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.
Excerpted from Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne C. Heller. Copyright © 2009 by Anne C. Heller. Excerpted by permission of Anchor, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Anne C. Heller has written for such publications as Vogue, Mademoiselle, TriQuarterly, and Esquire. She is the former fiction editor of Esquire and Redbook, and a former executive editor at Conde Nast Publications. She lives in Manhattan.
“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
“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
“Offer[s] ammunition for fans and skeptics alike.” —The Washington Post
“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)
“Engrossing and unsparing, an excellent introductory course on Rand written with a shrewd eye.” —New York Post
“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
“A comprehensive study, in novelistic detail, of Rand’s personal life.” —Time
“One imagines that Rand would have approved of much of what Heller has written: the balanced tone of her book, its reasonableness, its respect for what a struggling Russian refugee accomplished and achieved. And yet having finished the biography, one can almost hear the impossible Rand railing against Heller’s failure to award her the place she always believed she deserved in the pantheon of the most glorious, solitary, and self-made literary giants.” —Bookforum
“A thorough recounting of [Rand’s] life and the forces that shaped her philosophy. . . . Fascinating.” —Dallas Morning News
“Provides important and meaningful insight into the evolution of Rand’s world view.” —Newsweek
“[A] work of historical scholarship that seek[s] to illuminate Rand’s complexities rather than simply to support or condemn her.” —Harper’s Magazine
“Heller takes a dispassionate view of Rand and, in this detailed portrait, seeks to reveal her as a whole person rather than the cardboard cutout swathed in legend created by the great lady herself.” —Bookreporter.com
“Skillful. . . . [A] detailed and engaging portrait of Rand’s interior life.” —The New Republic
“The picture of Rand that emerges from Ms. Heller’s book is all the more damning because the biographer is obviously fair-minded and, indeed, something of an admirer of her subject.” —The New Criterion
“Worthwhile and engrossing.” —City-Journal
“[An] excellent biography. . . . A vivid yet objective portrait of this gifted, brilliant, ultimately monstrous author. . . . Brings to life not only Rand but her circle and their milieu, making the book readable if only for its glimpse into a not-so-distant past where serious literature was widely influential, the television new, the railroad a common mode of travel. It’s strangely quaint to read about a world without computers or cell telephones, a world where typists were a must and people wore hats as a matter of course. Even more extraordinary is [Heller’s] rendition of this wildly divided woman, who could create some of our most unique literature yet remain unable to make that most fundamental of connections: unconditional love for another.” —PopMatters.com
1. What are the most important insights and surprising revelations in Ayn Rand and the World She Made?
2. In what ways does Heller’s biography deepen our understanding of Rand’s major works? What are the most important connections between Rand’s personal life and her writing that emerge from the biography?
3. What are Ayn Rand’s most admirable qualities? What aspects of her temperament and behavior are most difficult?
4. In the “About the Author” section of Atlas Shrugged, which Heller uses as an epigraph to chapter thirteen, Rand writes, “My personal life is a postscript to my novels. It consists of the sentence: ‘And I mean it.’ I have always lived by the philosophy I present in my books—it has worked for me, as it has worked for my characters. The concretes differ, the abstractions are the same” (p. 291). In what ways did Rand live by—or fail to live by—the philosophy she presents in her books? To what extent did it work for her?
5. Why were Rand’s novels so beloved by millions of readers and so often reviled by reviewers? How did Rand react to both the adulation of her readers and the scorn of her critics?
6. In what ways do Rand’s ideas show up in today’s political and ideological debates? What prominent contemporary figures are still guided by Rand’s philosophy?
7. In Atlas Shrugged, Francisco says to Dagny, “Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of [your premises] is wrong” (p. 193). Was Rand herself free from contradictions? In what instances does her behavior seem to contradict her philosophical premises?
8. Heller quotes an old friend of Rand’s who said, “She could be immensely empathetic if she saw things in you that were like her. But if she didn’t see herself in some aspect of you, she didn’t empathize at all. You weren’t real to her” (p. 337). This is almost a clinical definition of narcissism. Was Rand a narcissist? On what occasions does she exhibit a striking lack of empathy?
9. On what grounds did Rand argue that altruism and empathy were misguided and actually harmful rather than helpful? Are her arguments convincing? What aspects of her personal history contributed to her belief that selfishness was a virtue?
10. Rand preached the absolute value of individual freedom and yet she demanded total intellectual conformity from her followers. How can this discrepancy best be explained?
11. How might Rand view the current political situation in America? What would she think of the Obama presidency?
12. What are the most troubling aspects of Rand’s relationship with Nathaniel Branden? Why did so many of Rand’s friendships end so explosively?
13. Rand’s ideal man was Howard Roark, the protagonist of The Fountainhead—morally and creatively uncompromising, sexually dominant, and intellectually superior. Why would she have married Frank O’Connor, who seemed to possess none of these qualities?
14. What effect is Ayn Rand and the World She Made likely to have on Rand’s legacy and on how her work is regarded?
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