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Mean Girl: Ayn Rand and the Culture of Greed

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  181 ratings  ·  41 reviews
"Astute."—New York Times 

Ayn Rand’s complicated notoriety as popular writer, leader of a political and philosophical cult, reviled intellectual, and ostentatious public figure endured beyond her death in 1982. In the twenty-first century, she has been resurrected as a serious reference point for mainstream figures, especially those on the political right from Paul Ryan t
Paperback, 136 pages
Published May 14th 2019 by University of California Press
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Julie Ehlers
Jul 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics
Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged is an influential book for a certain subset of American politicians, so I've been thinking for a while that I should read it. I also know someone who considers The Fountainhead one of her favorite books, so I've wondered if I should read that one. But what I most wanted, more than anything, was not to read either of them. I mean, right? Those books are huge, and they seem terrible. In every way. So I was quite pleased to learn about Mean Girl, a short (100 pages!) explo ...more
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
This book is mostly a superficial retelling of what is probably familiar to almost all who pick up this book (it’s more of an essay than a book, because it really doesn’t cohere as a whole except for when the author connects Rand to neo-liberalism within and between each of the short chapters).

The author somewhat dances around Rand’s (non)philosophy and dwells mostly on her two most famous novels and doesn’t really get into the depth of Rand’s vacuous objectivist philosophy except in passing. Re
Feb 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Mean Girl is a short primer on Ayn Rand, in particular her influence on policy (and policymakers) in America. I've never read any of Rand's books and I've never quite understood what the deal was with her. That is, I knew the books had a reputation for being torturous and ponderous paeans to the free market, but I didn't get why certain people extol their virtues at every turn or why Rand was so revered. This book does a good job explaining her appeal (and also why she's the worst). A work of cu ...more
Aug 12, 2019 rated it did not like it
Learned a few things...kinda boring though. I don't have time for boring. I want to learn a few things and have it be interesting as well. I'm spoiled.Maybe.
Jun 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A slim book at 107 pages, that even though it is a lively read despite the subject matter, still manages to pack a lot of information into those pages.

And I think the premise of the author is correct--what connects the top business and financial community with evangelical Christianity and racist nationalism is Rand. "The unifying threads are meanness and greed, and the spirit of the whole hodgepodge is Ayn Rand."

It's frightening just how influential one monstrous woman has been with a Library
May 26, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: junk
To call a grown up woman "girl" can't be excused in the 21st century. I guess feminism if reserved only for "our" women. Reminds me of Germaine Greer, who wants equality, but only for the Christian women.
George Mihailidis
Jun 06, 2019 rated it did not like it
Lisa Duggan is a "commie" as she admits herself in her Twitter account. This is a hitpiece of a book. If someone wants to know about Ayn Rand's ideas, I suggest you read her own books, The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, etc., instead of this cheap hitpiece by a nobody
Marsha Altman
Jul 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
A really brief but good look at Ayn Rand's life and works and how they came to shape neoliberal and Libertarian thought in American life. She's hard to summarize, and Duggan does a great job of it, focusing on how her writing (not just the major works but her plays and non-fiction as well) was influenced by events in her life and how it influenced politics around her. There are some interesting points about how poorly she at times understood the American political system, thinking she could shed ...more
Wendy Liu
Dec 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Interesting concept but I wish it had gone deeper.
Jun 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Like the seven other entries in UC Press’s American Studies Now series, this is a short book - 107 small pages — I read it in less than two and a half hours on the train between Albany and NYC. As someone who encountered Ayn Rand several times in my adolescence — I had to perform The Night of January 16th in my 8th grade drama class, and my first girlfriend convinced me to read Atlas Shrugged when I was 16 — I was interested to read Lisa Duggan’s meditation on Rand. Although Duggan takes great p ...more
Michael Webb
May 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Concise overview of Rand's works and the context in which she was writing them. Not a suitable replacement for a full biographical text (or a broader treatment of how her thought has impacted the modern western world), but functions well in highlighting the central themes of her works and how they tie back to her own historical context.
Nov 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"One for one and none for all...Ayn Rand's philosophy is near perfect in its immorality, which makes the size of her audience all the more ominous and systematic as we enter a curious new phase in our society. Moral values are in flux. The muddy depths are being stirred by new monsters and witches from the deep. Trolls walk the American night."

Author Lisa Duggan dredged up this prescient Gore Vidal review of Rand's For the New Intellectual from 1961. A bit chilling to read now!

Historian, profess
Jun 30, 2020 added it
I heard about this book from this article.

Up to this point, I only knew of Ayn Rand through her reputation as a controversial conservative thinker & author, but not much beyond that because I had not picked up her books which, as I understood it, were (a) long and (b) full of trash ideas. Part of me felt that I should check them out, because they were so influential, but I really didn't want to (see points a & b above).

Luckily, this book exists. It is a very short and easy read and it briefly co
John Spiller
Jul 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
See Beck's review below. I could not have said it better.
May 25, 2019 rated it liked it
a quick read and a good summary of Ayn's objectivism and how it all tallies today's corporate and religious greed/domination. 3.5

good luck
R.J. Gilmour
Jul 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
In this short nuanced monograph Duggan uses the idea of the "Mean Girl" from the Hollywood film as way to analyze how the work of Ayn Rand has been utilized by both libertarians and neoliberals. While a lot of Duggan writes has appeared elsewhere, her synthesis makes for an important book that would be valuable as required reading in any classroom.

"The culture of greed is the hallmark of the neoliberal era, the period beginning in the 1970s when the protections of the U.S. and European welfare s
Jun 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Thanks to University of California Press for the ARC at BEA 2019!

This book is a short and straightforward analysis of how famous Objectivist writer Ayn Rand came to her political beliefs and became a cultural touchstone for modern American libertarianism and conservatism, with her dogmatic belief in the supremacy of markets and neoliberal capitalism. Duggan takes us through her bourgeois upbringing in Tsarist Russia, and how it was shattered by the Bolsheviks, sparking a lifetime of resentment i
Sara Vidal
Sep 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
I have for some time wanted to write about Ayn Rand - I've even bought some heavy writings on her philosophy 'Objectivism; - which I'm yet to read. So it was good to have a book that set out to remind us how awful Ayn's thinking was and of the pernicious influence it has had. I have to confess at 18 I adored her books, but in my thirties when I reread 'Atlas Shrugged' I found myself dismayed; the more I thought about her messages the more I found them to be abhorrent, but I had not the words to ...more
Thomas Cook
Jul 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
The first time I encountered Alissa Rosenbaum was on a radio talk show in 1978, and I simply couldn't believe what was coming out of her mouth. The contempt she had for everyone who was there to ask her questions about her philosophy... It was almost like every attempt to ask a question about "objectivism" was answered with "you're an idiot," and/or "you are one of the moochers." This very slim book traces the roots of a privileged wealthy Jewish Russian girl to her friendship with Alan Greenspa ...more
Lewis Zimmerman
Nov 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A little difficult to read. However a needed takedown. Rand was not just a aweful person but a trivial shallow thinker.
Vuk Trifkovic
Jun 29, 2019 rated it liked it
Duggan reads Rand so you don't have to.
Jul 14, 2019 rated it did not like it
Would give it 0 stars if I could. Mean Girl is a lame attempt to demonize one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century.
Sep 22, 2019 marked it as to-read
Reading Ayn Rand's fiction and non-fiction work is much better than reading Lisa Duggan who is not an objectivist.
Jul 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
This a short book in a series that provides short takes on topics relevant to the study of contemporary U.S. culture. In the introduction, the author makes clear that her point isn't to perform an exhaustive biography, or archival recovery, or close reading. Instead, she is interested exposing an "optimistic cruelty" that pervades Rand's output throughout her long career as a writer, thinker, and controversial media personality. Despite the disclaimer, though, I wish there was more context provi ...more
Paul Scott
Mar 28, 2020 rated it liked it
WE CERTAINLY NEED a short, smart book demystifying Ayn Rand...I'm not sure this is it, though. The title is extremely promising--witty and on target--but Mean Girl is somewhat less incisive (in my judgement) than the short chapters on Rand in Corey Robin's The Conservative Mind and Thomas Franks' Pity the Billionaire, while also being short on detail compared to Jennifer Burns's Goddess of the Market and Anne Heller's Ayn Rand and the World She Made. For a quick, discriminating analysis of Rand' ...more
Joseph Sciarillo
Sep 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good read.

I read Any Rand when I was a young man, "Atlas Shrugged"and "Fountain Head". At the time, I just thought they were stories. I talked to other folks who saw much more in them. I could never understand those who placed her in such high esteem. I do not mind reading a story that delivers moral message. Her work did not for me. I tried to understand it as a philosophy, but it made no sense. Then I saw all these very successful people use her to justify pretending the world would be so much
Jan 24, 2020 rated it liked it
I expect an unapologetic Burn Book capitalizing on Tina Fey for title sparkle to offer a little more humor. For someone unfamiliar with more than the 50 pages in Anthem, I certainly learned a lot about Ayn Rand. Perhaps more usefully I got a crash course on neoliberalism’s Randian origins worded in tangible, millenial-lifetime political history. I do wish Duggan had expanded on “cruel optimism”, a provocative term dangled throughout the text but not quite fully substantiated. Satisfied enough f ...more
Feb 23, 2020 rated it it was ok
Not worth reading. Lisa Duggan admits to having a ‘weird obsession’ with Ayn Rand and it comes through on every page. There’s little new here -it’s no surprise to read how Rand was an incredibly unusual and extreme person. But the lack of balance on how economies and governments work and don’t work is striking and makes Duggan appear as much a propagandist as she accuses Rand of being.
Apr 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
ATlas Shrugged was one of the few books that when I got to the end I flipped back to the start and began reading it again. It was a Good Read in spite of the horrific philosophy it espoused. Ayn Rand was totally naive in her understanding of capitalism and the free market. Duggan tells it like it is. Selfishness and greed need to be called out for what it is - criminal.
Jul 11, 2019 rated it liked it
There is a lot of criticism of Rand’s simplistic view of the world. The views and opinions of the author similarly lack nuance. I had to do some extra reading to get balanced perspective on some events.
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Lisa Duggan is Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University.

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