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Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right (2009)

de Jennifer Burns

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259680,300 (3.59)5
Drawing on unprecedented access to Rand's private papers and the original, unedited versions of Rand's journals, Jennifer Burns offers a groundbreaking reassessment of this key cultural figure, examining her life, her ideas, and her impact on conservative political thought.
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Es mostren 1-5 de 6 (següent | mostra-les totes)
Impartial and illuminating ( )
  nicdevera | Oct 1, 2020 |
I really didn't know a whole lot about Ayn Rand. I read [b:Atlas Shrugged|662|Atlas Shrugged|Ayn Rand||817219] about 15 years ago and liked the overall idea presented, although I thought it was way too long and heavy handed.
So, I saw this one come through the library one day and remembered that I had seen the author discuss the book with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show awhile back.
This is a pretty thorough book. Burns went to a great deal of research and has extensive notes and sources, including an essay on the reliability of the sources themselves (some of the works written about Rand after her death by her followers are shown to have tweaked and edited source material). The best part is, it is extremely balanced toward Ms. Rand.
She essentially "escaped" Communist Russia in the mid-1920's after the Bolshevik's completed their revolution and Rand's father went from successful businessman to poverty. Having seen the effects of Communism firsthand, no one could begrudge her the intense hatred she had toward the system. And so, as she adjusted to life in the U.S., it is no surprise that she should be hyper-vigilant to the growing interest in Communism that she saw in her new home country.
I completely agree with her on many things, largely economic issues and government involvement in people's lives, but unfortunately, Ms. Rand wasn't satisfied with simply being a loud voice against big government (largely in response to the overreaching tentacles of FDR's "New Deal"). No, Rand wanted to essentially be some sort of philosophical guru.
Her creation was Objectivism, a philosophy intended to show people the best way to live. Emotion was something to be overruled and replaced by logic (Hmmmmm... are Vulcans Objectivists?). There's a lot of other stuff to it, but if you don't know then I suggest you read the book.
At any rate, as her movement gained steam and more people flocked to her, she became power hungry and despotic... pretty much she acted the opposite of what taught. She ended up alienating nearly everyone she ever met and went from admired to tolerated by all but her staunchest supporters. And her critics despised her. Although, in fairness, she despised her critics and often despised people that still cited her as a positive influence.
And there was no political faction that she didn't find fault with. Obviously, she had nothing nice to say about the Liberals. But she couldn't stand the Republicans due to the increasing influence of Christianity (Rand was an atheist). She found the Libertarians, a group she indirectly helped create, a nuisance at best. Anarchists were just ridiculous.
In the end, she resembled L. Ron Hubbard more than a serious thinker. She was a Draconian in how Objectivism was to be used and any student (She and her small inner circle were the only Objectivists... all others were students of Objectivism) that attempted to start they're own little branch (i.e. school clubs, local newsletters, etc) were told in no uncertain terms that they were not allowed.
Simply put, she was a complex person who had some fascinating ideas but fell victim to her own hubris, insecurities, and intellectual shortcomings. ( )
1 vota RottenArsenal | Jul 28, 2014 |
It can't be easy trying to write an objective biography of the 'founder' of objectivism, in part because it's like writing an objective biography of Marx: no matter how good it is, not matter how objective, at least half of its readers will hate it, because they take 'objective' to mean 'with no independent judgement, in either direction.' Damned if you damn, damned if you don't damn, damned if you deify.

But Burns does a great job. The early chapters are a bit dull, but then I find the opening chapters of every biography dull: they inevitably go into too much detail (because the author spent a lot of time researching these microfacts that nobody cares about, and reasonably enough wants to put them to *some* use), but once Rand gets to Hollywood things really pick up. Burns shows how Rand's ideas developed, debunks some of the myths, does a fantastic job showing how she was mixed up in the resurgence of 'American' conservatism in the post-war U.S., and deals sensitively with the idiocies of Rand's later, messianic phase.

As a special pleasure, she regularly pulls out gems like this: an editor "advised Rand to prune all unnecessary adjectives, a change that would have gutted the novel. Rand did, however, find some of her suggestions useful." This is simple, objective reporting--the editor suggested the superfluous adjectives be removed, Rand thought that would gut the novel. But the irony is delicious. These moments are rare, and Burns mostly keeps a straight face, but she picks her spots well. ( )
1 vota stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
It's a unique experience to read a biography about a person whom one knows of only distantly, and for whom one has little sympathy. Reading Goddess of the Market didn't change my thinking or feeling about Ayn Rand, but it did make me more acutely aware what those thoughts and feelings are.

I read both [The Fountainhead] and [Atlas Shrugged] in my early 20s. I remember them mostly for the mechanical click of the prose and for thinking, at the end of Atlas Shrugged that whatever premise Rand had been pursuing, she counteracted it with her choice of ending. I think I was reacting to the hate and anger that underpin the novel, themes I didn't consciously recall but which, in Burns's analysis of the book, I now see quite clearly. I'm planning on rereading them both.

As far as Rand's philosophical and political ideas, yeah, a lot of people really feel strongly about them one way or another. I don't agree with a lot of them because I don't agree with the basic assumptions upon which they are based, and I think they skip over or simply deny a good many other ideas that have more traction and durability, and can be better demonstrated through rational, scientific means. But that's neither here nor there, as I was never one of the converts. I read those two books and moved on. They didn't rock my world. Rand died while I was still in high school (within a month of my own mother's death, now that I think back on it) and she wasn't even a topic of conversation among my peers.

But there's no arguing that she has influences that affected my life. Learning about her as a person, as Burns is careful to do in this book, gives me a little more sympathy for her but also reduces any chances I had to really respect her. The weaknesses and flaws she had are particular ones I find most distasteful and work hardest to eradicate in myself -- a lack of self-awareness, a reluctance or inability to connect her thoughts, beliefs, and reactions to the particularity of her origins, and most especially her arrogance in insisting her ideas had sprung up, new and whole, independent of any influence. That she was also scarred, insecure, and seeking love, support, and acceptance, that she was amazingly strong and intelligent, that she was human -- those made it possible to read this book about her life without rejecting it from the first.

As a book, Jennifer Burns has written a very engaging, interesting, and intriguing recount and analysis. I admit, I had to hit the dictionary a few times (I love adding new words to my vocabulary) and yet she didn't talk down to her reader. It felt even handed and even mostly neutral, although I may have just not heard any note of bias in either direction because of my own stance.

In general, I enjoyed it and it has given me some new fodder for thought. ( )
  Murphy-Jacobs | Mar 30, 2013 |
If you’d like to understand more about the intellectual, psychological and ideological history and beliefs of modern right-wing free market capitalists, this is an excellent read. Rand was a touchstone for quite an array of conservative and libertarian movements, starting with her anti-New Deal stances back when that was a huge minority opinion, to her death during the Reagan Administration. I’ve long been curious about why she has such appeal, but I could never wade through one of her romantic tomes (she’s selling more books than ever since the 2008 meltdown fallout). I get it now. I just need to better understand the major area Rand was radically against: how free market capitalists combine Christianity with their beliefs. Rand, an atheist, argued free market capitalism on the basis of natural rights and individual freedom and a right-to-selfishness. Which is consistent with free market capitalism. But Christianity? In any event, Rand had an eventful and interesting life, and the author does a good job of analyzing her life and influence with a fair degree of impartiality. Rand provokes you to sharpen your arguments for or against the critical issues that continue to shape our society. The New Deal vs Free Market debate isn’t going away anytime soon. ( )
  Carl_Hayes | Mar 30, 2013 |
Es mostren 1-5 de 6 (següent | mostra-les totes)
So how did this little Russian bomb of pure immorality in a black wig become an American icon?

Two new biographies of Rand—Goddess of the Market by Jennifer Burns and Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne Heller—try to puzzle out this question, showing how her arguments found an echo in the darkest corners of American political life. But the books work best, for me, on a level I didn't expect. They are thrilling psychological portraits of a horribly damaged woman who deserves the one thing she spent her life raging against: compassion.
afegit per Shortride | editaSlate, Johann Hari (Nov 2, 2009)
Excellent... leans more heavily on Rand's theories and politics.
afegit per Shortride | editaTime, Andrea Sachs (Oct 12, 2009)
[A]lthough, in the 21st century, it may be too much to expect an academic biography that “canonizes” Rand, it is reasonable to hope for a portrayal that steers clear of vulgarization. Unfortunately, those who have such expectations will be disappointed.
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Drawing on unprecedented access to Rand's private papers and the original, unedited versions of Rand's journals, Jennifer Burns offers a groundbreaking reassessment of this key cultural figure, examining her life, her ideas, and her impact on conservative political thought.

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