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Bookmarks Issue: 
44-Jan-Feb-2010
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A-AynRandWorldAnne C. Heller is a writer and former fiction editor for Esquire and Redbook. Her work has appeared in Lear's, TriQuarterly, and Mademoiselle.

The Topic: Born Alisa Rosenbaum to middle-class Jewish parents in St. Petersburg in 1905, Ayn Rand and her family suffered greatly during the Russian Revolution, and though she would later insist that she had erased the past after her immigration into America, Heller argues that these early experiences molded the burgeoning young writer. However, her messy, unconventional personal life--including her Hollywood career, her marriage to a mild-mannered actor, her cult-like Objectivist movement, and her affair with a college student 25 years her junior--would diverge greatly from the vehement individualism she espoused. Heller explores this dichotomy as well as the continuing popularity and social impact of the "gallant, driven, brilliant, brash, cruel ... and ultimately self-destructive" author of The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957).
Nan A. Talese. 592 pages. $35.00. ISBN: 9780385513992

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"[Heller's biography is] well worth reading, partly because Rand's life was so extraordinary and partly because the questions that she raised about the proper power of government are just as urgent now as they ever were."

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"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." Janet Maslin

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Heller maintains an appropriately critical perspective on her subject--she writes that she is ‘a strong admirer, albeit one with many questions and reservations'--while allowing the reader to understand the power of Rand's conviction and her odd charisma. ... The decades of psychodrama that followed [Rand's initial meeting with protégé Nathaniel Branden] read, in Heller's excellent account, like Phèdre rewritten by Edward Albee." Adam Kirsch

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Heller has taken the forbidding author of the novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and made her real, a person of greater complexity than Rand herself would admit. ... Heller has given us a fine work--a cleanly and compellingly written biography of one of the strangest, most controversial and most widely read writers of the 20th century." T.J. Stiles

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[Heller's biography is] remarkably evenhanded, given that opinions about the author of The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957) rarely run lukewarm. ... Heller shows how Rand's early life and work influenced her later books." Bruce Ramsey

Slate.com 4 of 5 Stars
"The [book works] best, for me, on a level I didn't expect. [It is a] thrilling psychological portrait of a horribly damaged woman who deserves the one thing she spent her life raging against: compassion." Johann Hari

New Yorker 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Heller does [a good] job dealing with Rand's early life in Russia and her later personal dramas. ... [She] overestimate[s] the literary achievement of [her] subject, whose intellectual genre fiction puts her in the crackpot pantheon of L. Frank Baum and L. Ron Hubbard." Thomas Mallon

Critical Summary

Heller skillfully illuminates the complicated and self-contradictory human being behind the mythic novelist in this groundbreaking biography, highlighting the fascinating inconsistencies between her professional persona and her personal life. To Heller's credit, Rand doesn't emerge as a hypocrite, but as an exceptionally gifted woman whose brilliance blinded her to her own weaknesses. While Rand's work often polarized readers and critics, Heller assesses Rand's ideas and choices objectively, with neither devotion nor derision. Her thorough research sheds new light on Rand's early life, and her elegant narrative combines shrewd characterization with an astute analysis of Rand's literary achievements and enduring fame. This compelling and compulsively readable biography is a worthy tribute to one of the 20th century's most eccentric, divisive, and widely read writers.