Friday, October 23, 2009

Twin Biographies of a Singular Woman, Ayn Rand
By JANET MASLIN, New York Times, Published: October 21, 2009

By Anne C. Heller
Illustrated. 567 pages. Nan A. Talese/Doubleday. $35.

GODDESS OF THE MARKET - Ayn Rand and the American Right
By Jennifer Burns
Illustrated. 369 pages. Oxford University Press. $27.95.

Ayn Rand poses theatrically in her signature cape and gold dollar-sign pin on the cover of a groundbreaking new biography. Rand also poses theatrically in this same Halloween-ready costume (Rand impersonators have been known to wear it) on the cover of another groundbreaking new biography. The two books are being published a week apart. And both have gray covers that make them look even more interchangeable. Yet Rand, whose Objectivist philosophy is enjoying one of its periodic resurgences, loathed the very idea of grayness. She preferred dichotomies that were strictly black and white.
So in a Rand universe — like those of “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged,” the doorstop treatise-style novels that have given her such staying power — it would be unacceptable that one of these books would be only moderately better than the other. And the versions of her story should not overlap as vastly as they do.
But both authors, Anne C. Heller (“Ayn Rand and the World She Made”) and Jennifer Burns (“Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right”) make many of the same points and touch on many of the same biographical details. That repetition is especially surprising since Ms. Burns had access to the supposedly crucial Ayn Rand Papers at the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. Ms. Heller did not.
Still, Ms. Heller’s research is more intensive. It is so thorough, in fact, that it seems to inform Ms. Burns’s parallel but more cursory account of Rand’s personal life. (The Heller manuscript has been in circulation for long enough to be cited in one of Ms. Burns’s footnotes and included in her bibliography.) Ms. Heller has delivered 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. Ms. Burns glosses through all this to arrive at her book’s best section, a lengthy coda about Rand’s intellectual and political legacies. Neither book is the work of a slavish Rand devotee.

The full reviews at NYT.


Kaze said...

I appreciate your wading through both of these new biographies on our behalf. I have loved Rand's stuff since boyhood, when I first encountered it, and I think the appeal for many is explained by the same things that appeal to 13-year-old boys....the love of superheroes, and the fanciful idea that we might qualify for the affections of Dagny Taggart. That doesn't mean that I buy her objectivism, merely that objectivism makes it easier to enjoy the adventures of Superman.

Anonymous said...

I see that "Kaze" remains a 13-year old boy, at heart, thus explaining why his comment about Rand is so infantile.

Kaze said...

Ayn Rand was a polemicist in popular novelist's clothing. I have no objection to fact, that's her great trick. Of course I'm still a 13-year-old boy at heart, but my point is that it's the 13-year-old boy in us that allows her to get her foot in the door of our attention and then start selling ideas. Please click on my name to read more.