Review of “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand
I read this book because it was referenced in several serious sociological and psychological treatises I’ve read during the last few years. I don’t think any of those researchers actually read this, however. My paperback copy was 1069 pages of 9 pt font. It took several months to finish, but I read it as carefully as every other book I’ve reviewed.
This is an example of why people become writers. Ayn Rand had a bone to pick with several aspects of American society in the 1950s, and she felt emboldened to rush into the fray without bothering to think about what she was saying. I’m fine with that because this is a work of fiction. Some people have become confused, however, naming her ranting diatribes a “philosophy” which she called Objectivism. I’ll say it now, before discussing the story and technical details, that I agree with many aspects of the views she shares through her protagonist characters. Who can argue with a slogan like, “Work hard and treat everyone with respect,” if it’s applied by all the members of society? This isn’t a political blog, so I’ll let that go, but it’s easy to learn more. As an aside, Atlas Shrugged is apparently some kind of scripture for Libertarians. Who’d have thunk it?
Technical stuff first. I don’t remember finding a single punctuation error, but I found several grammatical errors in the last third of the book. I think everyone, including the proofreader, was suffering from Writer’s Fatigue. Ayn Rand is wordy, to say the least. Her writing style appears to be “Always use twice as many words, especially in descriptive prepositional phrases, as you need. It got ugly towards the end. Here’s an example selected randomly (page 1058):
“They did not speak as they walked down the hill, with the darkness of the trees closing in about them for protection, cutting off the dead glow of the moon and the deader glow in the distance behind them, in the windows of the State Science Institute.”
Wow. The entire book was written in this style, but the author had lost it by this time. She just wanted to end the agony. It was her own fault because the characters don’t do a good job of conveying what was on Rand’s mind. The book is filled with rants and soliloquies given at the drop of a hat, but none of them elegantly summarized the speakers’ thoughts. Some of these digressions are more than 10 pages long, and they still fail to make their point (or maybe I forgot it by then).
I started off loving this book because the protagonists are just like me in many respects. I don’t retract that view after reading it. There were many scenes in the first third of the story, where the characters’ personalities were revealed in excellent style. This applied to several of the antagonists, those lucky enough to be introduced in the first part of the book. It wasn’t only the bad guys who got cheated. The man who epitomized what made this book into a pop-philosophy, John Galt, appeared too late to be seen as a real person. He was reduced to a Greek hero (he is actually compared to one near the end) with zero dimensions, the perfect man. I wanted to laugh, but I was too tired.
Summary. Okay…let’s see.
The author makes a lot of valid points about the importance of being rational, thinking, using our brains a lot more often, but she fails to show how this can be done by regular people. Her protagonists are all straight out of Greek tragedies. Or comic books. She has a gift for evocative metaphors involving all of the senses. Very good. I’m envious. She should have been a poet (maybe she was). The story wasn’t that complicated and was revealed early on, with no plot twists, not even red herrings. Straightforward story telling. There was no real conflict, a basic requirement of almost any story. It is a blow-by-blow description of the breakdown of society and the creation of a (communist) dictatorship. She was obviously concerned about the Soviet Union when she wrote this book. Did I forget to mention that the story is set in a fantasy United States that stands alone as the last bastion of capitalism?
Bottom line. I can’t recommend it unless you are like me, which I doubt. However, there was a miniseries made in maybe 2011, which is a pretty good rendition of the story, at least parts 1 and 2. I’ll watch Part 3 when I get a chance, but I don’t think it will follow the book as well because, by this time, Rand’s characters were on the path of verbal warfare with themselves (I’m not kidding…themselves), which doesn’t make a good movie. But she does destroy the world…oops, I forgot that too.
With all of the libertarian BS in this book, there are a lot of great glimpses of mental torment and anguish, not to mention the breakdown of society and a return to feudalism, described very well.
Rand ruined a great book with too much ideology. She lost it, just like her characters.
At the end, I didn’t agree with the protagonists’ decision. The bad guys won…
The bad guys always win… because good guys are few and far between. They are outnumbered billions to one. Historical accounts show time and time again that people only behave themselves when they have the luxury excess to do so…or if they think they have something to gain.