The long career and cluttered personal life of the writer who said she owed no philosophical debts to anyone but Aristotle.
In her debut, magazine journalist and editor Heller calls herself a “strong admirer” of Ayn Rand (1905–1982), who was born in Russia as Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum. “Ayn” (rhymes with “mine”) was her father’s nickname for her; no one knows the source of “Rand.” Heller’s admiration is most evident in her diction—throughout, she employs terms like “breathtaking” and “farsighted and brave”—but because she is not purely partisan, she was denied access to the Ayn Rand archives. Still, the author’s research is formidable—her endnotes cover more than 100 pages—and she ably highlights the hues of Rand’s dark side(s). The founder of the philosophy of Objectivism and author of perennial bestsellers The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957) could be petty, vindictive, disingenuous, deceptive and profoundly needy. She frequently quoted her characters as if they were real, and she maintained a secret sexual relationship with the much younger Nathaniel Branden, who was her designated financial and intellectual heir until he betrayed her for a younger woman. Heller spends a large portion of the narrative following the arc of the Branden relationship (he was married, as well), and its complexities and intensities ultimately became pathetic and wearisome. Heller examines Rand’s Russian girlhood (she was a brilliant loner), her emigration and arrival in New York City, her sojourns in Hollywood—where she worked on screenplays and met future husband, actor Frank O’Connor—her struggles to write her massive novels and her battles with the Left. However, the author never convincingly explains Rand’s powerful personal magnetism.
A treatment sometimes vitiated by the author’s affection for her subject, but the most thorough we’re likely to see until Rand’s papers become more accessible.