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Monday, November 16, 2009

Rand-y for capitalism

Oxford University Press

Down on Peachtree Street, just south of the High Museum, are the offices of Roark Capital Group. On its website, the private equity firm explains that it specializes in acquiring family businesses and managing franchises such as Seattle’s Best Coffee, Schlotzsky’s and Cinnabon. The website also offers an explanation of the name Roark, which refers to the character Howard Roark from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Distilling Rand’s philosophy in a few choice lines, it says, “Integrity ... is commitment to one's own thinking and one's own mind. ... Howard Roark's life exemplified the true nature of this independence and integrity.” After reading that, I drove right down to Lenox Square to pick up a Cinnabon, but was disappointed when I didn’t taste much integrity or independence. That empty flavor has more than the name Roark in common with Ayn Rand.

Rand is experiencing a sort of renaissance these days. Atlas Shrugged sold more copies in 2008 than in any year since 1957 and will probably break that record again this year. Charlize Theron has signed up to star in an epic film adaptation of the 1,400-page novel. Glenn Beck can’t stop talking about the author. Perfectly timed to intersect with this capitalist feeding frenzy are the first two biographies to be written about Rand by authors other than her closest acolytes. Out of the two biographers, only Jennifer Burns had access to Rand’s journals, letters and private papers. She’s put that access to good use in Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, a vivid, intellectual portrait of the woman born as Alisa Rosenbaum in 1905.

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