Tara Smith is a professor of philosophy and a follower of the ideas of novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand (called "Objectivism"). Prof. Smith offers a strong defense of individual rights based on an Objectivist conception of reason and human nature. (Curiously, while Rand is mentioned in the footnotes, she is never mentioned in the body of the text.)
There are a number of merits to this book. Prof. Smith is a clear writer who sets forth her arguments forcefully in jargon-free language. Unlike much Objectivist writing, she interacts with other traditions in a non-vituperative manner. Rather than give Rand all the credit, she indicates where she is indebted to others. Finally, she responds to potential arguments and counterexamples to her theory. Compare, for example, her section on "the ethics of emergencies" with Rand's article of the same name. Rand's article quickly descends into a screed against "altruism."
Prof. Smith argues that rights find their justification in man's need to advance his own life. Without rights, I can't exercise my reason and therefore can't live. Prof. Smith's argument, although fairly persuasive, runs into some obvious problems. Most importantly is the question of why one person should respect the rights of others. If, as Prof. Smith argues, rights have an egoistic foundation, then why should I respect someone else's rights? In fairness, to Prof. Smith, she realizes that this is a question that needs to be addressed, but I don't find her answer completely satisfactory. Finally, is the only justification for rights their role in advancing life? If I knew that I was going to die next week, would it be okay for me to cheat and steal?
Prof. Smith is also the author of a work on metaethics called VIABLE VALUES, which is quite good. A work that interacts with some of the topics covered by Prof. Smith is Roderick Long's REASON AND VALUE: ARISTOTLE VERSUS RAND (which, unfortunately does not reference Prof. Smith). Thomas Fleming takes on the tradition represented by Prof. Smith in THE MORALITY OF EVERDAY LIFE.