[Atlasphere] Early review of Anne Heller’s new biography: “Ayn Rand and the World She Made�

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Atlasphere member Timothy Sandefur has published a rousing review of Anne Heller’s new biography Ayn Rand and the World She Made.

The review itself often seems more about what Sandefur thinks of Rand than about what Heller wrote, so I found it hard to divine much from this review. But it does sound like the new biography will provide worthwhile reading for those of us fascinated by Rand’s writing and thinking.

Here were Sandefur’s key observations about the biography:

Anne Heller’s biography doesn’t pull punches. She is as honest and as objective and as forthright as Rand’s own principles would demand. She pays Rand the compliment of treating her like a serious person who deserves respect, praise, criticism and blame. She goes out of her way to explain statements by Rand that are easily misunderstood and frequently misrepresented—and she rightly criticizes her regrettable traits and expressions. Her book is meticulously—indeed, very surprisingly—well researched. It is a story of serious, devoted, brilliant, talented, and flawed people. It is not the dreary finger-pointing we’ve seen too much of in the past decades—Nathaniel Branden hardly comes off as the innocent victim here—but a work of serious, yet sympathetic journalism. In the end, it is deeply…one might say romantically…tragic. [...]

What’s great about Heller’s book isn’t that it reveals more facts than Barbara Branden’s biography—although it does; there are many interesting new details—or that it is so well written; it’s that Ayn Rand And The World She Made is so honest, so, in a word, objective. Rand is a real person to Anne Heller—a brilliant, clever, sometimes over-the-top writer; an astonishingly original thinker with, alas, too little education in the history of philosophy; a passionate, intense, idealist who, sadly, imposed such a weird rigor on herself and others as to leave her dark and alone at the end; a woman who believed—and rightly so—in the indomitability of the mind and its capacity for greatness, but who was capable of breaking long friendships over trivialities, fudging the nature of her marriage, and watching hours of game shows and Charlie’s Angels. [...]

Heller’s book does have its flaws. I think she tries too hard to show a Jewish or a Russian influence on Rand—possible, but hardly a major influence, I think—and she sometimes slightly oversimplifies Rand’s views in a way that will play into the hands of her eager detractors. For instance, Heller writes that Rand’s philosophy is basically an elaboration on Rand’s childhood desire to get “what I want.” Well, of course, it’s not just about doing what you feel—as Heller acknowledges elsewhere in the book—but Rand certainly would say that “what you want” is and must be important to you, and that a world that denies you “what you want” simply because you want it is a profoundly evil one.

These are very minor quibbles with an otherwise outstanding book—written just as a biography ought to be. It’s the best book I’ve read so far this year and I very highly recommend it.

I will see if I can line up a review soon for readers of the Atlasphere columns.

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