Freedom’s Furies: How Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, and Ayn Rand Found Liberty in an Age of Darkness by Timothy Sandefur
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a fantastic book. Sandefur does a masterful job of explaining the importance of these three remarkable women: Isabel Patterson, Rose Wilder Lane, and Ayn Rand. He takes their ideas seriously, pulls no punches but is also exceedingly fair and charitable in his accounting of their ideas, works, and personalities.
I knew vaguely that Patterson, Lane, and Rand knew each other, but I had no inkling of the depth of the connections between them: personal connections as well intellectual and ideological. All three wrote important and influential works in the mid-20th century. Though Rand is likely best-known today, Patterson and Lane were important voices for (economic, intellectual, and personal) liberty and freedom in a time when then were few such voices. Patterson is best known today for God of the Machine and her decade’s long column at the New York Herald Tribune; and Lane for her work The Discovery of Freedom: Man's Struggle Against Authority and the Little House series she wrote with her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder. Though the three had important differences, together they provided a robust vision and defense of moral individualism and human freedom.
One of the most surprising things I learned is the role Sinclair Lewis played in the development of the work of all three writers. Sandefur explores how Lewis’ novels, as well as other works that formed what is called the “Revolt from the Village” literary movement provided by the inspiration and the foil for the novels of Patterson, Lane, and Rand. This movement challenged the conformity and oppressiveness of small town life, and arguably culminated in Lewis’ Main Street. Sandefur persuasively argues that Patterson, Lane, and Rand shared the concerns that works of the revolt focused on, but that they offered more optimistic and positive ways beyond what Lewis called the “village virus."
Sandefur’s book is a bit hard to categorize: it’s part biography, part literary criticism/analysis, part political history, and part intellectual history. How ever you categorize it, it’s a remarkable achievement and anyone with any interest in American history of the 20th century or the history of intellectual ideas should read this book. It should be a touchstone for any scholar thinking about the ideas of Patterson, Lane, or Rand.
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