Books with ideas

By skepticlawyer

Books with a heavy philosophical component don’t usually sell well, and publishers tend to avoid them for that reason, but when they do, they can sell very well indeed, and it can be very difficult to explain why. Over at Catallaxy, Sinclair has a thoughtful piece on Ayn Rand, whose books sell by the pallet load, despite being complex, stuffed with ideas and — in the case of Atlas Shrugged — badly written (or at least very badly edited):

Ayn Rand remains a best-selling author. Nearly thirty years after her death, and over fifty years since publication, her books remain as popular as ever. Just last year The Economist proposed an Atlas Shrugged Index; the sales of her magnum opus tracking events that herald big government. To be sure her two best known books The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged are eerily prescient; her villains especially describe the threats to our freedoms. Her descriptions of second-handers, moochers and looters relate to people and institutions that are readily recognisable.

It is surprising that her books remain so popular in an era of instant gratification. They are long-winded, torturous reads punctuated by gems; her books need a good editing and perhaps shortening. Nonetheless thousands of people each year discover her writing for the first time, and if a long-promised Atlas Shrugged movie comes to the big screen many more millions will discover her work.

While there is steady demand for her books, it seems in recent time that there has been an increase in interest in Rand herself. The classic It usually begins with Ayn Rand by Jerome Tuccille is back in print, while Goddess of the market: Ayn Rand and the American right – a new biography – is selling well. Then there are beginners guides to Rand and many more books to choose from. Yet, for all this attention, it isn’t clear that we should learn anything positive from Rand’s life itself, as opposed to reading and enjoying her books.

That we shouldn’t (or can’t) learn anything from her life is unsurprising. Philosophers and littérateurs are often not very nice people, and (this also has to be said) we often let them get away with not being very nice (in part because they are such statistical outliers). This not-niceness manifests itself in various ways. In philosophers, it’s often a spectacular failure to live up to one’s professed ideals. Jefferson is the classic case study in this, at least in the liberal tradition: he tried to abolish slavery and wrote its abolition into his draft of the US Constitution Declaration of Independence but nonetheless kept a slave concubine and had several children by her. In the end, she and her children were the only slaves he ever manumitted. The rest of the slaves at Monticello stayed enslaved. 

Philosophical traditions (like Stoicism) that require their practitioners to live up to their ideals as a core ethical component can have a higher ‘niceness’ hit rate. It’s clear from the sources that Epictetus, Zeno and Musonius Rufus were all decent people who lived up to all or most of their ideals with honour and integrity. Seneca, however, struggled with the gap between his own life and his professed Stoicism, so even Stoics aren’t immune.

That you should be able to do what you purport to advise on is an important part of virtue ethics, which borrows from Stoicism and Aristotle and blends in bits from the non-consequentialist elements of the liberal tradition. It’s interesting but a bit suspect in my view, for the simple reason (as the article I’ve linked indicates) its practitioners finish up getting into immense arguments about what constitutes virtue, and we soon find ourselves back at square one and having to live by a version of Mill’s harm principle. In large, complex, cosmopolitan societies, the tricky thing is living with people who are very different from us without cutting each other’s throats. This may not seem terribly inspiring, but looked at across the broad sweep of human history, it’s devilishly difficult to do.

Leaving all that to one side, there is still the conundrum of Rand’s enormous popularity. Clearly her ideas speak to a great many people. I learnt at the recent conference I attended in the US that her books are immensely popular among women in India, for example, in large part (if the buyers are to be believed) because she gives Indian women good reasons to reject notions of duty (familial and otherwise) that pervade Indian society. Sometimes people want to be selfish, to care for themselves before others, to put themselves first. Women have traditionally been punished for this in many societies, so it’s clear that — at least for Indians — Rand provides ethical options, and for this reason she’s very popular.

Over at Catallaxy, I made the following comment on Sinclair’s excellent post:

The Fountainhead is a better book as novels go; Rand had to restrain her impulse to splurge on the word count and write a novel people would read. Atlas Shrugged, published after the first one had become a major bestseller, meant that she could get away without being edited. The book is badly written as a result, but more revealing.

Working out why hundreds of thousands or millions of people love a given book is very difficult, especially when that book is full of complex ideas. We’re not supposed to like novels about ideas, and — to be fair — this is often a good intuition. They don’t sell. But when they do (and Rand is not alone in this; there are other novels stuffed with challenging stuff that have been very popular), working out why is akin to playing the shell game at a country fair: the marble isn’t under any of the cups.

Since making that comment, I’ve been thinking about it and wondering if I’m right. I now think I was wrong to be so broad-brush, to pretend that literary popularity is some sort of impenetrable black box. I’ve written a popular novel that was also complex and difficult. I should know better. That said, if I’m wrong, I think I’m wrong in all sorts of interesting ways.


UPDATE: Sinclair has written a cracking follow-up post to his earlier effort over at Catallaxy. Well worth a read.


  1. Tim
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t read much of Rand’s fiction. But I have read some of her non-fiction. While clever and having some truth, her argument about the virtue of selfishness is, in the end, I believe, contrary to the religious principles to which I, myself, subscribe. But Rand was a militant atheist, so I suspect she would be unsurprised and pleased with that.

  2. Tim
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    “Jefferson is the classic case study in this, at least in the liberal tradition: he tried to abolish slavery and wrote its abolition into the US Constitution but nonetheless kept a slave concubine and had several children by her. In the end, she and her children were the only slaves he ever manumitted. The rest of the slaves at Monticello stayed enslaved. ”

    My understanding was that Jefferson was not involved in the drafting of the United States constitution. He was in France. (No doubt dallying with the ladies.)

    The United States constitution not only failed to abolish slavery, it contained strong protections for slavery. The slave trade was protected for a term of years (and this provision was unamendable), and, if I recall correctly, there was a limit on the capitation tax that the federal government could impose on new imported slaves. There was also the fugitive slave clause of the constitution, which required free states to return, upon demand, slaves who had fled to freedom. (This clause arguably caused the Civil War.) [These constitutional protections of slavery were demanded by the south as their condition for joining the union.]

    My understanding was that Jefferson never tried to abolish slavery. At best, he may have tried to abolish the slave trade (or rather the importation of new slaves into the United States). This would have benefitted the upper south, whose slaves would have risen in value, and hurt the lower south, which depended on fresh supplies of new slaves. (But I think you may be thinking of George Mason, the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which James Madison almost plagiarized to draft the proposed federal bill of rights.) Mason was a slaveholding man who condemned slavery and sought to abolish the slave trade, another paradox.

    In the Virginia House of Burgesses, Jefferson did propose a bill to legalize manumission. BUT he was also willing to advertise for the return of those of his slaves to had fled to freedom.

  3. Posted March 14, 2010 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    You’re partly right, Tim — he railed against slavery in his draft copy of the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. More here and here.

    The legacy is extremely mixed, to say the least, which is why he’s such a good case study of a morally ambiguous liberal when his life choices are contrasted with his words.

  4. Posted March 14, 2010 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    I should point out that slaveholder who supports the banning of further imports of slaves is advocating increasing the value of existing slaves, including his own.

    Kevin Phillips estimates that slaves constituted about one third of the wealth of the South. Abolition, however morally urgent, was a big ask. Particularly as it would have decreased the value of the votes of all white men.

  5. Oliver Townshend
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    I found Atlas Shrugged a hard read (I suppose its 20 years ago now), as it veered all over the place. Stopping and starting, to its eventual nihilistic ending. I’m surprised I finished it, I would toss it aside nowadays when the narrative thread wandered.

    I found her book on Russia, We The Living, much more moving. Never read the Fountainhead.

  6. Posted March 14, 2010 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    Kevin Phillips estimates that slaves constituted about one third of the wealth of the South. Abolition, however morally urgent, was a big ask. Particularly as it would have decreased the value of the votes of all white men.

    This is a very important point. Few people who live in large electoral democracies appreciate how meaningless their vote is. Brian Barry has demonstrated this empirically, and there is an excellent discussion of his findings in Tim Harford’s Logic of Life. David Schmidtz argues that the principle value of the franchise is thus in its symbolic value: people who can vote have full personhood.

    Schmidtz argues (as a corollary to this) that liberty is more likely to consist of laws that facilitate choice: in lifestyle, religion, movement, trade. He also points out how difficult that is to achieve, and how contested it has been historically.

  7. Tim
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    The Declaration of Independence never even purported to abolish slavery. So, I believe my comments are entirely, not just partly, correct. And Jefferson’s anti-slavery coments in his draft of the Declaration were stricken.

    I agree with Lorenzo. But I would also note that, under the period of slavery in the United States, constitutionally, the whites controlling the southern slaveholding states had their representation INCRESED in Congress because of their slave populations. And under that “federal ratio,” slaves counted as 3/5 of a person, for purposes of that representation in the House.
    And the constitution never mentioned slaves. It coyly referred to “other persons….”

  8. Posted March 14, 2010 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    And Jefferson’s anti-slavery coments in his draft of the Declaration were stricken.

    Which was exactly my point. Read the post.

    And it would be nice to get back on topic, you know, Ayn Rand, remember?

  9. Posted March 15, 2010 at 1:02 am | Permalink

    Oh, yeah. The anvils… they CLANG! The ninety-plus pager was particularly impressive which is why I’d argue that Atlas Shrugged doesn’t actually count as one of the “books with ideas”, it was ideas with occasional ancillary narration.

  10. Tim
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    I apologize for not remaining on topic. I thought it was appropriate and permissible for a reader like me to comment on perceived errors, and very misleading ones too, in the text. Also, my comments about Jefferson (and about inconsistency between his philosophy and his life actions) were consistent with the theme of the topic, that writers’ actual lives differ from their writings.

    Also, did Jefferson write slavery’s abolition into his draft of the Declaration, or just abolition of the slave trade. I’m just not sure. But I better stop, for I don’t want to be further chided for not discussing Ayn Rand. I would suggest that you be a little more, ahem, *tolerant* of persons who read your blog and have comments directly springing from the statements made in it.

  11. Posted March 15, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    While I think it’s true that the value of a book or idea can’t be entirely adjudged according to whether the creator of it lived up to the ideals therein I don’t think it’s entirely irrelevant. The fact that Michel Foucault was an S&M Queen who died of AIDS before finishing The History of Sexuality says something. That he was French, educated in the frightfully elitist system of education they have and grew up gay in a era when psychiatristrs treated homsexuality as a disease to be cured with electricity also says something. Not everything.

    Pablo Picasso was never called an arsehole, so the song says. He should’ve been. He was a first class example of the breed. That doesn’t detract from his talent one bit.

    I’m more discouraged by Ayn Rand’s verbosity than the strange cult she cultivated. But surely the irony of such from someone supposedly banging on about freedom is telling.

  12. Posted March 15, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    What flummoxes me (and is the reason for this post) is how a book with a ninety page anvil (and yes, you are right about that DEM) at the end can be so popular (I’ve just had another Ayn Rand conversation in the corridor with an Indian friend about this). Adrien, you know more about art/culture than everyone else on this blog. Any theories?

    The Indian woman I’ve just spoken to made a similar comment to LE about the naughtiness attached to Atlas Shrugged as a ‘bad fascist book’, and that this made her want to read it even more. I suppose that’s just proof of the old adage that if you want to make something popular, all you have to do is ban it/run it down/make it otherwise hard to get. But it still doesn’t explain millions of sales per year; it just doesn’t.

  13. Posted March 15, 2010 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    What flummoxes me (and is the reason for this post) is how a book with a ninety page anvil (and yes, you are right about that DEM) at the end can be so popular

    Well it was an interesting anvil and the plot that there was, with Dagny fighting to keep the railway going (Franciso D’Anconia machinations and Superweapon not so much), was genuinely gripping as you waited for her to finally be fought to a standstill.

    I don’t understand the “bad facist book” reference. It’s clearly having a go at the economic disincentives of communistic societies but her utopia isn’t authoritarian, it’s capitalist anarchism. The bureaucratic idiocy of her mainstream society seems a bit far fetched from a western democratic perspective, but is really just the logical extension of the communist economics that Russia laboured under for decades until it finally collapsed. I didn’t have a problem with the idea that a democratic system was just in as much risk of gradually slipping into a communist state as a fascist one (thinking in terms of Nazism in Germany).

    Yes the selfishness was a bit of a sore point for me too, LE. But I waded through (and I do mean waded).

    I don’t think she gives people enough credit for their capacity to remake themselves. There isn’t just a single class of permanently “inspired” individuals who are competent and organised. Former “drones” who were just getting along without paying too much attention can be inspired by necessity to become competent at something – either off their own bat or with some specific training – especially if that will ensure their lives continue in the comfort to which they’ve become accustomed. They’re not just going to sit around complaining when the “doers” disappear.

  14. Posted March 15, 2010 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    On Rand: Read, understood, rejected (except for the hate of incompetent manager types, aka Dilbert’s PHB).
    And LE, I wouldn’t exactly call Brave New World a dystopia… The rulers were competent and well-meaning, and even the gammas are happy, there are no real evil figures or ideas, but a clash of values, each worthy, each insufficient, thus asking the reader to sort the mess out, divine the required balance, and that’s a huge ask. (hmmm and SLs upcoming novel does a deliciously similar big ask, and like Huxley’s, is not preaching, gives no easy answers).
    To my mind, the best novels of ideas make the reader work through the conflicts rather than be Wile E Coyotes, standing still, accepting the anvil).
    At least Warner Bros anvils raise a giggle as redemption.
    To my mind Rand’s sales should be (but unfortunately aren’t) like sales of “Plan 9 from outer space” or “attack of the killer tomatoes”

  15. Posted March 16, 2010 at 4:57 am | Permalink

    Be fair Dave, “Plan 9” achieved levels of subtlety Rand could only dream of.

  16. Posted March 16, 2010 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Any theories?

    I haven’t read her books so I’m reluctant to say anything specific. I tried my dad’s copy of The Fountainhead but gave up pretty early.

    A couple observations:

    1. Bad writing doesn’t discourage a mass market. Stephen King writes appalling prose, Robert Ludlum’s dialogue is unintentionally funny and I won’t even mention Judith Krantz except to say that anyone who uses the word luxurious twice in an opening sentence…

    2. Bad writing can be compensated for by other things. King’s scenarios, Ludlum’s plots keep you interested. I can only surmise that Rand’s message resonates. The impact of technocratic bureaucracy on the individual spirit was a fairly common theme in the early to mid 20th century. It produced a lot of classics: Catch 22 for example. Sometimes it was the clarity of the message rather than the quality of the writing. When Nabakov wrote his dystopian novel, Bend Sinister his introduction disclaims any comparison with Kafka (whom he called great) and Orwell (whom he called mediocre).

    Orwell was a mediocre writer, writer in the sense of poet, but he produced the best 20th century dystopia. Orwell’s prose scans fine, he doesn’t labour points or bang on for ages, but his prose by itself doesn’t earn him his place in posterity. I can only say that it’s his depiction of the nightmare endgame of where things appeared to be going that accounts for his work lasting as it has. Rand is probably the same.

    The theme, I’d wager, will persist as long as the technocracy does.

  17. Posted March 16, 2010 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    I can only add that the straight up political polemic mode of dealing with stuff like this probably belongs to the mid 20th century where everyone was forced to choose sides again and again. Ideological classification has limits in understanding what is essentially a technological enhancement of basic human drives.

    Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle portrays this beautifully with almost no reference to ideology.

  18. Toryhere
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Could I venture the observation that many people who read Rand don’t read much else in the way of literature, other than sci-fi and fantasy? As a consequence Rand’s novels, like Mein Kampf, don’t serve the same purpose as most literature.

    Rand’s main appeal is to the inner geek and anorak caught inside most 15 year olds. Most of them grow out of it, realising that laughter, sex and a good glass of wine are far more fun than a continuing allegiance to an immature manicheanism.

    As the old Monty Python sketch goes: “sex is more fun than logic.”

  19. Tim
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    I found errors (rather significant ones) in your post and corrected them. Thank me, rather than:

    “Which was exactly my point. Read the post.”

    Well, I read the post. That’s why I found the errors.

    If you’re going to blog, I suggest that you at least obey two rules: (1) be historically correct if you comment about something historical; and (2) if you err, welcome corrections.

    I appreciate the correction made in the text of the post (crossing-out the constitution and putting the Declaration). But you failed to cross-out the following inaccuracy:

    “he [Jefferson] tried to abolish slavery . . . .”

    He did no such thing. Read MY post.

  20. Posted March 16, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    sex is more fun that logic
    Not in Miskokey, Alabama.
    Do you mean Manicheanism?

  21. Posted March 16, 2010 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Toryhere – Cause if you did mean Manichean I agree. She says that there’s always two sides and one is always right, the other wrong. I don’t agree. In maths 3 + 7 = 10 and always will. In history? We seem to have two points of view expressed i political discourse currently. One always starts an argument: There is only one way to understand, to interpret, to answer this or that; and the answer is…

    No argument. To disagree is to be immoral, insane, dangerous.

    The other holds that all points of view are equally valid whilst at the same time categorically excluding any good sense that comes from the one ideology it’s permissable to disapprove of: imagined as ‘Western Tradition’ in the WASP mode.

    Obviously, fubar.

  22. Patrick
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    I think DB nails it. Liberals are too smart to fall for Ayn Rand. So badly written, ugh.

    btw, Brave New World was, within any sensible modern usage of the word, a dystopia. Wikipedia proves this point (re modern usage at least) I think.

    As for the rest of the world Adrien is probably closer to the mark. Ayn Rand’s ideas, however much it hurts to get punched by them for so long, are simple and relatively intuitive. Add to that, they are the exact opposite of the CW. What’s not to like?

  23. Posted March 16, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Patrick Brave New World is a Utopia for people all over the world. People who live in places like South Yarra and Malibu.

  24. Posted March 16, 2010 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    Adrien: I think the point that Rand was trying to make with respect to ‘always wrong’ was summed up in the rest of her quip: ‘the middle is always evil’. She clearly disliked fence sitters, and she wouldn’t be alone in that. Wasn’t it Bobby Kennedy who said that the hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who, confronted with a major moral choice ‘choose neutrality’ (or words to that effect)?

    I do think you are right, though, Toryhere — I must admit I read Atlas Shrugged at about 16 and thought she made some good points (especially, as Dave said, about people being promoted beyond the level of their own competence, and also about the weirdly quixotic relationship we often have to people of talent). I know I was much less willing to be the person everyone free-rode on in group work after reading it. I started to expect other people to pull their weight.

    Patrick: I read Brave New World as a dystopia, but one of those creepy dystopias that half pulls you in, because it’s not as obviously cruel as 1984.

  25. Posted March 16, 2010 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    Be fair Dave, “Plan 9? achieved levels of subtlety Rand could only dream of.

    It also inspired an important research operating system: Plan 9 ‘… from Bell Labs’.

  26. Posted March 16, 2010 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    She clearly disliked fence sitters, and she wouldn’t be alone in that. Wasn’t it Bobby Kennedy who said that the hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who, confronted with a major moral choice ‘choose neutrality’ (or words to that effect)?

    Machiavelli counselled that princes must take sides because everyone hates the fence-sitter. Neutrality doesn’t excuse you from conflict, it just means that all sides will feel no compunction to leave you alone. So: pick a side. Preferably the one that is going to win.

  27. Posted March 17, 2010 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    1. Not choosing to side with this or that bunch of jerks does not mean you have no position.

    2. When the human race goes to war on some issue or other, 99% of the time both sides are wrong except on their view as to why the other side is wrong.

    3. Sometimes you do have to pick sides. For example: We had to fight Hitler.

  28. Posted March 17, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Viz: This Manichean thingy.

    I agree strongly with Bobby Kennedy and disagree strongly with Rand.

    In some cases there is a situation where it’s your duty to take sides. Sometimes neither side is actually morally wrong but sitting on the fence is. For example, when the Vietnam War was, if you were drafted there were two honourable courses. Burn the draft card or go. The slack thing to do was weedle out of it somehow (cue Dick Cheney and Bill Clinton). Sometimes it’s wrong to take one side and right to take the other.(Cue: World War II.)

    But in most cases the argument boils down to the rhetoric of competing interests and the different worldviews expressed tend to be simply a mask for them. The obligation to take sides often act against the interests of those that do so.

    Take electoral politics. A lot of people are loyal voters. They vote Labor, they vote Liberal. Many such voters live in seats that are safe. Now it seems to me that if your seat is safe then the member who represents you can afford to forget you. My local State Member used to be like that. Now, thanks to the Greens, the seat is very marginal and, wow, all of a sudden she’s interested in what we have to say.

    I’m not loyal to either party because my interests are not commensurate with the interests those parties represent, simple as that.

    Also the need to take sides produces an intellectual zero sum game where one attaches one’s self to this or that side on such and such an issue without properly understanding it. One then uses all one’s intellect amassing arguments to attack the other side. What occurs here is that the facts are lost in the crossfire (cue. Global Warming). Often both sides of the argument have good points and bad. The argument about minimum wages for example is a conflict between two points that seem to me entirely correct. It then boils down to how you feel.

    Another problem with the adversarial mode is that one feels obliged to have an opinion on an issue even if one knows nothing about it. (Cue: Aboriginal Affairs). For a long time I had no opinion on fractional reserve. I’d never considered it. I learned about it in high school economics and was thereafter dimly aware of it. Having considered the issue I see that those who argue against fractional reserve have a point. But considering the economic growth such a convention allows I personally think the problems it creates are worth it. I don’t think that entitles me to say that anti-fractional reserve people are nuts or that those who ‘sit on the fence’ are evil. Evil’s a loaded word. Most of the time it’s simply a way of dehumanizing someone and blinding one’s self both to the veracity of their position and to one’s own depravity in dealing with them (cue George W Bush and Osama bin Laden.)

  29. Jason Soon
    Posted March 17, 2010 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    LOL Adrien

    you know Graeme Bird’s really gotten to you when you think you need to have an opinion on fractional reserve

  30. Posted March 17, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    No you are lying.

  31. Posted March 17, 2010 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    I have never read any Ayn Rand, have never felt any need to read any Ayn Rand and no discussion of her ideas and works (including this one) ever makes me feel I have missed anything.

    (I did, however, read Nathanial Branden’s memoir, which I came at from the self-esteem angle.)

    But it does strike me that the appeal of something works in context. Perhaps part of her appeal might be a reaction to other messages people get a lot both ideological–such as the state is your friend, more state is better, etc–and more existential–reaction against the anonymity of a mass society. She does have a heroic individual notion which surely has some appeal: one, moreover, that is a form of non-violent heroism.

  32. Posted March 17, 2010 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    I should add I don’t have a lot of respect for the self-esteem push. Now, if they had talked about self-respect …

  33. Posted March 17, 2010 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    Adrien and Jason: LOL.

    Lorenzo: I always got the impression that Rand was talking about self-respect and actual achievement, that was the point. I’ve only ever read her books, though, and a couple of papers comparing her to other libertarian/right/free market/insert descriptor here thinkers while I was doing the BCL.

  34. Posted March 17, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    Rand might well be, and that would be to her credit. Nathaniel Branden has made his name on the self-esteem moniker, however.

  35. Posted March 17, 2010 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    The main focus on her at Oxford (as contrasted with Hayek) was the apriorism of her thinking. She and Hayek eventually fell out over their differences and there’s some really poisonous correspondence between the two (ie words like ‘evil’, ‘vicious’ and ‘reprobate’ get flung around).

    But yeah, I’d be very wary of anything a former lover said about a successful woman (in fact, unless he were violent, I’d be very wary of anything a former lover said about a successful man). You’ve just got to take people who are romantically disappointed with a truckload of salt.

  36. Posted March 18, 2010 at 3:09 am | Permalink

    I should be clear: I never thought Ayn Rand had anything to do with the self-esteem push, which is a specific phenomenon. Nor did Branden’s memoir have much impact on my attitude to Rand, it is just the closest I came to reading her stuff.

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