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Showing 1-10 of 52 reviews(verified purchases). Show all reviews
on August 3, 2010
I just finished reading this book; i could not put it down. however that may be because AR and Objectivism played such a big part in my life at a very important time in my life and this is the first book i have read that seems to actually be 'objective' about AR and her followers.

with my then-husband, we operated and ran the los angeles chapter of NBI in the 60's. when the 'break' with the brandon's occurred, we were astonished to find that unless we 'sided' with AR, we were excommunicated (their words). we refused to side with anyone. after that we were not even allowed to subscribe to the publications of AR and her cohorts. it was truly heartbreaking; we were being asked to take sides without knowing anything about anything except that AR had denounced NB. we could not do that, and so we were kicked out of an organization that we had been steadfastly loyal to for a number of years.

that is not to say that NB was such a saint either; he did his share of humiliating and abusing those who he felt were 'less' than he; even to the point of admitting to us one day that yes, he and AR did believe, as did Nietszche, that there were those who were 'more deserving' than others; more worthy of life, more elite. they believed in a hierarchy which allocated a special level of entitlement. AR and NB being a part of, if not THE, hierarchy of course. this said while sprawled on our sofa, chewing on radishes. he could be a charmer, but he could be a SOB just as easily.

by then, i was heading out the door and out of the realm of objectivism. i learned a lot from both AR and NB (i truly liked barbara and found her to be a classy, warm woman who did not need to intimidate and humiliate others in order to feel good about herself). they were my education and taught me how to think --- for myself. i had to pull away from them because they were poison to a young person trying to find her way in the world. i felt that my very soul was in danger of being completely sabotaged. it was their way or 'the highway' --- meaning: you were irrational, unethical, immoral --- not worthy of existing. on the other hand, they also gave me the greatest tools in the world --- how to think about thinking. how to approach ideas in a rational manner. and how to NOT let myself ever, ever, ever again be dragged into a cult such as objectivism had become.

AR was a brilliant, angry, disturbed, troubled woman. i loved her and loathed her. most especially, i loathed 'the movement' and all that it represented. a great example: one time i had worked for NB doing secretarial services for him (after the break) in l.a. i had typed up a letter he dictated, signed the letter (he was out of town) and mailed it. he came to our house the following saturday morning when my husband and i were having breakfast and still in our robes. he sat down, had coffee and then expressed his extreme displeasure with me. "You used an exclamation point in the letter!" he practically screamed at me. "What?" I responded, stunned and confused. "You used an exclamation point! Do you know what an exclamation point is?" "Well, it signifies an important statement, one that is strongly felt." "It's a scream!" he barked at me. "And that tells me something about YOUR psycho-epistomology."

I looked at him like he was crazy. (i actually thought he was.) "But you said you had never been so happy in your entire life. i thought it was deserving of an exclamation point." i said. "it was a strong statement and it was about your feelings and it was an exclamation." he went on to state that he was horrified and embarrassed beyond belief that that letter was sent with that piece of punctuation in it. that was when i realized, fully and clearly, as if a light went on in my head, that he and AR and everyone around them, were so full of their own self-worth (actually so full of crap) that they had lost sight of everything rational. that was when i became not only an ex-objectivist, but practically an anti-objectivist. i let NB know what i thought of his opinion and especially his nerve in blustering his way into our apartment only to insult me, while drinking my coffee (feel free to laugh). (i made really good coffee...smiles...) a few days later he apologized to me, but by then, i didn't care what he thought.

i have no doubt that both BB and NB have changed considerably in their methods of dealing with people since 'those days.' but nowhere near as much as I have. i threw off the yoke, the heavy burden, of trying to conform to all of the guidelines of objectivism and finally became my own, my authentic self.

i highly recommend this book for those who have read AR's books and especially those who were involved with Objectivism in the 60's. it kind of puts things in place and doesn't take sides or kneel down in abject adoration of its subject. it's a refreshing and clean read. and it helped me with a lot of my sad feelings about 'that time' in my life. Jan Richman Schulman (prev in l.a.: Jan Crosby)
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on October 15, 2009
For the first time, a book on Ayn Rand has been published which does not come from the Objectivist inner circle; which is of general interest; and which is written by an impartial scholar.

The book marshalls a remarkable amount of information: Professor Burns has consulted 18 collections at 10 archives - and was given access to the Ayn Rand Archives themselves. She has read, audited, or conducted 89 interviews. She also cites more than 200 books in her bibliography, and there are 48 pages of footnotes for those who want to know the exact sources for her information. The book examines Ayn Rand's work and ideas closely; but it also traces their many connections with and influences upon America's political and cultural right wing. If scholars who come after her wish to be taken seriously, they will really have to do their homework - as she has.

Burns is a historian, not a philosopher - and she approaches Rand from a historian's viewpoint. As a historian, she shows the influence that Rand's ideas have had on the right wing of American politics; but - also as a historian - she shows how Rand's personality and character affected the way that message was received. If you disregard either the person or the ideas, you're not writing good history. Burns gives full attention to both aspects of her subject in this book.

Still more importantly, what this book gives back to Ayn Rand is context. Many Objectivists have withdrawn into a self-referential, self-ghettoizing circle where every word of Ayn Rand is viewed as inerrant and one takes note of cultural or intellectual trends in the wider world only in order to express one's contempt for it all. Many people attribute the same sort of intellectual solipsism to Rand - and during the last ten years of her life, this may not have been that far from the truth. But in the period up to 1970, Burns does an excellent job of documenting Rand's connections with many, many people on America's intellectual and political right wing. The connections weren't always friendly; but they were there. At the end of this book, a reader will understand how Ayn Rand fits into the story of America's culture and politics between 1930 and the present - and will understand this far better than he or she did at the book's beginning. It's an impressive achievement.

No review of this book, however, would be complete without commenting on Burns's "Essay on Sources". This is the part of any book that many readers don't bother with. That would be a real mistake this time. For Burns makes it clear in her Essay that the majority of the books published posthumously under Ayn Rand's name have been edited - changed, smoothed over and sanitized - without any indication within the texts themselves that such changes have happened.

The "Journals of Ayn Rand" comes in for especially heavy criticism. Chris Sciabarra raised concerns ten years ago about possible tampering with the texts of Ayn Rand's journals. He has been proven right, and with a vengeance. Burns reports that "On nearly every page of the published journals, an unacknowledged change has been made from Rand's original writing." She notes that in many cases, the editing "serves to signficantly alter Rand's meaning." She observes: "Even more alarming are the sentences and proper names present in Rand's originals that have vanished entirely without any ellipses or brackets to indicate a change."

Professor Burns concludes: "The 'Journals of Ayn Rand' are thus best understood as an interpretation of Rand rather than her own writing. Scholars must use these materials with extreme caution. They serve as a useful introduction to Rand's development and a guide to the available archival material, but they should not be accepted at face value." She adds that "Similar problems plague 'Ayn Rand Answers' (2005), 'The Art of Fiction' (2000), 'The Art of Non-Fiction' (2001), and 'Objectively Speaking' (2009). These books are derived from archival materials but have been significantly rewritten." Coming from a scholar, a more damning indictment could hardly be imagined.

It may well be that those who issued these books convinced themselves that they were acting in the best interests of Rand and her intellectual legacy: after all, English was not Rand's first language and Burns notes that there are awkward phrasings throughout the unedited journals. But as Rand herself never tired of pointing out, faking reality is in no one's best interest. What we have here is a major failure of stewardship on the part of those entrusted with Ayn Rand's literary estate.

So far, at many of the most militant Objectivist websites, there has been virtually no response to any of this. The silence is deafening. That's pretty depressing. Make no mistake about it: an editor who handled Thoreau's journals or Melville's journals the way Rand's journals have been handled would be committing professional suicide. At many universities or research institutions, he or she would risk dismissal. This is a Very Big Deal.

One of the more encouraging things reported by Burns is the professionalism and dedication to truth of those now working at the Ayn Rand Archives. That is a positive sign. It may mean that at some point in future we will have a complete, uncensored, scholarly edition of Ayn Rand's journals. But for now, those who edited five or more of Rand's posthumously published works will have to face the fact that the credibility of these books has been fatally compromised.
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on March 11, 2010
There are so many good reviews for this that instead of adding another "I loved it" review I will tell you an anecdote. -- I read the first chapter of this book on Amazon. It sounded great, well-written, balanced and interesting so I preordered it. Before I started reading it, however, I found The Ayn Rand Forum on the Internet. I signed up for it. Later that day I received a e-mail saying that this was a private fan club and in order to keep out spammers, I had to tell her about myself and why I wanted to register. -- So I told her I was looking to learn about Rand. I said I had read about 100 pages of "Atlas Shrugged" and had some issues with it. I also said I wanted to read a biography (I didn't say which one.) She promptly e-mailed me back saying the website was a closed website for fans only, and at the moment she could not approve me for membership. But she did have some interesting advice. -- Don't read biographies by Burns (who was the better of the two, but clueless) and Heller (I think that was the name). She knew Ayn Rand personally and she was not the Bitch (Her word) they made her out to be. The bios were both "no damn good." I should read an authorized bio by an Objectivist. Red flags, red flags. I, of course, read the Burns book and enjoyed it. Burns bent over backwards to be fair. I recommend it highly.
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on November 14, 2009
There are few figures in the American libertarian movement that gave rise to as much controversy or passion as Ayn Rand. Love her or hate her, it's hard to find a libertarian who doesn't have an opinion about the author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. For many of us, she was the one who lit the spark that sent us down the road toward becoming a libertarian. Even after her death, some still consider themselves hard-core Objectivists in the model of those who gravitated around the Nathanial Branden Institute in the 1960s. For most libertarians, though, while Rand is arguably the most influential moral philosopher, she is also someone who's flaws, both personal and philosophical have been acknowledged, debated, and argued about for decades.

There's always been a missing piece of the puzzle, though, and that was that nobody had really undertaken a full-scale intellectual biography of someone who, even today, can sell 200,000 copies a year of her 1,000+ page magnum opus. There were personal biographies by Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Branden, but those both seemed to concentrate on the more lurid details of Rand's personal life and the circumstances behind the 1968 Objectivist Purge. The heirs of Rand's estate, meanwhile, have guarded her papers closely in an obvious effort to protect her legacy and reputation. Someone wanting to learn more about Rand's life, the development of her ideas, and her impact on American politics, had almost nowhere to go that wasn't totally biased in one direction or the other.

That's why Jennifer Burns' Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right is so welcome.

Instead of dwelling on the lurid aspects of Rand's affair with Nathaniel Branden, and without taking sides regarding the many controversies that followed Rand in years after Atlas Shrugged was published, Burns provides a thorough, well-written and well-researched survey of how Ayn Rand went from Alisa Rosenbaum of St. Petersburg, Russia, born just as Czarist Russia was beginning it's decent into chaos, to Ayn Rand, the woman about whom more than one person has said "she changed my life."

For people versed in the history of libertarian ideas, the most interest parts of the book will probably be Burns's documentation of Rand's interaction with the heavyweights of both the Pre World War II Right and the conservative/libertarian movement that began to take shape after the war ended. She corresponded with Albert Jay Nock and H.L. Mencken and, most interestingly, developed a very close personal and intellectual relationship with Isabel Patterson, best known as the author of The God of the Machine. For years, especially during the time that Rand was writing The Fountainhead, Rand and Paterson exchanged ideas and debated philosophy, and it's clear that they both contributed to the others ideas.

The Rand-Paterson relationship, though, also foreshadowed something that would happen all too frequently later in Rand's career, the purge. Paterson was among the first libertarian-oriented writers to experience Rand's wrath for the perception that she was not sufficiently orthodox. Over time, that would continue to the point where, at it's height, Objectivism displayed a level of orthodoxy and denunciation of perceived heresy that rivaled the religions that it rejected. It was, in the end, the reason why the movement's downfalls was largely inevitable.

Burns also goes into great detail discussing the process and the ordeal that Rand went through while writing both of her great novels. After reading that part, one marvels at the fact that she even survived.

In the final chapter, Burns shows that, even though Rand herself had flaws that led to the demise of Objectivism as a formal movement, her ideas have a staying power that has permeated throughout the conservative and libertarian movements in the United States. There is hardly a libertarian in the United States who has not read at least one of Rand's books and, it's clear that her ideas have taken hold in a way that she probably never expected and definitely would not have approved of. That, however, is the power of ideas, the creator can't control what people do with them once they're out there.

Burns does a wonderful job of filling in the missing pieces about Rand's life and her place in the wider context of the political and social history of Post World War II America. Whether you love or hate Ayn Rand - and I don't think you can have no opinion about her once exposed to her idea - this is a truly fascinating book.
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on June 21, 2011
I read the book because I was curious about Ayn Rand and I did not want to read her fiction. The book is well-written and entertaining. The author allows Rand through her actual journals and correspondence to be revealed as a charismatic but unpleasant person who provides ideas that justify self-centered anti-altruistic existance. She was an anti-Communist just when some in this country were terrified of Communism. She came on the scene as a brilliant and charismatic Russian emmigrant who was at the right place at the right time. In her YouTube interviews, she insisted that her ideas were unique and important; however, as a mother, I recognize her ideas as the same as all my children when they were about six months old. Rand believed she was the center of the world and she would not tolerate any discussion that did not concede her superiority in all matters. The book is worth reading simply because Rand should be seen as she was and not as the icon she is sometimes made to be.
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on October 28, 2009
As someone who is well versed in Rand's ideas and the philosophy of Objectivism I found this book to be exactly what I was hoping for - a scholarly, objective (no pun intended), and well-researched historical examination of Rand, her life, and her influence on 20th century American politics. As I had hoped, this is NOT a book on Objectivism. Rather, it is precisely what has been missing from the body of work on Rand. For anyone who has sought (but been unable to find) more about Rand's life, how she came to this country, the people and events that helped shape her ideas, what drove her, and the intellectual and political context in which she existed, Burns' book delivers. I found Goddess of the Market to be enlightening, thoroughly enjoyable to read, and well worth my time.

I notice that some reviews posted here criticize the book's lack of in-depth analysis of Objectivism. I think those readers miss the point of the book, wishing that it was something it was never intended to be. My bookshelf has plenty on the philosophy of Objectivism. Missing was a factual and historic examination of the person and her movement. If you want to understand Objectivism, read Rand, but if you want to understand Rand, her life, and her impact on American history, read this book.
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on September 25, 2009
Ayn Rand (1905-1982) was a pivotal figure in the modern libertarian movement. What is most interesting is that her influence was also great on the conservative movement, notwithstanding her atheism and secularism. Jennifer Burns, a professor of history at the University of Virginia, has written an outstanding intellectual biography of Rand, one that focuses on Rand's political theories and activism.

As anyone who has been following the buzz about this book knows, Prof. Burns (who is not an Objectivist) was granted almost complete access to material at the Ayn Rand Archives, which is associated with the Ayn Rand Institute. There has always been a bit of controversy about the Archives. Questions have been raised about the accuracy of the material released (such as the Journals). Prof. Burns was able to compare published versions with the originals. The suspicions raised by scholars such as Chris Sciabarra were fully justified, in particular with respect to the published version of Rand's journals. As Prof. Burns writes, "On nearly every page of the published journals an unacknowledged change has been made from Rand's original writing. In the book's foreword the editor, David Harriman, defends his practice of eliminating Rand's words and inserting his own as necessary for greater clarity. In many case, however, his editing serves to significantly alter Rand's meaning." She adds, "similar problems plague Ayn Rand Answers (2005), The Art of Fiction (2000), The Art of Non-Fiction (2001), and Objectively Speaking (2009)."

Rand said, contrary to evidence that Prof. Burns has produced, she developed her philosophy at age two and one-half and it remained essentially the same. The historical record has been rewritten to accord with Rand's self-mythologizing. (This is not cast aspersions on the current archivists, who are very much aware of - and upset at - the jiggery pokery sanctioned by Rand's estate.)

Given the rewriting of the historical record by Rand's estate, what does that say about the accuracy of description of Rand set forth by Leonard Peikoff in his 1987 Ford Hall Forum address and James Valliant in his 2005 The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics? Peikoff and Valliant claimed that Rand's only flaw was occasional anger, which they attempted to justify as Rand's righteous rage against an evil world. The Peikoff and Valliant view is, to say the least, misleading. Prof. Burns confirms Rand's abusive treatment of the Collective, her mistreatment of her husband, and her tendency to sever relationships over minor matters, among other things.

Although Prof. Burns doesn't label Rand's husband an alcoholic, the evidence that he drank more than one should is quite strong. She also concludes that Rand's behavior was likely affected by decades of amphetamine use.

Nothing in this book shows the portrayal of Rand in Barbara Branden's 1986 biography of Rand (The Passion of Ayn Rand) to be wrong in any substantial regard, much less deliberately dishonest. Prof. Burns does find fault with certain aspects of The Passion of Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden's memoirs.

The value of Goddess of the Market, however, is not the light it sheds on various Objectivist controversies, but in the fascinating story it tells. Rand's life intersected with many of the best known people in the conservative and libertarian movement such as Albert Jay Nock, Isabel Paterson, Ludwig von Mises, and Murray Rothbard. Prof. Burns shows Rand's gradual disillusionment with the conservative movement over its embrace of religion. She never felt at home with the libertarian movement either, which she as saw almost exclusively as anarchist and subjectivist. Perhaps she saw libertarianism as a competitor (she could never decide whether she had nothing in common with libertarians, or if they plagiarized her ideas).

Burns also highlights Rand's involvement in politics. She worked for Wendell Wilkie's campaign, attempted to organize a movement to fight the spread of collectivism, and even sent a proposed speech to Barry Goldwater in 1964. Much of this was known before, but Prof. Burns tells the story with new details and corrects the record on various matters, such as Rand's split with Isabel Paterson.

Goddess of the Market breaks new ground in Ayn Rand scholarship. Hopefully the new openness of the Archives will permit scholars to delve more deeply into Ayn Rand's life and her intellectual development.
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on April 10, 2011
There's an unfortunate tendency in human nature to view things in black and white terms. This is certainly true of how Ayn Rand has been interpreted. She is usually described as either a brilliant visionary or an unbalanced crackpot. She of course didn't help matters any by demanding that her views either be accepted whole cloth or rejected entirely.

The truth, as always, is in the center between two extremes. Ms. Rand's ideas are a mixed lot, containing everything from rare gems of insight to utter nonsense. I read with great profit her novel "The Fountainhead." I found in it many keen insights into why the quest for excellence is so often stifled by those devoted to mediocrity. Howard Roark will forever remain in my mind an ideal well worth emulating - except for the raping women stuff, of course. He maintained his devotion to producing only the absolute best he was capable of, without apology to the lesser talented ones whose envy and insecurity made them try to destroy him.

So impressed was I with the book that I was left not only disappointed but shocked at its ideological sequel, "Atlas Shrugged." Who is John Galt? He's an utter fantasy, as are the other cardboard characters in that regrettable tome. It's 1000+ pages of delusion and vitriol that left me wondering what happened in the years between both books to turn Ms. Rand into the bitter, rage filled person she unfortunately became.

"Goddess of the Market" gave me the answer. It showed how Rand's retreat from society into the adoring embrace of the Collective allowed her intellect to stifle and her darker qualities to emerge. There's a lesson here for all of us. The moment we think we have found absolute, unassailable truth is the moment that our personal and educational journeys stagnate.

Burns does a magnificent job tracing the history of this fascinating figure, from her early days in Russia to her last months as a lonely, tortured soul. I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting an informative, unbiased look at one of the most compelling and enigmatic persons in history. It will also benefit students of psychology, as well as anyone wanting to understand the economic and political forces that impacted the 20th century American experience.
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on September 4, 2012
If you want a true understanding of Ayn Rand and her work, this book is for you. A very interesting bio of Ayn Rand and how her work evolved.
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on April 4, 2012
A lot of people have strong opinions on Rand (how fitting)? Which makes it hard to find a thoughtful bio that didn't demonize or canonize Rand. This is a good read for anyone who has heard of Ayn Rand and wants to know what all the fuss is About.
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