In the “heroic-capitalist” novelist’s centenary year, prosecuting attorney Valliant skillfully cross-examines two previous biographers’ accounts of her tumultuous love affair with a younger man.
The affair itself is notorious: In the middle 1950s, having first obtained the blessing of their respective spouses, brilliant, bestselling Rand, then 50, began a sexual relationship with her 25-year-old protégé, Nathaniel Branden, who became her public spokesman. Fourteen years later, the affair blew up after Rand learned of a longstanding extra-extramarital liaison between Branden and one of his female students. He later became a psychologist and author of popular books on self-esteem, but he still had a score to settle with Rand. His memoir-cum-biography, My Years with Ayn Rand (1989), portrayed her as an especially ruthless, hysterical version of the woman scorned, and former wife Barbara Branden did much the same in The Passion of Ayn Rand (1986). Valliant disputes this view, bringing to bear a persuasively close reading of internal contradictions and implausibilities in the Brandens’ books and subsequent statements. The author also makes use of previously unpublished personal journals kept by Rand in 1967 and ’68, when her vast Objectivist following split into camps and drifted away over the rupture between the philosopher-queen and her “intellectual heir.” Valliant appears to be a member of the still-very-active pro-Rand camp, but if the excerpts and editing of these journals can be trusted, they show the Brandens in a harsher light and offer a new glimpse of Rand as a remarkably patient, even “objective” expositor of facts that must have pained her.
Far too arcane and cumbersome to enthrall most fans of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, but deserves a place on the lengthening shelf of books about the influential Rand’s accomplishments and character.