Adult Fiction; Dystopian (Sociological Sci-Fi); Published 1957
Premise: The world is falling apart around Dagny Taggert and Hank Reardon as they struggle to save their beloved industries from their strangely powerful, pervasive enemies. But who, exactly, is their enemy?
About: Part of what makes this book so interesting is that it’s part novel, part philosophical treatise. I really enjoyed the novel and learning about Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism. While I don’t agree with the moral part of her philosophy, I agree with a lot of the economic part. However, I can’t say that even the economic portion was quite thorough enough or correct enough to say, “Yes, I approve.” I hear that her non-fiction work is more thoroughly developed, as far as philosophy and theory, although I haven’t read any of it for myself, yet.
BEFORE YOU READ ON: I generally try to avoid spoilers, in my reviews; but this review is going to contain a lot of spoilers about Ayn Rand’s political position and the point she makes in Atlas Shrugged because it’s pretty much impossible to critique these things separately from the book. (It is a VERY political, VERY polarizing book.) I really hope that if you’re considering reading this book, you’ll skip the “What I Liked” and “What I Didn’t Like” sections until you have read the book for yourself. Discovering Rand’s perspective was a huge part of the fun—for me, at least. Do please, however, skip down and read my “Overall” and “Audiobook” sections of the review, if you’re interested.
What I Liked: (1) This novel kept me up at night. It’s a study in slow-burn tension. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. (2) It introduced me to libertarian thought, something I was almost completely unfamiliar with. (3) It breaks down the idea of economic centralization and shows, with examples, why it might harm an economy, if implemented as irresponsibly as the Jim Taggarts of the narrative did. It also strongly conveys the conservative argument that socialism takes incentive away from businessmen, inventors, workers, etc. (4) It interested me in politics by giving me a new perspective on the confusion that is contemporary American politics. I didn’t know where to begin, before reading this book, so I have to thank it for helping me forward. (5) It provides a very pro-American viewpoint that is lacking in the public schools I attended. I had absorbed a very negative view of America by the time I went through public high school and my first two years of college. But this book—among other things—showed me that things aren’t as black and white as my teachers (or other people in my life who would disagree with my public school teachers) would have me believe. (6) The book is just so…triumphant. A lot of the book feels like the best moments in other books, when your hero kicks the antagonist’s booty. Oh, here’s a slightly spoilery Catching Fire example: when Peeta drops the baby bomb on live television, and the capitol citizens end up calling for a halt to that year’s unpopular hunger games. At that moment, you’re just like, HAH TAKE THAT, PRESIDENT SNOW! GO PEETA!! That’s what reading Atlas Shrugged felt like, to me. There are so many great moments, particularly from Dagny and Hank.
What I Didn’t Like:
(1) Its portrayal of socialists is flawed. It simply is. I don’t believe all socialists are like Jim Taggart. I think a lot of self-described socialists honestly believe that economic centralization is the answer to world poverty. That doesn’t make them evil, bloodsucking moochers. It means they are compassionate people who, I believe, rely too heavily on the government for social salvation. In fact (just to throw in one ideological disagreement I have with this novel’s message), I like some “socialist” practices and policies because I think (a) the policies can work to benefit the poor, if done right, and (b) that individuals do have some obligation to the community. To give one small example: free lunch for underprivileged school kids. I would vote for that, in my community, as long as the policies made sense. Why? Because, using my brain and heart to think this through, I decided that these kids are doing their part by going to school and it will only help the community to have them being properly fed, if they aren’t getting the right nutrition at home. I wouldn’t vote for laws about this on a federal scale because I think the specifics of the policies should be kept local–the local communities know what their kids need better than the federal government does. It’s simply of matter of “Which way does it work better?” But I don’t think that’s a bad tax on our community’s hard workers, as long as the majority of voters approve. (And yes, I realize that unions and other organizations passed important standard-of-living controls on corporations.) So basically, my complaint is that Rand does not honestly portray the protests of her opposition, in this book. Either that, or she just didn’t understand her opposition. I would have to read her nonfiction to know whether or not she understands the heart of socialist thought.
(2) And, for another ideological disagreement with the novel: Unlike Rand’s heroes, I don’t think that all taxes should be abolished. I believe the government needs some taxes to keep running and doing its primary job of protecting us from our enemies and ourselves. I don’t think a completely free market would provide safe service in every realm (such as law enforcement. I don’t see how law enforcement could safely and successfully be privatized, although I admit I’m new to libertarian thought and haven’t read all of their ideas on the subject). (3) Another thing: making money is not the highest virtue. Sorry. Frugality and hard work certainly are virtues, but making money is not the highest of callings. I truly believe that some Americans—e.g. wounded veterans, physically and mentally disabled, and many mothers, who work more often than not on unofficial “jobs” like keeping house, keeping children and keeping sane–cannot and/or should not have to be monetarily self-sufficient, as Rand seemed to believe. (4) The marriages. Marriage, in this book, is a horror zone. That’s not surprising, considering Rand’s ridiculous string of affairs, but I’ll leave it at that 😉 (5) ALL HUMANITY MUST WORSHIP THE HEROES OF INDUSTRY OR THEY SHOULD JUST DIE (nope, sorry).
END OF SPOILERS!!!
Overall: Fabulous novel with some flawed philosophies and portrayals. Despite my qualms with it, it’s been a long time since I loved a book this much.
Audiobook: Scott Brick is freaking fantastic. Great narrator. Loved the audiobook.
“I want to be prepared to claim the greatest virtue of all—that I was a man who made money” (a hero of the book, 96).
“No one’s happiness but my own is in my power to achieve or destroy” (798).
“Accept the fact that the achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life, and that happiness—not pain or mindless self-indulgence—is the proof of your moral integrity, since it is the proof and result of the loyalty to the achievement of your values” (1059).
“If you choose to help a man who suffers, do it only on the ground of his virtues, of his fight to recover, of his rational record, or of the fact that he suffers unjustly; then your action is still a trade, and his virtue is the payment of your help. But to help a man who has no virtues, to help him on the grounds of his suffering as such, to accept his faults, his need as a claim—is to accept the mortgage of a zero on your values” (1060).