Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged  Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ayn Rand doesn’t leave anything to chance. She’s as blunt with her ideas as a two by four. There is no possibility that you will read Atlas Shrugged and have the slightest bit of confusion about what she wanted to say. I’m sure she would condemn me for commending her forthrightness and not discussing her philosophy, but we’ll get to that. I’m working up to it. Let’s talk about her writing first.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the mechanics of this book. Rand’s style of writing and bleak landscapes drew me in completely. Her characters are absorbing. I’ve been waiting my entire life for a heroine like Dagny Taggart, without knowing it. Dagny is brilliant. I’m resisting the urge to rave about her only because I suspect this review will be long enough without me giving in to delighted squealing (I’m doing this for you). I could have wished for a few more female characters; and Rand’s adversarial characters are almost unrelievedly selfish. They have some personal growth, if you count downwards. Not a whole lot of complexity. Of course, I imagine if she had included more personal development for the other characters, this wouldn’t be a novel. It would be a series. Heck, I’ve read series that weren’t this long. And Rand’s writing was what carried me through.

The only portion which was a page-counting struggle was the never-ending monologue in chapter seven of part three. Sixty hard-won pages. What’s sixty pages after you’ve read over 1000? It’s a good thing she snuck that in right at the end; you’re so close to the finish line you can taste it. That desire was the only thing that kept me going through that dreadful endless mire. This is where Rand hammers out the miniscule details of her philosophy and shoves it down your throat for as long as you keep flipping pages. It was…interesting. It was interesting to read that monologue while watching The Lorax. It was interesting to read it while thinking about the global economic collapse precipitated by the ungoverned greed of the banking industry. It was interesting to listen to podcasts about global warming while thinking about Atlas Shrugged. The collapse of the cod fisheries. Blood diamonds and conflict metals. Yes, tell me a story again about how big business has only our best interests at heart and the healthiest, happiest, strongest world we can have is the one where nothing and no one restrains business and business interests in any way. Perhaps if our corporations were run solely by the likes of Hank Rearden, Dagny Taggart, and Ellis Wyatt, we could turn the reins over to them and follow along in their trail. There are some Hanks and Dagnys and Ellises, true. But there are also Orren Boyles and Balph Eubanks and Mr. Thompsons and many, many more of them than there are of Rand’s heroes. Furthermore, Rand has constructed a world where the only thing holding anyone back from achieving their fullest potential is poverty. Poverty of a kind that can always be surmounted, if you try hard enough. Her universe is one without racism, sexism, or homophobia. No disabilities. Disorders are limited to hints of alcoholism, which would of course be completely relieved if people would just accept their reality as it is and buck up. It would be magnificent if we lived in a world where poverty was the only hardship the human race had to contend with. But it’s not. Call me a cynic, but I’ve got a hard time believing that handing the steering wheel to big business and getting out of their way will solve all these problems. Or even most of them. It’s telling that we don’t see any of Rand’s characters working themselves and their families out of poverty, it’s presented as a fait accompli. They worked really hard for a really long time and got everything they wanted! Because that’s all it ever takes. Any problem can be solved by trying really hard, turning into a workaholic, and being super, duper realistic. True, in some cases elbow grease, brain power and a can-do attitude are the only things you need. In other cases people relegate talent to the back of the classroom because they don’t like its packaging. In the world of Atlas Shrugged these people would just save money up and start their own businesses. In our world…I am not convinced it’s quite so simple. Illness, unplanned pregnancies, economic collapse, discrimination, all these things may wreak havoc on our dreams. It’s much harder to save up to start your own business when you can only work a few days a week because of your illness, and you’ve got a family to feed. Clothe. House. Educate. Impossible? Probably not. Difficult? Extravagantly so. Yes, do your best. Strive for knowledge, personal growth, creativity! Discover your desires and chase them down! Be proud of what you have achieved! The human spirit is a remarkable thing, and its productive abilities fill me with wonder. But the idea that the quest for profit is the truest guide to salvation is ridiculous. I admire the thirst with which Rand’s characters quest after knowledge and discoveries. I love her writing. I completely disagree with her economic philosophy.

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2 thoughts on “Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

  1. I agree with you that the philosophy is repellant, but I would go a step further and say that the book is not a good delivery device for the philosophy because the characters are so unbelievable, the actions are so contrived and the preaching is every bit as dreary as the techniques of Soviet Realism. The sex scenes might come in for especial notice for being believable/tantalizing/realistic/erotic (I’m not sure what she was going for) to a virginal teenager. (I am actually relying on a memory from having read this ages ago because I can’t bring myself to consult it again.)

    What I am curious about is why you consider the writing compelling. (I’m not challenging you, I’m just curious.) My memory is that it was fairly wooden. No nuance, no wit, no style, unless endless straightforward fairly simple sentences is called a style. You wouldn’t, for example, feel compelled to read a passage aloud for its beauty (either of language or thought). I’m curious what I missed.

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    1. I suppose what she was driving at in the sex scenes is that selfishness is “good” in every aspect of human behavior. The philosophy is a juvenile as the sex.

      BTW, if you are interested in utterly bleak mis-en-scenes, life-and-death struggle (that matters), and brilliant writing with multiple narrative perspectives, can I suggest Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate, a seering, incisive probing of fascism, Stalinism and the human condition in the context of the Battle for Stalingrad. It is the exact opposite of Rand’s naked preaching, because it examines all the participants’ motivations and incentives in three-dimensional ways and doesn’t try to pound a(n inspid) philosophy into your head. When I first read it, it so encompassed my thoughts that I had to start at the beginning to take it all in again. Possibly the most powerful book I read for the first time in the last two decades.

      Keep up the reviews!

      Liked by 1 person

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