Monday Book Review: Ayn Rand and the World She Made December 7, 2009Posted by pupfiction in Book Reviews.
Tags: ayn rand, book review, libertarian
Ayn Rand and the World She Made, by Anne C. Heller, is as objective a biography as one can produce about such a controversial, outspoken, influential, larger-than-life person as Rand was. Rand, who is best known for her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, was an integral part of America’s political and literary circles during the 1960’s, and, as is credited by Heller, a large influence on the Libertarian movement of the 1970’s. Heller, neither an advocate nor a detractor of Rand’s theories, presents Rand’s life and personality with both cool description and sympathetic understanding. As stated in her foreword, Heller was intrigued by Rand’s theories and her rabid, dogmatic adherence to them, but, unlike many people her age, never converted herself. Nevertheless, she was intrigued by the writer-philosopher’s life and the way it contributed to her theories.
From interviews of Rand and her closest “followers”, letters, drafts, anecdotes of relatives, among other sources, Heller paints what seems like a truthful picture of Rand–highly intelligent, commanding, focused, driven, irascible and bossy, and yet overwhelmingly charismatic. Heller often compares Rand’s initial description of an event in her life, with a later description, including the emotional state of Rand’s psyche as well as more personal matters such as her marriage and extra-marital affair to account for the writer’s inconsistencies. She does the same for Rand’s omnipresent entourage, describing their initial reactions and relations to Rand as well as their testimony sometimes decades later. Heller often follows a none-too positive description of Rand with reasons as to why she acted in such a way, still without excusing the staunch (and self-proclaimed)”Objectivist”.
While many people are aware that many of Rand’s beliefs were in reaction to her upbringing in communist Russia, Heller depicts every event in Rand’s life as a catalyst for molding and strengthening these convictions, a phenomena that we are eager to believe as Rand willingly (and proudly) admits that her personal dogma was the single motivating force behind every action in her life. She also draws interesting conclusions about the author’s primary literary influences from a young age, ones Rand never made herself and, Heller argues, influenced more than her writing, including her choice in mates. As a whole, the biography echoes the sentiments of Rand’s “excommunicates”: while Rand’s concepts would work well in the elevated world she created in her novels, they didn’t often work well with the details of life, in which we are immutably immersed.
Heller’s method of writing is engaging and fast-moving, as well as replete with interesting photographs. An interesting, if minimal, addition to the work are footnotes including retractions and corrections of Rand’s followers in relation to the 2008 collapse of America’s economy, notes that must have been added during the final stages of publication, and a testament to just how influential her theories continue to be. I would highly recommend this book for anyone who has read Rand’s works and felt, whether they agreed or disagreed with her theories, that the author must have been a singular, unique, and highly interesting person.