* "Atlas Shrugged" is Ayn Rand's doomsday novel of heroes, villains, love triangles and politics - set against a backdrop of an American economy in collapse, e.g., gifted innovators disappear, industries merge and close, millions of people are thrown out of work - while the federal government tries to help by issuing "greater good" directives which push the United States closer to socialism.
* 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 "The Fountainhead" (1943) and "Atlas Shrugged" (1957) - and how she subsequently became world famous - while carrying a torch of stubborn dismissiveness toward her detractors, all the way to her death in 1982.
* "Ayn Rand and the World She Made" reads more credibly than all previous treatments of Rand's life to date - because author Heller approaches Rand as a critical admirer - and not as a blind-faith fan. Her ability to make Rand's ideas come alive - illustrates her respect and admiration for Rand's intellect. This "closed the sale" for me as a reader - and wipes out criticisms I've read from some of Rand's followers obsessively parsing every word in this book. Even Cliffs Notes versions of "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead" feel somewhat tainted by being written by authors possessing an over-eager zealotry of her ideas. Not once did I feel Ms. Heller was presenting Rand as being anything more than a tremendously intelligent, charismatic and charming figure - who could also be frighteningly eccentric, petty and cruel.
* Most reviews have been favorable. But while reading a few negative reviews, I detected an undercurrent of resistance to Ms. Heller's work from people, 1) who believe themselves to be more intellectually gifted than Heller to discuss Rand's life and work (hence are perhaps too biased), 2) who are horrified that lurid and less-than-flattering material about Rand's life is included (despite being too compelling to be ignored), 3) who are upset that they weren't contacted for inclusion - or if they were included - that their testimonies weren't published in full, 4) who take issue with the lack of cooperation from the Ayn Rand Institute and Leonard Peikoff, Rand's "intellectual heir," or 5) who hate Rand so much that they feel any book about her should be treated with contempt.
* In my view, these complaints are a by-product of Rand's fans or haters who are dissatisfied about the content and approach of Ms. Heller's book. Had the author included comprehensive interviews from peripheral supporters and detractors - her book would have exceeded the page count of "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead" combined. (Yet Heller's book is exhaustively researched, with 151-pages of notes and an index.)
* The author's positive summations of Rand's complex ideas - mixed with true tales which reflect poorly on her behavior and treatment of others - proves that Ms. Heller is neither a Rand follower nor a detractor. This obviously irks rabid fans and haters of Ayn Rand alike.
* Ayn Rand's key journal entries and letters have already been published worldwide and/or are available in other venues. There's not much left to be discovered that's earth-shattering. Ms. Heller's success is consolidating Rand's ideas into a marvelously coherent single volume - and finding new, previously untapped sources to construct a more fully formed picture of Rand - that goes beyond what we already know.
* Leonard Peikoff's testimony from the Ayn Rand Institute, while useful had he agreed to cooperate, would have added little that's new - because he himself has already published numerous analyses about Rand's work everywhere. His contributions to Rand's legacy HAVE been noted by Heller. But in fairness, Peikoff's testimony would only be relevant, in my view, to those mainstream readers who would want him to ADD to what Ms. Heller has already satisfactorily provided - about Ayn Rand's final months AFTER she stopped making public appearances - before eventually succumbing to cancer.
* In sum, this book is NOT aimed at Ayn Rand intellectuals, and this is NOT a criticism. (Though I believe they will still enjoy reading every page.) "Ayn Rand and the World She Made" feels aimed at mainstream readers seeking an unbiased, all-in-one-reference of Rand's ideas. I do NOT know Anne C. Heller personally, but I believe she has painted a superb image on an enormous canvas - of a controversial genius of titanic and electrifying importance - that will still feel relevant many years from now.
* If you doubt this, then why are people still talking about Ayn Rand today - 30 years after her death - and more than 50 years after "Atlas Shrugged?"