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Ayn Rand and the World She Made [Paperback]

Anne Conover Heller
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

15 Feb 2011

A "New York Times "Notable Book
A "Chicago Tribune "Favorite Book of the Year
A "San Francisco Chronicle "Best Book of the Year
Ayn Rand's books have attracted three generations of readers, shaped the Libertarian movement, influenced White House economic policies throughout the Reagan years and beyond, and inspired the Tea Party movement. Yet twenty-eight years after her death, readers know very little about her life.
In this seminal biography, Anne C. Heller traces the controversial author's life from her childhood in Bolshevik Russia to her years as a Hollywood screenwriter, the publication of her blockbuster novels, and the rise and fall of the cult that worshipped her in the 1950s and 1960s. Based on original research in Russia and scores of interviews with Rand's acquaintances and former acolytes, "Ayn Rand and the World She Made" is a comprehensive and eye-opening portrait of one of the most significant and improbable figures of the twentieth century.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 567 pages
  • Publisher: Fodor's Travel Publications Inc.,U.S.; Reprint edition (15 Feb 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400078938
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400078936
  • Product Dimensions: 2.9 x 13.1 x 20 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 514,782 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Splendid. . . . A cleanly and compellingly written biography of one of the strangest, most controversial and most widely read writers of the 20th century." --"San Francisco Chronicle
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"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." --"The New York Times "
"Heller does a remarkable job with a subject who was almost cripplingly complex--a real woman starring in her own propaganda film." --"New York "magazine
"[An] outstanding biography that reveals much about a figure who to this point has been chronicled only by biased disciples." --"Washington Monthly "
"Dramatic and very timely." --"The New York Times Book Review "
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"Offer[s] ammunition for fans and skeptics alike." --"The Washington Post "
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"A thoroughly researched, immensely readable portrait of a sui generis thinker who was fiercely committed to her ideals yet whose life contained fascinating contradictions." --"The Wall Street Journal"'s Speakeasy
"The champion of individuality who insisted on obedience and conformity from her followers (including Alan Greenspan), Rand emerges from Heller's superbly vivid, enlightening, and affecting biography in all her paradoxical power." --"Booklist" (starred review)
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"Engrossing and unsparing, an excellent introductory course on Rand written with a shrewd eye." --"New York Post "
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"The exploits of Ayn Rand--the Sarah Palin of philosophical fiction--are made more gripping by Anne Heller's refusal to treat her subject as a joke and to accept her as the force she remains in politics (tea partiers) and to each successive generation of selfish undergrads." --Brad Gooch, author of "Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor "and frequent contributor to The Daily Beast""
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"A comprehensive study, in novelistic detail, of Rand's pers


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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An great introduction into Tea Party psyche 3 Oct 2010
Format:Hardcover
For continental Europeans like me, there is a number of American conservative concepts which are hard to fully grasp. The "right to bear arms", the unabashed role of religion in public life and the complete and utter obsession with everything that relates to sexuality all takes some time to understand. But for many Europeans, perhaps the most alien ideal of the American right is the reverence of the capitalist system as virtuous in itself.

While Ayn Rand was not bothered so much by the first three ideas (although I imagine she was an avid supporter of the second amendment), she is the foremost and most militant flag bearer of capitalism and as such a great inspiration to many on the currently surging Tea Party-fringe. For those who like to understand these people beyond their slogans, goofery and mishaps, understanding Rand is an excellent place to start. As such, this is a very timely biography.

Fled from the just-turned communist Soviet Union as a persecuted Jew, Rand is appalled to her core by those in her idealized America who justify capitalism on merely practical grounds. To her, that is tantamount to treason to the great ideal of individualism. Provocatively revering "selfishness" and denouncing "altruism", she makes an interesting argument for those willing to try to understand her beyond her provocations. Capitalism, she argues, encourages and rewards the best, most talented and most "virtuous", and prevents the lazy and un-derserving from "looting" the productivity of the "hero's" of capitalism (to use a few Randian buzzwords). Now, most Europeans (and many Americans) will quickly dismiss such ideas as social Darwinism or even as a form of fascism. But to Rand and her (libertarian) followers, these ideas represent the very opposite of totalitarian ideology.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating 24 Aug 2011
By The Emperor TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This was a very well written and interesting book. Even if you have very little time for her book s and philosophies I would still recommend this.

It is amazing how someone who lauded rationality so much could behave so irrationally.

The book is pretty fair and well researched. The author just lets the facts speak for themselves. The actions of many of her followers are just ridiculous. How could people praise individuality so much and then become slavish followers? Changing your musical

In some ways I had more respects for her books and views and in other ways I just had to shake my head at the sheer hypocrisy of it all.

I would recommend that people read the reviews on Amazon.com. It seems that her cult is still going.

There is a problem with the Kindle edition. There are no links in the text to the notes at the back.
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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  93 reviews
56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More than fair. 21 Sep 2010
By Timothy Griffin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
More than fair.

Listening to this on audiobook while doing various domestic chores was a real treat. Having read *Anthem*, *Atlas*, *The Fountainhead* twice, and a number of Rand's essays, I have always been interested in her philosophy--not so much as an adherent but out of recognition that Rand's philosophical and political perspective merits consideration in its own right and as an ideological reality on the American political landscape.

Heller weaves Rand's unique and impressive life story (horrified as a youngster at the brutality of the Soviet revolution she escapes to America to pursue the improbable dream of being a novelist) with her evolving formal philosophy celebrating the primacy of the individual, the virtue of enlightened selfishness, the inherent moral superiority of capitalism over collectivism, and the rejection of all forms of mysticism in favor of her Objectivist view of the world as real, knowable, and enjoyable by rational men and women of virtue.

The biographical sketch also presents a picture that, while noxious to many of Rand's admirers (see below) does not surprise: Transfixed by her romantic vision of human potential and herself and her work as its embodiment, Rand ultimately coped with the contradictions between her ideal world and reality (her limitations and irrational impulses, the failures of followers to conduct themselves according to her stringent standards of virtue, the inability to find in either husband Frank O'Connor or lover Nathaniel Brandon a genuine exemplar of the Ideal Man) with the self-delusion and blind hysteria to which I fear most hopeless and frustrated romantics eventually devolve. That her inner circle of devotees was routinely purged of dissent and presumed treason through bizarre ritualistic "psychotherapy" sessions and/or public censure as one adjutant after another fell short of Rand's impossible and self-contradictory demands for intellectual and social conformity was the most salient manifestation of this.

But in the end the book is more about Ayn Rand the person than her philosophy. I was nearly brought to tears myself when I read the books final pages, about how Ayn slept and sat by ailing and demented Frank in his final weeks, and then wept for days upon his death. I think most of us would accept death and all its attendant grief and regret as just the final of life's ambiguities, but I cannot help but wonder if this weak and lonely rendition of Ayn Rand in her last three years was not, in a way I imagine she would have bitterly denied, a more "real" version of her.

Ayn Rand was clearly a genius, and in some ways an ideal American in pursuing a singular passion with a dogged determination that would shame most of us "mediocritie." She also at times embodied the very real human tragedy that can result from an impossible interpretation of oneself and the world.

Note on other reviewers' take:

Before writing this I took the time to read the comments of those who gave the book one star. The most compelling was by an acquaintance of Rand who said Heller's particular version of the physical writing of *Atlas Shrugged* was inaccurate. If taken at face value this proves simply that a vast journalistic investigation can include error. It strikes me as peripheral to the overall quality of this impressive work of biography synthesized with philosophical critique (in the literary sense of the word.) One critic lamely argued that Heller at one point said the early Soviets such as Lennon were not anti-Semitic, then later indicated that subsequent Soviet regimes were brutal to Jews, and thus contradicted herself. The critic grossly overestimated his own cleverness in posting this jab about what is, when you examine it, not a contradiction at all.

Other negative reviewers bemoaned Heller's "total lack of understanding of Rand's ideas" or that it "failed to acknowledge the impact" Rand had on her numerous enthusiasts. These accusations are simply false. It is true the book contains no formal exposition of Rand's Objectivist philosophy, but this was not its purpose. Instead Rand's ideas are woven throughout the story as they become progressively relevant to the political and social contexts in which she worked and lived. (People can read John Galt's speech whenever they wish without Heller reciting it verbatim.) Further, Heller fully acknowledged in later chapters that Rand's works attracted an impressive following, such as the jokingly named "collective" which included Alan Greenspan and a survey of American readers which voted *Atlas* and *The Fountainhead* the first and second most influential books read, respectively.

In fact Heller in numerous places noted Ayn Rand's perspicacity (such as her recognition of the inherent corruption and brutality of the Bolshevik revolution when many in the American left still held the new regime in delusional high regard). Heller also defends Rand's legacy against the unreasonably derisive screeds written by hostile reviewers of *Atlas* and *The Fountainhead*. She writes admiringly of Rand's ability to charm audiences with her charisma and entrancing idealism, culminating in her speech at West Point that was only marred by a cavalierly jingoistic response to a question by a Native American cadet regarding the morality of the US government's treatment of native peoples. Heller admits in the beginning of the book that she is no ally of Rand's philosophy but nonetheless goes out of her way to acknowledge all that was worth admiring in this amazing and complex figure.

I fear these dismissive readers (if they read the book at all) of Heller simply cannot tolerate the iconic figure of Ayn Rand being held in anything less than the unrealistic regard in which she held herself.
118 of 135 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why will "Ayn Rand and the World She Made" never go out of print? 24 Nov 2009
By David Kusumoto - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
* "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?"
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book to Read and Re-Read 6 Feb 2010
By Loves the View - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Anne Heller's work, talent, insight and dedication have resulted in a book I could hardly put down. She has tackled a very complex subject. It's been three days since I finished it and realize that it may take months to digest it. The book is so huge I can only write impressions and thoughts.

The first thing to pop out at me relates to Frank Lloyd Wright. Early on, Rand used him as and ideal whose outsider life and creativity became the model for Howard Roark. After visiting Taliesin she commented that Wright did not pay his assistants, but did she realize that his "Fellowship" was a collectivist operation? Wright's 3rd wife, Olgivanna, who like Rand was a Russian émigré, developed this cult-like following on his behalf. Wright's fellowship engrossed the full lives and careers of its closest followers who designed buildings, planted crops and did construction and maintenance work for their "Fellowship". Fellowship, The: The Untold Story of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship. He and his lifestyle were the antithesis of Howard Roark.

The next impressions are about Rand's family. What of Frank O'Connor? Was this love? Friendship? Fear? Awe? Inertia? 50's values? The Chicago relatives are not re-imbursed for their help in Rand's resettlement in the US (neither are those left behind in Russia). Is this a cognitive demonstration of selfishness or a representation of Rand, herself, for which she built an elaborate philosophy to justify? What should be made of the sister from Russia whose comparative contentment with her life essentially mocks Rand's life work?

I was surprised at the involvement of Alan Greenspan. I knew his name was associated with Rand, but a lot of people went to the lectures. I didn't know how plugged in he was and how long he stayed with it.

Aside from the above associations which may or may not be micro-issues, I'm digesting the person of Rand herself. First, you have to consider her tremendous accomplishments. She wrote and debated in a second language. She achieved fame as an intellectual totally defying entrenched stereotypes of and expectations for both women and immigrants. She developed her following, not as Olgivanna Wright did through her husband nor economic necessity (the Wrights "needed" their followers, Rand, essentially didn't), but on her own independent power.

There is the issue of the role of her philosophy in her own life. Did she walk her talk? How did selfishness work out for her? The strength she speaks of was not there when she needed it. She behaved worse than most when her romantic world shattered world and health waned. It makes Bertha Krantz's observation about fear a logical explanation for this person who can't seem to handle even small dissent or criticism.

Anne Heller has done a tremendous job with this book. I highly recommend it for anyone with an interest in Ayn Rand.
90 of 113 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Life and Times of Ayn Rand 31 Oct 2009
By Neil Parille - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Ayn Rand died in 1982. For such an important and influential person there has surprisingly been only one full-length biography, that published by Barbara Branden in 1986 entitled The Passion of Ayn Rand. Branden's biography, written by a one-time follower who had a falling out with her, had the strengths and weaknesses inherent in such a work. In addition, it is based mostly on the recollections of Branden and the numerous people she interviewed (including interviews with Rand in the 60s). Branden also did not have access to Rand's papers and so was unable to check her and other recollections with documents.

Anne Heller, in this magnificent new biography, has now written the definitive life of Ayn Rand. Though the Ayn Rand Archives denied her access to Rand's papers and other material, she did have the benefit of the large amount of archival material published after 1986, such as Rand's journals and letters. She also accessed archival material in Russia and other libraries. She interviewed Barbara and Nathaniel Branden at length, as well as other surviving acquaintances of Rand, most whom are quite elderly. She also utilized material produced by Rand partisans at the Ayn Rand Institute (including a forthcoming oral history of Rand entitled 100 Voices). The result is a biography that is "objective" in the best sense of the word.

As Heller shows, Rand slowly began creating her own "world." Rand's subsequent account of her early life (for example claiming that she graduated with "highest honors" in philosophy when her classes were pass/fail) and her supposed struggles to get The Fountainhead published are subject to scrutiny. Rand wasn't the first author to lie about her past, but Rand's using this to create an interior world and a cult to support it is truly stunning. (As Heller notes, while Rand didn't start out wanting a cult, she certainly didn't object to it.) By the time her movement was in full swing, Rand probably didn't know where she ended and the heroes in her books began.

At the same time, Heller's book is not a psychological melodrama. It is mostly a "nuts and bolts" account of Rand's life, with only occasional summaries of Rand's character. She tells the many examples of kindness that Rand displayed as well as her frequent cruelty. Better than anyone before, she captures the "two Rands," even if, at the end, neither Heller nor the reader knows quite what to make of this brilliant and eccentric person. To me the most telling account was that of Rand's secretary Barbara Weiss. Rand, she said, was the most repressed fearful person she had ever met. At the same time Weiss decided to leave after fifteen years of devoted service concluding that Rand did in fact know the harm she was causing other people, including her husband. She was a "killer of people" Weiss said.

Those who believe that Rand's only character flaw was occasionally blowing her top will no doubt find Ayn Rand and the World She Made far from satisfying. Those who are interested in Rand or just want a great story should put this outstanding book on the top of their reading list.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Courage, Triumph, and Tragedy 2 Feb 2010
By Ratonis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Much of the information in this book has been revealed previously by Barbara Branden and others, but the author's narrative is quite interesting and there is much here that is new and will keep Rand devotees interested.

Rand was a person of great courage, and her achievement cannot be denied, even by those who hate her philosophy. What she accomplished, given the odds resident in her background and the challenges of her immigration to the U.S. is really quite impressive.

This book interests me, beyond the discussion of Rand herself, in the enigmatic and tragic figure of Rand's husband, Frank O'Conner. O'Conner, it turns out, was everything Rand's heroes were not. He was an ordinary man with ordinary and not-so-very-elevated ambitions married to a self-absorbed genius who thought so little of her husband as to abort a child he would like to have had. Interesting, too, is Rand's clear faking of reality, according to her own philosophy and outlook, when she declares that Frank O'Conner is her proof that the great heroes of which she writes really do exist. Frank was not that. Not only did Rand fake this reality but she insisted on mis-representing Frank O'Conner to the world.

One can only admire Frank O'Conner. He must have been an intensely loyal and courageous person with great integrity. It does seem to me as well that much of his life was probably characterized by a sense of duty - a tendency that Rand herself despised.

Rand's story is fascinating and would make a great movie if done well. "The Passion of Ayn Rand," a made for TV film with Helen Mirren and Peter Fonda as Rand and O'Conner, is NOT that film in my opinion.
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