El's Reviews > Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
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Feb 07, 11

bookshelves: 20th-centurylit-late, society-went-boom, big-effing-books
Read from January 08 to February 06, 2011

It was probably the summer before my Sophomore year in college. I took a Greyhound bus from Columbia, MO to central Wisconsin to visit my grandparents in an attempt to gather family history for what I knew would turn into my Senior Project/Thesis. This trip became an annual tradition, and often I traveled by Greyhound bus. It was cheap, it was local (instead of driving two hours to the nearest airport in St. Louis), it was fun. You want me to sit in a moving vehicle with nothing else to do besides sleep and read for something like 12 hours? Where do I sign up? I was a busy kid in those days, working a few different jobs, going to school, trying to maintain a relationship. I was tired, and the idea of having to just sit there and do whatever I wanted sounded like pure awesomeness.

The book that I took with me on that trip was The Fountainhead. It was probably the best book I could take on a lengthy bus trip. And after all my different trips to Wisconsin, that one occasion sticks in my mind more than many of the others just because of that book. (We won't go into what my grandparents said when they saw what I was reading, but most of their comments involved something about the possibility of losing my eyesight by reading such small print.) It didn't matter what people thought or what they said. Sure, there was a lot of extraneous words in The Fountainhead. But it made an impression on me. One could argue that since I was in college everything would make an impression on me, but I like to think I was a little more discerning than all that. I didn't like Beloved which was being shoved down our throats in just about every class I took.

The Fountainhead is the book that people really love to hate because of everything Ayn Rand believed in. At least, that's the case until they come across Atlas Shrugged. Then people get their panties in a much larger twist. They realize that what she proposed in The Fountainhead wasn't quite as scary as they originally thought. After all The Fountainhead focused more on individualism; Atlas Shrugged went for the jugular with all that talk of Objectivism.

The thing about Ayn Rand is very few people actually have read her. Everyone feels they have an opinion about her mostly because of things they've heard from other people. She had a reputation during her life, and she certainly maintained that reputation after she died. She's infamous for being a cold-hearted, evil, money-hungry bitch - Capitalism is grand, it's good to be selfish, etc. etc. And from there, her fiction is immediately pooh-poohed. There are accusations that her characters are "cardboard", "one-dimensional", that they're either blatantly bad if they don't support Objectivism and blatantly good if they do.

I'm not convinced it's all that simple.

It's not an easy book to review because where do you really start? Do you focus on the story, the style, the author, her beliefs? Do you talk about your own beliefs? Does it matter? Who is John Galt? One thing I decided I wouldn't do is lambaste the book because I immediately disagreed with certain aspects of her philosophy; on the other hand I also wouldn't just applaud the book because I agreed with other aspects. I'm not trying to prove a point here and tell all the people who dislike this that they're right or wrong, and the people who love it that they're right or wrong.

The complaint that Rand used her fiction as a vehicle for her beliefs doesn't hold water with me. Seriously, how many writers do that? Upton Sinclair did it. I maintain that most writers, in some capacity, use their fiction to propose their beliefs. But, as usual, it's especially "scary" when it's a woman who does it. Good gravy.

I will say I am not offended by what Rand believed. There are worse beliefs in the world and much more dangerous ones. I can even get behind some of what Rand proposed. It doesn't mean this is the best book I've ever read or that I wholeheartedly agree with everything she wrote. It could have been pared down a few hundred pages - I noticed the editor even got a little tired and lazy towards the end of the book. Did it make me think? Absolutely. That's what makes a book good.

I appreciated The Fountainhead more. Maybe it's because of the time and when that I read it, and that's something that can't be repeated this many years later. I might not even like The Fountainhead that much if I read it now. But there's something to be said about individualism that I can get behind, and if that's the only thing I agree with when it comes to Rand, so be it.
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Reading Progress

01/09/2011 page 108
01/12/2011 page 205
19.0% ""That's your cruelty, that's what's mean and selfish about you. If you loved your brother, you'd give him a job he didn't deserve, precisely because he didn't deserve it - that would be true love and kindness and brotherhood. Else what's love for? If a man deserves a job, there's no virtue in giving it to him. Virtue is the giving of the undeserved." Cracking my shit up over here!" 1 comment
01/20/2011 page 603
56.0% "Just about to start the chapter entitled "The Sign of the Dollar". I thought that was the book's subtitle."
01/25/2011 page 739
69.0% ""No one's happiness but my own is in my power to achieve or to destroy. You should have had more respect for him and for me than to fear what you had feared.""
01/31/2011 page 800
74.0% ""But there are no white lies, there is only the blackest of destruction, and a white lie is the blackest of all.""
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Comments (showing 1-32 of 32) (32 new)

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message 1: by Heather (new)

Heather Yikes! You are one brave woman!!

message 2: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer D Woot Woot! Yep. That's what Ayn would say.

message 3: by Cindy (new)

Cindy Whoa.

message 4: by El (new) - rated it 3 stars

El Thanks, ladies! (I think...) :)

message 5: by Alex (new) - rated it 1 star

Alex Nice review, El. You've made a solid argument that it is possible to be a grown-up, read Rand and not be totally polarized about it.

message 6: by El (last edited Feb 07, 2011 07:01AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

El Thanks, Alex. If it could just have been trimmed back a little, I think it would have more of an impact on readers instead of immediately alienating them by the sheer size and amount of talky-talk.

The first part of the movie trilogy comes out in a couple months. I'm interested to see what they do with it.

message 7: by Alex (new) - rated it 1 star

Alex Oh God, they're doing that? Of course they are. Who's in it?

'Course, this is my whole thing about Atlas Shrugged. If it could be trimmed, it'd be a lot easier to take...oh wait, that's been done. She called it Fountainhead.

message 8: by El (last edited Feb 07, 2011 08:02AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

El The cast includes a bunch of people I've never heard of before. Which could be a good thing. Unless they're all from like Gossip Girl or something.

Actually, that's not true. Paul Johansson (who plays John Galt and happens also to be the director) was in Beverly Hills, 90210 during their college years. He was totally Kelly Taylor's boyfriend after she dumped Dylan McKay. (OMG, I just wrote all that outloud.)

And Patrick Fischler is awesome but I never knew that was his name. I know him from David Lynch's Mulholland Drive. Creeptastic.

I'm now fantastically excited about the movie.

message 9: by El (new) - rated it 3 stars

El Oh, cool. And that kid from Caddyshack.

Ty: You take drugs, Danny?
Danny: Every day.
Ty: Good. Then what's your problem?
Danny: I don't know.

Bethany Lang Cool review. Have you read We the Living, her first novel? It's actually one of my favorite fiction books, because the objectivism piece wasn't fully fleshed out yet and isn't quite so prevalent. And it's actually really well-written, as I think much of Ayn's work is. I wish people would just read the stuff before forming an opinion.

message 11: by El (new) - rated it 3 stars

El Thanks, Bethany! I thought I had read We the Living, but Goodreads seems to think I have not. Maybe I read it before I started GR. I'll have to check it out again!

message 12: by Alex (new) - rated it 1 star

Alex It does make me more optimistic that it looks like it's not gonna be, y'know, a summer blockbuster starring Shia Leboif and Katherine Heigl.

message 13: by El (new) - rated it 3 stars

El Sadly Luckily Shia was too busy doing the next Transformers movie that comes out in July. (Which I am totally seeing because I'm a huge nerd.)

My biggest concern was that Kristen Stewart would play Dagny. And there would be sparkly vampires and a lot of different people moping around and listening to emo music. I'll take Objectivism over Sparkly Vampirism anyday.

message 14: by Cindy (new)

Cindy Hey, El, have you read the McSweeney's piece about raising your kid using objectivism? I'm not convinced some yuppie parents out there aren't actually doing this.

Also, there's a version of Rand's objectivism in Nancy Kress's Beggars in Spain, called "Yai-ism." It's a really good book in it's own right.

message 15: by El (new) - rated it 3 stars

El Hey, Cindy! Yeah, I think the McSweeney's bit was one of the Bookish's NotD, or maybe it came up in the altruism thread. Either way, it's absolutely classic. :)

I'll check out Beggars in Spain. I don't think I've even heard of it. Thanks!

message 16: by Alex (new) - rated it 1 star

Alex Man, that's some pretty intense nerddom. I gave up after the first one.

El, are you fitting this into a task?

message 17: by Meghan (new)

Meghan Well said! And I love that you can manage to insert a 90210 reference in there (to Alex).

message 18: by Charity (new) - added it

message 19: by Marieke (new)

Marieke wait, there is a new movie version of the Fountainhead? i just don't think i could ever watch anyone but Patricia Neal in a film version of that book.

message 20: by El (new) - rated it 3 stars

El Alex, yeah, I'm fitting Atlas Shrugged into the 50-point task as the literary fiction component. And yeah, my nerddom knows no bounds.

Meghan, thanks! I love any opportunity that allows me to throw in 90210 references, or (in other words) when High Brow meets Low Brow. :)

Charity, that's a fantastic cartoon. Fantastic, and so, so true. :)

Marieke, no, a movie version of Atlas Shrugged. I wouldn't be surprised if someone remakes Fountainhead after the Atlas Shrugged venture, but we'll see. Maybe if this Paul Johansson does a good job with Atlas Shrugged he'll feel some strange need to remake Fountainhead. Though I'm with you - the original of that was pretty wonderful. And Ayn Rand wrote the screenplay for that - not surprising really. If she were alive today she's insist on writing the screenplay for Atlas Shrugged too. And she'd probably be holding Paul Johansson's balls in a glass jar right about now as well. A glass jar with a dollar sign on it.

message 21: by Marieke (new)

Marieke I wish there was a like button for your last comment lol. And I look forward to your review of atlas shrugged the movie.

message 22: by Jean-marcel (new) - added it

Jean-marcel I couldn't finish this one, but I was probably too young for it at the time. I did like The Fountainhead though. I think there was just far too much pontificating in this one for me to enjoy. Perhaps though I'll take another crack, one day! Next time I'm on Greyhound?

message 23: by El (new) - rated it 3 stars

El Hi Jean-marcel! I wouldn't go too far out of your way to read Atlas, Shrugged. It was fine, but definitely a lot of pontificating. I agree - Fountainhead was better, but again, maybe that had more to do with when I read it. I might not feel the same now.

message 24: by Alex (new) - rated it 1 star

Alex Just because Charity has made this an appropriate place to post snarky cartoons about Rand...

message 25: by Jean-marcel (new) - added it

Jean-marcel El wrote: "Hi Jean-marcel! I wouldn't go too far out of your way to read Atlas, Shrugged. It was fine, but definitely a lot of pontificating. I agree - Fountainhead was better, but again, maybe that had mo..."

Perhaps just is a better story! At least, that's what I think. Rourke is a funny man...obviously one of Rand's idealised creations..he reminds me of that frightening genius kid you just didn't dare to pick on in school, and a modernday vampire.

message 26: by Rayroy (new) - added it

Rayroy First Upton St. Clair is overrated, second Ayn Rand is sort of a scapegoat for all that is wrong with capitalism and there is a lot wrong with it but we have Cool Ranch Doritos because of capitalism and I love Cool Ranch Doritos as well as Mt Dew Volt and McDonald's Big Macs, and third your review was insightful and a joy to read, I think the problem is people put to much behind isms.

message 27: by Marieke (new)

Marieke apparently i failed to ever like your review, El. fixed that. just doing my part to keep you in the 1% lol.

David Happy to see a pretty, er, objective review of this. I think there is a lot to be said about this book, and it's neither wholly negative nor laudatory. I think everyone who reads this kind of does so in a phase of their life when they're just establishing their own ego and so it's really meaningful to them. But this book definitely ages poorly and reminds me, anyway, of how ridiculous some of my notions were when I read this cover-to-cover and recommended it to all my friends, conceiving myself as some highfalutin philosopher or something.

Excellent review, El!

message 29: by El (new) - rated it 3 stars

El Rayroy wrote: "I think the problem is people put to much behind isms.

I'll add to that - I think people put too much behind -isms and are inconsistent/don't fully understand those convictions. I'm thinking of a lot of the folks I knew in my 20s who were anti-capitalist but then they all had cell phones before I did. It's one thing to be aware but in a lot of their cases they didn't realize they were practicing what they were preaching against.

message 30: by El (new) - rated it 3 stars

El Marieke wrote: "apparently i failed to ever like your review, El. fixed that. just doing my part to keep you in the 1% lol."

Better late than never, 'rieke. And, thanks, that 1% is super important. ;)

message 31: by El (new) - rated it 3 stars

El David wrote: "Happy to see a pretty, er, objective review of this. I think there is a lot to be said about this book, and it's neither wholly negative nor laudatory. I think everyone who reads this kind of does ..."

Thanks, David. I think reading Rand can help people become critical readers... that it's okay to read something without believing in the philosophy behind it, etc. I would rather read something and learn for myself than just take everyone else's word for it. There's a lesson in everything, right?

message 32: by Rayroy (new) - added it

Rayroy El wrote: "Rayroy wrote: "I think the problem is people put to much behind isms.

I'll add to that - I think people put too much behind -isms and are inconsistent/don't fully understand those convictions. I'..."

great point, for me in fiction I always enjoy reading about those that are planning things against the system, like anarchist in "Against the Day" or fishermen in "Sailor Song" at odds with a Hollywood film set to shot in there village.

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