jordanz

The other book: Ayn Rand and the World She Made

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I just got my copy of Anne Heller's Ayn Rand and the World She Made. Reading the preface, Heller makes several conclusions that give me pause. I wish we could get a biography without the author's personal opinions.

"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. I have tracked her relationships with a variety of helpmates...

I'll need to read further to fully understand what Heller means. At first blush, though, it seems Heller is dropping the context of what Rand meant. To my knowledge, Ayn Rand didn't go around asking people for help. She offered value in exchange for value.

Although her characters and themes have always impressed readers as being distinctly American, it was her hatred of Russian tyranny that underlies her best and most famous work.

This statement is simply ridiculous.

Hopefully, the book will have the value of new information and history. I hope it isn't a lot of the above.

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Heller was a guest on the Diane Rehm show. That's powerful exposure for Ayn Rand's ideas.

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Hopefully, the book will have the value of new information and history.

I'm afraid not. Heller writes that she never met Ayn Rand and never read anything by her until she was in her forties. She also writes that "Because I am not an advocate for Ayn Rand's ideas, I was denied access to the Ayn Rand Papers at the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, CA." I am skeptical about this because Jennifer Burns who never presented herself as an advocate of Objectivism was given access to the archives. I suspect there was another reason.

Thus, all her data is second-hand and hearsay. She lists her sources as

  • a search of Russian government archives by a Russian research team
  • tapes about Ayn Rand from the Ayn Rand archives -- probably the ones you can get from the AynRandBookService
  • Barbara Branden's taped interviews with Ayn Rand. Only two sets of those tapes exist--one in the Ayn Rand Archives and one owned by Barbara Branden. She didn't get the ones from the Archives.
  • Her early documents under the Freedom of Information Act which would be her immigration and citizenship records that Heller says "helped to explain the timing of her 1929 marriage to Frank O'Connor."
  • Interviews with "Ayn Rand friends" from the 1920s to the 1970s supplied by Marc Schwalb, a friend of Barbara Branden, and Jeff Walker, author of The Ayn Rand Cult.
  • More than fifty interviews with Ayn Rand's "still-living, often elderly American relatives, intimates, employees, and adversaries." The only one she mentions by name is Nathaniel Branden who gave her "three long interviews."
  • "Original letters to and about Rand and her followers" in various libraries. Heller does not mention, as sources, any letters by Ayn Rand which are readily available in Michael Berliner's compilation.

The Index has a full column of references to Barbara Branden, three columns of references to Nathaniel Branden, 16 lines for Leonard Peikoff, two lines for Mary Ann Sures, and one line for Harry Binswanger.

If you are looking for new facts about Ayn Rand in Heller's book, you'll certainly find some new and rather startling things -- but not necessarily facts.

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Heller was a guest on the Diane Rehm show. That's powerful exposure for Ayn Rand's ideas.

It might be "powerful exposure," but that does not make it good. Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Branden have both had "powerful exposure" and neither one of their books nor the movie that came from Barbara Branden's books was good for Ayn Rand's ideas.

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I think that any exposure benefits Objectivism in the long term. I haven't yet listened to the Rehm show, so I don't know how it went. It's on my iPod.

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I think that any exposure benefits Objectivism in the long term. I haven't yet listened to the Rehm show, so I don't know how it went. It's on my iPod.

I disagree, bad exposure will turn people away. Have you heard of the term, "first impressions are the most important?" Whether you agree with it or not, from my experience most people I have met do agree with that statement.

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OK, you and I disagree.

I have now listened to the Diane Rehm interview (which is NOT conducted by Diane Rehm, which is on some NPR cruise boondogle). My take aways are:

1 - Anne Heller is not an Objectivist.

2 - She is reasonably smart but misses some of the more subtle points of Ayn Rand's philosophy and views.

3 - She is clearly taken by the personage of Ayn Rand, and she is interested by the ideas that are presented (and she agrees with some of them)

4 - She seems to have done fairly good research, better than I have seen from any other non-Objectivist.

5 - Of all the non-Objectivist I've ever heard, she is the most respectful of Ayn Rand.

This is not an endorsement of her book, but the show is worth downloading & listening to, depending on your time.

With regards to her research, she claims that she was not given access to Ayn Rand's papers partly because someone else was writing a biography and had some kind of exclusive rights, and partly because Leonard Peikoff read her previous work and decided he didn't want to talk to her.

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This is not an endorsement of her book, but the show is worth downloading & listening to, depending on your time.

Here's a link to that show.

The most revealing part comes right at the beginning.

Q: Did you study Ayn Rand in college?

Heller: No, I didn't. I stayed away from her in college and concentrated on Herbert Marcuse and things like that.

Q: You stayed away from on by accident or on purpose?

Heller: Well, friends were reading her and I noticed they were becoming quite peculiar after having read her.

Q: They became peculiar, in what way?

Heller: They became true believers, some of them, and began using the kind of language that Rand's true believers used but that the rest of us don't: "good and evil" in regular conversation -- things like that.

Q: So you actually thought they were readin her and becoming somehow misguided?

Heller: Well. perhaps, overly-guided.

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Q: Did you study Ayn Rand in college?

Heller: No, I didn't. I stayed away from her in college and concentrated on Herbert Marcuse and things like that.

For those who may not know, Ayn Rand described Marcuse as "the avowed enemy of reason and freedom, the advocate of dictatorship, of mystic "insight," of retrogression to savagery, of universal enslavement, of rule by brute force" in her essay, "The Comprachicos."

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Q: Did you study Ayn Rand in college?

Heller: No, I didn't. I stayed away from her in college and concentrated on Herbert Marcuse and things like that.

For those who may not know, Ayn Rand described Marcuse as "the avowed enemy of reason and freedom, the advocate of dictatorship, of mystic "insight," of retrogression to savagery, of universal enslavement, of rule by brute force" in her essay, "The Comprachicos."

So, Heller wants to have her cake and eat it, too. It's perfectly OK to take ideas from a philosopher - as long as they aren't Ayn Rand. Might this be a psychological confession on Heller's part?

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You know it's a left wing show when you get one snarky question after the other. That was a less than enjoyable and pseudo-intellectual experience. Liberals, Yech!

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You know it's a left wing show when you get one snarky question after the other. That was a less than enjoyable and pseudo-intellectual experience. Liberals, Yech!
On top of it, leftists are crashing BORES. Everything they utter is a tired, century-old slogan. You should see how some people get all doe-eyed over Kevin Rudd in Australia. He has the distinction of appearing slightly more lethargic than a Koala. The one word I use to describe Australian politics these days is: bland.

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Betsy,

I see that you are listed in the Acknowledgments for Ayn Rand and the World She Made. May I ask if this was for anything specific, or for bibliographical guidance, or perhaps for browsing the Forum?

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Betsy,

I see that you are listed in the Acknowledgments for Ayn Rand and the World She Made. May I ask if this was for anything specific, or for bibliographical guidance, or perhaps for browsing the Forum?

Anne Heller contacted me to verify something she heard from Jeff Walker (author of The Ayn Rand Cult) regarding a conversation I once had with Ayn Rand. I told her why Jeff Walker was an extremely unreliable source and she agreed based on her experience with him. I suggested she contact the Ayn Rand Archives for reliable biographical information, but Walker, not the Archives, was a major source for the final volume.

As for the conversation I had with Ayn Rand, I wrote to Heller about what I had seen Ayn Rand do which might suggest something was true, but that was an impression I had never seen confirmed. When Heller related the conversation in a footnote, she only included the part about the impression and omitted my statement that it was unconfirmed.

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Here is a low brow review of the two biographies and what I'd call a hit piece on Ayn Rand. I couldn't read very far into it, myself.

http://www.slate.com/id/2233966/

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Here is a low brow review of the two biographies and what I'd call a hit piece on Ayn Rand. I couldn't read very far into it, myself.

http://www.slate.com/id/2233966/

The review begins

Ayn Rand is one of America's great mysteries. She was an amphetamine-addicted author of sub-Dan Brown potboilers, who in her spare time wrote lavish torrents of praise for serial killers and the Bernie Madoff-style embezzlers of her day. She opposed democracy on the grounds that "the masses"—her readers—were "lice" and "parasites" who scarcely deserved to live.

and ends

The figure Ayn Rand most resembles in American life is L. Ron Hubbard, another crazed, pitiable charlatan who used trashy potboilers to whip up a cult. Unfortunately, Rand's cult isn't confined to Tom Cruise and a rash of Hollywood dimwits. No, its ideas and its impulses have, by drilling into the basest human instincts, captured one of America's major political parties.

Correction, Nov. 2, 2009: This article misidentified the author of Goddess of the Market as Gordon Burns.

In between, it's worse.

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On matters of Objectivism and Ayn Rand, I steer clear of any literature NOT endorsed by ARI.

Anne Heller is making the talk radio rounds and will be appearing Sunday November 8th on Book TV. I just listened to her interview on the Rosen Show, and I learned nothing of any importance. I did not hear anything wildly negative; in fact, this particular interview seemed to encourage reading her books.

I remember becoming politically aware around 1991/92 and I started listening to Rush Limbaugh and another local Talk Show host, both encouraged reading Atlas Shrugged, I did, and here I am today as an admirer and advocate. The irony is their encouragements of reading Rand helped me understand the errors in their own arguments, so I don’t think Heller’s book will necessarily result in a bad first impression.

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Tangent:

I remember becoming politically aware around 1991/92 and I started listening to Rush Limbaugh and another local Talk Show host, both encouraged reading Atlas Shrugged, I did, and here I am today as an admirer and advocate.
I want to highlight this point. Some argue elsewhere that in the long run, such endorsements do more harm than good. I don't agree, as people can go from mediocre ideas to better ones. Your experience is a case in point. How many others out there have likewise improved their ideas by reading Ayn Rand's books on the basis of Limbaugh's endorsements? Even if they never become Objectivists, their thinking improving in just one area helps.

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Even if they never become Objectivists, their thinking improving in just one area helps.
Another tangential point: when I began writing my blog a few weeks ago, my intent was to talk to a general audience. What I've noticed just in the weeks that have passed and the relative handful of articles I've written is that my followers tell me I'm presenting ideas that hadn't considered. In one of my pieces, I wrote about how I rejected the religious and hedonistic view of sex in favour of sex as a rational pursuit. My friends in Sydney (who are not Objectivists) were amazed to see the topic put in such different terms. All of them told me it got them thinking more deeply on the subject. I consider that a big win.

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Another tangential point: when I began writing my blog a few weeks ago, my intent was to talk to a general audience. What I've noticed just in the weeks that have passed and the relative handful of articles I've written is that my followers tell me I'm presenting ideas that hadn't considered. In one of my pieces, I wrote about how I rejected the religious and hedonistic view of sex in favour of sex as a rational pursuit. My friends in Sydney (who are not Objectivists) were amazed to see the topic put in such different terms. All of them told me it got them thinking more deeply on the subject. I consider that a big win.

That's terrific. Super big high fives from the People's State of California.

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