Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne C. Heller

ayn randOk, so I haven’t actually read this yet, but it’s getting great reviews.

This one is from Booklist Magazine:

“Famous for her credo of individualism and unbridled capitalism, novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand never talked about her life as Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum, an “awkward and offbeat” Russian Jewish girl of “startling intelligence.” Yet Heller believes that Rand’s adamant self-regard and vehement protest against any form of collectivism or social conscience are rooted in her family’s suffering in early-twentieth-century Russia, where Jews were violently persecuted and personal freedom was abolished. Heller is the first to fully investigate and vigorously chronicle Rand’s willful life and phenomenal and controversial achievements, from her sense of destiny (by age 11 she had already written four novels) to her arrival in America at age 21 in 1926, her work in Hollywood, and her reign in New York as a cult figurehead. Heller also offers arresting analysis of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, Rand’s critically condemned yet perpetually popular and enormously influential novels of erotic melodrama and self-aggrandizing ideology. But the heart of the book is the wrenching story of Rand’s marriage to long-suffering Frank O’Connor and her affair with the much younger man who packaged and peddled her beliefs as Objectivism. 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.”

The reason I was drawn to and plan to read this new portrait of Ayn Rand’s life is that I recently finished reading Rand’s classic novel, The Fountainhead, which is amazing and unlike anything I have ever read before. Just the mention of the name Ayn Rand elicits strong reactions. When I told people I was reading The Fountainhead, I was  treated to descriptions of Ayn Rand ranging from “arch conservative” to “crypto-fascist.” Don’t know what a crypto-fascist is? Don’t feel bad…I had to look it up too. “Crypto-fascist is a pejorative term implying the secret adherence of a party or group to the doctrines of fascism while attempting to disguise it as another political movement. It can also be used to imply that an individual admires or desires fascism, but keeps this admiration hidden to avoid social persecution or political suicide.”- from Wikipedia (sorry stickler librarians, but sometimes Wikipedia just works!) Anyway, Ayn Rand gets labeled this way because of her endorsement of capitalism as the supreme form of societal organization. She created her own philosophical movement, objectivism, which contains her theories of life and society. So, yes, to some extent, she spouts her theories through her characters in The Fountainhead. BUT…you don’t have to agree with her philosophy to read and enjoy this excellent classic of American literature. Rand’s attention to detail is impeccable. It is obvious that she took great care in selecting every single word. Her writing style is sharp, concise, and original. Ok, here is the part where I gush a little: this is the first work of art I have truly loved since Arcade Fire’s Funeral. Really, I found it absolutely engrossing.

If you’ve never heard of Arcade Fire, check them out too! These Canadians have been darlings of the indie rock world since Funeral’s release. There is something here for everyone: gorgeous melodies, boy-girl vocals, rocking-but-not-too-rocking, Talking Heads influence, ambitiousness, and lots of other stuff. And, if you are offended by me mentioning Ayn Rand and Arcade Fire in the same breath, get over it! Check them both out!