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The Woman and the Dynamo: Isabel Paterson and the Idea of America

4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0765802415
ISBN-10: 0765802414
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Editorial Reviews


“Of special interest in Cox's biography is the discussion of libertarianism and feminism in the chapter titled "Implications of Individualism." Cox cites an observation by the "modern liberal historian" Alan Brinkley, who said the American Right has never "received anything like the amount of attention from historians that its role in twentieth-century politics and culture suggests it should." This thorough, readable study helps to redress that imbalance. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.”

—J. J. Benardete, Choice

"The Woman and the Dynamo is a valuable addition to the history of the libertarian movement... it should serve as a springboard for futher research into a woman and her writings, which are still highly relevant after half a century."

The Learning Curve

"In this immensely readable biography, based on exhaustive research, Stephen Cox gives his readers the opportunity to discover or rediscover Isabel Paterson as one of the great champions of freedom in the twentieth century. Cox deftly fills in the economic and political background to Paterson's life story, and also provides useful summaries, analyses, and critiques of all her major works, fictional and non-fictional. Cox tells Paterson's story with the skill of a novelist, bringing her to life in all her brilliant wit and intelligence, This volume is a model of intellectual biography—it allows us to see the human being behind the thought, without at all letting concern for the personal details of Paterson's life interfere with our understanding of her thought."

—Paul A. Cantor, Clifton Waller Barrett Professor of English, University of Virginia

"Isabel Patterson, the brilliant and unjustly neglected pioneer of libertarian thought, has found her ideal biographer in Stephen Cox, With an acumen and erudition worthy of his subject, Cox provides a fascinating portrait of Paterson's career as a journalist, novelist and political theorist and the result is a compelling work of intellectual history that should be essential reading for all students of American culture."

—Ross Posnock, Professor of English, New York University

"In his seminal biography of Isabel Paterson—the benchmark against which any further investigation of her life and work must be measured—Professor Stephen Cox has respectfully, yet critically, resurrected one of the most original and influential thinkers of the twentieth century. Drawing on access to private papers never before made available, the author has traced Paterson's personal and literary life from her humble rural childhood to the pinnacle of New York's literary world. Professor Cox has brought that journey to life not only by providing countless colorful, even eccentric, details, but also by projecting Paterson against the wider culture and politics of her time. Regrettably, there have been few serious biographies of the handful of women who, in the last century, espoused and lived an individualistic/libertarian philosophy—let alone those whose lives and work profoundly affected today's America, and even the world beyond these shores."

—Henry Mark Holzer, professor emeritus, Brooklyn Law School

"I picked up The Woman and the Dynamo without knowing what to expect—and couldn't put it down. It is more than a beautifully written, utterly absorbing biography of a great libertarian thinker who deserves wider recognition than she has hitherto received. It also offers insightful portraits of some of the key figures in the march of libertarianism and free enterprise conservatism through the 20th century."

—Nathaniel Branden, author of "My Years with Ayn Rand"

About the Author

Stephen Cox is professor of literature and director of the Humanities Program at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of The Woman and the Dynamo: Isabel Paterson and the Idea of America




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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 418 pages
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers (July 14, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765802414
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765802415
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,033,123 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Richard O. Hammer on October 24, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I really enjoyed reading this biography of Isabel Paterson, mostly I suppose because she is a fellow traveler to me. An American living from 1886–1960, Paterson was a libertarian intellectual who lived mostly alone in a world which did not understand. She is best known today for her book about the source of America's greatness, The God of the Machine, but she was also a famous literary critic and a novelist. What makes Paterson special to me, her political values, will probably cause most people to dismiss her.

Stephen Cox gives a good deal of information about the life, relationships, and character of this woman. But, as a bonus, along the way the reader also gets short introductions to many other important people who Paterson knew. These include Ayn Rand, Rose Wilder Lane, John Chamberlain, Leonard Read, William F. Buckley, Herbert Hoover, and many more. The interactions with Rand are especially interesting because Rand achieved surpassing fame as a novelist and movement leader. Rand admired and learned from Paterson, who was 19 years older. On many occasions they sat up and talked most of the night.

The reader of this biography gets a good review of each of Paterson's novels, a few of which show characters much like Paterson herself. From having read a few of her novels, I would have guessed the author was considerate, polite, and feminine — a welcome contrast to Ayn Rand. But the reader of this biography learns that Paterson was routinely rude and ill mannered, and like Rand she broke off many relationships in cold ideological rejection.

Probably this book should be called scholarly; it has lots of footnotes. It seems carefully edited and produced. I noticed only one typo.
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Format: Hardcover
Those who known the name Isabel Paterson probably know her from her outstanding 1943 work THE GOD OF THE MACHINE. That work, as Prof. Stephen Cox noted in his 1993 introduction, is "one of the few original theories of history that have been developed in America."

Paterson was also a successful novelist and one of the most important columnists and book reviewers of her time. Her life also intersected with many of the most important thinkers in the libertarian and conservative individualist tradition, including Ayn Rand, Russell Kirk, Whittaker Chambers, William Buckley, and H. L. Mencken. Certainly Paterson deserves a full-scale biography and Prof. Cox has filled this gap with this admirable work.

Paterson is also well known for her influence on Ayn Rand. Prof. Cox sheds new light on their relationship. Paterson was a compulsive reader, particularly in history and politics. Rand, on the other hand, appears to have read little in this area. Rand would talk to Paterson for hours at a time, and many of Rand's ideas flowed from what she learned from her. They were both strong-willed and difficult people and their relationship began to show strains when Rand accused Paterson of using some of her own ideas without credit. (Rand had an exaggerated sense of her own originality.) In 1948, Paterson said something offensive to Rand and their relationship came to an end. To Rand's credit, she continued to recommend THE GOD OF THE MACHINE.

This book is something of a "life and times" biography of Paterson. There is much of interest concerning the politics of the time, the New York publishing scene, the nascent libertarian movement and the like. Unfortunately, only THE GOD OF THE MACHINE remains in print and it doesn't appear that an anthology of Paterson's non-fiction writing was ever produced. Hopefully Prof. Cox or someone else will remedy this situation.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In 1943, belief in what we today would call libertarianism was at its ebb. Collectivism, in the form of bolshevism, fascism or even the non-totalitarian movements of socialism and New Deal liberalism, seemed to be the order of the day. Individualist anarchist Albert Jay Nock was in such despair, that year he published his autobiography under the title Memoirs of a Superfluous Man.

Yet also in 1943, a counterattack began in the guise of three books written by three different women. Two of those women, Ayn Rand and Rose Wilder Lane, are better remembered today, Rand as the founder of Objectivism and Lane as the editor (and possible author) of the Little House Series of books and of her own books of life on the frontier.

But in terms of formulating the freedom philosophy, the third woman, Isabel Paterson, less well today, was probably the most important. Paterson was born in humble circumstances in the middle of Lake Huron. A Canadian by birth, her somewhat shiftless father moved several times along the American and Canadian west.

Though she had little formal schooling, Paterson was a voracious reader and taught herself what she missed at school. Despite the lack of formal education, she ended up working in newspapers, initially along the west coast of the US and Canada (one of her bosses ended up as Prime Minster of Canada). By 1925, she was an editor for the influential "Books" supplement to the New York Herald Tribune, somewhat mischievously signing her "Bookworm" columns with the initials I.M.P. Along the way, she managed to write a few books of her own, briefly hold the altitude record for a woman in an airplane (though a passenger) and marry and quickly discard a husband (who she never seems to have divorced).
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