Monday, February 15, 2010

Last night I finished Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right by Jennifer Burns.

This biography of Ayn Rand focuses on her relationship to the American right wing movements that started around the Great Depression, from her involvement with the presidential campaigns of Wendell Wilkie and Barry Goldwater to the inspiration she gave to libertarian/anarchists like Murray Rothbard.

In every other way, Heller's similarly timed book is better or the same.  Heller's writing is better, her parts on the novels are stronger and she depends too heavily on the testimony of suspect witnesses.  Burns may have a slight edge on the last item.  A lot of her book has to do with Rand's relationships with other right wing figures, and therefore she can use not only Rand's correspondence but those of the other figures.  This gives her a stronger base to work from.  She also had extensive access to the Ayn Rand Archives. 

The real weakness of Burn's book comes from the fact that she has a superficial, at best, understanding of Rand's ideas.  This makes her descriptions of Rand's development of those ideas suspect, and leads to some odd comparisons or discussions that don't make sense to a more experienced reader.