Diana Avery Amsden, Ph.D.





Snowden is a hero.  He committed a public service.  Had he exposed a tax-evader, the Government would have rewarded him with a cut of the loot.  But because he exposed wrongdoing by the Government, it seeks to murder him as a "traitor."  

THOUGHTS ON WRITING            APRIL 10, 2013

"Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing."     Benjamin Franklin

I try to spend my time as carefully as my money.  Time is what life is made of.

A buyer of my book pays money; a reader of my book pays time, a piece of his life. 

Honor, respect for my reader, and ethical integrity require me to give my reader my best in entertainment, reliable information, help, amusement, whatever I led him to expect.

What has my writing done for my reader?

Have I given my reader a pleasant engrossing respite from his daily grind and troubles?

Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Fiction is to grown men what play is to the child.”

When a writer expresses something I have felt but never put into words, I am delighted.  Can I do this for my reader?  Have I given him words he might need in his own life?

If writing nonfiction, have I followed the highest journalism ethics, like fact-checking?   For journalism ethics, see http://dupreyethics.blogspot.com/

In 1555, preacher Hugh Latimer said, "There is a common saying amongst us,"Say the truthe and shame the diuel."  Shakespeare had Hotspur say this in Henry IV, Part I, 1597.

Have I made my reader's world bigger?  Richer?  More interesting?

Has my reader gained a new appreciation for something?

Does my reader now know something he had not known before?  Fiction too can do this.

Can my reader now do something he could not do before?  Fiction too can do this.

Have I given my reader a better understanding of himself and others?

Have I made my reader think?  Given him new insights?  A new perspective? 

Have I aroused his curiosity enough for him independently to go see or do something?

"Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can't, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.                        ~Robert Frost~

A writer is a cook.  Is my dish fresh, tasty and nutritious?  Or is it junk food for the mind?  Have I wasted my reader's time, a piece of his life?


Life is a predicament which precedes death.   Henry James

My goal is to make my characters as conscious and articulate as Antigone and King Creon in Sophocles' tragedy.  They find themselves in situations where they must decide what to do.  Whatever they do, including nothing, will have serious consequences.             

Each sees all the good reasons for each possible choice, and all the predictable results of each.  They clearly express these, and their emotions are almost overwhelming. 

Greek tragedies typically end with a corpse-littered stage, and good reason for each murder and suicide.  The audience feels for, and understands, each major character.

Sophocles' genius in creating such characters and situations is the reason he is still admired, and his plays are still staged two and a half millennia after his death.

Everything is grist for a writer's mill.


Under the Banner of Heaven; A Story of Violent Faith, by Jon Krakauer.  Not the run-of-the-mill formulaic true-crime story.  Krakauer applies a fine mind to the history and philosophic and psychologic context of events.

Lapham's Quarterly, by Lewis Lapham, one of my favorite people.  This genial, wide-ranging, scholarly mind devotes each issue to a topic, revealing its many facets through literature, art, and science from around the world and all through history.  A compendium of prose, poetry, quotes, paintings, sculptures, photos, tables, maps, charts.  This one is a keeper.

The Rape of the Mind; the Psychology of Thought Control, Menticide, and Brainwashing, by Joost A. M. Meerloo, M.D.  A classic study by a man who suffered under Nazis and treated others who had; insights into victims and tyrants.

Across Atlantic Ice; The Origin of America's Clovis Culture, by Dennis J. Stanford of the Smithsonian and Bruce A. Bradley of the University of Exeter, archaeologists with the guts to buck the taboo-ridden, hidebound Anthropology Establishment.  They hypothesize that some ancestors of Native Americans may have made it here from Europe during the Ice Age.  They spent ten years of meticulous research in archaeology, paleontology, palynology, and geology, and await DNA findings.  They make an excellent case.  I am proud to have been Dennis's classmate in Anthropology at UNM.

The Disappearing Spoon and Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements, by Sam Kean.  The oddly-shaped, dull-looking chart in science classrooms turns out to be fascinating.

Demonic Males; Apes and the Origins of Human Violence, by Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson

Cadillac Desert; The American West and its Disappearing Water, by Marc Reisner

Cycle of Fire, by Stephen Pyne.  Marvelous vocabulary.

The Power of Habit, Duhigg, Charles

The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, by Oliver Sacks

People of the Lie, by M. Scott Peck

How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci, by Michael J. Gelb.    He is a marvelous public speaker too.

Lysander Spooner Reader, introduction by George H. Smith

Ecological Design Handbook; Sustainable Strategies for Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Interior Design, and Planning, ed. By Fred A. Stitt.  Well-written and comprehensive, already a collector's item

Dark Rivers of the Heart, by Dean Koontz

Brat Farrar, by Josephine Tey.  A mystery.

Democracy, the God that Failed, by Hans-Hermann Hoppe.  A meticulous analysis of government that reveals why we are in a process of decivilization.

Fall of the Faculty, by Benjamin Ginsberg.  Just as health administrators took over medicine, to the detriment of patients and doctors, so education administrators took over schools, to the detriment of students and faculty.

The Twelve-Year Sentence, ed. William F. Rickenbacker.  Origin of & rationale for compulsory education.

The Law, by Frederick Bastiat.

The Time Paradox; the New Psychology of Time that Will Change Your Life, by Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd.

The Sleepwalkers, by Arthur Koestler.  A  brilliant analysis of the history of the astronomy/philosophy relationship, a profound and insightful book by one of my favorite thinkers.

Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom, by Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath.  Hanson has written several good books.

Black Swan; the Impact of the Highly Improbable, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.  Beware of the use of the curve of normal distribution as a Procrustean bed (grading on the curve is an egregious example).  You are a black swan.

Target Switzerland; Swiss Armed Neutrality in World War II, by Stephen P. Halbrook.  Inspiring story.

Archie and Mehitabel, by Don Marquis, delightful poem about a cat and a cockroach.

Pitiless Parodies and Other Outrageous Verse, by Frank Jacobs

Surviving the Storm, by Richard Skerritt.  Understanding/dealing with a narcissist/sociopath.

Letters from the Earth, by Mark Twain

Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond.

Collapse, by Jared Diamond.

The Scent of Fear, by Margaret Yorke.  An English suspense story by one of my favorite authors.

Treatise on the Gods, by H.L. Mencken.

Economics in One Lesson, by Henry Hazlitt

Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, by Albert Jay Nock.

The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith.  Read all 4 Ripley books about a sociopath.

Life Expectancy, by Dean Koontz.  When Koontz is good, he is very, very good.

Half the Sky, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, about the plight of women around the world.

Miss Pym Disposes, by Josephine Tey, one of my favorite authors.  About altruism and its consequences.

Consciousness Beyond Life, the Science of the Near-Death Experience, Pim van Lommel, M.D.

Cold Vengeance, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, a beautifully structured thriller.

A Dangerous Fortune, by Ken Follett,a favorite author. Fascinating characters, plotting as intricate as Bach.

The Forsaken; an American Tragedy in Stalin's Russia, by Tim Tzouliadis.

The Road More Traveled; Why the Congestion Crisis Matters More than You Think, and What We Can Do about It, by Ted Balaker and Sam Staley.

Travels in Siberia, by Ian Frazier.  If you like Solzhenitsyn's Gulag trilogy and Akira Kurosawa's movie, Dersu Uzala, you will like this.



Riverdance, the Show, starring Michael Flatley.  Irish dance, energizing, makes you smile.

The Duchess, starring Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes, based on a true story.  To be a woman is to be trapped in a body that is weaker, less respected, and vulnerable to rape, impregnation, and childbirth.

Departures, a recent Japanese film with Masahiro Mototi and Tsutomo Yamazaki, director Yoijiro Takita.  The Japanese funeral ritual of okuribito reminds me of ikebana, Japanese flower-arranging, a disciplined focused, reverent art form.

Heaven, a gripping story starring Cate Blanchett in a role that showcases her wide dramatic range.

Agora, starring Rachel Weisz as Hypatia, the brilliant and tragic scholar/scientist who taught in Alexandria; Christians murdered her ~415 AD and destroyed the library, one factor in Western Civilization's descent into the Dark Ages.

Things to Come, with Raymond Massey and Ralph Richardson.  From the story by H.G. Wells

The Proposition, with Kenneth Branagh, Madeleine Stowe, and William Hurt

Surviving Hitler: A Love Story, documentary by a German woman, includes 1940s home movie footage.

Contact, by Carl Sagan and Anne Druyan, starring Jodie Foster.

Cosmos, a masterpiece by one of the best minds of our era, Carl Sagan

Possessed, fine acting by Joan Crawford, by the underappreciated Van Heflin, and Raymond Massey.

Sea of Grass, with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.  Good story, inner and outer conflict, twists.

Shock, with Vincent Price.  A well-told little story, and Price plays an interesting character.

Gods and Monsters.  Fine acting.  Gripping and affecting.

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane.  Jodie Foster carried this film when she was only 14.

Chariots of Fire, with Vangelis' wonderful music

Voice of an Angel, with Charlotte Church

TED Talks:  Doctors on the Cusp

TED Talks:  Capitalism Paradox

TED Talks:  Inexplicable Connections

TED Talks:  Rebel Design

TED Talks:  Artistry and Illusion

TED Talks:  Brave Neuro World

Back to Eden, for inspiration for your gardening, Google this movie about the innovative Gautschi.

An Evening at the Royal Ballet, with Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn.

The Omega Man, with Charlton Heston  One of my favorite movies

The Forsyte Saga, with Damian Lewis as Soames.  Fine acting, gripping story.

Nazi Medicine/The Cross and the Star:  The rationale for the holocaust was the welfare state, from whose point of view there are "useless eaters."  We are in a welfare state, especially with Obamacare.  Is "physician-assisted suicide" the opening wedge, propaganda to ease us into accepting government-sponsored euthanasia?  Will Nazi types be attracted into medicine? 

House of Cards, trilogy with Ian Richardson.  Even better than the American version with Kevin Spacey.

The Man Who Planted Trees, animated, narrated by Christopher Plummer, leaves you feeling good.  

Guilt, with Michael Kitchen.  Well-done British suspense story.

A Perfect Murder, with Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, Viggo Mortensen, David Suchet.  Intricately plotted and well-directed.

Enemy at the Door, Fine British dramatic series about the Nazi occupation of Guernsey.  As in Greek tragedy, the characters are wonderfully aware, rational, and articulate.

The Secret Life of Plants, time-lapse photography.  Wonderful final scene of Stevie Wonder singing in field of sunflowers.  The provocative plant experiments are "quick and dirty," had no controls, and were not double-blind.  I took Backster's course; to my knowledge, neither he nor anyone else ever replicated the results he claimed. 

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, directed by Ang Lee.

Paradise, by Ishu Patel.  I have never seen more exquisite animation.  You can find it online.

Woman of Straw, with Sean Connery, Gina Lollobrigida, and Ralph Richardson.  You never saw Connery behave like this before!

Personal Affair, with Gene Tierney, Leo Genn, and Glynis Johns.

Jane Eyre, directed by Franco Zeffirelli.  Charlotte Gainsbourg, William Hurt, Joan Plowright, Geraldine Chaplin.

Glass House, with Leelee Sobieski and Bruce Dern.  A thriller empowering for teenagers

The Manxman, Hitchcock's last silent film, poignant, well directed.

Jagged Edge, with Glenn Close, Jeff Bridges, Peter Coyote.  Suspense & fine acting.

Mulan, Walt Disney animation, artistic and uplifting.  See the Special Edition with Bonus Material detailing the artistry and technology that went into this masterpiece.

The Sleeping Beauty, ballet with Rudolf Nureyev, Victoria Tennant, and Petipa's choreography that expresses both the spirit and every note of Tchaikovsky's music.

High Noon, with Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly and the unforgettable Do not forsake me oh my darling.

The Hanging Tree, with Gary Cooper and Maria Schell, to me one of the most romantic movies.

Love Letters, with Joseph Cotten and Jennifer Jones, to me one of the most romantic movies.  Written by Ayn Rand.

The Whistleblower, with Rachel Weisz.  I knew the UN is corrupt, but this true story shocked even me.

La Traviata, dir. by Franco Zeffirelli, with Placido Domingo and Teresa Stratas.  A visual feast, magnificent voices, joyous dancing, an emotional workout.

Tucker, the Man and His Dream, with Jeff Bridges.  Each dollar you spend is a vote for your values.  Since I learned about Tucker, I have not bought a car made by the Big Three.  In more recent years, I transferred all my business from bail-out banks to better-run banks. 

The Uninvited, with Ray Milland and Gail Russell, my favorite ghost movie because it leaves the most to the imagination.

Shadow of a Doubt, with Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright

Quigley Down Under, with Tom Selleck.

Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister, British political satire, brilliant dialogue by Antony Jay & Jonathan Lynn.

Dr. Zhivago, with Omar Sharif and Julie Christie.

I Claudius, about ancient Rome, with Derek Jacobi and Sian Phillips.

The Wrong Box, a delightful comedy with the young Michael Caine.

The Fallen Idol, with Ralph Richardson, by Carol Reed from a Grahame Greene story.  Poignant.

Ayn Rand, a Sense of Life, a detailed account of her life, with fascinating photos and film footage.

China Inside Out, by Bob Woodruff

A Lonely Place, a fine film noir with Humphrey Bogart.

The Ruling Class, with Peter O'Toole in a virtuoso dual role. 

Bedazzled, with Peter Cook, Peter Sellers, and Dudley Moore.  One of the funniest movies ever made.

Passion of Joan of Arc, Carl Dreyer's silent film is so intense that sound would lessen its impact. 



I recommend a book or movie because, assuming it fits your taste and mood, it meets three criteria:

1.  A person with limited discretionary income might find it worth the price.

2.  A person with little time left might find the hours required to be worth it.

3.  It is worth experiencing twice.

When a book is made into a movie, if possible read the book before seeing the movie.  Your own images are nearly always superior to what the filmmaker has been able to create with the available actors, funds, technology, imagination.


In the 1970s, I made the Winged Victory my symbol for how I want to face life.  Over two millennia old and mutilated, she nevertheless strides forward, her magnificent spirit undaunted.  An unknown Hellenistic Greek sculptor created her of Parian marble in 220-190 B.C.   Over 10 feet (3 meters) tall, she stands dramatically at the head of the Daru staircase in the  Louvre.  A few fragments of her missing arms have since been found, including a hand raised in epiphanic greeting.

Interview with Diana

Diana was home-schooled half the time before college, a high-school cheerleader, began college at 15, graduated at 19 with highest honors, and earned six degrees, including one from Harvard.  Her major interests have been anthropology, archaeology, architecture, and art history ("It sounds as if I didn't get as far as 'astronomy' in the course catalog"). 

Born into a family of archaeologists and anthropologists, Diana was taken on her first dig at age one month.  Her father, Theodore ('Ted) Price Amsden, was the expedition artist for Harold Gladwin at Casa Grande and A.V. Kidder’s classic dig at Pecos.  Her uncle, Monroe Amsden, was with the Morrises at the Temple of the Warriors at Chichén Itzá and wrote on the Riana Ruin.  Her uncle, Charles Avery Amsden, was Curator of the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles and wrote the classic Navaho Weaving.  Her cousin, Charles W. Amsden, was an anthropology professor in Canada and Australia.  Diana participated in digs in most cultures of the Southwest. 

She discovered a fraud in anthropology.  If she was mistaken, she wanted to know it right away, so she presented her findings at the well-publicized, well-attended Symposium on Culture Theory at the American Anthropological Association annual meetings in Toronto.  No one brought to her attention a flaw in her reasoning, so she chose this topic for her  Ph.D. dissertation.  Entitled Piltdown II, it refutes a theory of cultural evolution ostensibly based on physics.  Her point-by-point analysis demonstrates the database to be irrelevant, pertinent data omitted, every premise false, and every argument a fallacy.  ("I thank Philosophy Professor Emeritus Howard N. Tuttle, former chairman of the UNM Philosophy Dept., and Physics Professor Emeritus Victor H. Regener, former chairman of the UNM Physics and Astronomy Dept., for their intellectual support.  I am grateful to  Professor Frank C. Hibben of the Anthropology Dept for chairing my committee and seeing me through, and Professor Richard Anderson for serving on my committee)." 

On the ETS test of Architectural Aptitude, Diana scored higher than 99% of 18,921 candidates, a fact that architecture professors attempted to hide from her (the ETS reported scores to architecture schools only).  She designed four adobe homes in New Mexico ("Design is a passion; I lose all sense of time").  Her dream is live in an adobe family compound of her design with some of her multitudinous descendants. ("My favorite of my unbuilt designs is the Temple of the Human Mind, a park containing an array of unusual structures.")

Diana served on a university faculty and was a corporate vice-president.  As Research Anthropologist for Falcon R&D (Whittaker Corp.), she worked on a comprehensive education/housing/medical plan for the Shah of Iran ("unfortunately, what Iranians considered a finder's fee, Uncle Sam considered a bribe").  She did research for the television series, Quincy, M.E. ("the best job I ever had; bright, competent, warm people who cared about scientific accuracy").  She is a member of the International Society for Philosophical Enquiry.

After her father's death, to let Nature heal her, she hiked 300 miles alone on the Appalachian Trail, from the Shenandoah Park in Virginia to near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania ("No, I wasn't afraid.  Criminal types don't go in for hiking, and hiking types don't go in for crime; they rarely even litter.  Besides, every morning I sprayed myself liberally with Repel"). 

She is a writer ("I find writing demanding and satisfying").   She began as a ghostwriter for a scientist ("I am ashamed and would not do it now because ghostwriting is a lie"), published scholarly and popular articles, and edited books.  Although she never wrote a romance, she was invited to speak at a Romance Writers’ conference in Albuquerque.  She wrote a biography for hire, poetry, a novel (almost sold, but the publisher had already bought a multigenerational family saga), and four feature filmscripts (unproduced)

She is revising her novel, working title:  The Stained Glass Woman: a Tale of the Amish, the Arts, Ayn Rand, Family Abuse, Harvard, Medical Malpractice, Money, Sociopaths, and Twins Reared Apart.  She is preparing to publish several e-books: Cataclysm (a futuristic apocalyptic story), Ask and Ye Shall Receive (a satire in which God and the Devil are female), The Virtual James Mason (a love story based on the Flying Dutchman legend), The Wagon Train Master (a western inspired by the Donner tragedy), Vanished (a disaster story), short stories, and poems.

She can be reached at ionian@cox.net.

She collects arts and crafts copper, brass, and aluminum alloy ware hallmarked "WMC" (see platter behind the Winged Victory in the above photo). 


Diana's Platform for Writing about Ayn Rand

Diana discovered Ayn Rand by accident in 1969, and was one of the founders and faculty advisor of the University of New Mexico Students of Objectivism Club.

Club members attended the first Libertarian Party convention in Denver in 1972.   After listening to a discussion of school vouchers, she said, "You mean, good teachers are for vouchers because they are smart, and poor teachers are against them because they are stupid? . . . This was apparently why someone nominated me for vice president of the United States.  Alarmed and instinctively shrinking from the prospect of media intrusiveness (I am a private person and don't like talking about myself), I begged the delegates to vote for the other candidate."   Only recently did it dawn on her that John Galt refused political power even under torture!

She was the first LP National Secretary and first New Mexico State Chairman. Six months later she left the LP because she concluded that the only way to achieve anything in politics is to compromise, that is, to sell out your reasons for being involved in the first place.  Worse, the political process seems to be ratcheted:  ("Plato and Aristotle knew democracy devolves into tyranny.  Our system rewards some behaviors, punishes others.  Our consequent actions have a feedback effect, rendering the system ever more tyrannical.  I think running candidates is counterproductive because it splits the vote, potentially catapulting the less desirable of the opponents into office.  I don't think any of us foresaw that predictable possibility.  I have sought solutions to these problems, in vain.")

In the 1970s, Diana twice heard Ayn Rand speak at the Ford Hall Forum in Boston and attended a luncheon in her honor.

In 1983 she compiled "An Index to Ayn Rand's 'Atlas Shrugged.'"  It was formerly listed on ebay (see blue book below) and the last few copies may be available from Jim Peron (www.fr33minds.com).

Also in 1983, she wrote a pamphlet, "Some Observations on Ayn Rand and Her Work," describing meeting Ayn Rand at a luncheon in her honor at the Ford Hall Forum in 1977.  ("Ayn Rand told me the name of the woman she most admired.")

Diana has written a sequel, "More Observations on Ayn Rand and Her Work."  "I thank Jennifer Burns for 'Goddess of the Market; Ayn Rand and the American Right'' and Anne C. Heller for 'Ayn Rand and the World She Made.'  These two meticulously researched biographies drew on different sources and are written from different standpoints.  Both were invaluable to me."  She may make this available as an ebook.

About 1998, she started the Ayn Rand Salon, which met at the La Jolla Public Library, but could not recapture the UNM experience.  Eventually she let the salon members take it over, and it continued for a number of years. 


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