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Ayn Rand and the World She Made (2009)

by Anne C. Heller

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285439,557 (3.92)6
Recently added byprivate library, imran_taib, phebj, daniela22, mtsass
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  1. 10
    Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (ainsleytewce)
  2. 10
    The Passion of Ayn by Barbara Branden (ainsleytewce)
  3. 11
    Two Girls Fat and Thin by Mary Gaitskill (ainsleytewce, JuliaMaria)
    JuliaMaria: One of the two "girls" is writing an article about Ayn Rand (satiracally named "Anna Granite") and her circle, the second one was the secretary of Ayn Rand and is thus interviewed by the first. The novel covers a lot of persons and scenarios of this biografy.… (more)
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Showing 4 of 4
An interesting look at a ridiculous woman. ( )
  smlyniec | Jun 19, 2013 |
Well-researched, revealing biography of the founder of Objectivism. It made me dig out my copy of Atlas Shrugged to read it again. ( )
  Bellettres | May 16, 2011 |
This biography attempts to explain the intriguing character of Ayn Rand, to place her person as separate to her ideas, as much as such a thing is possible. Heller's own feelings or opinions of Rand's ideas and behavior only come through occasionally, but just often enough to remind the reader that there is in fact a person behind all these words, and peering in on a life that doesn't stand up quite so well to scrutiny as the person living it would have liked.

Still, Ayn Rand's ideas, especially early in her life, are the stuff of legend, and worth revisiting in the context that created her. ( )
2 vote storyjunkie | Nov 11, 2010 |
This was a really great book about Ayn Rand's life. The only problem is how long it takes to go through her life. It begins literally with her very young childhood and stays there for a long time. It will occasionally connect her earlier life to events in her later life, to demonstrate how her beliefs were influenced. ( )
1 vote sandglass | Aug 21, 2010 |
Showing 4 of 4
I confess that enthusiasm for [Ayn Rand] is to me utterly mysterious, and the excellent new biography by Ann C. Heller does not clear up the mystery but, rather, deepens it. Able and gifted people (not the least of them Alan Greenspan) were captivated both by her writings and her person, but the picture of Rand that emerges from Ms. Heller’s book is all the more damning because the biographer is obviously fair-minded and, indeed, something of an admirer of her subject.
 
In Heller's admirably evenhanded portrait, Rand appears as having been single-minded, ruthless, and beyond either modesty or embarrassment in her determination to succeed.
added by Shortride | editBookforum, Francine Prose (Dec 1, 2009)
 
So how did this little Russian bomb of pure immorality in a black wig become an American icon?

Two new biographies of Rand—Goddess of the Market by Jennifer Burns and Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne Heller—try to puzzle out this question, showing how her arguments found an echo in the darkest corners of American political life. But the books work best, for me, on a level I didn't expect. They are thrilling psychological portraits of a horribly damaged woman who deserves the one thing she spent her life raging against: compassion.
added by Shortride | editSlate, Johann Hari (Nov 2, 2009)
 
While it’s not hard to understand Rand’s revenge-fantasy appeal to those on the right, would-be Galts ought to hear the story Anne C. Heller has to tell in her dramatic and very timely biography, “Ayn Rand and the World She Made.”

For one thing, it is far more interesting than anything in Rand’s novels.
 
Ms. Heller has delivered a thoughtful, flesh-and-blood portrait of an extremely complicated and self-contradictory woman, coupling this character study with literary analysis and plumbing the quirkier depths of Rand’s prodigious imagination.
 
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Epigraph
"Alas, that you would understand my word: 'Do whatever you will, but first be such as are able to will.' " -- Thus Spake Zarathustra, 1885
Dedication
"For David Harter de Weese."
First words
"Ayn Rand died in her Murray Hill apartment in New York City in 1982, at the age of seventy-seven." -- from the Preface
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Preface, p. viii

“Rand immigrated to America from Soviet Russia in 1926, without much English, to pursue a career in writing. Her early years in America were hard, but not as hard as she later claimed they were. ‘No one helped me, nor did I think it was anyone’s duty to help me,’ she wrote in an afterword to Atlas Shrugged. In fact, many people helped her.”

Chapter One, pp. 7-8

“When Rand was five or so, she recalled, her mother came into the children’s playroom and found the floor littered with toys. She announced to Rand and Rand’s two-and-a-half-year-old sister, Natasha, that they would have to choose some of their toys to put away and some to keep and play with now; in a year, she told them, they could trade the toys they had kept for those they had put away. Natasha held on to the toys she loved best, but Rand, imagining the pleasure she would get from having her favorite toys returned to her later, handed over her best-loved playthings, including a painted mechanical wind-up chicken she could describe vividly fifty years later. When the time came to make the swap and Rand asked for her toys back, her mother looked amused, Rand recalled. Anna explained that she had given everything to an orphanage, on the premise that if her daughters had really wanted their toys they wouldn’t have relinquished them in the first place. This may have been Rand’s first encounter with injustice masquerading as what she would later acidly call ‘altruism.’ “
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385513992, Hardcover)

A Q&A with Anne C. Heller

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)

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:01:18 -0400)

A comprehensive and eye-opening portrait of one of the most significant and improbable figures of the twentieth century--from her childhood in Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution to her years as a screenwriter in Hollywood, the publication of her blockbuster novels, and the rise and fall of the cult that formed around her in the 1950s and 1960s.… (more)

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