It’s hard for me to review books (or comments generally) on Ayn Rand, like this one.
Ayn Rand did for me what 13.5 years of school were unable to do – namely, to make me interested in learning, books and ideas. Despite moving away from Objectivism, I haven’t looked back. In a sense then, I owe Ms Rand quite a bit. I first read The Fountainhead during my sophomore year of college and I was hooked. I was a pretty hardcore Objectivist, for a while. Then, I moved into the Austrian direction. Now, perhaps I’m on my own sick journey, with a new sick guide. It’s probably more helpful to say that I now see people as much more flawed than Ms Rand saw them. She saw them as an ideal, but it’s getting harder and harder for me to see them that way. I disagree with many criticisms of Rand. She had high standards and didn’t always live up to them. So what – would it have been better to have lower standards?
Anyway, Ms Heller’s book is quite fair. Ms Heller does a great job with all the basic necessities of a biography. But, I don’t think she went any deeper, and deeper is required if a biography is to be great.
The only bit of insight Ms Heller tries to provide is a recurring argument that Rand always was, at her core, Russian. I don’t think this argument worked for Ms Heller. Ms Heller never explained what it meant to be Russian. Every 50 pages or so, she would just make some off-hand comment about some of Rand’s actions being typically Russian – this does not an argument make. Ms Heller also didn’t deal with and dismiss alternative explanations. For example, could Rand, as an intelligent and insightful young girl during the Bolshevik Revolution, have been more influenced by the horrors and logical conclusions of Communism than she was by some core tenets of being Russian (whatever they may be)? One could certainly use Ms Heller’s book to argue this alternative case.
I was dying for some more insights into Rand’s relationships. Her relationship with her husband is fascinating. So are the relationships with so many young people. Why did she fall out with some (Branden, etc.) and not with others who seem to have nothing in common (e.g. Peikoff and Greenspan)? Ms Heller refrains from even speculating. In order to understand Rand, we need some insights into these relationships. Ms Heller’s biography leaves us wanting.
In short, we get a great, well-written recitation of the facts. We don’t get any insights into Rand’s character from someone who has spent a great deal of time learning about her character. We also don’t get, as the title suggests, any insight into the world that Rand created. Ms Heller tries briefly to tie Rand to the rise of Conservatism, but Heller’s attempts fall flat, when a few pages later she reminds of us the on-going hostilities between National Review and Rand.
Read this book if you want to know what happened to Rand during her life. If you’re looking for more, I think you’ll be disappointed. I still consider Rand a philosopher. Lots of philosophers have pretty fscked up lives. Rand is no exception. History shows that it often takes a long time for people to move beyond the crazy stuff and start dealing with the ideas. For Rand, I suppose the day of fair dealing awaits.