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Post 0

Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 4:13amSanction this postReply
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Between and within both authors' biographies of Ayn Rand and even between differing editions of those biographies, are obvious contradictions and distortions that demonstrate that neither author has achieved the objectivity necessary to depict Rand in a reliable way.  Their mission, therefore, strikes the reader as one of vengeance and tastes of financial exploitation.

Ha! Isn't it ironic that Valliant and Peikoff could be describing their own book here!

I haven't read the book yet, but from all the feedback it looks like it was poorly written and argued.

Thanks for the review.




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Post 1

Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 10:24amSanction this postReply
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I have debated on whether to post on this or not, given that I don't want to create more publicity (through controversy) for this book. I admit my bias.

But the initial signs are now bearing out my initial reaction - that the book will make a small splash on release due to Ayn Rand's own writings in it and the affair controversy, then fade out to publishing oblivion. Also, I have not yet read it. So with that in mind, here are a few of preliminary comments.

The main reason of the public success or failure of this book will be in the merit of the book itself. So it is a good idea to think about what the books involved in this controversy are.

Barbara Branden's book is a biography by a person who was an intimate friend of the person written about. Nathaniel Branden's two books are personal memoirs of an event, two versions of a partial autobiography if you will, not a biography. Valliant's book is a partial biography of one issue with the special feature of presenting unpublished work of the person written about.

What does a good biographer do? Present the facts of a life lived - not take sides on any controversy of that life. An intimate friend, like Barbara, will obviously have opinions and biases, but in her work, she was pretty frank about the fact that she was writing from her own perspective while trying to be as objective as possible. A great deal of research (and written soul searching) went into that book, as it should have. As regards Nathaniel Branden's memoir, the bias of the author will be his own take on the facts - and that is what memoirs are supposed to do. I have no reason to believe that Nathaniel Branden, despite the personal perspective, purposely distorted any facts as he knew them.

Both of these books also gave me a sense of people trying to come to personal terms with a thorny issue in their lives - an attempt to understand it and set the record straight publicly on what they thought.

Valliant is a trial lawyer, not a biographer. From the initial reactions I have been reading, it is obvious that the public understands this too. The work of a trial lawyer is one and a biographer is another. I so wistfully wish he had tried to be unbiased and set the trial-lawyer in him aside. Better yet, I wish he had used his talent as a trial lawyer for the excellent research he did, but had gotten help from a real biographer on writing the book, as he does not seem to have or want this talent.

The impression that comes off is not that he wants to understand this issue and present Ayn Rand`s writings as well as he can (biographer), but that he wants to win some kind of case against the Brandens (lawyer).

To me that is complete misfire. There is no courtroom out there. But there is a free market. The overwhelming impression it gives to a person not familiar with the issue is one of extreme bickering - almost dishonesty. If you think of the book as a partial biography, then complete dishonesty is the right phrase, because a biography it most definitely is not.

A personal feeling I have is that it is a crying shame to imprint the first release of unpublished writings of my beloved Ayn Rand with such a large dose of the personality of the lawyer-biographer.

When I finally read the book, I predict that in Rand's writings, I will find that she is able to speak for herself quit well - and I will find all the hollering interspaced between her words to be a distraction. I am almost sure that the majority of readers will feel this way too, especially those who are not that familiar with Objectivism.

The general public is not taking to this work too well. My opinion is that on the open market, people want facts from biographers, not court cases. Here are a couple of signs to support this.

If you do a Google search (as of this writing and putting the search as "The Passion of Ayn Rand`s Critics" 2005 review), you will not find one review of the work from any major newspaper or magazine. Everything is on blogs and discussion forums. There are several gleeful bloggers and forum posters who sing the praises of the book (and somewhat fewer opposing views), but the mainstream apparently is completely ignoring it.

Also, it is offered on the ARI bookstore site at a huge discount from, say, the Amazon price (Normal Retail Price $27.95 - ARI Discount Price $18.25). Now why would that be for a book that was just released? Capitalism? The only reason I can come up with is that sales are low and they want to plug it that way.

What a shame, what an utter shame to do that to Ayn Rand`s written work, even her personal notes. She deserves much better.

Michael




Post 2

Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 10:34amSanction this postReply
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Michael thank you for saying it much more elequently than I could.

She does indeed, deserve so much better. But you know what? In the end, this magnificient philosophy of hers will speak for itself.

John



Post 3

Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 12:08pmSanction this postReply
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Well, this book, which I have read, is certainly causing controversy, if nothing more. So far I have seen more heat than light from those that are critical of Valliant's brief for the defense.

This is particularly true of David Brown's coverage, referenced in Mr. Shiff's article. Laced with exactly the kind of venum of which Rand and Peikoff are repeatedly called to task (of which "artifact of cultist mentality that should be...lifted by thumb and forefinger and dropped into the garbage chute across the hall" is an example), the "review" barely deals with the argument at all, dismissing it with what amounts to "why talk about this ancient history which is all about people's sordid private lives?"

A brief for the defense is exactly what this is. It's is Valliant's contention that Rand has been grievously wronged by the Brandens, both in their treatment of her during her relationship with them and in the books (and by their subsequent efforts to defend the books) written as witnesses for the prosecution. (Yes, the Brandens often give the appearance of "objectivity," but showing that this appearance is false is one of Valliant's points.}

As a brief, the argument starts with minor details, seemingly insignificant points that set the stage for the bombshells to come. Having sat through the OJ trial, I can testify that this is often a sleep-inducer, the detail can be excrutiatingly dull. And it is here. But it is no less compelling. Like it or not, agree with the verdict or not, the fit of the gloves was a minor detail that decided the OJ case.

But the treatment of Ayn Rand by the Brandens is not, in this book, a minor detail to be lightly tossed aside. Valliant's contention is that the witnesses for the prosecution have failed to make their case. Rand is not the twisted, moralistic, megalomaniac trying to overcome her psychological problems through her writing that the Brandens claim. The danger is not in Objectivism, it is in the act of not taking it seriously.

Yes, as in "Night of January 16th" the basic facts remain the same in all accounts. It is their interpretation that makes all the difference.

Those that know my history on this issue, know that I waffled over the years. This book, the first to offer "the other side," settles the issue for this juror.

Read the book and cast your vote.  As for me, regarding the woman on trial -- Ayn Rand -- my verdict is "not guilty."   The prosecution has not proved its case "beyond a reasonable doubt."

Tom Rowland





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Post 4

Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 7:42amSanction this postReply
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I almost always buy books in that category, but this one doesn't have a place reserved on my coffee table- I've seen enough. He deserves to be bitch-slapped for saying that in his professional, experienced legal opinion, Nathaniel Branden's psychological profile resembles that of a rapist. I understand he expends a fair amount of copy backpedaling from that, which is meaningless. If you're drawing a comparison between anyone and a rapist, you're talking about violence and mental illness. Hardly the thing to say about a respectable citizen whose career has been centered around helping people to free themselves from deep psychological pain, and raise their self-esteem.

I've done a fair amount of work with Nathaniel Branden, mostly in the form of re-mastering audio recordings of his lectures and self-improvement materials, and I will say this, at the least: there are people all over the world (including me, my wife, and my family) who have been able to change their lives for the better through the benefits of his work. Leaving the world a better place than you found it is no small thing, by any means. But he requires no defense-he is an honorable, gifted man, and that is more than sufficient.

Here's a question: if Mr. Valliant was so concerned with accuracy and objectivity, why didn't he (and he didn't) request an interview with Nathaniel Branden? Wouldn't that be pertinent- a face-to-face with one of the principles? One can only speculate. Maybe he didn't want to taint his journalistic purity by direct exposure. As misdirected as that thinking would be, I'd rather have that reason than thinking he didn't because, after all, it's a lot easier to stick it in someone's back and twist it than it is while they are looking you in the eye. Unless you're a total psychopath, the best victims are anonymous ones. On the other hand, it's fairly common knowledge that the long-standing ARI party line is that Nathaniel Branden has no credibility in anything, and that he is not to be believed. Maybe he went with that.

Here's another question: what good has this book done for Objectivism? It is already a painfully fractured movement, a movement that seems nearly incapable of burying its dead, and working toward unification. And that is a shame. As to Branden's My Years With Ayn Rand, he had every reason to write that book, and a lot of good came out of it. I'm not the only one that thinks that. Twenty-five years after becoming involved in Objectivism, I'm saying that that book did nothing to diminish my opinion of Ayn Rand or Nathaniel Branden. What it did was humanize them, and that was sorely needed. The fact is, that book refined and rekindled my Objectivist spirit. But, I view Objectivism as largely an open system, and that puts me into a pigeonhole of my own. 

I question Mr. Valliants motivations, as stated, for writing this book. At the cover price, it could have at least had a little healing in it. That would have been something.




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Post 5

Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 12:51pmSanction this postReply
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Tom Rowland writes:
Rand is not the twisted, moralistic, megalomaniac trying to overcome her psychological problems through her writing that the Brandens claim.
I read Barbara Branden's book several times, and simply do not recognize it in this characterization. Not even close. Her portrait of Rand was strongly sympathetic.

I also read Nathaniel Branden's Judgment Day, a book much inferior in its objectivity; yet even there I didn't get a portrait of Rand as a "twisted, moralistic, megalomaniac" who used her writing to overcome psychological problems. That strikes me as a crude parody of what he was trying to say.

Both books argue that Rand was more complicated than either her uncritical admirers or her unadmiring critics would have you believe. But of course, neither group can ever be satisfied by a mixed portrait of Ayn Rand: a portrait of a great woman, thinker and artist who also happened to have some weaknesses. What both groups seek, for different reasons, is a monochromatic portrait.

I have often found the Parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant to be a useful metaphor, and it is certainly useful in accounting for the amazing non-objective reactions of various readers to all these books.




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Post 6

Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 2:28pmSanction this postReply
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Christ, what a waste of time! I might get around to this one in about 7 years (like Judgment Day) when I'm on a multiple day car ride and have a choice between staring out at sagebrush or a hotel wall and reading this book.

Jim




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Post 7

Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 2:45pmSanction this postReply
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Hi Tom, you wrote:
Well, this book, which I have read, is certainly causing controversy, if nothing more.
This is precisely what galls me. It should cause much more, it should be a KABOOM, not be "if nothing more." Ayn Rand is a best selling authoress. Even today her books sell strongly. Her own writings were included in this book. She has enough name to sell ANYTHING she hasn't published yet decently.

Mr. Valliant's book should be getting mainstream coverage and it isn't. But then again, how many complaint briefs are best sellers?

I do know that to write a book requires a great deal of effort and that Mr. Valliant put hard work into it. From that angle, I do not wish him lack of success. If he had maintained more objectivity and let facts fall where they may, including interviews with the Brandens as one poster (Rich Engle) has rightly pointed out - which very much is the work of a professional biographer - he would have had a marvelous book. I would not even be against him having his pro-Rand anti-Branden slant. (Well... I am very biased about Barbara and I would react accordingly - but at least I would be limited to that issue.)

As a lawyer, I think he will have the sense to take a look at his financial returns (that I do know about lawyers). He has a best selling author's unpublished works in his hands and can't get media attention. That says more eloquently that something is very wrong about his approach than anything I could say.

He should be counting bucks right now and appearing on Oprah.

I sincerely hope he does better with the New Testament project. He seems to be a very solid researcher and it's a shame to see that kind of rock solid effort that is so badly needed go to waste.

You were going to write to me about the Brandens much earlier on another thread and I suppose we both got sidetracked with our own affairs.

I personally did not find David Brown's review to be as bad as you stated - but it was biased. I will grant you that. His main point to me seemed to be that Mr. Valliant was trying to emphatically prove, as his main thesis, what the Brandens had already admitted years earlier - that Nathaniel Branden, and later Barbara, lied to Ayn Rand about Nathaniel's affair with a younger woman.

Once I read the book, I will be able to say for sure. But if that is the case (and it seems to be from the reaction of others), then I maintain that this is a tragic waste of Ms. Rand's unpublished material. Once again, she deserves much better treatment than that.

And the sales/media attention are reflecting that - and will probably continue to do so.

Michael




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Post 8

Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 6:13pmSanction this postReply
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> Laced with exactly the kind of ven[o]m...[Brown's] "review" barely deals with the argument at all... [etc. in similar wise]

 

I think the venom comes from the fact that Valliant is such a dishonest jerk on every page of his tendentious and sycophantic book. If I failed to make that clear to those who are claiming "bias" on my part, I repeat it now. His book is dishonest, tendentious, sycophantic. Valliant lies. These are good things?

 

The one thing missing from Valliant's blinkered blithering, notwithstanding his shibbolethic hailing of the concept, is "context." My ISIL column should have and did make clear that I think there was plenty of blame to go around in all that business; also that, not being a party to the mess, I hardly think it incumbent upon me to arrive at juridical conclusions about other people's 40-years-in-the-past exploded marriages and love affairs. Valiant thinks he's got it all down pat despite the yawning lacunae in the evidence he's willing to consider and in the logic of the assessments he's willing to make. He has, however, mastered the hectoring Randroid's tone of omniscient incontrovertibility, which is going to dupe those readers desirous of being duped.

 

As to whether I should have considered each single one of Valliant's overblown, irrelevant and/or already universally conceded accusations seriatim in my column...uh, sorry, but I just did not have time to write the trillion-word rebuttal. That's another weary trick of this tedious twerp. Just yap and yap and yap and yap and yap, pile sub-clause upon sub-clause upon irrelevant sub-clause, and who can possibly refute it all? Who has the century of spare time?

 

Even when one would agree with Valliant on a specific point, his deliberately dimwitted approach makes you want to kick him in the groin anyway. That anyone familiar with the history and factions here can wallow in all he avers and emerge with two giddy thumbs up is not a comment on my own capacity for objectivity.

 

David M. Brown




Post 9

Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 6:26pmSanction this postReply
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David,

Thanks for your post.

Sorry to sidetrack things, but I am curious... so, how did Rand pick the name?



Post 10

Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 6:36pmSanction this postReply
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Kernon, I don't know how Rand picked the name. The ARI people have a theory that should be accessible through their web site. One of Rand's inner-circlers told me recently that Rand did indeed tell her that she picked her pen name from the typewriter.

I'm sure with a little inquiry this could be nailed down, but I don't care too much myself. I do care about the claim-from-another-dimension that Barbara Branden's getting this detail wrong, if she did, is somehow a manifestation of arch-malevolence. But, granted, I think this way only because I'm not insane.



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Post 11

Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 6:49pmSanction this postReply
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Hi David,

Glad to see you over here. You wrote:
That's another weary trick of this tedious twerp. Just yap and yap and yap and yap and yap, pile sub-clause upon sub-clause upon irrelevant sub-clause, and who can possibly refute it all? Who has the century of spare time? 

 
Even when one would agree with Valliant on a specific point, his deliberately dimwitted approach makes you want to kick him in the groin anyway.
LOLOLOLOL...

You just described Immanuel Kant!!!

(There is another poster on Solo who does this too, but with a good dose of seductively good humor - (not you Tom, you're one of the good guys to me, despite disagreements) - and once you are enticed and trapped into a discussion with him, and once he gets cranked up, your eyes start glazing over from going into a coma...)

But about "bias," I was trying to be a bit diplomatic because of that new friend I have over here. I haven't actually read the book yet, so I stayed with the watered-down "bias" for the time being when I talked about your review.

You sure are one hell of a funny dude, though. I have immensely enjoyed everything I have read of yours so far - including the serious stuff. And your comments on style and content are spot on from what I can see.

As to your own style, this post above of yours had me running to the dictionary several times. Where the hell do you get so many big words from? Do you read thesauruses on the can for fun or something? Dayamm!

Anyway, I hope to see you around here a little more often.

Michael




Post 12

Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 7:02pmSanction this postReply
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David,

Thanks for your response. I just assumed that if the book said that Barbara had it wrong it would offer some evidence — and I furthered assumed that the evidence would have to take the form of detailing the "correct" version!



Post 13

Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 7:26pmSanction this postReply
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Yes, you're right Kernon. All I'm saying is I didn't waste time out of my valuable day memorizing it. I think it had to do with Cyrillic anagrams, the objectively blue-green vibe of the word "Rand," and something-something-something, it's all a little vague now. But I do know it's stuff he got from the official ARI pronunciamentos about it.



Post 14

Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 7:48pmSanction this postReply
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OK, thanks David. And I hope you have time to stick around and continue to contribute.

Regards,
Kernon



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Post 15

Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 9:38pmSanction this postReply
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I have the book. I haven't been able to open it yet. I will, as I need to know what is said, but if Barbara Branden is dishonest, then she is history's greatest actress.



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Post 16

Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 10:17pmSanction this postReply
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James, you must read the book. Just as, if you own a bullwhip, you must lash yourself with it. Is there a wall in your house? Bang your head against it. Is there a streptococcus culture in the pantry? Swig it down. Don't let the potentials of these things go to waste. Let them flourish and actualize.



Post 17

Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 11:09pmSanction this postReply
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"a dishonest jerk on every page...tendentious, sycophantic...lies...hectoring Randroid's tone of omniscient incontrovertibility...overblown, irrelevant and/or already universally conceded accusations...his deliberately dimwitted approach...yap and yap and yap...If you own a bullwhip...Is there a wall in your house?... Is there a streptococcus culture...?"

David, Let me get this straight: You don't like the book?



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Post 18

Wednesday, May 25, 2005 - 12:54amSanction this postReply
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>David, Let me get this straight: You don't like the book?

Coates, imagine yourself buried up to your neck in sand in the desert. Fire ants are crawling all over your face. The sun is beating down. Once every five minutes, a midget runs up and kicks you in the ear. It is a constant struggle to survive the pain, the humiliation. The vultures hover. All seems lost.

 

Yet, somehow, you endure. You endure. Life is a value. The way out is through. A stitch in time saves nine. The human spirit is undefeatable. You are determined. The day is almost over. Night is coming. If only you can last until morning, you think, you will find a way to escape. But, whatever, you must hang on. You must not give in to the constant searing pain. And you know you can hang on. You have managed so far. Despite it all. Despite everything your nemesis could subject you to.

 

Then he returns, to check up on you; he himself, the man who put you in this position. "Eh?" your foe says wonderingly. "Still alive? Resilient chap, are ye? The ants, the midgets haven't done ya in yet? Huh."

 

You smile a little smile of incipient triumph. This enemy, you know, wishes to defeat you not by killing you outright but by persuading you to forsake your life yourself. He wants you to give up and die because you choose to die. If you can survive his taunts, you know, then you can survive until the next morning...and then you can escape, and win.

 

"So. Tough guy, eh?" he says. "Well well well." He rummages around in a briefcase he happens to have brought with him.

 

"Hey look, just to help pass the time...how about a little reading before I leave you for the night? Ah let's see...here's something. A little tome I've been perusing by a guy named James Valliant, The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics....  So. To begin. 'It is a truth not universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a poor philosophy must be in want of an objective premise...' "

 

Your brain congeals in terror. Oh God no. No. No. No. Anything but that. Please God no, not that prissy fussbudget and those roiling, turgid excrescences he calls a case...no...no...no...not that, anything but that!!!

 

You're dead in an hour.




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Post 19

Wednesday, May 25, 2005 - 1:31amSanction this postReply
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Well after everything I've written without having read the book yet, David, my copy is due to arrive in day or two.

You make it sound like maybe I should consider having second thoughts about reading it.

You don't find it useful for anything at all? Not even as a cure for premature ejaculation?

Michael




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