Basically, it's a story about a top female railroad executive, Dagny Taggart, trying to make it in a man's world and coming up against all sorts of barriers, chiefly in the form of her useless, slack-jawed brother, James, who is chairman of the board of the Taggart Transcontinental Railroad. The siblings inherited the massive corporation from their father and, the beautiful but apparently cold, Dagny, Vice President, Operations, is trying to run it according to the principles established by their legendary grandfather, Nat Taggart.
But make no mistake about it - this is a very poor novel. Poor novelists tell - good novelists show and let their readers come to their own conclusions: Rand can never quite control her instinct to trash those of her characters she hates and champion those she loves. Quite why Penguin considers it a `Modern Classic' is mystifying. Essentially it is purely a vehicle for Rand to push her so-called `objectivist' philosophical baloney. The default mode of discourse is declamation rather than conversation in which each of the `heroic' god-like characters, merely Rand's mouthpieces, rant for page upon page about her new utopia, based on the principle of unregulated rampant capitalism, in which kindness is considered a despicable weakness and charity a mortal sin: even dear old Robin Hood gets a good kicking for stealing from the rich to give to the `undeserving' poor rather than the converse!
To say that the characters are one-dimensional is something of an understatement! I almost had the impression, whilst reading, of the flimsy little paper cut out figures I played with as a child: those for whom you had to bend a little tab attached to their feet in order for them to stand up straight. Essentially, the characters fall into into one of two camps: those who embody the `right' principles and who are described as being `gaunt', `erect', `angular', `looking as though they were wrought from rock', tanned with golden or coppery coloured hair and naturally, all stunningly attractive, even approaching such physical perfection that the `heroine', Dagny, is so astonished that her ability to rant is temporarily removed! Those who belong to the `enemy'; either the totally apathetic or `the Looters', are described variously as being 'fat', `pale', `puffy' `portly', `clammy' or `bent'. The 'right' characters acknowledge nothing over and above their own ability to master nature in order to bend the world, using, primarily, industrial might and know-how, to their own needs and are portrayed, generally, as self made captains of industry who ask nothing of no man and who rise or fall solely by their own efforts. The rest are simply talentless, greedy, spoiled, whinging, lazy, duplicitous, spongers' who contribute virtually nothing to society above benefitting from the state and soaking up all that the wealthy industrialists can provide by virtue of their seemingly limitless capacity for innovation and creativity.
Gradually, society begins to disintegrate and Rand chronicles the transition of America into a socialist state in which those few right-thinking individuals, represented by her god-like captains of industry, gradually disappear from view having scuppered their factories, foundries and offices etc. to prevent them being of use to the `looters'.
Rand's ignorant view of humankind blights her writing to such an extent that she risks prejudicing any reasonably minded reader against her cause even if said reader has found any of her ideas remotely of merit. True, we are all inspired by the efforts of courageous individuals and rightly despise those who expect something for nothing and whinge when they don't get it but perhaps, for example, she should have given more thought to the words of probably the greatest scientist who ever lived, Isaac Newton, who, in acknowledging the contribution to science made by some of his antecedants, said, 'If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants': truly, then, no man is an island! And anyone with a scant aquaintance of evolutionary psychology understands that altruism has been essential to human evolution: would Rearden have stood by and allowed Dagny to drown if she'd accidentally fallen into a raging torrent? According to Rand he would and she would simply have had to save herself by her own efforts or fail. We know, by the end of the book, that Rand contradicts herself anyway. Explaining in what way would involve spoiling the end: see for yourself!
A kind of bizarre mixture of 1984, Lost Horizon and any one of John O'Hara's later novels, this poorly written polemic at over 1100 pages does not repay the time required to wade through it. Had it had a more professional and ruthless editor it might just have been worth the effort at 500 pages or so. Those interested in trying Rand's novels would be better advised to start with The Fountainhead. True, it's also quite bizarre but much more entertainingly so!
on 8 July 2013
When this book arrived (all 1060 pages) I thought to myself :What have I got myself into?
I don't particularly like novels, I prefer smaller books, I also like books that are about current issues and are more modern.
Never mind Atlas shrugging...I shrugged when I first saw the book.
Fast forward 2 weeks later... Let me tell you that I immersed myself completely into this wonderful book. I thoroughly enjoyed the way Ayn Rand wove her philosophy throughout the story, I went from disliking some characters at the beginning to almost cheering out loud for them later on. While reading Atlas I also could not help but see the many similarities of the problems that we all face today: Finincial crisis, faith in the Government, taxes, education etc. This book is so current it could have been printed this year not 50 years ago.
Atlas Shrugged is a page turner, some will love it, some will hate, it but I recommend that you read it and make up your own mind.
If this book does nothing else but make you think, it will have been well worth the price and the adventure.
on 26 August 2012
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.