Saturday, March 19, 2011

Atlas Shrugged Readalong--Part I

Atlas Shrugged has been on my TBR list forever, so when Allie of A Literary Odyssey suggested a readalong, I knew I had to join in.  Work was super crazy, and I ended up behind schedule.  I was only around page 50, and I was worried I wouldn't finish on time.  Once I got going, it was difficult to put down.  I read the majority of the first part (312 pages with teeny-tiny print) in two days.

As you can see, I'm enjoying the book.  After I finished the first part, I was nervous to share my feelings about it.  This book is divisive as Rand's intention was to share her ideology through this novel.  I really want to avoid a political debate so I'm going to try to focus on it as a novel.

What I Liked

  • I felt like I could relate to Dagny Taggart as I also am a woman working in a man's world.  As a professional working in business, I understand that feeling of not fitting in the "boy's club."  It's difficult at times to be taken seriously and not have men want to question your judgment.  It's so condescending when they have to run it by a man.  Dagny fought her way to the top with tenacity and hard work, and I loved that about her.
  • Henry Rearden is a tough character to like, but you have to admire his willingness to take risks.  He worked his way up from nothing.  He had no advantages in life, but he had the confidence to build an incredible empire.
  • The underdog story of the triumph of the John Galt Line was great.  I always want to cheer for a cause where there is so much fighting against it.  I found myself flipping through those particular pages quickly because I wanted to see them succeed against so much adversity.

What I Didn't Like

  • I think the good and the bad are characterized as black and white.  I don't think that it should be that extreme.  I do believe in the free market, but I don't think that it means that you have to be completely objective and lack compassion.  It's important to be self-interested to an extent because your business wouldn't function otherwise, but it doesn't have to be to the exclusion of the human element.  It doesn't have to be all about the buck to be successful.
  • Henry Rearden is so cold.  He seems to lack an ability to make a human connection.  I don't think that example of a businessman should be held up as ideal.  His treatment of women is abhorrent.  They're almost like possessions to him and that is wrong.
  • I really felt a strong connection to Dagny Taggart, but I lost some respect for her character in how she deals with her personal life.  For someone who is unwilling to back down in the boardroom against powerful men, it's shocking how she allows herself to be treated in her relations with men.  Both men she has been with so far treat her as if they own her and that intimacy is owed them.  Where is your self-respect Dagny?

I'm still enjoying the fast pace of the story, but it sometimes gets bogged down by Rand's attempts to support her ideology.  I understand that it was her purpose in writing the novel, but for me it screws with the pacing a bit.  I'm curious to see where the storyline of Francisco will go.  His abrupt change in lifestyle is an enigma, but I'm sure all will be revealed at some point.  I still don't know who John Galt is, but I'm certain I'll find out by the end.


  1. I'm torn about Dagny too. She's a great character because she is strong and independent. She knows what she wants and she goes after it. These awesome attributes fade when she is with Fransisco or Hank. I'm not sure what to make of it and the thoughts I have are still a bit underdeveloped to put into words. I'll come back to this topic.

    Here's my Readalong post:

  2. Jenica704--Thanks for sharing your post. I share many of your thoughts. Despite the minor issue with Dagny (no one's perfect), I do really love her character. She's a fighter, and I really admire that.

  3. I'm having the same problem about the clear-cut, black & white descriptions. Is anyone really as focused and cold as Hank Reardon? Would any woman listen to that "contempt speech" he made and still want to be with him?

    (That speech totally made me think of Darcy's first proposal to Elizabeth, but Lizzy had the self-respect to walk away.)

  4. Melissa--My jaw dropped during that "contempt speech." If I were her, I would have walked away.

    I love that you compared it to Darcy's proposal. P&P is my all-time favorite book. That scene never fails to amuse me. He was so clueless!

  5. I admire you all for reading this - you're braver than I am! I admit that the strong ideological elements have always put me off.

  6. Nymeth--This book is definitely a love it or hate it book. I can see why many people shy away from it. I'm enjoying it, but I'm trying to be objective and not judge it solely based on her ideology. It's really difficult to separate the two though. I do enjoy the story, but I can't say that I 100% agree with her ideas.

  7. I share the same opinion on how this book and its characters are either one or the other and this is no room for compromise. I find them to be exaggerated and very like caricatures used by Rand to explain her own ideology.

    Interesting post!

    The Book Nook

  8. I was a bit nervous too considering how controversial Rand can be. From the posts I read so far, it seems that most of us are on the same page. I do, though, find that I like Henry. He clearly has issues (though from what I've read about Rand, she clearly had issues with male/female relationships) but I find myself wanting him to succeed.

  9. Is it Atlas Shrugged time already? I wanted to join in but I'm late to the party and probably won't have time to join in. I read the first half of this several years ago, but I don't remember much. I hope you keep enjoying it.

  10. The Book Nook--I totally agree. I think the characters are kind of one-dimensional, but at least the plot has kept it interesting.

    mindy--I like Henry too--at least his business persona. Rand must have issues because in the book she seems to think that the relationships that she portrays between men and women are okay.

    Shelley--I can understand you not being ready to participate. You're still reading the beast that is Ulysses. You totally get a pass. :)

  11. I read this in '09 and was surprised by how much I liked it. Dagny is such a wonderful character, but I do agree, what's with her personal relationships with men?

  12. +JMJ+

    Kristi, I had to grin at your critique of Dagny's character. She does allow a lot of things in the "bedroom" that she wouldn't let anyone get away with in the "boardroom," doesn't she?

    Have you seen the trailers and teasers for the movie? I was shocked--but also very pleased--to see how charming the actor cast to play Hank is. He manages to be both seriously lovable and true to the cold fish character in the novel. I don't know how the actor did it!

  13. Enbrethiliel--I have since finished the book and I'm so glad to find that the relationship with Dagny and Hank wasn't as awful as it originally seemed. Having Hank explain it later and going through a personal transformation made it sit a little better with me. I'm glad that he finally realized how horrible he had been to Dagny at first.

    I did see the trailer and it seems like they humanized Hank a bit. I was pretty impressed with how the character seemed to portray the role, like you said, of cold but also likable. Do you plan on seeing the movie when it comes out in a couple of weeks? I really want to see it, but I have a feeling if it even comes to the UK, it will be quite a bit later.

  14. +JMJ+

    Oh, I'm glad you've read the whole book. I was worried about spoiling Dagny and Hank's relationship arc in my comment, so I stayed away from it entirely. It's really hard to discuss them without putting it their affair in the context of the conversation Hank later has with Francisco. (Or should I say, the lecture Hank gets from Francisco? LOL!)

    But I still think that Rand's idea of sex as just another form of trade, to the point that we should feel complimented if someone we admire just wants to use us as means to such a personal end, is pretty messed up. Yes, it works out for Dagny, who finds her Prince Charming in the end, but it didn't work for Rand herself and it won't work for us.

    By the way, I reread parts of the book last year and found myself really feeling for Hank. He's the real hero of the book, not John Galt; he's the "greatest conquest," not Dagny. But Rand seems so enthralled by her demi-gods John, Francisco and Ragnar--and her "Sue" Dagny--that she really neglects Hank as a character.

    I'd love to see the movie when it comes out, but it's an Indie and I don't think they'll be screening it in the Philippines unless there's a huge media or grassroots push. =S

  15. Enbrethiliel--I know what you mean. I was really felt for Hank and Fransisco. I think it was pretty unrealistic that they would react that way and not feel betrayed.

    I agree that Rand had really strange ideas about sex. You're right about her treating it like a form of trade, and that's pretty disturbing.

    I thought Hank was the hero too. I loved that scene with him and the "Wet Nurse". I was glad that he transformed so much and stopped torturing himself.

    I guess we'll both have to wait to see it until the DVD comes out. I'm really looking forward to it. I thought the first part of the book had a great storyline with a good amount of suspense.

  16. +JMJ+

    I think Rand knew what she was going to write at the beginning and then went off on too many tangents during the loooooong writing process.

    I have a theory that the lineman whom Dagny hears whistling the unpublished Halley concerto in one of the earliest chapters was originally meant to be John Galt. But then Rand got caught up in another scenario in which John could take notice of Dagny for the first time, and pulled a switch. If it's true, it wasn't her best decision.