James Pratt's Reviews > Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
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's review
Feb 27, 2012

did not like it

Getting through this book was one of the hardest things I've ever done. "Atlas Shrugged" is nothing more than an exceedingly long pamphlet for Ms. Rand's ironically named philosophy of "objectivism". The dialogue is stilted, the characters two-dimensional, the plot mildly interesting until you learn the true nature of the mysterious disappearances of the captains of industry. The "good guys" are veritable gods among men, uncompromising in their values and uncompromised by mortal flaws like compassion and empathy, whereas the "bad guys" (i.e. liberals, unions, intellectuals, etc.) are uniformly unpleasant, unsympathetic, and deserving of nothing but scorn (and boy does the author dish it out). Ms. Rand's message could have just as easily been summed up in one sentence ("Blame poor people"), which would have saved me a considerable amount of time and effort. The lesson I learned from this book is that just because somebody calls something a classic, it doesn't necessarily mean it's good. Or entertaining. On the other hand it does make a fine paperweight.

Here are some more reasons why this book sucks. There is no dramatic tension because the antagonists are way outclassed by the protagonists from page one. There's no real struggle here, just one side demonstrating their superiority (coincidentally in the form of a universal adherence to Ayn Rand's philosophy) and the other side demonstrating their slimy ineptitude. Yawn. Here's another thing. A good author provides a strong counterpoint against their own argument so they can confront it, offer their own counterpoint, and thereby strengthen their own argument. No such counterpoint here. Whether this indicates a lack of imagination on the part of the author or a lack of faith in the strength of her own philosophy is debateable, but either way it's just another example of the many shortcomings of this novel.

Here's some more stuff that came up in discussions about this book (see the 3 Star review entitled "Behemoth" on Amazon.com for a much more detailed dissection):
1) Rand's god-hero, John Galt, consistently demonstrates sociopathic behavior. He is a master manipulator who doesn't hesitate to ruin lives (of his would-be allies, no less!!!) or cause death and destruction in the pursuit of his goals. His ruthlessness is due in part to a complete lack of empathy, making him incapable of seeing situations from another's point of view. This might imply a singular dedication of purpose, but it also fits the profile of a serial killer. I wouldn't be surprised if Galt spends his spare constructing a "woman suit" sewn together from the flesh of his victims.
2) Galt's prophecy is self-fulfilling. The chaos he predicted comes about not because of the ineptitude of lesser men but because of his own supervillian-style plot to destroy society. He shouldn't be fighting liberals and unions, he should be fighting the Fantastic Four. Heck, at one point he gives a 70-page monologue!!! Dr. Doom has nothing on this guy.
3) The novel doesn't mention the Stock Market. Is that because the Stock Market Crash of 1929 showed the inherent weakness of an unregulated financial system?
4) There are no children, elderly, or terminally ill characters in the novel (i.e. non-producers who have no place in Rand's ideal society). I assume this is because in her society people emerge fully grown from their gestation chambers at the age of 21 and once they've outlived their usefulness are ground up into an edible paste.
5) The title is unintentionally ironic. Atlas didn't carry the weight of the world on his shoulders as a sign of his greatness. That job was his punishment for acting like a jerk.

And what about the philosophy of Objectivism itself? I'll just say this. If the Steve Forbes of the world went on strike, I don't think my life would be significantly impacted. If garbagemen, mailcarriers, police, or factory workers went on strike, that would be a different story.
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