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Atlas Shrugged Paperback – August 1, 1999
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"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
Read the absorbing new psychological suspense thriller from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Marisha Pessl. Learn more
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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However, despite my personal criticisms of the book, I do still consider it an essential read for anybody seeking a thought-provoking novel. It will give you heaps of topics to discuss with friends, family, and (if you're lucky) other readers of Atlas Shrugged.
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.
As a Christian, I don't agree with Rand's belief that religion is a large part of the problem. In fact, I think it's telling that in communist regimes, they work so hard to eliminate religious people (especially Christians). Regardless, I do find Rand's "Objectivism" to be a nice contrast to what is currently being taught in America's colleges.