Saturday, March 03, 2007

Did No One at Durban House Even Read This Book?

The opening chapters of PARC are an attempt to cast doubt on the reliability of The Passion of Ayn Rand (“PAR”) by suggesting that it is riddled with errors and inconsistencies. Valliant asks rhetorically, “did no one at Doubleday even read this book?” Although I believe Valliant vastly overstates these alleged problems, the same could with more justice be said about PARC. PARC is filled with mistakes. The Brandens’ books are frequently misquoted. Indeed, the very first quote from PAR contains a typo. (PARC, p. 9.) PAR is misquoted again on page 12. On the following page, Valliant quotes Nathaniel Branden as telling an “undetermined ‘us’” that Rand’s name came from her Remington-Rand typewriter, but it is clear from the context that the “us” refers to Barbara and Nathaniel Branden. (Judgment Day [“JD”], p. 73.) There is no need to surmise (as Valliant does) that this second person is “likely” to have been Barbara Branden. When Nathaniel Branden describes Rand's claim that no one ever helped her as an "evident contradiction" with other facts, Valliant claims he calls it "'grandiose' dishonesty." (PARC, p. 41; JD, p. 63.)

Minor mistakes abound in areas tangential to the book’s argument, often in footnotes. Stephen Macedo’s The New Right v. The Constitution is called The New Right Versus The Constitution. Murray Rothbard’s Individualism and the Philosophy of the Social Sciences is called Individualism and the Methodology of the Social Sciences. Rothbard’s The Ethics of Liberty is misquoted. An internet article by David Hayes is given two slightly different titles. Chris Sciabarra is misrepresented twice concerning his views on Rand’s philosophical background. The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies is cited inconsistently. Sometimes it's National Review and other times The National Review.

Granted all books contain mistakes of this type, but the sheer number in PARC casts doubt about the care the author has taken with his sources. More importantly, it makes one wonder if Rand’s diaries (which make up a large portion of PAR) have been accurately transcribed.

Our doubts with respect to PARC have of course been confirmed. Divergent accounts by the Brandens are presented as if they were identical, as in the case of Rand’s break with John Hospers. Sources are summarized carelessly as in Valliant’s claim that a surprise party to celebrate Atlas Shrugged was thrown by Random House, when his only sources say it was thrown by the Brandens. Most notoriously, Valliant claims that Barbara Branden conceals the fact that the Blumenthals broke with Rand when PAR quotes Allan Blumenthal stating explicitly that they decided to leave Rand. Another misrepresentation concerns Branden’s report that Frank O’Connor drank excessively. Branden says that “each week” Rand’s housekeeper went to Frank’s studio and “found no new paintings, but instead, rows of empty liquor bottles.” (PAR, p. 366.) Valliant changes this to “’rows of empty liquor bottles’ . . . which Rand’s housekeeper is said to have found there after O’Connor’s death.” (PARC, p. 144.) He omits the part about their being no new paintings. Suspicions are raised when none are warranted, as in the case of the origin of Rand’s name. It is not at all surprising that Barbara Branden did not mention in PAR that she heard the Remington-Rand story from Rand given that Fern Brown’s recollection (which she quotes in detail) purports to be an eye-witness account of Rand actually choosing her name and was not questioned until years after PAR was published. (PAR, p. 71.)

1 comment:

Michael said...

I assume you are being humorous. :)

Durban House does not strick me as a very, hmm, high level publisher. I had never heard of them (and I know of many high quality small presses), and have heard they are just a step above a vanity press.

I've said it before and I've said it again. If Valliant's work is soooo important to the 'ARI crowd', why couldn't they have hooked him up with a better publisher?