Book Review: Atlas Shrugged

This month, I’m reading a collection of explicitly political works. Hopefully each of them will touch on different political treatises, so if you don’t like one of them, stick around for another.

The Book

51-obg7xgml

Atlas Shrugged
Author: Ayn Rand
1957
Amazon Link

I’ve heard this book praised up and down since I was in high school. As someone who grew up in a highly conservative, anti-communist community, this book was considered the definitive answer to all that leftist nonsense. Since then, I’ve heard about it’s importance in the modern right, and I think it’d be a shame to leave this highly influential book unread.

That being said, it’s ridiculously long. Also, if you have to research this book as much as I have in order to get the picture, Amazon link, year, etc., your ads will reflect that interest.

1/5 Discoball Snowcones

1 Discoball Snowcones

Review: As Reading Material

I almost didn’t finish this book. It was just incredibly boring, and I can only take so many weird sex scenes that just fell flat. They were neither truly erotic nor important for the plot – they just happened. There was this sense that BDSM might have come into play, but it was extremely unclear, and the ways Rand described them were perplexing, repetitive, and (from my experience with a single spouse) completely bizarre.

As well, the sentence structure was repetitive, the word choices dull, and the amount of fluff just astounding. If I hear the phrase “for the first time” again, it will be too soon. The book wasn’t so poorly written that I couldn’t trudge through, but it really wasn’t a fun read by any stretch of the imagination.

Review: As a Political Treatise

As a political treatise, I suppose it worked. It took an ad absurdum approach similar to some of Swift’s works (i.e. A Modest Proposal), but good lord at the philosophical whining. Several hours of reading were entirely composed of political monologues, most of which made sense in terms of a “capitalist manifesto,” but none of which made actual sense in terms of fitting into a novel.

The clearest point of Atlas Shrugged, politically, was that money provides motivation to work, and guarantees of living expenses and survival lead to laziness. This makes sense, because not everyone has that drive to do what needs to be done without survival on the line. The concept of needs vs. ability is investigated in-depth and (if you’re willing to discount the unmentioned, obvious exceptions of people with severe disabilities) makes a good amount of sense.

However, I found the aristocratic births of all the main characters to be contrary to the central concept that hard work pays off: most success in the novel was not defined merely by hard work, but by a combination of work, luck, and inheritance. Because of this, there was always a looming aspect of eugenics that was never explicitly mentioned. I also have this sinking feeling that ignoring the fates of people with disabilities was intentional. Several times it was indicated that those unwilling to work should starve, but what about those unable to work or prevented from doing work due to prejudice, perceived ability, or something like that? It seems like it took libertarianism to a heartless extreme. I also am confused as to how Rand’s philosophy handles children and elders who literally can’t work.

Review: Cultural Importance

For those who are here because of the political importance of Atlas Shrugged, do not despair. I can confirm that echoes of the speeches from Atlas are sprinkled into the modern American political right. I can confirm that this book has probably been read by an army of crazy alt-righters and uber-capitalists. It was like one long, slow masturbation fantasy of extreme libertarians.

Ayn Rand’s philosophy and writings are extremely important when it comes to modern right-wing commentators. I think one reason it is so popular is that the philosophy claimed to be entirely rational, logical, and emotionless. However, it was extremely flawed in the sense that it discounts any value in charity or concern for another person beyond lust. With people seen as a means rather than an end, many horrid, inconsiderate things become ok. To argue against a believer in this book would be like bashing your head against the wall, because the book trains fans to believe that any thoughts other than selfishness and invention is illogical and wasteful.

Next week:

I’m going to read that which Rand would most disdain: Marx’s Communist Manifesto. I almost can’t believe I haven’t read it before (because I love politics), but you know, never too late!

13 thoughts on “Book Review: Atlas Shrugged

  1. memadtwo says:

    I question the whole premise of the only motivation for work being money. I have worked much harder at things I was never paid anything for (parenting, art, writing) than I ever did for a paycheck. And in fact that’s true of many people I know. I never worked anyplace where people got rewarded for working hard. It was who you knew, and how well you played office politics. If you do happen to work hard, you get taken advantage of. (K)

  2. D. Wallace Peach says:

    I’m impressed by your reading, HRR. You’re brave. I’ve heard this book praised by the uber-right and defined by anyone with a heart as downright anti-Christian and cruel. The focus on money as the end-all in life is odd, and feels a bit warped, IMHO. Your review only confirmed that for me, and I’m not surprised that you almost didn’t finish it. I also didn’t realize that it was filled with weird sex scenes too (makes total sense though if people are just things). UGH. I’m going to skip this one.

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      Yeah, I don’t blame you. The reason I chose this one was because the other option for the genre (Fountainhead) seemed likely to be worse! If Atlas Shrugged ended about 1/3 the way end (i.e. if it ended where the movie ends), it really wouldn’t have been *that* bad!

      • H.R.R. Gorman says:

        I think I need to figure out how to know if I’ll like a book before I start reading it. I still have the problem of not wanting to leave a book unfinished, too, so I will struggle to keep reading a bad book way past the point of “worth it.”

        So I think I try to make up for it by reading things that might help me “get” other works. The more references, allusions, and cultural context you have, the more other things you can imbibe, I think.

      • D. Wallace Peach says:

        I used to finish every book I started, but I don’t do that anymore. I hang on for a while, and then when reading becomes something I dread, I let it go. I do understand reading that provides context for other works, though. 😀

  3. robertawrites235681907 says:

    I have not read this book, H. but I did enjoy Anthem. It was an extreme view of the possible consequences of certain political regimes, but I enjoyed it as a good dystopian novel. I liked the fact that there are certain people who will always rise to the top due to their abilities and work ethic, regardless of the system. I think this is true.

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      I’ve looked up a little more about Anthem, and I think it could be a more fun read than Atlas. It’s way shorter, for one thing, and published before she went off the deep end into political philosophy.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.