Many readers of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead say it was a life-changing experience. This is probably more true for Nathaniel Branden than anyone else in history.
Born on April 9, 1930 in Toronto, Nathaniel Branden was then known as Nathan Blumenthal. He first read The Fountainhead at age 14. In 1949, while attending UCLA, he wrote a fateful letter to Ayn Rand that led to an invitation to visit her home and meet her in person. At the time, he was in a struggling relationship with his future wife, Barbara Weidman, whom he also met through a shared interest in The Fountainhead. He brought her along to the following meetings and both he and Barbara became very close friends with Ayn Rand and her husband, Frank O'Connor.
Nathan and Barbara were the beginning of what would become Ayn Rand's whole inner social circle, known ironically as "The Collective." One of the earliest members brought in was a younger cousin of Barbara's: Leonard Peikoff. But that's a whole other story...
At college, Nathan and Barbara's friendship with Ayn only spurred on their frequent disagreements with professors. In 1951 a class in political philosophy ended in a messy confrontation and a severe drop in grade for Barbara. She decided to transfer schools and move to New York, and Nathan went with. Ayn insisted she'd also move and catch up with them once she was done with her novel. She changed her mind and moved before the year was over.
Nathan and Barbara finally gravitated into marriage in January of 1953. In 1954, Nathan was taken with the idea of choosing his own name. Barbara also liked the name he picked, and they legally became Nathaniel and Barbara Branden.
Soon afterwards, Nathan's relationship with Ayn, after years of gradual hinting, shifted officially into a romantic one. Ayn insisted that it be kept a secret from the world at large, but their spouses were both aware. Just how well the secret was kept, though, is debatable - Ayn would later make shockingly bold statements regarding her position on romantic love, and always painted Nathan as a "giant" - the living image of John Galt, whom any rational Objectivist woman would have to be in love with. She also dedicated her greatest novel, Atlas Shrugged, to Nathan as well as her husband, a gesture that she personally believed to be only appropriate for a heroic romantic interest, not merely a "friend." This would put great pressure on him later.
As Ayn finished her work on Atlas Shrugged, Nathan was becoming her "lifeline to reality" in a world she didn't think highly of. The controversy and bad press surrounding Atlas Shrugged was expected, but to be so completely misunderstood as to be accused of supporting the very things she stood against was maddening, as were positive reviews that didn't fully mesh with her ideas. Even Nathan's presence wasn't enough to satisfy her - she was waiting for someone to speak up for her work, in an educated manner, that hadn't been brought up in The Collective.
Despite the bad press, just like The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged sold well by word of mouth. To cater to this audience that Nathan had once been a part of, to combat the widespread misunderstandings about Ayn's philosophical views, and to perhaps help with Ayn's depression, Nathan suggested starting a series of lectures on the philosophy now dubbed Objectivism. Starting with a mailing list of Ayn's fan mail and a class of only twenty-eight students, the lectures had a warm response and grew into the large organization known as the Nathaniel Branden Institute, or NBI. In 1962, Ayn and Nathan also started The Objectivist Newsletter which later became a magazine: The Objectivist, and Nathan published his first book: The biography, Who is Ayn Rand?
Nathaniel Branden's ambition was the driving force that started Objectivism as an organized movement, and at such a young age. Ayn Rand proclaimed him her intellectual heir and the living example of how her idealistic vision of man could exist in reality. But things were uncomfortable within the Collective. Nathan and Barbara Branden separated in 1965, a shock to the other members who had no idea of their history. During Ayn's post-Atlas depression, their affair had cooled off, much to Nathan's secret relief, but as the movement progressed, she pushed to have it restart, and his separation from his wife made it seem all the more natural to her. He could only make excuses so long until she'd find out he truly wasn't interested in a romantic relationship anymore. This was bad enough even without the fact that he was starting an affair with another woman: Patrecia Gullison, a student at NBI.
Nathan confessed this new affair to Barbara first, but both were hesitant to tell Ayn and risk having the whole Objectivist movement suffer. But on July 3rd, 1968, he broke the news - in writing, to ensure everything he had to say could be heard. At first, he only tackled the issue of not wanting to restart the affair. Later, he let Barbara fill her in on the matter of Patrecia. Ayn reacted violently.
In the aftermath that followed, Ayn originally planned to have Barbara take over as head of NBI and as her heir, but ultimately broke ties with both Barbara and Nathan in a scathing public attack in The Objectivist, claiming that Nathan was no longer qualified as a representative of Objectivism, and that he had admitted to immoral behavior that forced her to break all personal contact with him. No one knew what it was he could have done, and the rumors flew. Barbara and Nathan each wrote a statement in their defense and sent it to the mailing list, but for many, the thought of believing anyone over Ayn Rand seemed sacreligious, and Nathan and Barbara are still considered persona non grata by some members of organized Objectivism. (see: Leonard Peikoff, Ayn Rand's second choice for intellectual heir)
That same year, after liquidating NBI and signing The Objectivist over to Ayn, Nathan moved to Los Angeles to start his own psychotherapy practice and get back to work on an earlier dream of his: writing on the subjects of anxiety and self-esteem. He married Patrecia and published The Psychology of Self-Esteem in 1969, despite Ayn's attempts to scare off possible publishers and hold onto the copyright of material he had written earlier in The Objectivist. Nathan continued to write several books on the subject and is now regarded as one of the leading authorities on the subject of self-esteem.
Patrecia died in 1977 in a drowning accident in their pool. Some conspiracy theories were tossed around regarding her death, but the widely accepted cause is complications from her history of epilepsy. She had recently gone off her medication.
Nathaniel Branden is now married to Devers Branden, who runs her own separate practice in Los Angeles. In 1989, he revealed his whole story about his relationship with Ayn Rand in his memoir, Judgment Day. Barbara Branden also published her own account of the situation as part of a larger biography of Ayn Rand, The Passion of Ayn Rand, in 1986. Both were published after Ayn's death.
Nathaniel Branden's books:
- Who is Ayn Rand? (1962)
- The Psychology of Self-Esteem (1969)
- Breaking Free (1970)
- The Disowned Self (1971)
- The Psychology of Romantic Love (1980)
- The Romantic Love Question and Answer Book (1982: co-authored by Devers Branden)
- If You Could Hear What I Cannot Say (1983)
- Honoring the Self (1984)
- To See What I See and Know What I Know (1985)
- How to Raise Your Self-Esteem (1987)
- Judgment Day: My Years With Ayn Rand (1989)
- The Power of Self-Esteem (1992)
- The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem (1994)
- Taking Responsibility: Self-Reliance and the Accountable Life (1996)
- The Art of Living Consciously: The Power of Awareness to Transform Everyday Life (1997)
- Self-Esteem Every Day: Reflections on Self-Esteem and Spirituality (1998)
- Self-Esteem at Work: How Confident People Make Powerful Companies (1998)
- A Woman's Self-Esteem: Struggles and Triumphs in the Search for Identity (1998)
- My Years with Ayn Rand (1999)
My Years with Ayn Rand is a revised edition of Judgment Day. This explanation of the differences between the two versions and the reasons for making the new edition is in Branden's own words, taken from his site at www.nathanielbranden.net:
I wanted to correct some (relatively small) factual errors in the book, such as mistaken dates.
I wanted to correct some misleading implications in a few passages, of which I was unaware at the time of writing.
I wanted to add material that would clarify my motivation as well as that of Barbara Branden and Ayn Rand on a number of issues. I wanted to cut material I had come to regard as superfluous and that slowed down the story. Also, I wanted to eliminate material that caused pain to a few people and that I realized the narrative did not need.
I wanted to present a more benevolent and balanced portrait of certain persons with whom at one time my relationship was adversarial. When I wrote the original work, there was more anger in me than I appreciated; I wanted to eliminate that from the new edition, and I believe I have.
Very importantly, I wanted to include some significant material about Ayn Rand that I regret having cut from the first edition. In conclusion, I wanted the new version to be more positive in its overall emphasis.
Nathaniel Branden's website: http://www.nathanielbranden.net
Barbara Branden's website: http://www.barbarabranden.com/
Judgment Day: My Years With Ayn Rand by Nathaniel Branden
The Daily Objectivist: http://dailyobjectivist.com/index.asp
The Objectivist Center: http://www.objectivistcenter.org/
The Objectivism Reference Center: http://www.objectivism.addr.com/index.html and the Ayn Rand Biographical FAQ: http://www.objectivism.addr.com/bio/biofaq.html