Barbara Branden, the first biographer of Ayn Rand with her penetrating and humanizing The Passion of Ayn Rand (1986), has died at age 84.
Branden and her then-husband Nathaniel Branden were Rand's closest associates and friends during the years she finished writing Atlas Shrugged and the years when the Nathaniel Branden Institute began teaching the principles of Rand's Objectivism in lecture form to a wider world.
Branden's understanding of Rand arose from her own very personal intertwining with Rand's life–one that came to a sad end around the time Nathaniel told Rand he could no longer continue an affair with her (one conducted with the knowledge of Barbara and Rand's husband Frank O'Connor).
Despite this strange personal entanglement, Branden still set the standard and provided the basic context and shape of the story of Rand that later books have approached from different angles, yet never fundamentally contradicting or exceeding Branden's brilliantly crafted and, yes, passionate story of a woman who was, as befit her philosophy, both body and mind, with all the difficulties inherent in that condition.
Branden was a living and bracing example of how one needn't either blindly worship or ignore the humanity of Ayn Rand to admire and promote her philosophy. While the very existence of a book telling a true story of Rand the woman created great controversy and division in the Objectivist world in the 1980s, as generations arise who never met the woman herself, such controversies will fade to historical ephemera. But the monument of understanding and appreciation Branden crafted with such skill and care will remain.
Branden remained through all her personal contretemps with Rand an enthusiastic appreciator, and spreader, of Rand's best message to the world, which Branden summed up brilliantly and affectingly in her book as this: "In Ayn's presence, and in her work, one felt that command: a command to function at one's best, to be the most that one could be, to drive oneself constantly harder, never to disappoint one's highest ideals."
In her biography she painted a full and compelling picture of the woman, and the ideas, that inspired that passion.
On a personal level, Barbara was unfailingly kind and helpful to me above and beyond the call of interview subject duty while I was researching my book Radicals for Capitalism, and remained a friend of Reason magazine and the Reason Foundation til the end.