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Ayn Rand and the World She Made Paperback – October 19, 2010
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Question: Many people discover Ayn Rand’s novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged as young adults, but you read her novels and essays in your forties. What, at that time, sparked your interest in Rand? What moved you to write her biography?
Anne C. Heller: It's true that I didn’t read Ayn Rand’s popular novels in high school or college. I read them for the first time seven or eight years ago, while I was editing a trial issue of a new financial magazine at Condé Nast Publications. Suze Orman--the personal-finance author, who was contributing an article to the magazine--sent me a copy of the well-known "money speech" from Atlas Shrugged. In the novel, the speech is delivered by a young copper baron to an assembled crowd of liberal bureaucrats and corporate welfare-statists. He argues that money, far from being the root of all evil, as the liberals in the novel pretend to think, is really "the root of all good," and "the barometer of a society’s virtue." The speech surprised me with its passion and seemingly air-tight logic and aroused my curiosity. So I read the books.
At that time, Rand and her work weren’t in the news, as they are now. Once I had finished Atlas Shrugged for the second time, I looked around to see what had been written about her. Later, I learned that the novels were still selling in the hundreds of thousands of copies every year and that she was influential among libertarians and certain conservatives; yet no full-scale, impartial biography of this extraordinary woman had been written. Only former disciples and detractors had published books about her. The time seemed right to take a fresh approach.
Question: Do you think your experience with her work, philosophy, and life was different from those who read her in their adolescence?
Anne C. Heller: Yes. I appreciated Rand’s insights into the nature of power and her spectacular ability to integrate plot, character, and theme more than I might have when younger. And, I was less susceptible to her romantic celebration of heroic achievement.
Question: Ayn Rand and the World She Made is the first objective, investigative biography of Ayn Rand. What new sources did you use for your research? Did you travel for your research?
Anne C. Heller: The only other biography was written in the 1980s by Barbara Branden, who was Rand’s friend and disciple as well as her young lover’s former wife. The book was partly in the form of a memoir and was also based on limited information; for example, Rand was born and educated in Russia, but at that time the Russian archives were closed. Thus Branden had to take Rand’s word for most of the events of her childhood. I used a Russian research team to gather new details of Rand’s family background, her parents’ professional lives, and her schooling up to and throughout her university studies, some of which contradicted what Rand had said about herself. I used published and unpublished letters and hundreds of hours of taped, unpublished interviews to document many episodes in Rand’s life that she never talked about, including influences she buried and help she later denied.
I traveled all over the United States to work in relevant archives and to conduct interviews with her former friends and followers, many now in their eighties and nineties, who spoke surprisingly candidly about her capacity for cruelty as well as her genius and personal magnetism. I had three lengthy interviews with her long-time lover, Nathaniel Branden, now eighty, and spoke with most members of what used to be called the "inner circle" of her cult following. I also had access to interviews with her elderly Russian sister and with close friends from the 1920s and 1930s, all now deceased.
Question: What surprised you most?
Anne C. Heller: I was surprised by many things--by how deeply her hostility to liberal social programs was rooted in her Russian childhood, by her remarkable insight into the psychology of envy and mediocrity, by her personal courage, and by her unfailing ability to spot a flaw in any opposing argument. I was also surprised to discover that many of her former followers, though personally damaged by her temper and her moral absolutism, remembered her as the most important and beneficent person in their lives. They had been wounded by her and yet loved her and were protective of her memory and legend.
Question: Why does Rand remain a bestseller?
Anne C. Heller: She certainly does remain popular. In a 1991 poll, sponsored by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club, Americans named Atlas Shrugged the book that had most influenced their lives after the Bible. In a separate 1998 poll by Modern Library, readers chose Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead as number one and two on a list of the one hundred greatest novels of the twentieth century, and Rand’s other two novels, Anthem and We the Living, placed seventh and eighth on the list. Combined, more than twelve million copies of her two best-known novels have been sold in the U.S. alone, and sales this year have reached an all-time high.
Like Holden Caulfield and Huckleberry Finn, Rand’s fictional heroes strike each new generation as timelessly American in their self-reliance and revolt against timidity and conformity. And her passionate, brainy arguments on behalf of limited government and unfettered individual rights strike a strong chord, especially in times of economic trouble and increased government activism.
(Photo © Brennan Cavanaugh)--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
Listening to this on audiobook while doing various domestic chores was a real treat. Having read *Anthem*, *Atlas*, *The Fountainhead* twice, and a number of Rand's essays, I have always been interested in her philosophy--not so much as an adherent but out of recognition that Rand's philosophical and political perspective merits consideration in its own right and as an ideological reality on the American political landscape.
Heller weaves Rand's unique and impressive life story (horrified as a youngster at the brutality of the Soviet revolution she escapes to America to pursue the improbable dream of being a novelist) with her evolving formal philosophy celebrating the primacy of the individual, the virtue of enlightened selfishness, the inherent moral superiority of capitalism over collectivism, and the rejection of all forms of mysticism in favor of her Objectivist view of the world as real, knowable, and enjoyable by rational men and women of virtue.
The biographical sketch also presents a picture that, while noxious to many of Rand's admirers (see below) does not surprise: Transfixed by her romantic vision of human potential and herself and her work as its embodiment, Rand ultimately coped with the contradictions between her ideal world and reality (her limitations and irrational impulses, the failures of followers to conduct themselves according to her stringent standards of virtue, the inability to find in either husband Frank O'Connor or lover Nathaniel Brandon a genuine exemplar of the Ideal Man) with the self-delusion and blind hysteria to which I fear most hopeless and frustrated romantics eventually devolve.Read more ›
* So who was Ayn Rand and why is she still relevant today?
* In my view, what's most impressive - and what makes "Ayn Rand and the World She Made" feel like a book that will never go out of print - is author Anne C. Heller's even-handed (and easy-to-read) summaries of Rand's complex ideologies about American individualism, capitalism and democracy - along with synopses of ALL of Rand's books and lectures - explained in ways that are sometimes more lucid than Rand's original works.
* In addition, Ms. Heller's book has a story-telling momentum that's unusual compared to other biographies. With the help of researchers digging through archives in Russia and throughout the United States, the author brings Ayn Rand's childhood and adult years excitingly to life - making more clear to mainstream readers why Rand's experiences were critically important to understanding how her ideas against socialism and collectivism were formed - and how she refined them over time. Ms. Heller further illustrates how Rand integrated these ideas into all of her novels, particularly ...Read more ›
The first thing to pop out at me relates to Frank Lloyd Wright. Early on, Rand used him as and ideal whose outsider life and creativity became the model for Howard Roark. After visiting Taliesin she commented that Wright did not pay his assistants, but did she realize that his "Fellowship" was a collectivist operation? Wright's 3rd wife, Olgivanna, who like Rand was a Russian émigré, developed this cult-like following on his behalf. Wright's fellowship engrossed the full lives and careers of its closest followers who designed buildings, planted crops and did construction and maintenance work for their "Fellowship". Fellowship, The: The Untold Story of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship. He and his lifestyle were the antithesis of Howard Roark.
The next impressions are about Rand's family. What of Frank O'Connor? Was this love? Friendship? Fear? Awe? Inertia? 50's values? The Chicago relatives are not re-imbursed for their help in Rand's resettlement in the US (neither are those left behind in Russia). Is this a cognitive demonstration of selfishness or a representation of Rand, herself, for which she built an elaborate philosophy to justify? What should be made of the sister from Russia whose comparative contentment with her life essentially mocks Rand's life work?
I was surprised at the involvement of Alan Greenspan.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Very informative, and with an objective perspective. Here is Ayn Rand the human being: a person with some brilliant literary talent and philosophical insights -- coupled with... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Leonard Zane
As usual, I read the book first, and then the 1-star reviews. Initially I was amazed by the length of the 1-star reviews, but then realized: these are Rand fans. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Bruce Oksol
Wonderful hard-cover edition that chronicles Ayn Rand's life and also the development of her ideas, including hidden influences and the world famous readership cult her writings... Read morePublished 9 months ago by Dr. Ellen K. Rudolph
Ok for atheistic Jews who enjoy this sort of fare. Ayn Rand seems to have her finger on the pulse of creative genius but goes awry with her self promoting ideas and life choices. Read morePublished 12 months ago by K. B. White
As a student of Rand for the past three years, I have begun to read this work excitedly and gratefully, as it confirms some of my own impressions of Rand. Read morePublished 15 months ago by Robert Peate
The content and information quality of the book was mediocre. Heller kept claiming that Alissa Z Rosenbaum was a narcissist which is incorrect. Read morePublished 17 months ago by Max Sylver Destin
I have not read all of it yet but it's very interesting.Published 17 months ago by Margaret S. Mitchell