Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand: It’s a shame that an opinion about this book is taken as a political statement, because the story’s actually really good. In a nutshell: the government decides that competition is unfair and starts regulating trade and production. In response, the producers disappear one by one, abandoning (or destroying) their mines, factories, and mills. Chaos ensues. Our protagonist is Dagny Taggart, head of Taggart Transcontinental Railroad. Objectivist women are evidently hard to find; she had so many admirers I almost wanted to rename the book “Everybody Loves Dagny.” But that’s neither here nor there (though the sex scenes were a touch disturbing); it is she who struggles to keep her railroad running as increasing government regulation and a decreasing population of competent people bar the way. At times I was reminded of Animal Farm, which is no surprise considering Rand grew up in Bolshevik Russia. What starts with good intentions rapidly devolves into a miasma of bribes, favors, and threats.

My favorite character was Francisco d’Anconia, CEO of d’Anconia Copper and childhood friend of Dagny. I just love his snarkiness. Everything he does seems calculated to piss off the looters (so the enemies of individuality are called) while remaining impeccably polite. As an aside, I also found it telling that so many of the looters had ridiculous names, such as Tinky or Chick.

I found this story fascinating from an intellectual and philosophical viewpoint. A lot of people seem to treat capitalism as a given (or as the enemy); I’ve never read such a detailed defense of it. And while I do not purport to completely understand Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, these are the nuggets I gleaned from this story:
* Logic and facts are paramount.
* You are entitled to nothing and must earn everything. Needing something – anything – does not entitle you to it. Even food and shelter.
* Government involvement in private enterprise screws everything up.
* The worst thing is to live a life without purpose.
* Every man working in his own self interest ultimately produces the most good for all.

I’m not going to go into my own personal philosophy here, but these views definitely made for some interesting reading. Certainly better than The Fountainhead. (Howard Roark struck me as petty.) Once again, this is a book that made me think, and that is always high praise coming from me.

I listened to this on audiobook, which I think was the only way I would have gotten through it. Not only is the book incredibly long, the characters spend a lot of time making speeches, most notably John Galt’s famous three-hour speech near the end. (Yes, you do learn the answer to “who is John Galt?” in the third section.) These speeches are unquestionably an integral part of the book, both the plot and the philosophical ideals, but they can get a little tiring. On audio they come across much more naturally.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

  1. I really enjoyed this book, too, and I first came to it through an audio book. Be aware, though, that the one read my Edward Herrmann (most recently of Gilmore Girls) is an abridged version, and there are some parts of the story that are cut out. Since you said you liked Francisco D’anconia, there is some more detail on his life in the full version.

    Great review.

  2. Ha!! I read it years ago and simply skimmed the famous speech. I love audiobooks, but I’m not sure I could have stood 3-hours of John Galt!

  3. I listened to an unabridged audiobook version. That’s right, all 56 hours of it. I can’t recall who the reader was off hand, but he was good. My only complaint was the recording quality: I think they transferred the tapes directly to CD, so things sounded a bit murky at times.

  4. I could never have listened to this on CD. I’ve read the book several times because the story is so interesting, but I learned to skip the speeches. Francisco was my favorite character also. As for Rand’s philosphy, I don’t think things are quite so black and white.

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