A Profile by Kira Peikoff
“I wrote this profile as the first assignment for a journalism class I took called ‘The Interview.’ The assignment was to interview a family member. I chose my dad because the fact that he is writing his book is a timely news hook–and because he’s not quite your typical father.” –Kira Peikoff
For many young men, the ranks of personal heroes include sports champions, movie stars and rock singers.
Not for philosopher Leonard Peikoff, now 72.
Already a deep thinker at 17 years old, Peikoff reached a turning point in his young life when he first met his own hero, famed author Ayn Rand, in 1951. Philosophical questions swarmed his eager mind as they sat down in a small group to chat, but her daunting presence rendered him silent. Rand could tell he was nervous, and tried to ease him into conversation through small talk.
“I was thinking to myself, the time is passing and this is the only time I’m ever going to get to talk to her,” Peikoff recently recalled, “so I waited for the first pause, less than two minutes, turned to Ayn and said, `Well, let’s get down to business.’”
And that is exactly what he and Rand did for the next 30 years.
As Rand’s protégé, Peikoff absorbed every detail of her philosophy, Objectivism, and wrote two books applying and explaining her ideas of reason, individualism and the pursuit of rational self-interest. But today, Peikoff is working on his own masterpiece, the book that he hopes will earn him an independent spot in the textbooks.
In the book titled The DIM Hypothesis, Peikoff outlines his own theory about the classification of ideas in Western Civilization. He gives three possibilities of trends in thought– disintegration, integration and misintegration, thus DIM. The first is essentially skepticism, the second rationality, and the third religion. In each chapter, he applies the three trends consistently in different fields, including literature, history, physics, education and politics.
Today, Peikoff is on chapter seven out of 12, and though writing can be grueling, the theory “has held up even better than I expected,” he said. He writes four hours a day, four times a week, and spends the rest of his time working out with his trainer, managing Rand’s estate, and learning jazz piano.
It took him half a century to gain the knowledge for his current project. Born in 1933 in Winnipeg, Canada, Peikoff was on the path to becoming a doctor like his father until he met Rand. Then he moved to New York City at age 19 to attend NYU and learn directly from her. He spent the next few decades getting his doctorate in philosophy, teaching at several universities, lecturing and writing.
After Rand’s death in 1982, Peikoff became the heir to her estate. Several years later, he moved to Southern California with then-wife Cynthia and wrote his second book while raising his only child Kira, 20.
It’s Peikoff’s intense purpose–to understand, explore and explain ideas–that has kept him looking years younger, with deep hazel eyes and black hair, the creases in his face just a testament to his wisdom.
And his purpose has shown no signs of waning. When he found out he didn’t know enough about the history of physics to write that chapter of DIM, he enlisted the private teaching of his one-time student Dave Harriman, a physics expert.
“I think it would have been intimidating to most people to try and learn a really difficult, complex subject in your 60s but Leonard just threw himself into it,” Harriman said with a laugh. “That kind of passion that he has for his work–I’ve never really experienced that with anyone else.”
The book, which will be published by Penguin in 2009 or 2010, will be the culmination of Peikoff’s life work.
“Personally, I have to tell you that it will be a tremendous satisfaction for one reason–I don’t know if you want to print this–but this is the first book that I’ve ever written that I did not learn anything from other people,” Peikoff said. “It’s entirely my ideas–not from teachers, reading or Ayn.” He paused–perhaps an homage to the past and a nod to the future. “It gives me a great sense of pride that I was finally able to do it.”
A statement by Dr. Peikoff in 2010: I am proud to congratulate my daughter on the completion of LIVING PROOF, her first novel; its theme is religion versus human life. After long effort, Kira found a literary agent and has now been signed by TOR, a respected New York publisher. The novel was published in 2012.