I was surprised and impressed, not only by the kindness that Ayn Rand showed, but also to her refusal to compromise on principles. Wonderful collection. I have tried to live my life as close to Objectivism as possible and I will never, never regret it. And, like Ayn Rand, "And I mean it!"Simon
The collection is slanted by the editor, who is the current custodian of the cult. At least two of the correspondents were aware of how this was probably going to go, and obtained statements that basically criticized the decision to publish only Rand's sides of their correspondence. There are minimal letters to Barbara and Nathaniel Branden, referred to as Nathan Blumenthal (which is his real name, but still . . . ), and nothing at all that deals with the affair between Branden and Rand and his subsequent expulsion from the cult when the physical intimacy collapsed. The point of this collection seems to be to emphasize that Rand was all of a piece philosophically early in her life, succeeded on her own, married the template for Howard Roark --- she herself described O'Connor as Roark --- and lived her life rigidly adhering to her "philosophy" of Objectivism. Most of which is pretty much nonsense. Her very survival was made possible by members of her family who gave her refuge in the United States (and to be fair, Rand attempted to do the same for an old family friend trapped in Austria after World War II); she persisted in a view of Frank O'Connor's "genius" at odds with everything that is known about him; and most damning of all, she refused her adherents the right to think on their own. That is truly the problem with the way in which the collection is presented. It is entirely possible to shoot some of her presuppositions and historical interpretations down without much effort, but since we never see what her correspondents did, the impression given by the book is that she rolled over them. Hardly. By the end of the collection, Rand has degenerated into a rude old lady publishing Diktats to her cult and surrounded by sycophants. But fewer of them than one might think, and most of the remaining Keepers of the Flame seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time scrambling to get a secure perch in front of their idol by maligning the others. Sound familiar? Rand blew up when Whittaker Chambers wrote a beyond-scathing review of Atlas Shrugged in National Review that included the notorious comparison of Our Lady of Laissez-faire to Hitler, but by the 1970s, her New York apartment bore suspicious similarity to the Bunker.The letters, like the novels, are grindingly, irredeemably, third-rate. They do, however, provide a through-line of narcissism on a level so profound it was clearly a personality disorder. I was really surprised. It is difficult to imagine Howard Roark begging people to praise his buildings, but I lost count of the number of times Rand seeks compliments for her books, and by how angry bad reviews made her. Howard Roark would have laughed. Mirthlessly. She also was constantly frustrated by the failure of fans to understand what she was saying --- but it never occurs to Rand that the failure might have something to do with the writing itself. I particularly enjoyed her testy responses to hapless fans who asked her if she was Toohey in The Fountainhead. And by the time of the Branden contretemps, Rand had descended into a conspiracy theory of life (again, something she overtly rejected in her letters). Ayn Rand stood on the burning deck, whence all but she had fled . . I suppose the novels will endure as the bodice-ripping literature of unbridled capitalism and 14 year-old boys, and as a source of bumper stickers. They're kind of like The Lord of the Rings for a different fanboy set. The difference is that Tolkien would have repudiated the vulgarity of it all. Rand would have insisted on a cut.Oh, and Tolkien could write. His least-developed orc is a more believable character than Dagny Taggart or Dominique Francon.Lisa Lilly
This is a fascinating book. The letters cover Rand's personal and professional life, including her relationships, her fiction, and her philosophy. I learned much that I hadn't known about her time working as a screenwriter and the research she did for Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.Many of the letters are almost like getting a one-on-one tutorial from an amazing writer. She talks about plot, theme, developing characters. Some letters offer critiques of newer writers' works and even without reading the work being discussed, I found the comments helpful and insightful. I also was fascinated by the letters regarding marketing her writing. In one letter, Rand presents a very detailed marketing plan for her fiction, including identifying her target readers and discussing how they should be reached. Plus there are numerous letters where she discusses her reactions to various actual and proposed ads. As someone who loves Rand's fiction, I found her letters about her characters and her plot choices fascinating, as well as the information on why she chose certain themes and settings. I also loved learning more about her views on and involvement in the movie version of The Fountainhead. The letters also include information about her life in the Soviet Union, her attempts to connect with family and friends still there, and the roots of her views on communism and capitalism. Many letters show Rand discussing her philosophy and how it applies to life, both with people who seek to understand Objectivism better and those who disagree with her. The latter are the most interesting.I highly recommend this book to any writer, anyone who loves Rand's fiction, and anyone who is interested in her philosophy. I not only learned a great deal, I felt inspired. I wish I could have met her.Art
This was great, and very inspiring. In her personal correspondence you get the best idea of who Ayn Rand really was and what she meant by "rational selfishness". The Roark-esque hardass-ness you might expect is there in letters to publishers and editors from the early days, but she's also full of gratitude, love and respect for the people who she feels deserve it. Complete strangers send her fan mail with questions and she writes back with pages and pages of sharp, thoughtful writing that's as good as anything in her books. She treats everyone fairly, especially her family, and loves a good debate. Most touching are the numerous letters in which she tries to get help to her old friends stuck behind the the Iron Curtain by way of visas, food, and secret letters slipped in aid packages. I also liked her lengthy reply to a sixteen-year-old who wrote asking for career advice, and then a short follow-up letter as an afterthought, apologizing for mentioning his age too much. At one point, she mentions how much she enjoys reading collections of famous authors correspondence, so you have to wonder if she knew this book would one day be a thing. There are probably lots of her life's more unsavoury elements (the fallout from Nathaniel Branden et al) not covered here, and I got weary of the heavy philosophical terminology by about page 500, but this was a great read that I would recommend to anybody with an interest in Rand's life and work. She never wrote an autobiography but this is almost as good.Craig J.
Letters of Ayn Rand: 8 by Ayn Rand (1995)Mark
Ayn Rand is candid and straightforward. Her answers to questions from readers and critics pull no punches. She gets right to the point and calls it like it is. Refreshing and enjoyable. I recommend this collection to any reader who is familiar with Ayn Rand's work. At a minimum, I recommend reading For the New Intellectual in lieu of Rand's larger works of fiction or nonfiction.Emma B
I am not reading this book in a methodical, linear fashion. It is 700 pages of letters written by an egotistical, demanding, stubborn author. I am, however, leafing idly through and reaching conclusions from the letters I do read.Firstly, she was whole-hearted about her beliefs. Reading some of the letters she sent to her nieces when they asked for money, I have discovered that she extended her belief system to encompass everyone, including family, without a shred of exception or leeway. She told one niece, Connie, that "if, when the debt becomes due, you tell me that you can't pay me because you needed a new pair of shoes or a new coat...then I will consider you as an embezzler. ...I will write you off as a rotten person and I will never speak or write to you again."Secondly, I really need to find The God of the Machine, by Isabel Paterson. She keeps going on about it as the Das Kapital of Capitalism.John Harder
Letters of Ayn Rand includes only outgoing correspondence, which is like hearing only one side of a conversation. Though this is problematic this compilation offers a unique insight into objectivism. Objectivism is a difficult philosophy to live by; it demands that every circumstance and choice be viewed analytically. Emotions are fine but they must be based upon reason and as a genuine response reality. Rand’s letters show that every day and with every relationship she lived the philosophy she espoused, often going into nuanced explanations, distinguishing her views from seemingly similar philosophies.Though she is occasionally punishingly direct with her correspondence, she also shows a warmth and generosity – but only to those who deserve it. There is no altruism even when she is lending help and advice.This book is worth one’s time, but only if you have already read the Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Without this basis you will be lost.