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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