on 24 March 2005
And I mean it.
This is without doubt the most influential, satisfying, life-changing book I have ever read, and I've read a lot.
I've heard this book called unrealistic, its characters two-dimensional and without depth, its philosophy clownish, OK for juveniles and the socially inadequate perhaps, but not to be taken seriously by adults, who after all must live in the "real" world.
The real world. Now let's see... Half of what you earn is taken by force to be used either to feed, clothe and house the mainly idle and feckless or to employ more faceless deskmen to pass more regulations restricting you in your attempts to earn a living. Defending your property and loved ones from burglary by most probably these same idle and feckless can earn you a jail sentence. Your property? What property? When a council can tax whatever arbitrary sum they dream up and you have to pay it, who really owns the property, which you've paid for, by the way? A world where if you're old and ill and admitted into a state-run hospital (you can't afford anything else by that time, they've been stealing all your money, remember) it is only to die, not from your condition, but some superbug infection caused by the surrounding insanitary filth. A world where increasingly it seems you're committing a terrible crime by driving a car...
Those are just a few small examples, but you get the idea. So, what has that got to do with this book? Everything. In fact, what is this book, which for 50-plus years has engendered such fierce debate and has so many enthusiastic defenders and ferocious detractors, really about? Again the answer is everything. Everything of importance anyway, from the motivation behind building a monumental business empire to the choice of a sexual partner. Whether or not you agree with everything in this book is up to you, it's your choice. But you see, THAT is the point.
Ayn Rand's philosophy is most of all pro-individual, and by extension pro-capitalist, capitalism being the only economic system which acknowledges the freedom of the individual.
Crucially, she also states categorically in the book that all material wealth exists only because of the great spiritual wealth that first envisaged it. Indeed this is a key recurrent theme.
It's rather like the early history of America: one minute deserts and virtually empty plains, the next cities, trade and the greatest outpouring of wealth mankind has ever seen. What brought about such a huge exertion of effort and energy, such foresight, enthusiasm and ingenuity? The promise of wealth, and the freedom to pursue it.
Atlas Shrugged celebrates that, and identifies what went wrong and is going wrong today. Not realistic? There are incidents in there that are uncannily parallel to current events.
The book is an inspiration. If I'm working, and find my concentration drifts or I get a bit bored with what I'm doing and am tempted to do a shoddy job, I think of Francisco d'Anconia, and I'm focused and alert once more. When I think that maybe a goal I've set myself might be too hard, and maybe I should forget it, I think of Hank Rearden, and in a moment I'm pursuing it like the very devil. That's why this book is so great, not only for its scope, range and vision, but even for its most criticised aspect(excluding the sizable minority who dislike its philosophy, of which there are two types: those chronically bored drones who don't understand it, and, more damningly, those tin pot would-be politicians who blast it to heaven) which is its standing as a work of art.
Ayn Rand herself said what art was supposed to be. She often defined terms which most people don't even think about. She was clear-minded and very much on the ball that way, an extremely powerful thinker and intellect. Anyway, she said that the purpose of art was to renew the mind and spirit, to give a "lift", to draw from the individual experiencer an affirmation, a sense of value recognition, a "yes". The feeling that "I can understand something of what the creator of that piece felt when creating it." See, appreciating art is all about emotion, but the highest emotion comes from "the finest discernment of the mind". And emotion is closely linked to energy. To renew one is to renew the other. Look at Michelangelo's David or hear Bob Marley and feel refreshed.
Anyhow, what I'm trying to say is: Read this book. To all those of you who might read these reviews before deciding to spend time with a book, I say again: Read THIS book.
I believe many of you who do just that will thank me.