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.