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I wanted to read a comprehensive, candid biography of Ayn Rand so looked at several. When you face a controversial personality like Ayn Rand's there are a few things to consider: I did not want to read a negative critique of Objectivism masquerading as a biography. I did not want to read a hatchet job of the author by someone who doesn't understand her ideas. Neither did I want to read a paean to Rand nor a whitewash of all her negative characteristics. I settled on Anne C. Heller's book because it sounded as though Heller had read Rand's books and enjoyed their ideas but that she had not drunk Objectivist flavored Cool Aid.
On completing the book, it seems to me that Heller admires Rand's ideals while maintaining the objective view that one cannot expect ideals to translate empirically exactly as outlined. I was most interested in Rand's method of plotting and writing her work. Heller does her best to address these issues by quoting from many of Rand's journals, character sketches and outlines for The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and to some extent for We The Living. Although all my questions were not answered, I did get a basic understanding of how the author worked and how she maintained her specific theme focus through two works of unwieldy length.
The most interesting part of the books, though, were Rand's personal interactions and relationships. Her absolute rejection of any idea that is not in complete agreement with her own does not come across in her many television interviews during which she is polite if mildly sarcastic when she encounters challenges. In public it seemed to me she was more often attacked than attacking. In her personal life very much the opposite was apparently true. She had no problem dropping people from her society for simply questioning the absolute certainty of her opinions. As I became more and more interested in the book it was quite easy via Google, YouTube, and my public library to verify Ms. Heller's conclusions.
I enjoyed the book immensely. I found that it addressed the dichotomy at the root of modern conservative thought which prevents conservatives from making any progress toward their own agendas, while attempts to slow the implementation of liberal agendas serve only to strengthen and even empower their counterparts. These problems perhaps started with the rational and objective insights issued to conservatives by Ayn Rand in her seminal works.
14 of 14 people found this review helpful
In short, this is not merely a history of Rand, but also a lovely portrayal of the "high level" history of the 30's through the 60's. Roosevelt, New Deal, Anti-semitism, Conservatives, were all nightmares for Rand.
Of particular interest to me, was her relationship with Isabel Patterson, author of "God in the Machine." Of course, at the end of the day Rand would have nothing to do with mysticism of ANY sort, which eventually broke the decades long friendship.
Ont to the book itself. It is well written with an engaging style. Heller, is an ecellent historian and put years of research into this effort. I judge her treatment and presentation as fair and balanced. She presents the greatness and genius of Rand along with her deep psychological wounds, which from my understanding dogged her over her entire life. Nevertheless it is an inspiring book in both the positive and negative sense. Positively inspiring because Heller clearly paints an individual who knew who she was -- i.e. her "values" -- and who overcame amazing odds and actually accomplished what SHE set out to do -- to become an independent writer. Negatively inspiring, in that it serves as a lesson for us all that even geniuses need to always be aware they are not believing their own BS.
Ironically, being that "evasion" in Objectivist circles is similar to "unpardonable sin", Rand herself was not immune to psychological dysfunction. Towards the end, all she retained around her were people who jumped when she said frog, and this in both my and the author's opinion was her achilles heel. People, especially geniuses, should not purposely choose a cadre of sycophants as their primary support group. We all need to be challenged, especially the more "forceful" the personality.
Regarding the narrator, Bernadette Dunne, I think she is now my favorite. Her voice is clear and crisp, and she does not merely "read" but is talented at capturing the emotional context of the author's meaning.
28 of 29 people found this review helpful