Sunday, May 1, 2011

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged

by Ayn Rand
published 1957
completed March 2011

Life has been absolutely crazy for the past few months so I haven't posted for a month and a half. Hopefully I still have a few readers. I'm a little rusty so we'll see how it goes.

Atlas Shrugged begins in a world where the government is continually extending it's reach. Regulations on business are increasing, and laws are being passed based on back room deals. It's difficult to tell who can be trusted. The economy is collapsing, and unemployment is skyrocketing.

I'm a bit nervous writing about Atlas Shrugged. Discussions are generally politically charged so I'm going to try to come to it objectively. Not necessarily easy since we all have inherent biases. Political ideology aside, I was surprised to find that it read like a thriller. At points it was a real page turner. I was not necessarily shocked at how it ended, but I was surprised to see the journey that Rand took the reader through to get there.

One huge issue that I had with the novel was that Rand didn't trust her readers. I rolled my eyes more times than I can count when the characters would start their speeches.  My goodness.  Show me Rand; don't tell me. I'm intelligent enough to understand what you are saying without you having to spell everything out to the letter. Ugh. It was so tiresome, and I will admit that by the end, I skimmed through John Galt's speech. Was that really necessary? I just wanted to get back to the action.

I really loved the idea of some of the characters, but I felt they were a little flat. Hank Rearden, by the end, was my favorite. I started out hating him, but he made an amazing transformation in the book. Dagny was amazing in her strength and willingness to fight against the government. My one issue was that there was no characters that were in the middle. There were the gorgeous, fabulous good guys, and the ugly, fat evil guys. I don't think real life is like that. It's a little too simplistic.

As for her ideology, I don't want to get into it too much, but there is both good and bad. I'm all for capitalism. I'd rather the government not over-regulate. My issue with objectivism is that it completely eliminates the human element. I don't think you have to be cold to be successful in business. Rand treats everything as if it should be a equal arms-length trade, even personal interactions outside of business (including sex). She seems to think that those offering or accepting charity are weak. I whole-heartedly disagree. I think there is a fine line. People should learn to take care of themselves, but I don't think there should be any problem with helping people to get there.

Overall, I'm glad that I read it. It was interesting to read. I was caught up in the thriller aspect of the story and was really excited to see how it ended. I didn't necessarily agree with the ideology, but I think Rand makes some valid points. I just think her theory is a bit idealistic. I don't know if I would recommend it to someone who wasn't already interested in reading it. It is a huge time investment.

I read this as part of the readalong with Allie at A Literary Odyssey. Visit here, for more posts on Atlas Shrugged.


  1. This is a book I've always been scared of. I feel like I should try it some day though.

  2. Rand did do a bit too much "telling" instead of "showing." I loved certain aspects of this book and disliked others. I do remember one scene at a party, where Dagny trades her diamond bracelet for the one Rearden made for his wife from his metal. I loved that scene. It was so intense and awkward. Imagine having the guts to do that and to put his stupid wife in her place.

  3. +JMJ+

    Congratulations on finishing it, Kristi! =D

    I know what you mean about Atlas Shrugged not being a book I'd recommend, although I'm also glad I read it. I think it's one of those books that best to have read than to read or to be reading . . . although there's no way to achieve the first status without passing through the other two! =P

    I've also read some of Rand's non-fiction, which is why her characters were not just flat to me, but also completely predictable. Atlas Shrugged can be read as a pure allegory--because that is virtually what it is. The philosopher falls in love with the actress, the professor goes on strike by becoming a cook, the writer becomes Atlantis' best fishmonger, etc. It all makes stultifying, two-dimensional sense. Rand makes even less room for human quirks than she does for human failings.

  4. Jenners-I'm curious to see what you think if you read it. It's definitely a divisive one.

    Avid Reader-I loved that scene where Dagny traded her the bracelet. Oh how I wanted to slap Lilian Rearden. How could she be so indifferent to something that was so important to her husband? I agree--there were parts that I really loved, but there were definitely parts that bothered me.

  5. Enbrethiliel-Thanks! It feels great to be done. I love how you say that it's better to have read. The reading process is a bit painful at times and before you read it it's so overwhelming. :)

    I agree that it works better if you view it as an allegory. The characters and dialogue weren't exactly realistic. I haven't read any of her non-fiction. Which do you prefer.

  6. Jenners-I forgot to mention that I've heard that Rand's Fountainhead is very similar to Atlas Shrugged, but it's a lot shorter. :)

  7. +JMJ+

    Well, I was fascinated by her ideas at the time I started reading her books--and I don't mind slogging through long, abstract passages like John Galt's speech--so for a while it was a pretty even toss-up between her fiction and non-fiction.

    I will say that I read the major speeches of Atlas Shrugged (John Galt on the radio, Francisco to Hank, the doctor in Atlantis, etc.) in a compilation that gave only the slightest bit of context to them--and I liked them better that way. They were a little more obvious and heavy-handed as part of a novel. As you've said: too much telling, not enough showing.

    Are you thinking of starting The Fountainhead now? I like it better than Atlas Shrugged. The quality of its prose is more beautiful and intense--even if it's still obvious in some places. There's a lot more showing than telling here, I can promise you! =)

    You can already see the "seeds" of John Galt in Howard Roark. Both of them are already perfect men (or as Rand would say, "ideal men"), so they don't grow and change through their respective novels. But other characters close to Roark do develop, and they're interesting to watch.

  8. Enbrethiliel-I think I will read The Fountainhead, but not until next year. I've heard it's pretty similar to Atlas Shrugged so I'm going to put a bit of distance between. That's interesting to hear that you preferred it to Atlas Shrugged. Based on what you've said, it seems like there are less speeches. That would be great.

  9. I wish I'd done this readalong! This book intimidates me greatly! Congrats on getting through it, I'm worried that I'll be throwing it against the wall too often, and it's on my iPad, so that can't be good...

  10. Selene--Thanks! There were some frustrating moments, but I'm glad I read it. I can see how you might want to avoid it so you don't throw the ipad against the wall. :) After hearing about you loving your ipad, I'm finally giving in and getting one this week! I can't wait. I'll have to get some ideas for apps.

  11. Thanks for stopping by and signing up for the Books to Movies Challenge! So excited you’re going to read and watch Gone with the Wind!

    Also, great commentary on Atlas Shrugged. I finished this one earlier this year and was pleasantly surprised with the suspense. For such a long novel it was fairly easy to navigate through. Like you said, everything was taken to the extreme on both ends and John Galt’s speech... ahhhh.

  12. Two Bibliomaniacs--Thanks for stopping by. I was surprised at how quickly I was able to read it as well (aside from the long speeches).

    I'm really excited about the Book to Movies Challenge. I always read books before I watch the movie, so it's perfect for me. I read Breakfast at Tiffany's and watched the movie a couple of weeks ago. Thanks for hosting, and I can't wait to get to Gone with the Wind.