Goddess of the Market | Jennifer Burns

Summary of: Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right
By: Jennifer Burns


Dive into the fascinating life and work of Alisa Rosenbaum, who adopted the pen name Ayn Rand in her transformation from Russian immigrant to influential author and philosopher. In ‘Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right,’ Jennifer Burns traces Rand’s tumultuous journey to fame, her indisputable impact on American conservatism, and the subsequent rise of her philosophy, Objectivism. This book summary will introduce readers to Rand’s major works, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged; her intricate philosophical development; the connections between her personal and professional life; and the paradoxes that characterized her relationships and ideology. Get ready to delve deep into Ayn Rand’s world, as we unwrap the enigma of one of the most polarizing figures in American literary and political history.

Ayn Rand: Journey to America

Alisa Rosenbaum, later known as Ayn Rand, was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1905, to a family of five. She was considered unusual, always uneasy with small talk and convinced she was a “child of destiny.” She found the first rudiments of a belief system, including the heroic notion of individuality and the power of reason, in high school. Later, she was exposed to diversity and Marxism at Petrograd State University, but it was the writings of Nietzsche that captured her imagination. In 1926, after months of family intrigues, she left Russia for America with a new name—Ayn Rand, which freed her from her gender, religion and past. Despite initial hardships, she made it big with her novel, Atlas Shrugged, which became a bestseller, especially among business owners, executives, and capitalists. Hollywood movies played a significant role in Rand’s decision to go to America. Indeed, the author turned out to be a woman with a beautiful face and a prominent smile, driven by a desire to fulfill her destiny.

Ayn Rand’s Rise to Success

Ayn Rand’s Hollywood breakthrough led to her success as a writer and polemicist. After being hired as an extra by Cecil B. DeMille, she transitioned to script work and made connections that fueled her career. Her job ended with the advent of talking pictures, but she persevered with the help of Frank O’Connor, who provided the security she needed. During this period, Rand reassessed her intellectual outlook, drawing inspiration from Nietzsche, H.L. Mencken, Oswald Spengler, and José Ortega y Gasset. She pursued the idea of a hero beyond society, justifiably selfish and with no capacity for guilt or sentimental attachments. Her new drive resulted in her first novel, We the Living, as well as the play Night of January 16th and the novel Anthem. Rand was able to become a powerful polemicist by setting her arguments in both abstract and moral terms.

The Fountainhead: A Manifesto for Individualism

A courageous and passionate defense of individualism, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand was initially hard to publish, but became a massive bestseller and led to a film. The hero, architect Howard Roark, blows up a housing project he designed for free after city officials exploit his genius to make money. Roark articulates Rand’s belief in the importance of individuality and creativity versus the mediocrity and corruption of collectivism and altruism. This book sparked a movement towards thinking beyond numbers-based economics, instead questioning what humans value and why.

Rand’s Ideological Evolution

Ayn Rand developed her philosophy that morality and rationality were interdependent. She began to doubt popular libertarian groups and conservative ideologies. She surrounded herself with like-minded intellectuals, including Alan Greenspan and Nathaniel Branden. However, her relationships would often follow an arc from curiosity to disagreement to dissolution. Despite this, Branden emerged as Rand’s protégé and personal lover, which she justified as an extension of their philosophy.

Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged

Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged presents an America on the edge of ruin, ruled by a bloated socialist government, and the rebels who fight to save it. The book captures the zeitgeist of American conservatism and ennobles the pursuit of wealth. Despite her traditional values, Rand opposed religion, which she saw as a refuge for the weak and a dangerous source of altruism. The book’s hero, John Galt, was said to be inspired by one of Rand’s lovers, Nathan or Frank. Despite being rejected by academic and literary circles, Atlas Shrugged became a champion for CEOs, executives, and freethinkers, providing a unique voice for their struggles.

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