Monday, March 29, 2010

Goddess of the Market, by Jennifer Burns

Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American RightI just happened to catch an interview on one of the cable channels one afternoon with the author of this book about Ayn Rand, and I thought the interviewer's canned questions were what was making the interview so boring. Then I picked up a copy of the book when it serendipitously appeared at the library, and I'm afraid that, to a certain extent, it's the subject matter and perhaps the fact that it was adapted from Ms. Burns' thesis project that made the book a bit of a snoozer.
I've always been somewhat of an admirer of what is purported to be Ayn Rand's political leanings and pro-Capitalism stance. Unhappily, I discovered through my readings that Rand was not someone whom I could look up to in a personal sense, no matter how brilliant and prescient some of her ideas seem. She was an amoral, manipulative, vindictive and horrible excuse for a human being, so wrapped up in herself and her own "superior" ideas that she had little of value to spare for other human beings.
The most interesting part of this book was the mention of some of the famous people she worked with over the years, as their common goals and paths crossed, such as Alan Greenspan, Goldwater, Reagan, and Milton Friedman. She was so difficult to work with, and so argumentative and intolerant, that none of these relationships seemed to last for any longer than the other person was of use to, or in agreement with, Rand.
There is, however, a lot of information about the events in Rand's own life that motivated her to create The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, and her other less-known works. As a young woman who had grown up during the communist takeover of Russia, and whose rather successful merchant family was basically destroyed by the prejudices against Jews and outright confiscation "for the common good," I can see how she might be mistrustful of altruistic motivations, but there's a great difference between government wealth redistribution and self-motivated charitable activity, which Rand never understood.
Here's a tidbit from the book, about Rand's methods when writing Atlas Shrugged, that some of my writer friends might find interesting. "Perhaps her most effective method was writing to music. She tied specific melodies to different characters, using the music to set the proper mood as she wrote their starring scenes. Rand selected mostly dramatic classical pieces, so that as the plot thickened the music would reach a crescendo."
I struggled to finish this book, but managed to slog my way through to the end. One of the things I consider to be a fatal flaw in a novel is when I find myself not caring in the slightest what happens to the protagonist. It's a pity when I find myself feeling the same way about Ayn Rand, a fellow human being.
There's a lot of interesting information about the origins of the Libertarian Party and their love/hate relationship (at least on Rand's part) with Rand. Did you know that the first woman to ever receive a vote in the electoral college - for vice president - was Libertarian candidate Tonie Nathan? Strangely enough, I just saw an episode of Jeopardy where the proper question to the answer of "first female vice presidential candidate" was "Who is Geraldine Ferraro?" Even the almighty Alex Trebek gets it wrong on occasion.
This book started as a doctoral thesis for Burns, and unfortunately it mostly reads like one. Interesting info, but dryer than a Bond martini.

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