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Who is John Galt? When he says that he will stop the motor of the world, is he a destroyer or a liberator? Why does he have to fight his battles not against his enemies but against those who need him most? Why does he fight his hardest battle against the woman he loves?
You will know the answer to these questions when you discover the reason behind the baffling events that play havoc with the lives of the amazing men and women in this book. You will discover why a productive genius becomes a worthless playboy...why a great steel industrialist is working for his own destruction...why a composer gives up his career on the night of his triumph...why a beautiful woman who runs a transcontinental railroad falls in love with the man she has sworn to kill.
Atlas Shrugged, a modern classic and Rand’s most extensive statement of Objectivism—her groundbreaking philosophy—offers the reader the spectacle of human greatness, depicted with all the poetry and power of one of the twentieth century’s leading artists.
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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Ayn Rand held that art is a “re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value judgments.” By its nature, therefore, a novel (like a statue or a symphony) does not require or tolerate an explanatory preface; it is a self-contained universe, aloof from commentary, beckoning the reader to enter, perceive, respond.
Ayn Rand would never have approved of a didactic (or laudatory) introduction to her book, and I have no intention of flouting her wishes. Instead, I am going to give her the floor. I am going to let you in on some of the thinking she did as she was preparing to write Atlas Shrugged.
Before starting a novel, Ayn Rand wrote voluminously in her journals about its theme, plot, and characters. She wrote not for any audience, but strictly for herself—that is, for the clarity of her own understanding. The journals dealing with Atlas Shrugged are powerful examples of her mind in action, confident even when groping, purposeful even when stymied, luminously eloquent even though wholly unedited. These journals are also a fascinating record of the step-by-step birth of an immortal work of art.
In due course, all of Ayn Rand’s writings will be published. For this 35th anniversary edition of Atlas Shrugged,however, I have selected, as a kind of advance bonus for her fans, four typical journal entries. Let me warn new readers that the passages reveal the plot and will spoil the book for anyone who reads them before knowing the story.
As I recall, “Atlas Shrugged” did not become the novel’s title until Miss Rand’s husband made the suggestion in 1956. The working title throughout the writing was “The Strike.”
The earliest of Miss Rand’s notes for “The Strike” are dated January 1, 1945, about a year after the publication ofThe Fountainhead. Naturally enough, the subject on her mind was how to differentiate the present novel from its predecessor.
Theme. What happens to the world when the Prime Movers go on strike.
This means—a picture of the world with its motor cut off. Show: what, how, why. The specific steps and incidents—in terms of persons, their spirits, motives, psychology and actions—and, secondarily, proceeding from persons, in terms of history, society and the world.
The theme requires: to show who are the prime movers and why, how they function. Who are their enemies and why, what are the motives behind the hatred for and the enslavement of the prime movers; the nature of the obstacles placed in their way, and the reasons for it.
This last paragraph is contained entirely in The Fountainhead. Roark and Toohey are the complete statement of it. Therefore, this is not the direct theme of The Strike—but it is part of the theme and must be kept in mind, stated again (though briefly) to have the theme clear and complete.
First question to decide is on whom the emphasis must be placed—on the prime movers, the parasites or the world. The answer is: The world. The story must be primarily a picture of the whole.
In this sense, The Strike is to be much more a “social” novel than The Fountainhead. The Fountainhead was about “individualism and collectivism within man’s soul”; it showed the nature and function of the creator and the second-hander. The primary concern there was with Roark and Toohey—showing what they are. The rest of the characters were variations of the theme of the relation of the ego to others—mixtures of the two extremes, the two poles: Roark and Toohey. The primary concern of the story was the characters, the people as such—their natures. Their relations to each other—which is society, men in relation to men—were secondary, an unavoidable, direct consequence of Roark set against Toohey. But it was not the theme.
Now, it is this relation that must be the theme. Therefore, the personal becomes secondary. That is, the personal is necessary only to the extent needed to make the relationships clear. In The Fountainhead I showed that Roark moves the world—that the Keatings feed upon him and hate him for it, while the Tooheys are out consciously to destroy him. But the theme was Roark—not Roark’s relation to the world. Now it will be the relation.
In other words, I must show in what concrete, specific way the world is moved by the creators. Exactly how do the second-handers live on the creators. Both in spiritual matters—and (most particularly) in concrete, physical events. (Concentrate on the concrete, physical events—but don’t forget to keep in mind at all times how the physical proceeds from the spiritual.) . . .
However, for the purpose of this story, I do not start by showing how the second-handers live on the prime movers in actual, everyday reality—nor do I start by showing a normal world. (That comes in only in necessary retrospect, or flashback, or by implication in the events themselves.) I start with the fantastic premise of the prime movers going on strike. This is the actual heart and center of the novel. A distinction carefully to be observed here: I do not set out to glorify the prime mover (that was The Fountainhead). I set out to show how desperately the world needs prime movers, and how viciously it treats them. And I show it on a hypothetical case—what happens to the world without them.
In The Fountainhead I did not show how desperately the world needed Roark—except by implication. I did show how viciously the world treated him, and why. I showed mainly what he is. It was Roark’s story. This must be the world’s story—in relation to its prime movers. (Almost—the story of a body in relation to its heart—a body dying of anemia.)
I don’t show directly what the prime movers do—that’s shown only by implication. I show what happens when they don’t do it. (Through that, you see the picture of what they do, their place and their role.) (This is an important guide for the construction of the story.)
In order to work out the story, Ayn Rand had to understand fully why the prime movers allowed the second-handers to live on them—why the creators had not gone on strike throughout history—what errors even the best of them made that kept them in thrall to the worst. Part of the answer is dramatized in the character of Dagny Taggart, the railroad heiress who declares war on the strikers. Here is a note on her psychology, dated April 18, 1946:
Her error—and the cause of her refusal to join the strike—is over-optimism and over-confidence (particularly this last). Over-optimism—in that she thinks men are better than they are, she doesn’t really understand them and is generous about it.
Over-confidence—in that she thinks she can do more than an individual actually can. She thinks she can run a railroad (or the world) single-handed, she can make people do what she wants or needs, what is right, by the sheer force of her own talent; not by forcing them, of course, not by enslaving them and giving orders—but by the sheer over-abundance of her own energy; she will show them how, she can teach them and persuade them, she is so able that they’ll catch it from her. (This is still faith in their rationality, in the omnipotence of reason. The mistake? Reason is not automatic. Those who deny it cannot be conquered by it. Do not count on them. Leave them alone.)
On these two points, Dagny is committing an important (but excusable and understandable) error in thinking, the kind of error individualists and creators often make. It is an error proceeding from the best in their nature and from a proper principle, but this principle is misapplied. . . .
The error is this: it is proper for a creator to be optimistic, in the deepest, most basic sense, since the creator believes in a benevolent universe and functions on that premise. But it is an error to extend that optimism to other specificmen. First, it’s not necessary, the creator’s life and the nature of the universe do not require it, his life does not depend on others. Second, man is a being with free will; therefore, each man is potentially good or evil, and it’s up to him and only to him (through his reasoning mind) to decide which he wants to be. The decision will affect only him; it is not (and cannot and should not be) the primary concern of any other human being.
Therefore, while a creator does and must worship Man (which means his own highest potentiality; which is his natural self-reverence), he must not make the mistake of thinking that this means the necessity to worship Mankind(as a collective). These are two entirely different conceptions, with entirely—(immensely and diametrically opposed)—different consequences.
Man, at his highest potentiality, is realized and fulfilled within each creator himself. . . .Whether the creator is alone, or finds only a handful of others like him, or is among the majority of mankind, is of no importance or consequence whatever; numbers have nothing to do with it. He alone or he and a few others like him are mankind, in the proper sense of being the proof of what man actually is, man at his best, the essential man, man at his highest possibility. (The rational being, who acts according to his nature.)
It should not matter to a creator whether anyone or a million or all the men around him fall short of the ideal of Man; let him live up to that ideal himself; this is all the “optimism” about Man that he needs. But this is a hard and subtle thing to realize—and it would be natural for Dagny always to make the mistake of believing others are better than they really are (or will become better, or she will teach them to become better or, actually, she so desperately wantsthem to be better)—and to be tied to the world by that hope.
It is proper for a creator to have an unlimited confidence in himself and his ability, to feel certain that he can get anything he wishes out of life, that he can accomplish anything he decides to accomplish, and that it’s up to him to do it. (He feels it because he is a man of reason . . .) [But] here is what he must keep clearly in mind: it is true that a creator can accomplish anything he wishes—if he functions according to the nature of man, the universe and his own proper morality, that is, if he does not place his wish primarily within others and does not attempt or desire anything that is of a collective nature, anything that concerns others primarily or requires primarily the exercise of the will of others. (This would be an immoral desire or attempt, contrary to his nature as a creator.) If he attempts that, he is out of a creator’s province and in that of the collectivist and the second-hander.
Therefore, he must never feel confident that he can do anything whatever to, by or through others. (He can’t—and he shouldn’t even wish to try it—and the mere attempt is improper.) He must not think that he can . . . somehow transfer his energy and his intelligence to them and make them fit for his purposes in that way. He must face other men as they are, recognizing them as essentially independent entities, by nature, and beyond his primary influence; [he must] deal with them only on his own, independent terms, deal with such as he judges can fit his purpose or live up to his standards (by themselves and of their own will, independently of him) and expect nothing from the others. . . .
Now, in Dagny’s case, her desperate desire is to run Taggart Transcontinental. She sees that there are no men suited to her purpose around her, no men of ability, independence and competence. She thinks she can run it with others, with the incompetent and the parasites, either by training them or merely by treating them as robots who will take her orders and function without personal initiative or responsibility; with herself, in effect, being the spark of initiative, the bearer of responsibility for a whole collective. This can’t be done. This is her crucial error.
This is where she fails.
Ayn Rand’s basic purpose as a novelist was to present not villains or even heroes with errors, but the ideal man—the consistent, the fully integrated, the perfect. In Atlas Shrugged, this is John Galt, the towering figure who moves the world and the novel, yet does not appear onstage until Part III. By his nature (and that of the story) Galt is necessarily central to the lives of all the characters. In one note, “Galt’s relation to the others,” dated June 27, 1946, Miss Rand defines succinctly what Galt represents to each of them:
For Dagny—the ideal. The answer to her two quests: the man of genius and the man she loves. The first quest is expressed in her search for the inventor of the engine. The second—her growing conviction that she will never be in love . . .
For Rearden—the friend. The kind of understanding and appreciation he has always wanted and did not know he wanted (or he thought he had it—he tried to find it in those around him, to get it from his wife, his mother, brother and sister).
For Francisco d’Anconia—the aristocrat. The only man who represents a challenge and a stimulant—almost the “proper kind” of audience, worthy of stunning for the sheer joy and color of life.
For Danneskjöld—the anchor. The only man who represents land and roots to a restless, reckless wanderer, like the goal of a struggle, the port at the end of a fierce sea-voyage—the only man he can respect.
For the Composer—the inspiration and the perfect audience.
For the Philosopher—the embodiment of his abstractions.
For Father Amadeus—the source of his conflict. The uneasy realization that Galt is the end of his endeavors, the man of virtue, the perfect man—and that his means do not fit this end (and that he is destroying this, his ideal, for the sake of those who are evil).
To James Taggart—the eternal threat. The secret dread. The reproach. The guilt (his own guilt). He has no specific tie-in with Galt—but he has that constant, causeless, unnamed, hysterical fear. And he recognizes it when he hears Galt’s broadcast and when he sees Galt in person for the first time.
To the Professor—his conscience. The reproach and reminder. The ghost that haunts him through everything he does, without a moment’s peace. The thing that says: “No” to his whole life.
Some notes on the above: Rearden’s sister, Stacy, was a minor character later cut from the novel.
“Francisco” was spelled “Francesco” in these early years, while Danneskjöld’s first name at this point was Ivar, presumably after Ivar Kreuger, the Swedish “match king,” who was the real-life model of Bjorn Faulkner in Night of January 16th.
Father Amadeus was Taggart’s priest, to whom he confessed his sins. The priest was supposed to be a positive character, honestly devoted to the good but practicing consistently the morality of mercy. Miss Rand dropped him, she told me, when she found that it was impossible to make such a character convincing.
The Professor is Robert Stadler.--This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
- ASIN : B003V8B5XO
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- Publication date : April 21, 2005
- Language : English
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- Print length : 1188 pages
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I tried to read Atlas Shrugged with a sympathetic eye, which as I understood it put me at a considerable disadvantage. It was worth the effort. This is an outstanding novel. In my mind it is only effective as such, and not as a manifesto.
I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised at how engaging and satisfying it was. Anyone who wishes to understand American politics in a nutshell and libertarian or fiscal conservative cyphers like ‘job creators’, ‘business friendly’, ’hand-outs’, ‘47%’, ‘entitlements’ and ‘the American dream’ owes it to themselves to read this book. I would also recommend it to anyone who would like an engaging read with business, biology , philosophy and sociological themes. Her diction in her intrapersonal ruminations is praise-worthy.
First I must define sociopathy in how I use it. To me sociopathy is the lack of sympathy for the intrinsic value of other people. Not only that but it is even the inability to understand other people as anything other than physical tools of obstruction or enrichment.
In a nutshell Atlas Shrugged is a preachy objectivist manifesto couched in a stunningly entertaining narrative. It posits that not only is sociopathy the only moral framework by which men are to govern their lives but the only framework by which anything of value can be produced in the economy or the personal sphere. That’s kind of the long and the short of it. If you want more detail, read on.
The books main characters (in my opinion):
Dagny Taggart-A steel minded, ambitious, passionate industrialist with a strong command of herself and her direction in life. She has no concept of anyone’s value except as they relate to her own personal benefit. Highly successful and a model businesswoman in many respects. A loner. It’s very easy to admire and respect her drive and commitment to excellence.
Francisco D’Anconio-A man who comes from money but “lives up to it” genuinely by being the best in all his endeavors. Strongly morally motivated like Dagny and Hank. Extremely skilled.
Jimmy Taggart-Dagny’s hand wringing ‘socially conscious’ brother who is president of the Taggart railroad. Utterly incompetent, idiotic, corrupt, lazy and possesses the reasoning skills of a drunk
Hank Rearden-Owner of Rearden steel. Almost a male mirror of Dagny. He finds his family worthless and his society’s social contract disgusting. He has a great deal of admiration for Dagny but is in danger of capitulating to the destructive collectivist ideology hammered into him by his family over the years
John Gault- Who is this guy? One of the least fleshed out characters. He is more sure of himself than Hank.
SPOILERS BELOW: (Though not much more than what’s contained in novel’s summary)
The Randian world is populated solely by superior creators and inferior leaches who contribute nothing. The plot consists of one of the “prime movers” and “creators” of the world putting a stop to the ‘motor of the world’. The railroad enterprise (especially Taggart Rail) is used as a proxy for enterprise in general and the novel consists of the perceived effects of what would happen when the minority competent retreat to an area where every man is an island and no moochers can benefit from their excellence, except themselves. It is a vilification of evolutionary cooperation and an exaltation of competition alone as the desired engine of human society both implicitly and explicitly stated throughout.
The plot is exciting and I do it little justice in saying that essentially Taggart Transcontinental is trying to build a superior railroad. The leaches a.k.a. ‘the public’ and ‘the government’ try to bring it down through various corrupt obstructionary tactics because they fear the excellence of others. Our objectivist heroes take their ball and go home and society collapses because only superior sociopaths can make society function. The idiotic leachers (consisting the only other segment of the population) are left to breathe through their mouths and behold how wrong and silly they are. John Gault appears and gives a 61 page speech which was done more succinctly in Wall Street’s Gordon Gecko ‘greed is good’ speech.
Atlas Shrugged is initially a world that rewards stupidity and collectivism and punishes achievers. The achievers of the novel vaguely hope that a mysterious Uebermensch will one day appear and turn the world upside down. That man is John Gault. Throughout the novel “Who is John Gault?” is used as a retort to an unanswerable question similar to “What is the Matrix?”. You’ll have to be patient to see him as he doesn’t show up until the 3rd section of the novel. Personally I liked the suspense of that.
Although Rand’s stated objective is to write a novel, not an ideological screed, this book is clearly a vehicle for expounding her Objectivist philosophy. Her characters and dialogue are extremist straw men and not reflective of the dynamics of the real world. That having been said it is a thoroughly entertaining novel with excellent prose especially when describing intra-personal feelings and objects. In the arena of the interpersonal her characterizations fall flat and seem to be describing an alien ersatz world. If you want to have an intimate view of the inner world of a textbook sociopath I imagine this novel is more useful than all the characters printed in the DSM-5. In this specific case I say that without contempt, as it is illuminating and interesting to understand her thinking style. One characterization I had of sociopaths is that they are luddites in terms of intrapersonal contemplation but Rand’s novel and her characters strongly rebut my prior belief.
Rand divides people into a false dichotomy of individualists/capitalists and collectivists/socialists. She ascribes to the former with only positive character traits (according to her world view) and the latter with only negative character traits. She makes some age-old virtues (like altruism) into vices, and some vices (like anti-social behavior) into virtues with some impressive mental gymnastics. In crafting her characters she divides the world into intelligent, ambitious and competent sociopaths and incompetent, corrupt, uncompetitive, moocher, irrational wishy-washy collectivists. Atlas Shrugged is a vision of a world of perfect meritocracy where people who exhibit desirable character traits are finally rewarded and people who exhibit undesirable character traits are finally punished. Seeing as we have never seen such a society function as such, it is a little much to hope for, but if we take her work as merely a novel it becomes quite satisfying and fitting for fiction. You truly come to hate the collectivists because as she describes them, they truly are leaches and completely useless. As a German I loathe inefficiency and lack of ambition so Dagny’s brother went into my bad books from the moment he opened up his obstructionist cake-hole.
Corporations and individuals compete, but they also cooperate, in the former case in terms of price fixing and union busting etc so there’s a case to be made that individuals and corporations have a poor survival probability if they fail to compete *AND* cooperate. This is not possible in Atlas Shrugged universe because the ‘cooperators’ are not only useless but collude to destroy any kind of meaningful capital.
A deliciously ironic example of her dichotomization of character (onto 2 poles) is when Dagny is rebuked early in the novel for “missing the human element”. The irony being that the cipher for demonstrating it is itself a straw man in that she implies that those who consider the human element must be both also irrational in conceptualizing what that element is and also useless in producing anything of value. Anyone who lauds the benefits of compassion and cooperation is immediately dismissed in her novel as also possessing only negative character traits. Personally I believe Dagny is a stand in for Rand who must have been told countless times that she is “missing the human element” and her frustration from not understanding what that term meant resulted in part in this book.
The founder of the railroad in question also threw someone down a flight of stairs for offering a government (a.k.a evil) loan when the company was short on capital. While this could potentially happen it seems very odd behavior for a believable character and almost made me laugh out loud. When the flip side of the individualist coin, “the moochers/collectivists” ever express any concern for social ramifications of their business decisions their navel gazing is always portrayed to be wildly ludicrous and incompetent suggesting that those concerned with the public good are also all idiots of the highest order. While yes, I may disagree with this philosophically I would have liked to see Ayn Rand to make her points with these characters in a more believable way. She certainly has a point that government often (maybe always?) fails to solve our problems but the grade-school straw men she paints are so facile that it takes away from the enjoyment of the novel. She could still have made a strong case with richer more complex characters even if those characters are metaphorical representations of ideological purism.
There are also instances in which characters self-contradict, which lends credibility to the believability of the characters. For instance when Dagny and Hank are speaking about the future of both of their businesses they initially speak as if they mean to outcompete each other and try to kill each other’s businesses. They do so with pleasure as they both love competition and respect each other’s drive. However later in this same exchange Hank (intentionally or not) gives Dagny valuable information by which she would be able to save her business by switching to airlines, giving her an informational advantage that might reduce Hank’s revenue in train steel. And the notorious anti-looters of the book contradict themselves like when Dagny steals liquor from an employee or when they do favors for each other. That’s the kind of thing I like to see in a good novel but I’m not sure Rand intended it as such because such a move would either show incompetence (whereas individualists are 100% competent) or cooperation (which individualists loathe).
The sociopath is not willfully ignorant of what the human element means but is unable to comprehend it at all. As such her portrayal of it is badly formed and then having been malformed, rightly destroyed. Her objection that love should only be given to people who can render one a personal service is again a hallmark of sociopathy. Not only is this implied but explicitly stated when Hank Rearden is criticized for being anti-social and the book later rationalizes love away as a condition of the weak and of the leechers. Naturally someone incapable of feelings of love would exasperatedly claim it is irrational since it makes no sense to them. To those of us who are able to feel it, much like those who can’t we find post-hoc rationalizations to explain why we feel it or not.
In her about the author she states “I trust that no one will tell me that men such as I write about don’t exist. That this book has been written—and published—is my proof that they do”. The little fact that Hank Rearden was a chemist, chemical engineer, civil engineer, procurement specialist, CEO, CTO, head of operations of a tremendously successful national corporation and Rand was only an author never having ran even a small business seems to have escaped her. Her reductionism and straw man representation of people expressing social concerns are the books biggest weaknesses. She states she accomplished everything by herself which is a ‘cool story bro’ considering she went to a state funded university and collected social security. It’s also delightful that the Ayn Rand institute was looking for volunteers and the Atlas Shrugged movie enterprise went to kickstarter to beg for handouts, but I digress.
Objectivism may be attractive to those who believe the economy is a meritocracy and make the assumption that poor people are poor simply because they are not trying. In such a world I too would be an objectivist. At my age after all I’ve seen and done I don’t believe that a true meritocracy exists anywhere on earth. Force, deception and inefficient markets will always exist. Perhaps publically funded academic institutions can be meritocracies but even then some people will simply be unable to compete due to disabilities or lesser abilities. Furthermore I only need to look at my personal life to disprove that the world is a perfect meritocracy. I used to earn $2.50/hr delivering newspapers in the rain, sleet, snow and tornadoes. A few years ago I earned $120k plus bonus potential for essentially hitting a button at 6pm every day. Such is life.
Her work makes perfect sense when viewed through her lenses. Rand I believe after reading her works was a sociopath with origins in Russia. In my opinion she had an inability (not willful rejection) of compassion. Furthermore those who proclaimed collectivism in her country of origin implemented a system rife with injustice, so it comes as no surprise that her economic pendulum swung so heavily towards the hyper-capitalist extreme. It concerns me somewhat that this flawed and juvenile manifesto informs contemporary leaders but I’m also disappointed that more people don’t give this book a chance. Yes it’s long but it’s also informative politically, psychology and wonderfully entertaining.
I respect Rand for writing a very strong and praiseworthy female character fully in charge of her mind and body. She is also to be lauded for steamy erotic scenes that are downright scintillating with heat without the unbuttoning of a blouse taking place. I nearly got a chubber on the train and then how would I explain that situation while holding Atlas Shrugged?
There’s a reason this book has such staying power and I think it is because it is well written and presents a just-world motivation to strive for excellence and to reject mediocrity. I get her point. We should all be ambitious about being the best and not be moochers. I think we can all agree on that. To over or underestimate this work is doing yourself a disservice in my humble opinion
Her characters talk things to death, but she dramatizes ideas many readers, then or now, have never heard. She shows our protagonists’ pursuit of work and excellence to the exclusion of most other elements in life.
She defends how they live and shows how critical they are to a society which meanwhile disparages them for selfishness and fails to acknowledge the significance of what they contribute - and at the end of the day regulates them to death, seizes their wealth or both.
Characters like Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden make no excuse for being “selfish” in pursuit of work and productivity. They do it to make money for themselves and stockholders, and make no bones about that: it’s reason enough. But they also do it because it’s beautiful, in their minds, the highest personal endeavor. They’re the ones that keep society running and provide its necessities, although society can’t admit it.
There are many, many long, long, LONG conversations as Rand seeks to turn prevailing modern assumptions on their head: That we’re here primarily to help others. That allowing people to control their own property is selfish. That the government does a better job of running society and the economy.
At a more personal level, Rand does her best to inject different ideas into the mix. Her protagonists despise dependence upon others as well as any sense that you live for others. Dagny, in her burgeoning affair with the married Hank, regards him as owing her nothing. Her independence is refreshing. She’s not independent in a postmodern, feminist sense of rebelling resentfully against the men closest to her. She’s independent in that she can fend for herself, expects others to do the same, and doesn’t want a man to cling to her, either.
Our protagonists decry society’s looters and moochers – those who punitively tax the productive and those who whine to be helped.
Rand uses the great length to portray inside business and political dealings, less melodramatic but more complex than what’s usually portrayed elsewhere. It takes her a while to get around to it, but you finally see where she’s going: the government injects itself more and more into the process. Every owner here must answer to officials who look more and more like commissars. Every owner tries to get by using Washington fixers to keep the government off his back, but in the long run fails. The government starts dictating who gets what raw materials, how much they can produce and who to ship it to. Producers produce less and less, their industries start to fall apart, and thus so does society.
Rand’s prolixity is put to good use in descriptive passages finding the beauty of industry - of blast furnaces, of gleaming rail stretching across plains and hills, of fabulous new bridges and skyscrapers. These are the things people build, beautiful in themselves and in what they represent: ideas proved right, energy, will, intelligence, investment, hard work, science, technology. These industrial artifacts are usually portrayed as ugly from a postmodern or environmental perspective by the ‘we’re raping Mother Earth’ school.
What was gained by such industry – steel, transportation, habitats and offices – and what was gained by all those – more places to live one’s life and seek one’s dreams, and a larger world to do it in – is often ignored and forgotten. And you can’t forget that. Those who want you to give it up, and will institute regulation or revolution to force you to, never seem to say how they’d substitute for it. And when given the chance to – Communist countries with complete and dictatorial control – they invariably fail. Your typical revolutionary couldn’t run a candy store, let alone a railroad.
There was a film called “Koyaanisqatsi” back in the 1980s, an American Indian word that meant “world out of balance”. It consisted entirely of video, much of it time-lapse, of human construction upon the planet. We were supposed to perceive it all as ugly. But the bands of light, say, streaming from thousands of cars moving in mesmerizing lines at night along urban highways was actually beautiful, which is why anyone watched the movie until the end. It disproved its own point.
The book has numerous flaws, more than a classic normally should, but it is so unique, it’s worthwhile despite it. There are too many endless conversations and interior monologues. Rand disparages feelings, as opposed to thought, but much of the book consists of her characters emoting. Well, OK, they’re thinking, the protagonists anyway (the bad guys, particularly near the end, are shown panicking, in ways they can’t verbalize, thought having succumbed to emotion) but it’s a very fine line. This book would be better at half or a third of the length. I have read that Rand used benzedrine, a stimulant, for three decades; if so, this book bears evidence of it. It would explain why so many of her passages go on for so long, far longer than it takes to actually explicate the thoughts in question, and counterproductive to the causes of holding readers or communicating, which I imagine she’d in normal circumstances have held dear.
John Galt’s legendary speech – said in the book to take three hours, but I imagine this would take even longer to actually read aloud; it’s 60 pages in one hardcover version – is in its own category. Rand lays out her philosophy the way philosophers do. It will cross the eyes of anyone else, those not greatly concerned with whether, say, existence can prove its own existence. But I’m willing to stipulate that political philosophies at some point and for some fraction of people must be proven in this way.
Rand at times writes like a girl; I say this affectionately. Dagny Taggart generally beats the guys (save for a few who are her equals, like Francisco D’Anconia and Hank Reardon) at their own game. She’s tough, competent, decisive and hard-working. But there is a tremendous amount of melodrama attached, not only to her, but to all of them. She’s always appearing at some important scene straight from some party in her formal evening wear, her strapless gown blowing in the wind, a striking, mesmerizing figure. (‘I Dreamed I Smashed The Collectivist Looter State in My Maidenform Bra.’)
And all the key men in the book are in love with her! And she has to choose! Oh, what to do, what to do?! It’s so awful! It’s so wonderful! Oh, TAKE ME!
It’s a lot of fun, actually, because it’s part of a book that actually says something.
Top reviews from other countries
If you fancy yourself as a superhero just read Sun Tzu 'The Art of War' or Clausewitz 'On War' which make clear and mercifully brief arguments which could actually be useful if you were a senior army officer. Neither of them have much to say of value to anyone running a business or going into politics, although a lot of shallow people assert the contrary.
The novel is an attempt to illustrate Rand's philosophy of Objectivism, which can be discussed elsewhere if you have the inclination, though few philosophers think it worthy of the time it would take.
One could imagine businessmen brandishing this book in the same way Trump brandishes the Bible. It is seen by those who have achieved some success in business as a rationale for rejecting any and all constraints upon their behaviour.
It meant to be a pamphlet against the "evil red empire" at the height of the Cold War, but the message is all wrong - it is not necessary to go to the extreme right to fight the extreme left. It is wrong as it is dangerous.
Leaving aside the - completely twisted - political and social "message", as a novel there's little one can say about this mammoth of a book (1,170 pages!) except that it is very badly written. The prose is pedestrian, lifeless and plagued with platitudes; the dialogues are unnecessarily long. The plot is not any better. It revolts around four main characters of whom we become tired after 200 pages (with 900 more to go). In not so many words, it is a bore.
And the sort of resolution of the plot, the conclusion that we should have been waiting for 1,000 pages is a delirious 60 (you've read correctly sixty) pages speech on the greatness of ultra-capitalism and greed.
Why the two stars then? You have to give the author a bit of credit for the effort, even if she would have put it elsewhere.
Ayn Rand’s novels are carriers of her philosophy of objectivisim, but they are ultimately just that, novels, and one has to be prepared to endure the realities of reading a novel. At times an overly long and somewhat disjointed novel.
The novel can be difficult reading at times, with often no clear beginning, middle or ultimately end. It is overly heavy on dialogue, much of which seems inconsequential, making the novel difficult to follow at times, and completion can seem like something of a mammoth task.
For this reader it took 3 attempts before actually reading the novel all the way through to completion. So, one may wonder, was it worth it?
If one is highly motivated to understand Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, then perhaps one could say yes. Similarly, even if one is unacquainted with the notions of Objectivism and one wishes to absorb ideas that challenge one’s mind, then Atlas Shrugged is definitely worth a read.
One may ask, what are the key ideas? Well, the novel revolves around a world that is heavily trending toward socialism, with “People’s States” appearing globally and the United States trending toward heavier governmental control.
A general zeitgeist can be observed wherein one is pressured toward subordinating their creative and entrepreneurial energies toward the collective and shamed as selfish and irresponsible for resisting the popular notions. However, the regulations are presented as being stifling toward commerce, and ultimately, industrialists begin to retreat and withdraw their energies.
The book explores the futilities of philosophical concepts, such as notions that the mind itself does not exist (a notion held by the misguided zeitgeist of the time) only for the ensuing strike of industrialists providing the triumph of the mind.
The most famous name associated with the novel, John Galt, does not appear until well into the second half of the book, until then he is a name mysteriously eluded to in conversation, often appearing randomly under the phrase “who is John Galt?”
The actual main event of the novel, the strike by industrialists is difficult to discern due to the heaviness of the dialogue, and no clear beginning or end can be discerned within the text, unless one gives their utmost attention to the book.
So, one may ask, is all the effort worth it? It depends on one’s motivations. If one wishes to understand Objectivism, this can be done in a far more concise way, however, the novel, if properly read and understood, buttresses Rand’s philosophical notions and explores them in a dialogue all of her own. In some ways similar to Plato’s dialogues, however, far less concise.
Think of Atlas Shrugged as being less a casual read, and more of a project. It’s a book that will be with you for weeks, likely months unless one is a quick reader. Patience is required to complete the book, and one needs to read between the lines at times, so for such reasons it is far from an easy read.
The book is relevant for our time, or previous ages, as it provides a reminder that one should rely on one’s own instinct and resist the herd mentality of the times. In the book, it is the herd mentality trending toward Socialism, in our day and age it is the herd mentality trending toward medical totalitarianism. Both use shaming, as explored in the novel, and both can stifle the human spirit. The alternative is provided by Rand, man’s own rationalism and pursuit of one’s own interest.
Read only if you are highly motivated to immerse oneself in the Randian Philosophy of Objectivism, or are already attracted to popular notions of individualism.
The story is set many decades in the past and focuses on a rail executive who finds herself in a world where business leaders are disappearing. The story is interesting and gripping, but not the main reason why people read this book.
The story is suppose to express Rand's "Objectivism" to readers in a way that is easy to understand and convincing. This world view attempts to justify extreme egoism and reject altruism. This is perhaps the only bit of Rand's Objectivisms that comes through well. Other parts such as her epistemology and metaphysics are easy to understand, but very unconvincing.
This book is a commitment to read, but one that everyone should take in their life. This book has influenced countless leaders throughout the world, and it is good to have read it to better understand their thought process.