This bestselling biography of one of the 20th century's most remarkable and controversial writers is now available in paperback. Author Barbara Branden, who knew Rand for nineteen years, provides a matchless portrait of this fiercely private and complex woman.
A leaden style handicaps this first full-length biography of Rand by a long-time associate (though their friendship faltered in the late 1940's when Rand stole Branden's husband). A competent writer could have worked wonders with this paradoxical, intense, rather repellent figure. Alice Rosenbaum, born in Russia in 1905, was a child immersed in Victor Hugo's novels while a revolution raged outside in the streets of Petrograd. A university student during the ensuing years of retrenchment and gloom, she defiantly attended operettas to keep up her hopes of a happy ending. Having wangled a short-term visa to the US, she lived on candy bars and stayed at the Hollywood YWCA - a thickly-accented, unfashionably dressed intellectual among the chattering would-be starlets. When she recognized Cecil B. DeMille on the street one day, the amused director invited her to the set of King of Kings and eventually hired her - first as an extra, later as a junior writer. Rand's future husband was also an extra on that film. Rand's fanatical faith in a benevolent universe that responds to individual effort is amply explained by her adventures in America - as her equally fanatical hatred of collectivism is illuminated by a youth spent in furious reading of the romantic fiction that helped her to escape from dour realities in Russia. Yet insight emerges despite - not because of - the biographer's handling of facts. Branden notes, for instance - but seems unable to do much with - the disparity between the world-taming males of Ayn Rand's fiction ("I could only love a hero," she once said. "Femininity is hero worship") and her own husband, an attractive but parasitic consort who lived wholly in her shadow. Branden is at her (dim) best describing the political nuances that mark Rand as a genuine American ideologue and eccentric, as opposed to a conventional conservative; and there is interesting background here on the early stirrings of the libertarian movement. But the biography lacks the psychological insight required by this driven, charismatic subject. And you'd need an icebreaker to plow through the prose. (Kirkus Reviews)