Sounds like Anne Heller's new biography is a must-read:
"What’s great about Heller’s book isn’t that it reveals more facts than Barbara Branden’s biography—although it does; there are many interesting new details—or that it is so well written; it’s that Ayn Rand And The World She Made is so honest, so, in a word, objective. Rand is a real person to Anne Heller—a brilliant, clever, sometimes over-the-top writer; an astonishingly original thinker with, alas, too little education in the history of philosophy; a passionate, intense, idealist who, sadly, imposed such a weird rigor on herself and others as to leave her dark and alone at the end; a woman who believed—and rightly so—in the indomitability of the mind and its capacity for greatness, but who was capable of breaking long friendships over trivialities, fudging the nature of her marriage, and watching hours of game shows and Charlie’s Angels. None of this detracts from her greatness; none of it detracts from her ideas. What it does is to take Ayn Rand gently down from the pedestal—not as a vandal, or as a worshipper would, but as one would who recognizes that she’s not a God, but a human being. And to Ayn Rand, “human being” was never an insult."
(hat tip Neil Parille)
The review reads like tempered Objectivist hagiography, but I might be wrong about that.
Sandefur says this is the best book he's read this year and it is very well researched.
Regardless of what one thinks about the Brandens, I think everyone will agree that it's unfortunate that our main biographical sources for Rand are people who had a tragic break with her.
Certainly Valliant and other Branden critics should be happy that we finally have a "neutral" biography. The ARI blog world has been silent, though.
Yes, the ARIans are afraid, they live in dread of the day that their game will be revealed for what it is. This biography will be just another outbreak of reality for the ARIans to try to stomp out of existence if they can, but don't expect any reaction until the book's publication. But it's possible the reaction may be no reaction, as in, "ignore it, and hope it will just go away."
Is it just me or does Rand look like living death on that cover? No Randroid would be happy about this book, for that reason alone.
Laj: "The review reads like tempered Objectivist hagiography"
That's how it struck me also.
So the reviewer was a Randroid who makes the book sound like a "hagiography." And Whittaker Chambers made Atlas sound like Nazi propaganda. What does that say about the book vs. the book's reviewer?
"And Whittaker Chambers made Atlas sound like Nazi propaganda. What does that say about the book vs. the book's reviewer?"
In the case of Chambers, I'd say it tells us he was pretty darn perceptive.
As far as this book is concerned, it's probably not a hagiography, since as Anon69 observed, the cover is extremely unflattering to Rand.
Unless, of course, we define "hagiography" as "biography of a hag." In which case, bingo.
It's necessary to separate the reviewer from the book reviewed. Sandefur is very complimentary to both authors. But what exactly does Sandefur say Heller has to say about Ayn Rand? -
What Anne Heller recognizes, that few others have, is that Rand was a nineteenth century romantic novelist living in a twentieth century, post-war world; a world fixated on existentialism, abstract expressionism, anti-heroes, atonal music, psychoanalysis, relativism, pragmatism, protest and dogma. Rand provided compelling explanations for all of these phenomena, which stood opposite the world she spoke for and that originated the language in which she spoke. Rand’s idols were Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Victor Hugo. One need merely read The Idiot to see what Rand was doing in The Fountainhead; one need merely read Hugo to see what she was doing in Atlas Shrugged. Indeed, compared to the often tedious and preachy Hugo, Ayn Rand was a master of self-restraint and subtlety.
I don't know about Sandefur (he comes across as a Randroid) but Heller seems objective. Perhaps it is only Sandefur who wants to turn the biography into a "hagiography."
Perhaps it is only Sandefur who wants to turn the biography into a "hagiography."
No, it is that some folks who post here consider anything less than relentless criticism of Rand to be "hagiography." Any writing about Rand that doesn't damn her and everyone who ever said a kind word about her, on each and every page and preferably every paragraph, is clearly the work of an idol-worshiping Randroid. If you say otherwise, you are obviously a Randroid yourself.
"Certainly Valliant and other Branden critics should be happy that we finally have a "neutral" biography. The ARI blog world has been silent, though."
From the ARI standpoint, the only "neutral" biography would be one written someone affliated with ARI. ARI cannot tolerate any criticism of Rand ( such as "too little education in the history of philosophy") because ARI is primarily a personality cult, with the protection of Rand's image given a priority to every other consideration.
I wouldn't say Sandefur is a Randroid. I believe he published in article in JARS criticizing Rand's view on patents. I don't know if he's an Objectivist.
Let me put my first comment in stronger perspective. My personal preference about what a book review should be like to some degree informed my statement.
The review tells us little about the book as a work of biography - maybe it says something about the book as literary criticism. Would like to see someone who has done investigative work into Rand's life, even if mostly from secondary sources, but preferably from first sources (Branden, Sciabarra, Mayhew, or Parille - yes, I know you are reading) review the book and talk about some of its strengths as biography. What new facts are in it?
I have not seen the book yet. Unfortunately, it looks like I'll have to wait like the rest.
It will be interesting to see what new material there is. Since Peikoff and the ARI types probably didn't give Heller interviews and Heller didn't have access to Rand's papers at the ARI, one wonders how much new information there can be. But everyone agrees the research was excellent.
I agree with Greg that ARI types will only find "neutral" a biography written by an ARIan. In Peikoff's now-removed statement on Valliant/Wikipedia I believe he said that Valliant was a fair writer, or something to that effect.
I suspect that ARIans will try to ignore the book, or at most find a couple places where Heller allegedly misrepresents Rand and relies on the Brandends and declare the book as derivative of the Brandens. (I can imagine the phrase "the Brandens with footnotes" being used.)
With all the attention to Rand now and the apparent excellence of the book, it might be too big to ignore.
... one wonders how much new information there can be.
I don't know about completely new information, but at the very least there is an excellent opportunity for Heller to collect and synthesize details that have dribbled out in various narrowly-focused works. There have been several books on Rand's literary works, a book on her HUAC testimony, a book on her relationship with Frank Lloyd Wright, discussions of Rand in biographies of others, a couple of interview projects, and assorted memoirs, all containing information about Rand that hasn't been collected into any dedicated, full-length biography. For that matter, it's nice to see a full-length biography of Rand being written by a respectable journalist (and another coming out from an actual historian!), rather than a filmmaker or one of Rand's personal associates.
Of course I don't know how accurate the review is, but it doesn't give me the impression that the book is a hagiography. It seems more that it is in that regard not so different from Barbara Branden's book: someone who is sympathetic to Rand, but doesn't hide her weaknesses. An example of a real hagiography is the earlier book by Nathaniel and Barbara Branden, Who is Ayn Rand? (which the authors later acknowledged).
What I'd like to see is an informed critical account of Rand's literary work (preferably as a collection of articles by different critical authors). As far as I know, after all these years there is nothing of the kind (apart from short reviews and some passing remarks in a few books about Rand).
What I'd like to see is an informed critical account of Rand's literary work (preferably as a collection of articles by different critical authors).
Assuming you mean something by non-Objectivists who are specialists in literature (as opposed to, say, philosophy or history), then the only thing I know of is the work of Mimi Reisel Gladstein. Unfortunately, The New Ayn Rand Companion is more bibliographical than literary analysis, and Atlas Shrugged: Manifesto of the Mind only covers one book. Some chapters of Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand might also qualify, but not the book as a whole.
There are other books about Rand's literature, but the contributors are usually either explicitly Objectivists and/or not literary specialists.
Richard & Dragonfly,
Didn't Will Thomas and Steve Cox edit a collection about Rand's literature? I don't know how critical is was.
The four Mayhew collections are good, although not critical. They do contain a fair amount of new biographical information, particularly the essays by Milgram.
I do anticipate that the new biographies will provide a better and updated synthesis of Rand's life than the Branden books.
Richard: "There are other books about Rand's literature, but the contributors are usually either explicitly Objectivists and/or not literary specialists."
The problem here would be to find literary specialists who could appreciate Rand's literary efforts (particularly The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged) as literature. Most literary specialists have formed their tastes on literature that's very different from Rand. If your tastes are formed by Dickens, Tolstoy, Balzac, George Eliot, Henry James, Proust, Joyce, Mann, etc., you're probably going to find a work like AS tough going. Rand's last two novels seem to constitute a genre to themselves, with few connections to other traditions. So what standards of criticism is one supposed to apply to them? Most so-called literary specialists, I suspect, would have great difficulty taking AS seriously as literature.
The Mayhew and Younkins collections on Atlas Shrugged are a combined 900 pages. With Rand the qualitity of the material varies, but there is a fair amount available.
Mayhew and Younkins? I can fairly well imagine what kind of collections these are, namely not critical (except perhaps with regard to some very minor points to show how unbiased -cough- the writers really are). I'm not interested in books full of adulatory articles.
The book I was thinking of is The Literary Art of Ayn Rand (2005).
Neil: "The book I was thinking of is The Literary Art of Ayn Rand (2005)."
Published by TOC... thanks, but no thanks.
"If your tastes are formed by Dickens, Tolstoy, Balzac, George Eliot, Henry James, Proust, Joyce, Mann, etc., you're probably going to find a work like AS tough going."
I think admirers of Sinclair Lewis might feel that "The Fountainhead," at least, occupies territory not totally unfamiliar.
The title of the bio is a take-off of a line from Rand's favorite poem.
If you go to the book's Amazon sales page and read the Booklist review, you'll find this claim:
"by age 11 [Rand] had already written four novels ..."
I find it extremely unlikely that any child so young could have written even one novel, let alone four. This sounds like the kind of self-aggrandizing braggadocio Rand was known for, not much different from her claim to have developed all the essentials of her philosophy in early childhood.
I would be very skeptical of any biographer who accepts (and advances) such a claim.
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