People have very strong opinions about Ayn Rand. Personally, I never gave her much thought until the audio copy of her biography Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne C. Heller ended up in my mailbox. (Thanks, Uncle Dave)
Extensive research went into this 20 hour (16 disc) audio book, and I listened to every minute. I now have my own opinion of Ayn Rand, and I will try to keep it to myself.
Ms. Heller starts at the beginning. Ayn Rand was born Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum into a financially successful Russian Jewish family. Her family had a rough time during the Russian Revolution, but from my perspective they managed to find ways to make it work. Rand wouldn’t agree with me. From an early age, Rand couldn’t understand why she should be denied anything she wanted. Most children eventually grow out of this, accepting the reality that life doesn’t work that way. Rand never did. Her entire life was spent working for what she wanted, and in her case, ultimately achieving it.
She moved to America from Russia with the aspirations of becoming a famous writer. Immediately after changing her name, she began her career as a screen writer in Hollywood. The way in which she managed to land on Cecil B. DeMille’s radar would be called a ‘stalker’ today, but of course, she would never admit to this. Rand worked in the film studio’s wardrobe department and eventually wrote for silent films and then talking films. Not all of her films were produced, but she wrote and was compensated for screenplays nonetheless. From Hollywood to New York, back to Hollywood and New York, Rand never stopped writing (or creating drama) and we all know that it paid off.
Ms. Heller follows Rand’s life in detail, using interviews and journals as references. I especially enjoyed listening when Ms. Heller pointed out discrepancies between what Rand had said in interviews and the truth which was uncovered later. Rand liked to say that no one ever helped her get to where she was. In fact, that was false, as many of her acquaintances pointed out – she had plenty of help, which Ms. Heller outlines. That’s not to discredit her hard work and determination. She had ambition, there is no doubt.
Ms. Heller also reviews the plots of the books The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged in detail, pointing out events and people in the novels which corresponded to Rand’s real life. This part of the biography is very important for any Rand worshipers. When her stories and her life are linked together, the mystery and “brilliance” of Rand fade away, in my opinion. Like most writers, she wrote what she knew and her writing reflected her life’s experiences. Great philosopher? Or just reacting to those who had wronged her?
By disc seven, I was listening to a soap opera – a wonderful distraction from rush hour traffic. At one point in her life, Rand decided she wanted to take a lover. She presented the reasons for this affair to her husband and to the wife of her soon to be lover – neither denied her. The story becomes even more bizarre during the next 14 years as Rand becomes a marriage counselor and the couples become closer than ever. Tune in to find out the rest of the story!
The Fountainhead brought much fame to Rand and by the time Atlas Shrugged was finally published (a story in itself) she and her “Objectivism” philosophy had obtained a cult following. This lends more drama to her soap opera life. The rise and fall of her followers, by Rand’s hand, each have their own individual story and Ms. Heller gives us the insights to those as well.
In the end, Rand achieved what she always wanted. It is not surprising, however, that she was not a happy person. She had plenty of followers but not many real friends. So the question I ask is: “Genius? Or spoiled brat?” Each reader can decide for themselves, but either way Ayn Rand’s life was definitely fascinating and entertaining.