark for Rand scholars, but those looking for a quick read about someone who penned college-course required reading should look elsewhere.

And the World She Made is an appropriate subtitle because the book precisely describes Rand’s method of existence—in her screenplays, novels and personal life, she created environments where her own virtues (unwavering rationality, indefatigable productivity, and impenetrable pride) happened to be paramount. By the end of her life, Rand’s retreat into her own intellectual Shangri-La was almost complete–and it made for a quite a lonely existence indeed.

It’s easy to understand the genesis of her journey. Heller describes Rand (born Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum) as a grim, possessive and “violently intense” child with virtually no friends; Rand delved into books at an early age and was most influenced by the works of Victor Hugo and Sir Walter Scott. After those came Plato, briefly, and finally Aristotle (whom she would later cite as her only influence, literary or otherwise). Cyrus, the hero in Maurice Champagne’s The Mysterious Valley, became the archetype for her ideal male for the rest of her life, informing her choice of both lovers and protagonists.

Like other brilliant, eccentric women intellectuals (BerberovaChanel,ColetteDinesenVreeland), Rand later fabricated parts of her childhood, and erased the rest. “To win requires your total dedication and a total break with the world of your past,” Rand’s iconic hero John Galt says inAtlas Shrugged. True to form, she exaggerated accounts of how much she struggled for success (her claim of 12 rejections before finding a publisher for The Fountainhead was exaggerated) and minimized the help she received from her family (aunts sold heirlooms and jewelry to fund her secret trip west, at great personal risk; none of her Russian relatives were ever able to follow her). Heller’s research shines here–few of Rand’s contemporaries knew about Rand’s Russian Orthodox schooling and privileged Jewish background, that her family fled the Nazis during WWII, or that she relied on amphetamines to fuel her writing.

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