Thursday, December 10, 2009

Jennifer Burns' "Goddess of the Market"

Jennifer Burns is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Virginia. She has published extensively on the history of conservative thought, and her podcasted lectures on American history have won an appreciative worldwide audience.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the first page of Chapter 4 in Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, and it catches Ayn Rand and her husband, Frank O’Connor, at a pivotal moment in their lives. They’ve just taken a cross-country train from New York to California, traveling in luxurious quarters due to Rand’s newfound wealth as the bestselling author of The Fountainhead, her third novel. Rand has sold the movie rights to Warner Brothers, and she and Frank are returning to Hollywood, where they met more than a decade earlier, as celebrities. I write in the book: “Stars began to court Rand in the belief that she could influence the studio’s choices. Joan Crawford threw a dinner for the O’Connors and came dressed as Dominique, in a long white gown and aquamarines… The contrast between Rand’s arrival as a penniless immigrant in 1926 and her latest debut was sharp.”

Rand thought a movie adaptation of The Fountainhead would be an excellent vehicle for communicating her ideas to a broad audience, but the film disappointed her when it was released in 1949. Instead, it was Rand’s activities in California that would form the base of her lasting fame. As I detail in the book, Rand’s years in California were crucial to her both personally and professionally. She continued to build the political alliances she had first developed in New York City during the New Deal years, but over time she began to realize how different her ideas were from political conservatives. In heated arguments she parted ways with most of her former allies, most notably the outspoken libertarian critic Isabel Paterson. Undeterred, Rand began to develop her own philosophy of Objectivism. She began writing her opus, Atlas Shrugged, a novel that drew on her family’s experience living through the Russian Revolution and expressed her own deeply held beliefs about capitalism, morality, and the proper role of government.

It was in California that she began to think of herself as a philosopher, not just a novelist. During these years she would place herself not only within the American political tradition, but would define her ideas against the sweeping trajectory of Western philosophy. And it was in California that she would meet Nathan Blumenthal, a teenaged fan of her books who would become her most devoted student – and later her secret lover. By the time she and Frank left California again almost seven years later, nearly everything in her life had changed.
Read an excerpt from Goddess of the Market, and learn more about the book and author at the official Jennifer Burns website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue