Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Positive Voice for 100 Voices

My informal review of a compelling book

By Joseph Kellard

I recently finished reading 100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand. I’m about to embark on writing a book review for a publication, so I’m not going to write nearly as much as I would like to about this great book. But I do have a few things to say about it that I think you'll find interesting, if not compelling.

First and foremost, I learned about Ayn Rand more in depth, not only about matters I already knew about her, but many new factors I never knew, both minor and major. When you admire a person as much as I do Ayn Rand, this is the type of book you devour. I, at least, like to learn as much as I can about my heroes.

What’s interesting about this book is that Ayn Rand’s life, character and personality are told through interviews with various people who knew Ayn Rand, from acquaintances to relatives to fans to the most ardent studiers and adherents of her philosophy. The opinions and perspectives are wide ranging, from those who found her and her philosophy unfavorable to those who were in complete awe of her intelligence, honesty and original ideas.

From John Ridpath: “She had available at her mental fingertips a hug integrated body of knowledge. Once she understood any question put to her clearly, she would have no difficulty in answering it completely, including brining her questioner to see other implications of the question, and even to answering, in advance, ramifications of the discussion she knew the questioner would arrive at later.”

Scott McConnell, the interviewer and creator of this book, established the media department and oral history program at the Ayn Rand Institute. And when reading his various interviews, it’s important to keep in mind that you must, of course, judge the accuracy of what people say — what you should take with a grain (or much more) of salt, and what is probably true since so many of those who were interviewed mentioned it.

With this in mind, the reader must recognize that what some people say about Ayn Rand may reflect more on them than it does her. For example, the book starts with an interview with Rand’s sister, Nora, translated from Russian, and she shows contempt for her sister and her philosophy. Here, I recognized that Nora left the Soviet Union and visited her sister in America, and even though Ayn Rand offered her the opportunity to remain in freedom, Nora chose to return to the communist slave pen. That’s certainly something to keep in mind when considering Nora’s comments about her sister.

One observation that was often mentioned among the people interviewed was that Ayn Rand and her husband, Frank O’Connor, were deeply in love with one another and cared greatly for one another through their 50-plus year marriage.

Another reoccurring observation was that Ayn Rand had a commanding, forceful personality when it came to intellectual matters and was always especially intense when discussing philosophical ideas and their life and death implications, and yet her more casual side (if that’s even a proper way to describe her in repose) revealed a woman of extraordinary patience, graciousness, warmth and benevolence.

There are some real gems in the book. One of my favorites is an interview with Marcella Rabwin. She was a former coworker of Ayn Rand’s, and Rand based her conformist character, Peter Keating in The Fountainhead, on her. Rabwin tells McConnell that she enjoyed reading the The Fountainhead, and that she had met Rand again after she had read it. Rand asked her about the philosophy in the book, to which Rabwin said: “I said that I didn’t know there was any philosophy in it.” And later in the interview, McConnell asks Rabwin what she thought of Peter Keating. Her reply: “Who?”

This is priceless!

I wish I could give a more thoughtful and formal review of this book. I have other priorities at this time. For now, all I can say is that if you want to learn more, much more, about Ayn Rand and the integrity she had toward her philosophy in many areas of her life, in work, romance, friendships, daily living, etc., then you absolutely must read this book.

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