Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Final Verdict: 1.75 out of 4.0
1 – Unbelievable Plot/Story.
I must preface this review by stating that, having read Ayn Rand’s “About the Author” section, prior to reading this book, I commenced this monster with the complete knowledge that Ayn Rand was a liar and a hypocrite. In her “About the Author” section, she states: “I had a difficult struggle, earning my living at odd jobs, until I could make a financial success of my writing. No one helped me, nor did I think at any time that it was anyone’s duty to help me.” The premise of the book expands on this, in essence demonizing any personal, unselfish acts of altruism or charity, and calling for the overthrow of any government which enacts social welfare programs for the needy, underprivileged, or even mentally/physically disabled. Yet, Ayn Rand herself cashed-in on Social Security (welfare) benefits and was a recipient of Medicare and public aid later in life, when she became afflicted with lung cancer. She reaped the benefits of these services, however, under another name – and through a legal agency.
This introduction is all by way of saying: you cannot take Ayn Rand’s philosophical stance, expounded nauseatingly transparently in Atlas Shrugged, seriously whatsoever; so, naturally, you cannot take the plot seriously either. Still, though I could not agree with the philosophy or so-called morality of the book’s message, I will still review it as a whole, objectively, by viewing it objectively – in a way which, ironically, Ayn Rand, mother of Objectivism, could not view anything in any way whatsoever.
Essentially, the book tells the story of the “human elites” – the small group of men (and one woman) who have reached the pinnacle of human achievement and who, after bearing the burden of society’s injustices for so long, disappear and leave the world to collapse without them. To me, reading the book was a bizarre experience – one which I am grateful for, in a way, in that it exposed me to a type of thinking and belief system which is completely antithetical to my own: it was like Superman being trapped inside the mind of Lex Luthor; it was like Harry Potter being trapped inside the mind of Voldemort. The book is disguised as a type of dystopian murder-mystery, wherein a group of “Freedom Fighters” attempt to overthrow and undermine the atavistic government. The government is supposedly turning the inventors, the big businessmen, the corporate geniuses into slaves – demanding that they become servile to the working class.
2 – Characters slightly developed.
This section, too, almost received the lowest possible rating; the only saving grace for Rand’s characters is that 1) they are clearly (if disgustingly) imagined and 2) I have read worse characterization. Still, all of the characters in this book are absurd grotesques of the virtues and vices of Rand’s mind. The heroes and champions all share the same motives, characteristics, instincts, and supposed laudable qualities – like selfishness, lack of emotional feeling, and assumption that sexual acts are only merited when they happen as the result of the meeting of two “worthy” minds. The villains, too, are the same person with different names. They are all portrayed as soft, bumbling, lecherous, and needy. Any character who believes in kindness toward or charity for their fellow man is a fool and a danger to society. Any character who believes that thousands may die, should they not prove their “right” to life by inventing something or by running a business, is thereby deemed moral and good. It’s an absurd romp-through a tops-turvy la-la-land of philosophical horror, and it is no wonder that Ayn Rand conceitedly snipes at Aristotle in her afterword, because Aristotle, had he read her work, would likely lambast her to no end, and possibly encourage the natives to slip some hemlock in her wine.
2 – Prose/Style in need of Development but works.
Oh, where to begin. Fortunately, Ayn Rand is not difficult to read because she writes rather pedestrianly. She has no mastery of prose or language whatsoever, which is perhaps why she later admitted to never being able to amass her riches as a writer. She comes across as a peculiar confluence of Harlequin romance writer meeting undergraduate Philosophy major. At any given time, you may be reading about the heated love-making of two powerful beings, scenes lacking any depth or connection whatsoever and which make you wonder whether Rand ever got any (I sure wouldn’t go near it). Then, inexplicably, the writing becomes that of an essayist who is determined to beat his theory into your head and gives you that same beating over and over and over, in different forms but of the same message (Making money is life’s highest goal and having money is life’s highest achievement). When it gets really strange is when the pounding of that message gets muddled up with the oddly numerous instances of sexual passion – and, also weirdly, that the beating tends to manifest itself in every man brutally dominating, physically and sexually, the one primary female character – she gets it rough from three different men, and loves it every time. What, exactly, is this supposed to tell us about Ms. Rand’s philosophy, I wonder?
Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
2 – Additional elements are present but do not develop the Story.
The reading experience, well, it was awful, horrible, terrible – and enlightening. That people like Ayn Rand exist in the world is something which I would gladly deny or ignore but, if there is one thing to praise about this book, it is that it forces one’s eyes –and mind- open to the possibility of true evil. And it does so unsparingly, not with the touch of an angel’s fingertips on your eyelids, but with a cold iron wrench. You can see, I am pulling no punches, and for a book whose final sentence -after 1200 pages of ideological, polarized and supposedly didactic “story-telling” is as follows, you can, I hope, understand why: “He raised his hand and over the desolate earth he traced in space the sign of the dollar.” Seriously?
The book discusses morality in a fringe, whacked-out way, only made possible by the twisted mind of a sociopath. What is “good” and what is “evil” is reversed, and all binaries are eliminated, so that the world, apparently, can only exist in “actuals” – in clear black and white, either or. Indeed, the “middle-ground” world in which we truly live is laughed at, scoffed at as if mediation, moderation, or compromise is simply an attempt by menials to refuse responsibility or real action. Instead, Rand’s heroes claim total and complete philosophical, economic, and intellectual right in all they believe, simply because they believe it and put it into action – and it is that principal, “action,” in addition to the glory of wealth and private property, which stands as a beacon for what is holy and moral.
Now, to be fair and objective, there were moments of this book that I enjoyed – the swashbuckling ending, for instance, which felt like something straight out of the A-Team – that was fun! I also appreciated Rand’s point that hard work will and should pay off, and that every person should have a meaningful purpose in life, a driving force or goal which inspires and fulfills them. But, where she loses me is when she jumps off from that point into the abyss of selfishness, stating that the only real goals worth having are the ones that are financially rewarding, and which deny any admittance of charity. She says, even in romantic relationships and friendships, that giving for the sake of giving – just being generous- is an act of immorality. Sorry, but not in my book.
It is incredible to read about a type of America wherein people have only emotions or intellect, but not both; an American where people are either superficial and selfish businessmen or wholly altruistic, giving, selfless mystics, but never elements of each. It is even more incredible to learn of an author who would put the formers – the greed, the selfishness, the amassed wealth without concern for the needy, on higher moral ground than the selfless servants of man. Rand scolds the likes of Plato, Aristotle, and even Jesus Christ, in favor of complete and total Capitalist might. It is not hard to see why this book would be a favorite amongst college students, those impressionable youths who are breaking free from their parents, throwing off rules, and heading out to conquer the world – but it is horrifying to think that some of them might actually believe that Rand’s is an acceptable or just way of doing it.
Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: Adults
Interest: Sociopathic Capitalism, Criminal Negligence of Thought, Antipathy, Pseudo-philosophy, anti-altruism, whack-a-doodle world views
“The Utopia of Greed” (Title of Part Three, Chapter Two)
-The one quote, in my opinion, which sums up this entire sham of a novel.
“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark. In the hopeless swamps of the not quite, the not yet, and the not at all, do not let the hero in your soul perish and leave only frustration for the life you deserved, but never have been able to reach. The world you desire can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours.”