Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Review: Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right
Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right by Jennifer Burns
My rating: 0 of 5 stars
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 [b:The Fountainhead|2122|The Fountainhead|Ayn Rand|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1344618350s/2122.jpg|3331807] and [b:Atlas Shrugged|662|Atlas Shrugged|Ayn Rand|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1358647812s/662.jpg|817219] 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.
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