89 of 100 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, Thought Provoking but Overlong
This novel hardly needs a review to encourage someone to buy it, when you consider one point alone: It is over 50 years old and people still read it and enjoy it. It is a classic and nothing I can say can detract from that.
But it is also a product of its time, espousing a philosophy that is only internally consistent if one makes rather more assumptions than...
Published on 19 Mar 2009 by Sir Furboy
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Clarion call of a bygone era
Perhaps the most significant book in post-war American literature, one which has regained popularity since the start of the economic crisis, Altas Shrugged is the embodiment of an ideal society, the ultimate vehicle for Ayn Rand's philosophy of objectivism. Weighing in at over 1,000 pages of tightly-packed print, it's also one of the longest novels in English literature...
Published 14 months ago by Felix Valencia
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89 of 100 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, Thought Provoking but Overlong,
This review is from: Atlas Shrugged (Paperback)This novel hardly needs a review to encourage someone to buy it, when you consider one point alone: It is over 50 years old and people still read it and enjoy it. It is a classic and nothing I can say can detract from that.
But it is also a product of its time, espousing a philosophy that is only internally consistent if one makes rather more assumptions than the author admits to. The characters all speak with Ayn Rand's voice, in a manner that might be familiar to readers of Galileo perhaps, but not so much with readers of a good modern novel. The characters feel unreal. The whole setting is preposterously unreal, and here is a novel that would have been better set in an alternate universe of a science fiction writer, in the manner - say - of Philip Dick's "The Man in the High Castle". Perhaps that was her intent in fact, but she gives us no anchor into the world she is describing and the action of the novel dances across an empty stage.
For anyone seeking rich characterizations, realistic interactions, or a sense of place in the narrative, you will be disappointed in this novel. The novel is merely the platform for Rand's polemic, and jumps from unbelievable to the preposterous without apology.
This being said, it was still a jolly good read. The conflict in the novel is engrossing and draws you in quickly. The first time someone defeats a "looter government", you want to applaud. When Dagny (the protaganist) completes a railway line against all the odds you can feel her exhilieration - even if you wonder how she managed it! The concept of the plot is refreshingly original, and readers will want to finish the novel.
Given its length though, finishing can be tricky - especially where it comes to a 90 page speech espousing Rand's epistemology. Some aspects of the plot were also tiring, and one wonders whether the book could have achieved its purpose whilst being edited a little. Ok, the 90 page speech was probably why she wrote the book - but perhaps Rand forgets the maxim here: "show don't tell"
Ultimately though, the book's philosophy suffers for being the product of an age that does not exist any longer. Marxism is a target of Rand's polemic, but also social programmes that have clearly worked and brought tremendous benefit to the world (including the US), such as the Marshal plan. At the same time, she defends a world of producer industrialists that largely no longer exist now, and rather misses the point that invention in our modern world is hardly the preserve of big business (even if only businesses have the resources to patent their inventions). I could say more on this, but this is a review - not a critique, so I will stop!
I give the book 4 stars despite all this criticism, because I do not regret having read it. I enjoyed it, I thought about it, I disagree with a good deal of it, but I do not regret it. Neither will you.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely entertaining unintended parody,
This review is from: Atlas Shrugged (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)I thoroughly enjoyed this book in the exact same way that I enjoyed Gullivers Travels, Candide and Travels in Nihilon, as a clever social parody. I fear, however, that Ms Rand means this as a serious philosophical work.
There are several concepts which just don't add up, like the idea that business men are innovators instead of simply the exploiters of the talent of others (Steve Jobs and Thomas Eddison spring to mind), the idea that business men working purely for greed will somehow create a better world, the idea that businesses are so fragile that the loss of one top man will cause them to collapse, the idea that society is so fragile that the loss of a handful of exploiters will cause it to collapse.
I found the John Galt Engine to be highly questionable; Not only are the physics highly suspect, but the whole premise of "Galt's Gulch" completely relies on it. It's inserted into the novel like a magic talisman in order to give the heroic industrialists an edge and might as well have been a philosophers stone or a magic wand for all the bearing it has in reality.
As a cartoon-style parody of the perceived glories of capitalism and the perceived faults of socialism, this is an extremely enjoyable novel but it could only be taken as serious philosophy by the disingenuously narrow-minded.
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Clarion call of a bygone era,
This review is from: Atlas Shrugged (50th Anniversary Edition) (Mass Market Paperback)Perhaps the most significant book in post-war American literature, one which has regained popularity since the start of the economic crisis, Altas Shrugged is the embodiment of an ideal society, the ultimate vehicle for Ayn Rand's philosophy of objectivism. Weighing in at over 1,000 pages of tightly-packed print, it's also one of the longest novels in English literature. Is it any good?
Well, as a novel, Atlas Shrugged unfortunately falls flat, in ways that Rand's first novel, We the Living (Penguin Modern Classics), didn't. There is foremost no humanity in the novel, the characters are dismembered, dessicated mouthpieces to Rand's philosophical diatribes, with everyone fitting neatly into 'good' and 'bad' camps. Rand herself claimed that using characters as symbols was never her intention: "My characters are persons in whom certain human attributes are focused more sharply and consistently than in average human beings." But what we are left with are flimsy apparitions, lobotomised automatons fulfilling the roles required of them to extol the virtues of her philosophy. Even this is taken to extremes, with one of the proponents delivering a 60-page long theoretical speech around which the rest of the novel might well be seen as scaffolding.
To complement this set of lifeless characters is a plot which similarly confounds understanding. In an America which technologically resembles the period in which Rand was writing, yet industrially feels set in an earlier period, and borrows heavily from the Great Depression, the main events and the decisions of the characters jar heavily with what the reader knows and expects from society. As another reviewer pointed out, what's missing is the overt understanding that the story takes place in a parallel world or a different timeframe, to create a genuine sense of credibility. True, there are some hints that push this novel into the realms of science fiction--a super metal alloy, power derived from static electricity, weapons based on sound waves etc.--but the world is definitely our own, even if the people and their decisions are alien. Key to the story is the gradual collapse of the economic system, and the disappearance of the champions of industry. What happens in Rand's universe when the creative minds of the world go on strike? Apparently, they settle down on the frontier and, working one month a year, create a fully-fledged miniature utopia. Personally, I imagine they'd starve.
A bad book can still be a good delivery vehicle for an interesting message. Yet this unwieldy book fails even to achieve the latter. For its mammoth length, Rand's message could have been relatively concise, but for the plot's repetitiveness. If you are interested in Rand's philosophy, there are plenty of other places to turn which will provide a far more succinct and detailed explanation, without the repetition or padding necessary for its delivery in novel form. Whether you find place for Rand's philosophy in your own, or like Gore Vidal consider it "nearly perfect in its immorality", there are simply better summaries available. For the converted, this is probably a wonderful book, but for anyone else it simply isn't worth risking the investment of time and energy.
No one can deny this book's enduring popularity. That alone gives rise to curiosity strong enough to keep it fresh in the public consciousness. But it is a far cry from a great piece of literature, and as an allegory, a philosophical harbinger, its ponderous and verbose nature should have the curious turn elsewhere. The novel opens with the question: "Who is John Galt?" A thousand pages of largely disappointing text will reveal the answer, but you'd be better served just reading the appendix.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most flawed novel ever written,
This review is from: Atlas Shrugged (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)This is the edition of 'Atlas Shrugged' to buy. Here, you just have the text, without pages of plugs for the various 'courses,' 'foundations' and what-have-yous that Rand's intellectual heirs have set up, to my mind wholly cynically, in an ongoing bid to milk the creative cow to the bone. Let's concentrate on the book, shall we, and not on the use that's been made of it by every fifth-rate right wing parasite in the US of A?
Actually, it's a very good book. Flawed - hideously so - but good. The best assessment of the whole thing came from an ex-Communist (!) I once knew, who said 'Rand's saving grace was that she could write a rattling good yarn, even if she was a pretty naff thinker.' Bear this in mind and you can read the whole of 'Atlas' and emerge intellectually unscathed- emotionally unscathed, too. You can throw in 'The Fountainhead' and 'Anthem,' while you're at it. Hey, if you can be bothered (but don't be), you can even go as far as 'We the Living.' What you should not do is touch the non-fiction. It is of no value whatsoever except, I'm afraid, as evidence of the state of mind of the novelist.
What was that state of mind? Rand was convinced that everyone who engaged with anything she said or thought, in any spirit other than slavish, witless agreement, was her mortal enemy. This conviction, well established when she wrote 'Anthem,' was set in stone by the time she came to 'Atlas.' In the face of such perceived universal hostility, what was she to do? Come up with ideas no one could possibly agree with, of course! Put forth notions that would have her enemies - just about everyone - jibbering and snarling with offence. Which is what, from Gore Vidal's famous review of 'Atlas' on, they have done.
So, what are these bizarrely noxious notions that had liberals from Bangor to Walla Walla thus a-foamin' at the mouth? They can be reduced to a single proposition - but it is a doozy!
For any action to be morally good, it must be carried out for the benefit of the person doing it. Benefits may accrue to other persons as a secondary consequence but the primary intended beneficiary must be the person performing the action. Any attempt to perform an action for the benefit of a person other than the person performing it will have dire consequences, for the performer and for his or her intended beneficiaries. If you've read the works of the malignant Lenin, under whose rule Rand suffered when she was a child, you can see that she's taken the twaddle he spouted and simply thrown it in reverse. In `The Fountainhead,' Rand brilliantly shows how her Big Idea CAN be true, through the career of the parasitic and pitiable Peter Keating. But she's not satisfied with that: regardless of circumstances and regardless of the nature of the act itself, she demands that everyone thinks The Big Idea is ALWAYS true. It is a demand she must have known would never be met.
Obviously, she was dismissed as a crank. Obviously, she was hooted in the reviews columns. And, though she feigned mortification at this hooting, one cannot doubt that it was part of the plan. Because she'd shown `em! Ha!
How good can a novel created to express such a nonsensical thesis ever be? As I've said, surprisingly good. Rand's utter contempt and loathing for her intellectual enemies drives the satirical portions of the book - the ghastly Lillian Rearden's parties, in particular - to Dickensian depths of black, black comedy. The central mystery - to where are all the clever people in the world disappearing? - is absorbing. And the central characters' search for the inventor of a mysterious engine that will generate motive power from atmospheric static electricity is as tense and exciting an adventure as you will ever find anywhere. Rand really was a wonderful storyteller.
Those central characters themselves, Dagny Taggart the railway operator and Hank Rearden the steelman, are more sympathetic than one might expect in the context of Rand's wider agenda. Indeed, for most of the book, her talent as a novelist and her joy, often beautifully evident, in the act of storytelling, trump her horrible perception of the world. My favorite character will always be the ambiguous Francisco d'Anconia, who behaves like one of the bad guys but is very obviously a good'un underneath. He takes a genuine delight in the things he builds and makes, more involving than the rather plodding determination with which Hank and Dagny go about their businesses. And he's very very funny. Francisco is, perhaps, the best evidence we have of what a delightful writer Rand might have been if she hadn't hated everybody so much.
Ultimately, 'Atlas' lets us down in the person of its deus-ex-machina. John Galt is alluded to throughout the book but only shows up two thirds of the way in. He's introduced magnificently. The first conversation between him and Dagny is a model of restraint and authorial discipline. But, having revealed the man who's making the clever people vanish, Rand doesn't know what to do with him, apart from make him a perfect human being. And Rand was too good a novelist not to understand, deep down, that perfection is dull. So Galt remains a substanceless cypher, a droning bore who, in the real world, we'd probably pity as a severe autistic. His hundred-odd page monologue explaining his - and, of course, Rand's own ideas - is a model of tedium which is safely skipped. The book as a whole is a thousand pages long, so it's still good value.
Please read `Atlas Shrugged.' It's a wonderful adventure and it'll tell you a lot about the dreams and the motivations of many people - some of whom, I choose to believe, are well intentioned. Silly children they may be - dangerously silly children, when put in charge of important financial institutions - but still, sometimes pitiably, well intentioned. It will also give you a deeper understanding of the real-life villains who use Rand's ideas to justify their own cynical and malevolent political plots. But do not lose sight of the fact that its author, a beautiful and magnificent storyteller, was also a troubled and deeply unhappy human being. This is a book to be enjoyed. Whatever its author's claims to the contrary, it was never intended to be agreed with.
99 of 122 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but better to wait for the movie.,
This review is from: Atlas Shrugged (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)Atlas Shrugged is a 1100 page(small print!) novel in which 4 or 5 people stride about like nationalistic heroes building railroads, inventing things, and being proud of it; while the rest of the world mooches off them and complain that the industrialists have too much money.
Even though I'm a liberal, I have to admit this book was interesting. It's like a dystopian novel for capitalists (God knows how many there are for socialists). The ideas are challenging and thought-provoking whoever you are, and the writing is pretty nice, Rand obviously put a lot of energy into the book.
But it's pretty clunky, the plot goes on so many boring tangents, the love scenes are ridiculous, the characters are uninteresting, and most of all it's too repetitive. A quarter of the way through the book I was already familiar with all aspects of Rand's philosophy, and I could tell precisely where the book was going, so reading it felt like a bit of a chore, especially since I never skim pages.
If you're an anti-union, hardcore capitalist then buy the book and revel in it, but if you're not, then wait for the expected movie, with Angelina Jolie coming out in 2008.
I gave this a 4 because the people who would like this would love it, and it's quite a novelty to read a writer who isn't a liberal/socialist/hedonist/romantic/bum.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic story-telling, improbable and rivetting,
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This review is from: Atlas Shrugged (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)Fantastic innsight into the world of capitalism, focussing on Ayn Rand's heroic entrepreneurs, scentists and miners and railway pioneers in early 20th centure USA and contrastic their ambitious ideas for progress and achievement with the resentments and jealousies of other 'less-enlightened' folk. A riveting read, as much for the social attitudes highlighted as for the story, and the best defence of (or argument for) capitalism (and against communism) I ahve every come across.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dagny Taggart and her three lovers: Copper, Steel and Gold,
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This review is from: Atlas Shrugged (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)Atlas Shrugged may be the most demanding work of literature I have read since university. It is certainly the only novel since then for which I have also bought a reader, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged: A Philosophical and Literary Companionfiftieth anniversary collection of essays, and it is only now, having finished that, that I am turning to writing a review. At about 1,200 pages (always a bit hard to tell from a Kindle edition) it is also, give or take the occasional "space opera", the longest work I've read for a long time. So: was it worth it?
Arguably this is a work of fiction that is more germane today that it ever was. In a month where the government of one European state, Cyprus, exercised a "levy" thought to be over 40% on investors with over 100,000 on deposit, it's worth considering Rand's depiction of the causes and effects of state-backed "looting and mooching". While I find it surprising, 55 years on, that she could have seen the seeds of such statist decadence in the US of the 1940s and 1950s, the New Deal notwithstanding, there is no doubt that the European Union would have represented, to Rand, an (un)worthy successor to the Soviet Union as the archetype of a well meaning but ultimately corrupting and self-defeating super-state. Every day the news abounds with stories of government spending tax payers' money because they feel that "something must be done", or perhaps just that they feel that they ought to be seen to be doing something. Rand was clear: the best thing government can do is stick to maintaining freedom through the rule of law, and then by getting (the hell) out of individuals' way.
I doubt that anyone reads Atlas Shrugged today without knowing that they are reading a philosophical novel from a right wing, more or less libertarian perspective. There are those who claim that it is a great novel in its own right. While few would argue that works of fiction achieve greatness without giving us insights into some profound aspects of the human condition, few if any literary contenders focus so exclusively on the socio-economic and political facets. The narrative is interesting, it's exciting (although it could probably have been more exciting had it been shorter) and the imagery is arresting. Dagny Taggart is without doubt a compelling female role-model. My enjoyment may have been prejudiced a little by the knowledge that every character had been created to represent a particular viewpoint, and I may have spent too long trying to work out what they were, but I can't help thinking that the storyline suffers from all the characters being archetypes.
Characters tend to be either heroic or contemptuously villainous, and there's a distinct white hat/black hat feel to them, made all the more obvious by Rand's unsubtle use of physical attractiveness as a key to character. Perhaps this was the Hollywood screenwriter in her. The heroes are physically attractive while the baddies are ugly. Dagny's brother, James Taggart, the worst sort of pork barrel businessman, is first described as having "a small, petulant mouth, and thin hair clinging to a bald forehead". Dangy's three lovers, by contrast, Copper magnate Francisco D'Anconia, steel foundry owner Hank Reardon, and the inventor and philosopher John Galt, suffer only from being just too heroic, too near to godlike to make entirely believable characters. It's hard to develop empathy with an archetype, and I found only Dagny herself to be truly engaging.
Atlas Shrugged was the last work of fiction that Ayn Rand wrote. I suspect that after this book, and The Fountainhead that preceded it (by 14 years) she no longer needed to worry about money, and she devoted herself to developing her philosophy of "Objectivism" in non-fiction works. I can't say that I found it entirely easy to glean what objectivism was about from the novel alone (Younkins' reader has gone some way to plugging the gap since). Suffice to say that hers is a harsh and elitist philosophy, in which 99% of humanity could at best aspire to be the loyal "common man" represented by Dagny's right hand man, Eddie Willers.
John Galt's credo, and presumably therefore Rand's own, is "I swear by my life and for my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine." While one may admire the entrepreneurialism, drive and personal responsibility of Rand's entrepreneurs, I do find her blanket condemnation of altruism misplaced. She appears to discourage personal altruism, not just state-backed, taxpayer-funded altruism. Does she condemn the Rockefellers, the Carnegies and now the Buffetts and the Gates for giving much of their fortunes to aid others? Is it not part of our role and our worth as human beings to look after other members of our "tribe"? Certainly, contemporary genetic theory from the likes of Steve Jones seems to suggest so. Credo: we should all be prepared to live a little of our lives for the sake of others.
As far as specifically ebook related comment on this Kindle edition, it's pretty good from what was probably a scan of a printed version, with a singular but oft repeated error that a small amount of proof reading would have fixed: every time the letter "a" follows a capital W, and some other letters too, it too was rendered as a capital. The frequently visited Wayne-Falkland hotel was rendered every time as the "WAy ne-Falkland". Amusing in a way, but distracting.
This is a book I feel sure that I will re-read again in the future, and I may yet read some of Rand's non-fiction. Great work that it is, however, this is not a book that I feel I can award 5 stars, but it's certainly worth reading - even if you don't fully understand, or feel you entirely like, all aspects of Ayn Rand's objectivist philosophy.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Far too long,
This review is from: Atlas Shrugged (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)This book could have been completed in 200 pages or less if all of the long, repetitive speeches were taken out. Some of Rand's prose is quite good but she does not do dialogue well. She doesn't do characters well either. They are either good or evil (from her perspective) and within these groupings they are totally interchangeable. Is there any real difference between Francisco D'Anconia, Hank Rearden and John Galt, apart from the fact that JG seems to be better in bed? It really is a quite silly book, devoid of any subtleties.
I read The Fountainhead and Anthem about 20 years ago. At least they are not so long.
27 of 35 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Vastly over-rated,
This review is from: Atlas Shrugged (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)I approached Atlas Shrugged with great expectations, after having become familiar with Ayn Rand's reputation. What a let-down! This work is vastly over-rated for the following reasons (if not others as well):
1. The basic philosophical and social arguments are simple and could have been developed effectively in a short story. They certainly did not need to be repeated through 800+ pages.
2. The character development is simplistic to say the least, with everyone divided into heroes, victims or looters.
3. Each type of character spouts the same speech ad nauseam, according to their category of character.
4. Ayn Rand doesn't even spare the poor "five and dime" shop worker,Cherryl, from speechifying. I laughed out loud when I read the high-flown speech attributed to Cherryl (right before her accidental death). Even Rand has to qualify this speech as words that Cherryl would have thought -- presumably if she had been cast as a hero, instead of an almost-hero.
5. We have to suffer through endless descriptions of the tightening and loosening of characters' facial muscles, as each gets ready to suppress a smirk or hide their pain. Enough already!
6. The sun is always rising or setting and casting appropriate light or gloom over the scene, as though Nature is in sympathy with the long-suffering heroes.
7. When we finally see a glimpse of Atlantis, the new home of the heroes, it is remarkable that there are hardly any women there, other than our heroine Dagny. How is this model society supposed to survive and thrive with only male heroes present? Will these heroes teach their precious skills to their sons and daughters, if any?
8. Why do the heroes all come from dysfunctional families? Why do they not experience any loving relationships with other humans? Why don't they have any children? Despite being such vaunted "doers" and "inventors," sadly they remain one-dimensional speech-makers.
9. Ayn Rand apparently had little understanding of warm human relationships built on honest emotion. Her heroine Dagny bounces from physical "love" / "worship" for one hero to another, aware only of physical or mystical attraction. How can anyone credibly claim to dedicate their life and love to someone whom they've never met (Galt), only idealized in an overly cerebral personal life?
10. Finally, I am personally horrified that such a deficient piece of literature should be routinely presented to high-school students in the US. Is it not surprising that impressionable youngsters should come away with the idea that the (American) world is divided into only two categories "winners" and "losers?"
Ah-ha, note to self: Maybe this philosophy explains the unethical behaviors of businesspeople associated with the collapse of Enron, Arthur Andersen, the US mortgage industry, Wall Street banks, and even perhaps the disgraceful response to Hurricane Katrina?
In conclusion, this is the most over-rated book I have encountered in a long life of reading.
23 of 30 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars God, isn't she loopy?,
This review is from: Atlas Shrugged (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)I'm half way through this. I will try to finish it, but it is going to be really tough.
Such an unrealistic and odd book! The world is divided into pure-as-snow entrepreneurs, and wicked socialists and do-gooders. It is very important to be selfish. Only totally selfish entrepreneurs have an ounce of honesty in them (they also have very good sex).
Everyone else is rotten, corrupt, and decaying. If anyone who offers you a job which has state funding, refuse the job. That person is a crook! Rotten! You will get infected, and you'll also have bad sex. Only privately funded research is any good, state-supported institutions are rotten. The pure inventors, the pure businessmen, can only work in the private sector. By the way, did I tell you not to work in Washington? Nor work for a charity? Nor give anyone anything. No, no, no! Naughty! Slap!
Good sex is sado-masochistic, by the way. Successful female entrepreneurs have sex in a state of total submission to successful male entrepreneurs.
Anyway, sex isn't a big part of the story. What is big is ambition, and the endless repetition of key themes. The bizarre 'Oh no, not this again!' feeling grows as you plough on through the (e.g.) weird self-congratulatory conversations in which two selfish people applaud each other for their total selfishness, and their superiority to the rest of us idiots.
Look, I have nothing against right-wingers. I have even voted for right-wing parties. But this is loopy beyond belief. Seriously odd. There are nice and creative people on the left, and nice and creative people on the right, on both sides there are slimebags and saints. Get it? This woman is loopy.
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Atlas Shrugged (Penguin Modern Classics) by Ayn Rand (Paperback - 1 Feb 2007)