Review of How Bad Writing Destroyed the World: Ayn Rand and the Literary Origins of the Financial Crisis in Publisher’s Weekly on August 8, 2016.
Weiner (By Authors Possessed: The Demonic Novel in Russia) promises a book about Russian writers, Ayn Rand, and the U.S. financial crisis. His delivery is impressive on the first, more than acceptable on the second, and lacking on the third. The Russians include Nikolay Chernyshevsky, author of the largely forgotten 1863 novel What Is to Be Done, which Weiner describes as a “jarring cacophony of disparate elements” and a “great source of inspiration for the Russian revolutionary movement”; Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who, Weiner says, thought Chernyshevsky was “at the center of a secret terrorist organization”; and Sergey Nechayev, a murderous revolutionary who refashioned himself after Chernyshevsky’s antihero, Rakhmetov. Weiner’s literary criticism, focusing on political and philosophical themes, is solid up to and including his explication of Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, written by a woman who, Weiner reminds us, grew up in St. Petersburg at a time when Chernyshevsky’s influence there was “ubiquitous and unassailable.” Weiner’s conclusion that “unfettered capitalism is no more a utopia than the chained collective” effectively damns both Chernyshevsky and Rand in one sentence. Readers who expected more about the U.S. financial crisis than a few brief mentions of Alan Greenspan, who called Rand’s deeply flawed novel “a magnificent masterpiece,” won’t find that in this otherwise fine book. (Oct.)