David's Reviews > Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
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's review
Mar 09, 2008

did not like it
Read in January, 2001

** spoiler alert ** “Check your premises” the major characters are told. Well let’s check the premises of Ms. Rand’s story.

The first (false) premise is that there are only a dozen or so people in the country who are worth a damn. They have well above-average intelligence, have worked hard and have been lucky enough that their work has paid off in oodles of money (which they don’t enjoy or even care about because they are too busy working). But they can’t bear the thought of paying taxes to support the services they receive and depend upon.

The second (false) premise is that every government employee is a lazy no-good who has nothing on his mind but pillaging the bank accounts of the lucky dozen. But beyond that, the government is inherently evil, to the point of passing laws that inflict major economic damage and suffering on virtually everyone in the country with the exception of the privileged government leaders. This evil government is all-powerful and has total control over every newspaper, television and radio station. Fat chance. Obviously the author’s image of government derives from her formative years in the USSR. She has no concept that other governments have not tolerated the oppression that she found there.

The third (false) premise is that the rest of the people of the U.S. are mostly a bunch of lazy morons who blindly accept the statements of the evil government and their patsy press. Further, they have no ability or process to provoke change. They wander around like a bunch of sheep being led to the slaughter. If only they were weren’t so stupid and lazy they would all be as rich as the “lucky dozen elite”. Since they didn’t have the ability (or intensity or luck) to become one of the elite, they all think that the elite should support them so they don’t have to work. The country has a middle class composed of about 24 people who are the trusted, loyal assistants of the elite. They are good enough to do everything their masters ask, but not good enough to join their masters in “Atlantis”. When the elite disappear (on strike), their trusted assistants are left behind to bear the misfortune of the rest of the poor slobs.

This is all set on a stage of poor science fiction, which includes such things as a magic “motor” generating vast amounts of energy out of nothing. The author doesn’t seem to know the difference between a motor and a generator and uses the terms interchangeably. Then there is a magic “ray” that makes large areas of land invisible, powered, of course, by the magic “motor”. These magic things were, of course, invented by the intelligent elite who use them to help wreak havoc and despair on the rest of the 200 million people of the country in order to punish the evil government.

Then there’s the (obligatory) sex. Dagny Taggart, the heroine and only intelligent woman in the universe, has sex with three of the elite. She dumps the only real relationship (with Rearden) in favor of the demi-god John Galt (who she barely knows) along the lines of a teenage girl throwing herself at one of the Beatles. Her favorite encounters are sado-masochistic.

In the end, after they have succeeded in destroying the economy of the world and most everyone’s life, the elite magnanimously plan to sashay back into the real world and rebuild the hundred years of technology that they just destroyed. Isn’t that a brilliant idea? They think the only path to change is to take their football and go home. You have to wonder how brilliant these people really are.

The author spends great quantities of print describing and re-describing thoughts and feelings of the characters ad nauseum. The redundancy is overwhelming.

This poor attempt at science fiction with a supposed moral message demonstrates how a 350 page book can be padded to become a 1200 page behemoth. Elitists, libertarians and others paranoid about the government will undoubtedly enjoy this book. Paramilitary groups will love it. Most of the rest of us will ask ourselves “What the hell was she was thinking?”
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02/01 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-21)

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message 21: by Mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mark There's nothing better than an analytical perception. Yours hits many points, and I agree with them for the most part. However, if one remembers that the backbone of Rand's writings is her philosophy, Objectivism, then I think that her short-comings, those you point out, can be looked over. I still think the story is good, the characters are well-developed, and she constructs a consistent plot based on a valid philosophical theory.

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

Max Your review is spot-on. Rand's work only succeeds because she builds straw man arguments that are ridiculously easy to attack (which she spends an eternity doing). Her work is full of logical fallacies that basically gut the interesting larger utopic concepts she espouses. She's really pissed at mother Russia!

Wendy I think your comments are a bit naive. First of all, her writing is thorough and well-thought out. Furthermore, she wrote the book during an era in America where the threat of communism was real. She does an excellent job of pointing out that government restricts ingenuity and the spirit of the American people when they meddle in the free market. Study USSR history if you don't agree, or just read Animal Farm. I still think her remarks are valuable today. After all, we have two Socialists running for the Democratic nomination for president and a congress that overspends my hard-earned money on useless things. Government rewards those who don't want to work (welfare) and taxes those who do. That is what Rand's book is preaching against. Any middle class American will tell you it isn't worth trying to better themselves financially up to a certain point b/c government takes it all. And if you have ever owned your own business, you know that many laws and tax codes restrict you from being able to grow that business in certain industries.
Ayn Rand is right on. Rand's "elite" characters weren't against charity, helping others and society; they were just against waste, stupidity, and arrogant power mongers --which is what we find many times in government. Yes we need government, but it has become too intrusive, and thus, crippling. You should read Thomas Sowell's "Basic Economics"

message 18: by David (last edited Apr 25, 2008 07:25PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

David Wendy,
Thanks for your comments. I can see why you liked the book so much. You are very good at talking down to people. You have your opinion. I have mine. And I HAVE owned my own successful business.

Jennie As an allegorical philosophical story, I think this is really well written. As a philosophy that I can get behind, I think its total crap. I had a really hard time reading reading the book, and it took me several months to muddle through all the passages that ramble on about her theory. I'm glad that someone else saw through the the problems with her theory and the depths of unhappiness her philosophy could lead us to. I admit that she makes some valid points about government and people who are essentially living off the taxes of others, but to say that everyone who receives social assistance doesn't deserve it and doesn't want more is a huge blanket statement to make and inherently elitist.

I did enjoy the story part of this book, but there was too little story and too much preaching to really make it an enjoyable read for me. Although, I am glad that I read this, if only to make me think about what really is important to me and to solidify my own beliefs.

Thanks for a great review!

Bridget Amen, brother. This book came "highly" recommended to me so felt compelled to read it. It took me a total of a year to complete it because it was such an arduous task.

I have seen people wear t-shirts that say "Who is John Galt?" I want one that says "I'd like to study John Galt through the scope of my thirty ought six."

message 15: by Krys (new) - rated it 5 stars

Krys David,

I liked review despite the fact that I do like 'Atlas Shrugged.' It made me laugh. You make a good satire of the work. Ayn Rand is a very polarizing figure. And I think it stems from the fact that she is a very extreme person in all her views. The only inaccuracy of your review that I found was: "These magic things were, of course, invented by the intelligent elite who use them to help wreak havoc and despair on the rest of the 200 million people of the country in order to punish the evil government."

I'm pretty sure the government invented that sound-like death ray and it was the government that was using it to extort people to work hard for no personal gain.

It was the protagonists that invented the magical static-electric motor/generator. Because they, the protagonists, would only invent things for personal gain and therefore society gain. Only the government would create a destructive device that would be 'not-for-profit.'

I think people take her too seriously probably because she herself doesn't seem to have a sense of humor on these ethical topics. I really like a lot of Ayn Rand's points but I fully admit to not agreeing with everything she preaches.

message 14: by Bob (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bob So which branch of government do you work for?

Christi I think you took the "facts" in this fictional story too literally. This book was more along the lines of a morality story. Have you ever heard of the "slippery slope" argument? The idea is to follow things to an extreme conclusion to make a point. I think Ayn Rand did this very well. BTW, I guess you hated George Orwell's 1984?

message 12: by Elton (new) - added it

Elton Wilson Last time I checked this was a work of fiction. To say that it is based on false premises about the US is like saying Star Wars is based on false premises about the Galactic Empire.

Cindi LOL...another immature reader who show's his feeling on his sleeves. Fiction writing at it's best and you tear it to shreds? How strange is that?
I've looked at your other 'reviews'... You read for the wrong reason. You should really get a new hobby.

message 10: by David (last edited Jan 02, 2010 11:47AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

David Cindi,
I’m so grateful to you for letting me know that I’ve been reading for the wrong reason for over half a century! I’ve decided to take your advice and find a new hobby. Perhaps I’ll join the Libertarian Party so I might run into you at an anti-government rally and you can let me know what else I’ve done wrong all my life. I don’t know what I’d do without people like you to help me out!

message 9: by Nate (new)

Nate David,

Hilarious review and great response to your commenters, some of whom display the puerile nature of Randian fanatics. (You must work for the gov't! You must be a commie! You are doing it all wrong!) My favorite comment is Wendy's, though, who seems to think the government should tax people with no income rather than those who have some. I'm sure that'd work out real well! Also, after reading her comment and realizing I can live off welfare, I've quit my job and am applying for government benefits, because Section 8 housing and food stamps are better than what I can earn with a job.

Good review. Rand's hilariously titled "philosophy" objectivism has been thoroughly debunked with the financial crisis, as even Alan Greenspan admitted. The book is terrible fiction as well. Rand has no subtlety. I would say she could have shown rather than told, but really, she should have shown rather than told, and told and told over again. Literature, this ain't.

message 8: by Engineous (new)

Engineous Loved this, but:

Elitists, libertarians and others paranoid about the government will undoubtedly enjoy this book.

Hey! Just because I am (justifiably, given history) paranoid of the government doesn't mean I enjoy this kind of shoddy writing or equally shoddy ideology. I have better things to do with my life than write masturbatory fiction about how I'm right and humans are best when inhuman and nature is best when unnatural. Like plant trees, or pet my cats, or make aluminum-foil hats.

Manny Dagny Taggart, the heroine and only intelligent woman in the universe, has sex with three of the elite. She dumps the only real relationship (with Rearden) in favor of the demi-god John Galt (who she barely knows) along the lines of a teenage girl throwing herself at one of the Beatles. Her favorite encounters are sado-masochistic.

Alas, how true. What DOES she do with her guys, that invariably leaves her bruised and bleeding? She seems to like it, though. Probably for the same reason that she likes 19 hour work days.

BTW, I think there were a couple of other intelligent women in Atlantis. Not as intelligent as Dagny, needless to say.

Mariel just a comment about the 'false' premises. this was obviously a work of fiction, therefore as the author, ayn can write her characters and government officials as she would like to, in order to get her point across. not to say i agree with any or all of her points, but its not as if this were a word for word play by play specifically about each and every person in the united states. she used a clearly fictional dystopia to spread the message she sees fit to spread. would you be criticizing aesop for his moral lessons just because he uses fictional talking animals to convey his lesson?

i think most readers, myself included, can take her work with a grain of salt, a vessel for her to convey her philosophy. we can see that she did not mean to write nonfiction, we are smart enough to realise that no, not every government official is a corrupt good for nothing, and not every industrialist is a moral man of might and intelligence. which is precisely why if you look around you, we are not living in this novel. that alone should tell you that her premises aren't 'false' but fictional.

however i do agree that it was a bit ridiculous that dagny seemed to be the only woman of worth, and because each man 'earned' her, she wasn't cheating on any of them.

message 5: by Leigh (new)

Leigh Well, I'm not going to pretend that I'm an expert on philosophy, government, or business; I'm not going to pretend that I worship Rand and her way of thinking; and I'm not going to pretend that I fully understand all the finer points of this novel. But I will say that I don't agree with all of your points. Of course it comes across as a poorly-done science fiction novel. That's because it's not science fiction. The 'magical' motor and ray you mentioned are not science so much as symbols. I don't believe they're meant to be taken seriously at all. As for your false premises, well, part of what you said is true, but part is not. I think overall you're taking this book too literally. So... that's all I have to say.

message 4: by Bob (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bob C I think those "false premises" are more warnings of what could be if we're not careful. We DO already live in a society where many people feel a sense of entitlement and that they have a right to things they haven't earned. If some people had their druthers, the "rich" would be stripped of all of their wealth. Who, then, would strive to become "rich"? Who would create, build, takes risks? It is a cautionary tale to be sure.

Arensb You write that the capitalist demigods
have worked hard and have been lucky enough that their work has paid off in oodles of money
I haven't finished the book yet, but I don't think this is right: luck had nothing to do with their success. As far as I can tell, in Randland, success is determined by hard work and intelligence alone, and luck has no part in it.

Remember at the very beginning, when (view spoiler)

Or Midas Mulligan, the banker (view spoiler)

I mean, come on. It's not as if anyone ever works hard but fails to become rich, right?

message 2: by Tim (new)

Tim Eastman @ Wendy, you do know that Ayn Rand died broke and on one of those socialistic type programs you so hate don't you? First she dug her grubby little paws into your parents pockets to survive, and now you're throwing money at her while she's dead.

Kind of gets you right here, the man said thumping his chest

message 1: by Rodrigo (new)

Rodrigo Paula How ironic for her to die like that I guess?

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