Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand
Possible spoilers ahead and general bitchiness

Allow me to get this to you straight - I wrote three to four paragraphs of a review of this damn book, but due to tiredness - and the fact that this website has no autosave feature - I clicked off of the page that I had written the entire thing on, and away it went.


Staring from scratch (christ), I would like to mention that, despite the fact that I began my hobby of reading with a series (Harry Potter), I am always going to be more of a fan of shorter works than these giant, ploddingly 1,000+ page books. There are exceptions - I don't believe that when I put up my review of the third A Song of Ice and Fire book, I will not be complaining about the length of the thing, outside of my frustration with the boring parts of the story (*Jon Snow* *cough, cough*). There is a truth to the opinion that some stuff just FEELS longer than others - but 1,000 pages is still a thousand pages, and I am still a full-time student. It is difficult to deny that, at times, reading this could feel like an unrelenting homework assignment.

Well... that feeling could be attributed, at least partially, to me, because I read up to 990 or so pages of it while I was in a Contemporary Mythology class, where this book, following The Iliad and the Mahabharata, was a reading assignment in the class.

Our professor was a character in and of himself - a kindly older Republican on a campus full of soul-dead people with degrees who hated to hear the word, "Republican", he was really one of the only older people that I have ever met who drew outside of the lines frequently and with real joy. I made a sort of a deal with him - if he claimed that Atlas was the modern mythology that we western cultures hold, I wanted him to read what I believed to be the modern mythos for our culture - our superheroes. More specifically, I gave HIM an assignment - The Watchmen. He may have finished his, but I didn't quite have the time - or the energy - to finish Atlas by the end of the school term. I had to return my borrowed copy to the school store and pushed thoughts of this book into the far back of my mind.

Well, the philosophy and storytelling of Ayn Rand refuses to go on, ignored, by both me and many other people. Although it is still undoubtedly the object of loathing for academia and the religious in general (and I mean, come on, let's be real here and admit that both have had their heads up their asses, since far before I was even born, to react to anything in a reasoned and thinking manner), a minority is rising that says that you can't just point at a line or two in a work of fiction and screech that it is promoting Nazism. Indeed, whether Rand likes it or not, people are growing to understand that the world is not black and white, and these shades of grey now point to a value system within the book that is not far off from what is (gasp!) actually the closest to moral that a modern society can hope to achieve.

So let's get this whole business cleared out of the way - I won't hide it, or deny it - I rather like what Rand has shown me, in her vision of Classical Liberalism/Objectivism, in both Atlas Shrugged as well as Anthem. That made the book a better experience for me, and this, understandably, made the process of reading this book a better one. I can place my experience with reading this book next to the experience of a person who was in the same class as I - a Communist, he and our professor had a playful sort of rivalry going on, when it came, finally, to this book. Every word of it seemed to bite at his eyes like a viper, and I can only imagine if he really had managed to finish this book or not. It was fully possible that he had acquired all of his knowledge of the book from Sparknotes, but he appeared to know about every sometimes strange question that our professor would often point purposefully at him. If he came away loathing the book, as he said he would in the beginning, then kudos to him for getting through a tract that he despises on a philosophical level - I could never get through the Bible without wanting to destroy either it or myself.


I will try to stay away from the main philosophy of the book throughout this review, except to say this - the book at times feels like wrapping paper, or icing, around the philosophy of Objectivism.

With another author - or, for good comparison, the book Anthem, at least, in my opinion - it would have completely blanked out the characters, their struggles and the action in the book itself. Rand wants you to understand Objectivism, as she understands it, and she would have been damned if a single person more would have said to her that they did not understand what she was handing them, within the pages of The Fountainhead. In order to facilitate this, oftentimes the language in the book, in every form that it appears within the work, turn out to be the language of the philosophy of Objectivism. As characters speak, we see a raw process of deductive reasoning that trickles down and through every argument against Objectivism - or, at least, what the characters call either what is immoral/moral.

Descriptions of every manner of things are put into such terms as well - either in line with Objectivism, or are written as being unwholesome on a grand level that seeks to destroy all that is good.

Are you becoming tired, thinking of everything in such terms of black or white? This is a severe problem that I had, throughout the book, and it would seem to render what I said before, about our culture becoming more grey than black/white and therefore making this book more popular than ever, a strange contradiction. I can see that contradiction was a main fear of Ayn Rand's, and when I heard that the speech, near the end of the book, took Rand TWO YEARS to write out, it makes her fears seem invisible.


Her fears may have been well founded - you can't exactly say that helping yourself BEFORE the poor/starving is moral without having to explain yourself! - but in her attempt at covering up any holes in her argument, a person like myself would point out that her writing appeared to present an inferiority complex that raged inside of her like a little Napoleon Bonaparte. I will get to the speech itself later, but if you could make it to the speech itself, it may very well have been there that you collapsed, sobbing, and admitted defeat with this book, as Rand tried to pull apart the idea of selfishness from the realm of immoral behavior, like an obsessive compulsive trying to teach a dog how to walk and talk believably.

The speech was undoubtedly the weak point in Rand's stack of Jenga, so to speak, and is where the guise of this being a stand alone project, outside of the world of Objectivism, sizzles away like burnt bacon in a pan.

On a positive note, Rand's strong point in Atlas has always been its characters, epic story and setting.

Going into the topic of Rand's characters, it becomes obvious that the characters are polarized into one of two camps - the Creators and the Looters.

Many have argued that her portrayal of the Looters in all of their many forms were villainous and they were all practically destroyed throughout the course of this book, but I would look at it from the perspective of a person reading a work of fiction - dear god, do I have to actually frame my opinion as someone who is reading it as a work of fiction? In any other work of fiction, very little people would get too upset at a little brush stroking of caricature on the side of the villains, and the come-uppance of villainous characters can even be a genre all its own, so if you can accept that this is a fictional world, in my opinion, they're fictional characters and, let's face it, they had multiple chances throughout the book to reform and either chose not to or were too fundamentally flawed to understand how to produce, and how Rand wrote them is how she wrote them. Go cry in a corner about it, but in fiction, villains tend to wish for destruction and generally (poorly, I know) tend to be stopped only through their own destruction.

I think she was quite generous, in many situations, showing, while not always compassion, but a kind of respect for all of the characters that I find to be, well, noble. I am not saying that the caricature work she painted a good deal of her characters in is a good thing - there were many situations in the book in which I felt that I was missing out, entirely, on the different lenses through which I could have viewed the characters from. As I have said before - everything in the book is viewed from either black or white and Rand seemed content to believe that there are no greys. Take what you will of it - in the best examples of the book's writing, I can actually see it as an artistic choice, a different way of telling a story, in a way that feels like a parable. Sure, this sometimes came off as an elongated version of the old educational shorts that had Johnny and Bum-Face show the difference between a good little boy and a complete asshat, but I would argue that if it had been written differently, it would have been unbearable. As she wrote it, the villainous nature of the Looters makes for damn good drama, ratcheting up the tension and intensity at its best, and simply disappointing at its worst.

As opposed to this, we get the multi-faceted heroes of the world of Atlas Shrugged - larger than life, proud and tasteful, Dagny's fellow producers are bright workaholics who, let's face it, have little to no negative traits to speak of. And Dagny likely wants to lay pipe with 2/3 of the men in this group.


Oh Dagny, Dagny, my dear - there will be no slut shaming from me, but don't call a turtle a rabbit - love is not lust and admiration is a poor excuse for why you will believe every thing someone tells you, without a grain of salt.

Dagny idolizes men in this book, often as though they are gods to her. It appeared to me, as I read the book, that although Dagny had all of these traits that I really admired the hell out of her for, she was always up for being a whipping boy, provided the whipper was handsome and hard-working. She was left, hanging in the wind, for far longer than she should have been, and after the speech at the end of the book, I got the feeling that the narrative - and, especially hers - could have ended a few short pages following it. And why wasn't she whisked away? - why did she have to endure more than the other, mostly male, characters had to?

All of the heroic men in the book are Greek Gods and philosophers, and despite any outwardly different appearance, they all seem to be the same man on the inside.

No! - some would cry, - John Galt is DIFFERENT from the others, he has to be, as the man who made the strike possible and had the presence that could take so many people over to his side! You know, I read the whole thing and, besides the fact that he sure has the strange patience of a man who could wait in a shithole somewhere for an awful long period of time and that he sure can talk for a long ass time, I could not see how he could be any different from Rearden or D'Anconia, if they got enough time to themselves to figure out everything that he had.

In the end, I actually found him less of an interesting POV than most of the other characters in the book, including the lesser, more villainous of characters. And, boy, is he ever self-righteous - and I think that I would have rather told everyone in the book to shut the hell up and moved into a hovel somewhere on the edges of what was left of Starnesville than listen to anyone try to argue their side for very long. Nobody likes a blowhard, Galt, and would it have killed you to let some of the other people in the valley speak up with their OWN opinion during that broadcast?


I am not denying the fact that these characters must have been nothing short of revolutionary when they were first introduced into the world - the fact that Dagny thinks for herself, and quite vocally, must have been a good blast from the past of the woman's suffrage movement. it was also refreshing to go through these character's growing understanding that love and respect are things that have to be in balance and earned; everything else that I have ever seen or heard nowadays loves to Hallmark-ize everything, from the bullshit of love being a truly "spontaneous" experience that takes over an individual and that you can truly love someone who you do not respect - the sort of modern belief that has me believing that I, well...


It is a breath of fresh air to see how logical people, sometimes quite coldly so, interact with the sort of hopping, ridiculous person who always eventually wins through their own generally shitty core set of beliefs and the lack of respect that they have for everything. These sorts of people do exist, and I have personally dealt with them - one of which I was particularly close to for a long period of my life. Having had the experience of knowing this person, I took great enjoyment at seeing logic actually win in many situations against these illogical people, and I felt a very real pain when they would lose, in the way that logical always seems to against extremism.

Onto the setting/world of the book itself - what else can I say, other than Rand has mythologized the then modern western world, so that even the familiar feels exotic and amazing. As someone else has noted, Rand could make a factory seem sexy, mysterious and a symbol of something strangely mystical, all at once - I would point out that she was crafting a world in which a facility for smelting metal could become a modern temple of worship - in this case, a worship of scientific and logical endeavors, which would have the promise of steady wealth as the reward for steadfast work and attention to detail.

This did not end or begin with the wealthy or the geniuses of this world - no matter how poor or "dumb" a person could be, if they could produce and take pride in whatever their own endeavors, they were rewarded, or, at least, deserved to be rewarded.

I have a major point of contention for people who have made the decision to act as though the many situations in which simple, regular people who simply did their job well and were viewed as heroic did not exist. At least argue with real points of truthful argumentation - living simply, in Rand's world, is an acceptable and indeed, moral place to begin any endeavor. You should earn what you get in the world, starting as close to the bottom as possible and with as little help from others as possible. At least, that is what I felt that she meant, after I finished reading the book.

As I promised that I would do, I will go into what was, to me, the most "offensive" part of the book - the speech.

In excess of 60 pages, the speech near the end of the piece is uninterrupted and seems to state not only an opinion that was made abundantly clear throughout the book before its inclusion, but also hammers in the same point numerous times within the speech itself. Most of all, the speech is not entertaining and it added nothing to my own enjoyment of the work, besides the fact that it felt as though it was the longest sermon ever devised that had nothing to do with god. Indeed, the professor who had me read this book referred to this part as the "Sermon" in the book.


Rand, this is fiction that was meant to entertain as well as educate, and I have never been truly entertained while being preached to. But Rand refused to ever have this book published, if ever this speech was left out of the final product, so in such a manner - Rand, you put all your cards on the table and refused to listen to reason in this situation, and to me that is a damn shame.

The sin of anti-entertainment is my main problem with this book, and if I could estimate how much I would have cut from the final product if I had been her editor and I had the final say-so, I would estimate that I would have left the book with somewhere between 500 to 700 pages in its length. If any scene does not do service to the plot or the growth of its characters, it should never exist, plain and simple.

But my problem is that I cannot hate this book. It has a purity, a love and a fire in it that drives some sort of a motor inside of it, making me adore most of the characters and their actions, and I was kept, mostly entertained, throughout the book. Flawed and controversial, I came out feeling as though the whole product could have been a large "meh" for me, if not for the passionate writing of Rand, who proved to be a skillful and inspired author, I found, throughout most of the book.

I like it, and I think that you should read this, especially if you are religious or are disgusted by the ideas of Objectivism. What are you so frightened of - that a different idea than your own will bite your ass and make it difficult to sit on the toilet for a week? Give this book a chance, if only for the plot and the characters.

I would especially read this during a period of your life in which you don't have much to do - this book does get addictive, where Rand got her flow down pat, and interruptions are unwanted beasts in your long trips into Rand's New York or the dystopia of outside America. I will say that if I ever re-read this book, I will skip the speech at the end without a bat of my eye, and first time readers would be intelligent to do the same.

If you have read this, or you have ever played Bioshock, I find that the both quite obviously pair together very well as opposite sides of the spectrum, and would recommend playing Bioshock after you read this book for an entirely different view of society/culture/philosophy gone wrong.