- Hardcover: 434 pages
- Publisher: Routledge (June 30, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0765802414
- ISBN-13: 978-0765802415
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,731,563 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Woman and the Dynamo: Isabel Paterson and the Idea of America
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“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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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).
Professor Cox really has a feel for his subject. He does lose some objectivity as he is quite taken in by her. But he is willing to show her negative points. Paterson comes across as intelligent and gifted, a self taught intellectual, but as someone who was difficult to get along with. She had a tendency to break friendships over ideological grounds. Yet she also found friendship with her immigrant neighbors.
The book is well written and researched and while the last few chapters, detailing Paterson's retirement and decline in health drag a bi, it is understandable as her earlier life was so interesting. Paterson's importance in American political history cannot be understated. Paterson's 1943 book, "The God of the Machine" would help Rand formulate her philosophical system. Paterson also corresponded with Russell Kirk and worked for William F. Buckley. Those three, who would help shape the philosophical battles in post World War II America, each got something different from Paterson, and in turn, influenced American political discourse.
So why is Paterson not well known? Professor Cox provides the answer - Paterson was "a committee of one". Rand had Objectivism, Lane had the Freedom School, Hayek and von Mises their academic activities, Friedman his web of like minded academics and the ear of presidents. Paterson had her column and her novels. Cox notes that she resisted calls to teach at the Freedom School, and she had a tendency to drop her friendships (such as breaking off relations with Rand and Lane).
Cox's book rights a great wrong and hopefully puts Isabel Paterson back into prominence. Anyone interested in the roots of the modern conservative and libertarian movements should read it.
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.