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Atlas Shrugged Paperback – August 1, 1999
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About the Author
Born February 2, 1905, Ayn Rand published her first novel, We the Living, in 1936. Anthem followed in 1938. It was with the publication of The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957) that she achieved her spectacular success. Rand’s unique philosophy, Objectivism, has gained a worldwide audience. The fundamentals of her philosophy are put forth in three nonfiction books, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, The Virtues of Selfishness, and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. They are all available in Signet editions, as is the magnificent statement of her artistic credo, The Romantic Manifesto.
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Wow, this review hadn't been out 12 hours when someone gave it an "Unhelpful" vote. I'm sure that was an Objectivist giving it an objective vote based on its own merit. As a way of saying thank you, here are some more reasons why this book sucks. There is no dramatic tension because the antagonists are way outclassed by the protagonists from page one. There's no real struggle here, just one side demonstrating their superiority (coincidentally in the form of a universal adherence to Ayn Rand's philosophy) and the other side demonstrating their slimy ineptitude. Yawn. Here's another thing. A good author provides a strong counterpoint against their own argument so they can confront it, offer their own counterpoint, and thereby strengthen their own argument. No such counterpoint here. Whether this indicates a lack of imagination on the part of the author or a lack of faith in the strength of her own philosophy is debateable, but either way it's just another example of the many shortcomings of this novel.
Here's some more stuff that came up in discussions about this book (see the 3 Star review entitled "Behemoth" for a much more detailed dissection):
1) Rand's god-hero, John Galt, consistently demonstrates sociopathic behavior. He is a master manipulator who doesn't hesitate to ruin lives (of his would-be allies, no less!!!) or cause death and destruction in the pursuit of his goals. His ruthlessness is due in part to a complete lack of empathy, making him incapable of seeing situations from another's point of view. This might imply a singular dedication of purpose, but it also fits the profile of a serial killer. I wouldn't be surprised if Galt spends his spare constructing a "woman suit" sewn together from the flesh of his victims.
2) Galt's prophecy is self-fulfilling. The chaos he predicted comes about not because of the ineptitude of lesser men but because of his own supervillian-style plot to destroy society. He shouldn't be fighting liberals and unions, he should be fighting the Fantastic Four. Heck, at one point he gives a 70-page monologue!!! Dr. Doom has nothing on this guy.
3) The novel doesn't mention the Stock Market. Is that because the Stock Market Crash of 1929 showed the inherent weakness of an unregulated financial system?
4) There are no children, elderly, or terminally ill characters in the novel (i.e. non-producers who have no place in Rand's ideal society). I assume this is because in her society people emerge fully grown from their gestation chambers at the age of 21 and once they've outlived their usefulness are ground up into an edible paste.
5) The title is unintentionally ironic. Atlas didn't carry the weight of the world on his shoulders as a sign of his greatness. That job was his punishment for acting like a jerk.
And what about the philosophy of Objectivism itself? I'll just say this. If the Steve Forbes of the world went on strike, I don't think my life would be significantly impacted. If garbagemen, mailcarriers, police, or factory workers went on strike, that would be a different story.
I must have read it a thousand times after that. My favorite bit was when we see John Galt refusing to take part in the welfare program adopted by his employers. I was enthralled by the philosophical passages and attempted to live my life according to the ideas Ayn Rand introduced me to. The next several years were spent studying her novels, essays, and a book written by Leonard Peikoff entitled, appropriately enough, "Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand".
You could say that I came under the spell of Rand's thought- I had "Atlas" or "The Fountainhead" everywhere I went. I would constantly recommend them to friends and acquaintances, and viciously argue with anyone who dared to contradict the things I learned from them. I am 27 at the time of this writing; this garbage was my life from 19 to 23, when I started to notice cracks in Rand's thought.
Because she was not a trained philosopher her arguments are all too often speculative, her proofs sophomoric. Memo to 'objectivists': You can use a syllogism to "prove" anything. 'Objectivism' is little more than a patchwork of ideas gleaned from the likes of Aristotle, Milton Freidman, Adam Smith, Nietzsche, Thomas Aquinas and others. It is an artificially contstructed system, not based in reality or on human nature; largely, it is a rationalization of the tendency of the strong to dominate the weak, and Rand encourages them to do so while scolding the weak for not enjoying the bondage they find themselves in.
There is no originality to be found in all of Rand's 'philosophy'. She frequently resorts to 'ad hominem' attacks, especially where Immanuel Kant and other philosophers are concerned. Her grasp of Kant's system is limited, to say the least. Personally, I don't believe she ever actually read what he wrote.
Rand constantly psychologized her (perceived) intellectual opponents (accusing them of secretly hating life, humankind and "the good",etc.), which is a danger one learns to avoid if one wants to be taken seriously by serious people. Maybe Rand never worried about that, as insulated as she became from the rest of the world. I think that between the collective of Peikoff, Alan Greenspan, Nathaniel and Barbara Branden and others that gathered around her in the 1950's and the affair she had with Branden, she truly began to believe in herself as an expression of the new hero myth she worked so hard to build.
The most original aspect of Randian thought is the idea of "measurement-omission" in concept formation; the most current research in this area, however, completely contradicts Rand's theory. (The last time I mentioned this theory to a person with a degree in psychology, they laughed.) Research it. I dare you.
The downfall of Rand's philosophy is her novels. The downfall of her novels is her philosophy.
Both are built around a romanticized version of humankind, lacking in depth, warmth, weakness, flaws, vice and, above all, feeling. The heroes are all blameless, perfect, and perfectly boring; they all speak in a voice that is eerily similar to the one Rand uses to serve up her own ideas in her 'nonfiction' essays. The villains are also rather uninspired, always whining, pleading, begging, crying, screaming- but never speaking. They all have a secret, subconscious desire to destroy the world, and the 'heroes' that built it- and no realistic motivation is ever given.
The whole mess of bad characterization and plot holes resolves itself in a sustained prose-vomit as Rand treats us to John Galt and his 40 or 50 page long rant. When I look over it again this moment, it's truly painful to read. No one ever talked like this! The sentences are awkward and unrealistic as Galt explains his "philosophy" and why he and his fellow industrialists decided to doom millions of people to death by starvation, civil war, diease and famine.
Eventually, I could not inhabit the 'objectivist' mindset anymore. I read Kant, Hume, and many of the other philosophers she abhors, and found that most of what she wrote about them is a complete fabrication. Read the Critique of Pure Reason and show me where Kant unveils the darkness in his soul. Oh, wait. You can't, because it isn't there.
Rand offers us a vision of a world that is wholly unlike our own, filled with people wholly unlike us. They do not grow old and die, they do not have children, they do not get laid off or marry (unless it's a youthful mistake or a way torture the person they really love) or do anything at all, except work (and have affairs, which is kind of weird). When they do fall in love, it's almost a rivalry. As the title of the review says, this is all very juvenile and unrealistic.
In the end, I decided that what she advocates- the capitalist, unfettered and unopposed, is at best, misguided and at worst, fascist.