She was born Alisa Rosenbaum, the eldest daughter in a haute-bourgeois Russian Jewish family that was ruined by the 1918 revolution. When she came to the United States in 1926, she reinvented herself as Ayn Rand, charismatic philosopher and novelist who inspired a generation of rebels and free-market theorists.
Historian Jennifer Burns, author of the new book Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, talks about Rand and her enduring influence in this recent lecture (iTunes) at the University of Virginia.
Some highlights of her talk:
- As a 12-year-old Rand witnessed the Russian Revolution and the confiscation of her father’s business. This personal history gave her impeccable anti-Communist credentials, and added to her credibility as a critic of any kind of socialism.
- Her philosophy, influenced by Nietzsche, saw the selfishness of creative people as a moral imperative and decried any governmental interference in personal freedom. She in turn influenced important policymakers like Alan Greenspan, who as a young man was one of her circle of admirers.
For more from Jennifer Burns, check out her 2006 course US History: from Civil War to Present (website), and her current course Intellectual History of the United States Since 1865 (website). Burns presents her subjects clearly and straightforwardly (if somewhat lacking in humor), and I learned a lot from her US history course. The Intellectual history course looks promising, but it is marred by the poor quality of the audio recording.