>I normally don’t read biographies but http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=clasblo-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&m=amazon&f=ifr&md=10FE9736YVPPT7A0FBG2&asins=0385513992 was so much fun that I finished this huge 600-pages long volume in 4 days. Heller’s biography of Ayn Rand is extremely detailed (sometimes, excessively so), but it is overall well-written and fun to read.
For the most part, Heller sticks to relating the facts and doesn’t attempt to offer her own interpretation of anything. This is a very good decision for this author because on the few occasions that she does venture an opinion, she almost often commits some annoying gaffe. Attempting to analyze (unsuccessfully, I might add) Rand’s personality, Heller comes up with the following weird statement: “Rand was Russian by both birth and temperament. Born into a bourgeois Jewish family…” Evidently, Heller doesn’t seem to realize that if you are born into a Jewish family, you can hardly be Russian at the same time. Later on, Heller shows her complete lack of knowledge about the Soviet Union when she claims that “not much economic or technological progress has been made during Communism’s 75 year reign.” This is a glaring lack of understanding of her subject matter, and I wish Heller abstained from talking about things she knows absolutely nothing about.
I am very grateful to Heller for offering her opinions very rarely throughout the book because wherever she does, her point of view strikes me as profoundly uninformed. She goes as far as saying that the American use of nuclear weapons against Japan “saved hundreds of thousands of American lives, and possibly as many Japanese lives.” Overall, however, she sticks to the facts and spares her readers the painful necessity to confront her profound ignorance of world politics.
One of the most unfortunate characteristics of this otherwise good and informative volume is the author’s excessive reliance on the information provided by Rand’s longtime gigolo Nathaniel Branden. This talentless individual attached himself to the writer at the early age of 19 and spent his entire life mooching off of her talent and accomplishments. After her death, his earnings and importance obviously diminished, so Branden decided to keep milking his affair with Rand by sharing with the world every single detail about their sexual relationship. For some unknown reason, Heller doesn’t realize that a person, whose only way to make his living is by exploiting a sexual relationship he had with someone famous, cannot be trusted as a reliable source of information. Branden’s insistence (once again, after the woman who helped him make a fortune was already dead) that he never wanted a sexual relationship with Rand and was practically bullied into it by a 5″2′ slender woman characterizes him as a vile little twerp. It is to the detriment of this otherwise good biography that he and his embittered wife should be given so much credence by Heller.
Another thing about the book that I didn’t enjoy is the excessive, in my view, amount of detail as to Ayn Rand’s friends and acquaintances. We do not really need to know the exact date and circumstances of her encounter with every single person she ever knew.
In spite of all these faults, the book is very good and I’m glad I read it. I discovered many interesting things that I didn’t know about Ayn Rand. Her political convictions were actually closer to mine than I ever imagined. Ayn Rand was a long-time passionate proponent of women’s right to an abortion. The idea of an embryo having “rights” was as disgusting to her as it is to me. In her final address in 1981 she rallied against “family values” and the growing religious bent of the 80ies Republicans. Something tells me that she would be just as annoyed by Palin as I am. She rejected the Libertarians on numerous occasions and made fun of them.
I highly recommend this informative biography to any one who is interested in learning more about Ayn Rand’s life and work.
>The last M/MLA conference where I spoke the day after getting married was good in all respects except one: the book-fair. Normally, I love book-fairs at conferences, but this one looked more like a parody of a regular fair. It was held in the same room where banquets were served to the participants. The abundance of food presented a disturbing contrast to the paucity of actual books available for purchase. It were as if the conference organizers were trying to suggest that food for our stomachs is way more important than food for our minds. The only book there that attracted my attention was Anne C. Heller’s biography of Ayn Rand titled Ayn Rand and the World She Made. I couldn’t have afforded to buy this book (especially in the light of the threats by the governor of Illinois to stop paying our salaries) if it weren’t for a much cheaper Kindle version. I have only just begun reading this dense 600-page book and I will write a detailed review of it when I finish it. For now, however, I just wanted to write about Ayn Rand and the reasons why I find her work fascinating.
Ayn Rand, the author of the immensely popular The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, is the inspiration of Libertarians (whom I dislike profoundly) and is often grouped together with people like Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan (whom I despise and consider to be disgusting individuals.) I hate Ayn Rand’s deep-seated mysoginy and her profound self-hatred as a woman and as a Jew. I find her gushing descriptions of enormous dollar signs made of gold to be vulgar and pathetic. I consider her admiration of “progressive capitalists” to be childish and silly. I find many of the things she wrote to be deeply offensive. But still I believe that she is a great writer and I love her books.
I know it is hard to get past all the offensive stuff in Rand’s writing. Once you do, however, you might encounter a veritable treasure, just the way I did and continue doing every time I reread her two most famous novels**.
Of course, part of my interest in Rand has to do with the fact that I identify with her on many levels. She emigrated from a Russian-speaking country to North America almost at the same age as I did. She was Jewish by ethnic origin but not by virtue of religious belief. From what little I have been able to read from Heller’s biography, it has already become clear to me that Rand must have had an exceptionally strong form of Asperger’s. (Many of the things that seem to baffle her biographers become perfectly understandable once you think of them in terms of Asperger’s.)
If you think about it, Ayn Rand’s achievement as a writer is truly unique. She only started to learn English at the age of 21 and managed to achieve the level of language skill that allowed her to write extremely long, complex, and beautiful novels. I cannot think of any other writer who achieved a similar linguistic feat. (Please do not bring up Nabokov. He spoke English from his early chilldhood and spent a lot of time in England and surrounded by English-speaking people starting from infancy.) I started learning Spanish more or less at the same age Ayn Rand started learning English, and even though today, when I’m 33, my Spanish is really great, I could never hope to write a work of fiction in this language. And my complete lack of literary talent is not the only reason. The amount of effort it would require to achieve such a level is simply beyond me.
I’m going to share some of my favorite quotes by Ayn Rand, which hopefully will make it clearer why I enjoy her work.
This quote, for example, sounds like a veritable Aspie manifesto: “Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.” If you don’t find this beautiful, Asperger’s is probably not a part of your existence. 🙂
In spite of Ayn Rand’s declared homophobia, the following quote can be addressed to the idiots who keep voting against gay marriage rights: “Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).”
Today, I find the following to be especially relevant. The state is threatening us with withholding our salaries and we are fed the constant exhortations to service and sacrifice: “It only stands to reason that where there’s sacrifice, there’s someone collecting the sacrificial offerings. Where there’s service, there is someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice is speaking of slaves and masters, and intends to be the master.”
As a teacher and a researcher, I absolutely have to agree with the following: “The hardest thing to explain is the glaringly evident which everybody had decided not to see.”
This is so profoundly true: “The worst guilt is to accept an unearned guilt.”
If only the Democrats in general and our current President in particular remembered this, how different would this country be: “There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil.”
Come on, don’t tell me you don’t like the following: “To say “I love you” one must first be able to say the “I.””
I wish the people in charge of the US foreign policy for the last century and a half thought about this: “An attempt to achieve the good by force is like an attempt to provide a man with a picture gallery at the price of cutting out his eyes.”
Nothing could be truer than this: “People think that a liar gains a victory over his victim. What I’ve learned is that a lie is an act of self-abdication, because one surrenders one’s reality to the person to whom one lies, making that person one’s master, condemning oneself from then on to faking the sort of reality that person’s view requires to be faked.”
And this: “No one’s happiness but my own is in my power to achieve or destroy.”
And this is just simply beautiful: “The only man never to be redeemed is the man without passion.”
** I want to reiterate that my praise is solely for Rand’s novels. Her essays and treatises are nothing other than silly and outdated, in my view.