Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand 1

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand is a 1957 novel that explores the themes of individualism, reason, and capitalism. The book follows the story of Dagny Taggart, a railroad executive, and Hank Rearden, a steel magnate, as they struggle against oppressive government regulations and “looters” who want to exploit their productivity.

The title of the book is a reference to Atlas, a Titan in Greek mythology, who is described in the novel as “the giant who holds the world on his shoulders”.

Atlas Shrugged is a philosophical novel that develops a compelling argument in favor of the pursuit of rational self-interest over rent-seeking and the whims of collectivism. The novel also explores the power of the human mind and the evils of socialism. It emphasizes the importance of the mind over the body, and the profound power of the mind to create and innovate.

The novel has become a cornerstone of pro-liberty literature, and has attracted an energetic and committed fan base. It has been cited as an influence on a variety of libertarian and conservative thinkers and politicians.

Themes from Atlas Shrugged

  • Celebrate business and don’t apologize for the profit motive.
  • Don’t let anyone trumpeting “the public good” lead you astray.
  • The power of the human mind is profound and should be celebrated.
  • Reason, property rights, individualism, libertarianism, and capitalism are important values.
  • The absence of the mind is the root of all evil.

What I Liked

I liked the big thinking and ambition throughout the novel. I also appreciate the role it played in its place in time. I get how the novel was, well, novel at the time and provided a good push to “let’s pause and think hard about these collective programs – even if they are meant to enhance individual liberty.” I also love her emphasis on individual’s ability to choose a life – i.e., her loathing of living in bad faith.

What I Did Not Like

Ohhh boyyy….where do we start.

Ok, so a bit of background. I read this book late in college as someone who was a bit lost politically. I was against the Iraq War and all of Bush’s approach to the War on Terror. But I also had lingering skepticism of the Democrats from my upbringing in conservative, white, southern Christian land. I had dabbled with the Libertarians of UGA…but honestly they all seemed more trolling than interested in actually making the world a better place. But – sooooo many of people in that circle swore by this book. They said it really drove the philosophy of freedom and a libertarian outlook. I had this project to read giant books. So there we go. I was basically the stereotypical reader of Atlas Shrugged – white, male, confused about how the world works, and looking for a single answer.

Except that…good lord this book was awful. I really do not get how it persuaded anyone about anything.

The main characters are pedantic, deluded, and generally oblivious for how they got where they are in life. When the Great Financial Crisis happened, all the big bankers who got bailed out by taxpayers all reminded me of Dagny Taggart, a railroad executive, and Hank Rearden.

Atlas Shrugged’s central theme revolves around the role of the mind in man’s existence, emphasizing the importance of human knowledge and values. However, Rand’s portrayal of this theme is overly simplistic and one-dimensional. By attributing all evil to the absence of the mind, she disregards the complex interplay of various factors that contribute to societal problems. The book fails to account for the nuances and intricacies of human behavior and social dynamics, ultimately presenting an unrealistic and distorted view of the world. I kind of get why the book appeals to young people looking for single, clean answer to politics – but, even in hindsight, writing this review, I don’t get why this book has stayed around for so long.

Third, Atlas Shrugged’s portrayal of the conflict between the mind and brute force is heavily biased in favor of the former. While it is true that intellectual freedom and creativity are essential for progress, the novel dismisses the value of physical labor and the contributions of people who, you know, actually do stuff. By glorifying the achievements of the elite few and undermining the efforts of the many, Rand perpetuates a dangerous and elitist worldview that fosters social inequality and division – just like the bank CEOs who honestly thought that they ran the American economy.

Fourth, all the the novel’s other characters are often caricatures rather than well-rounded, believable individuals. The protagonists are portrayed as paragons of virtue and rationality, while the antagonists are depicted as irrational, incompetent, and morally bankrupt. This black-and-white characterization leaves little room for the reader to explore the complexities of human nature and the moral dilemmas that people face in their everyday lives.

Fifth, Atlas Shrugged’s advocacy for unfettered capitalism and laissez-faire economics just doesn’t actually work – even in her made up world. While Rand’s critique of collectivism and government intervention may have some merit, her unwavering faith in the 100% total free market as the ultimate solution to all societal ills is both naive and dangerous. History has shown that unchecked capitalism can lead to exploitation, environmental degradation, and vast income disparities. By ignoring these potential pitfalls, the novel presents an overly optimistic and unrealistic view of the world. Again, I get why this book was a good push back in the 1940s when the USSR was all that…but good lord, it’s like an Saturday Night Live parody of blind free marketeers.

Finally, the writing style of Atlas Shrugged is often criticized for its tendency to speak or write at great or tedious length and dogmatism. Rand’s penchant for lengthy monologues and repetitive exposition can make the novel a tedious read for many. Furthermore, her uncompromising tone and insistence on the absolute correctness of her philosophy can come across as arrogant and off-putting to readers who may not share her views.

Anyway – Atlas Shrugged may have some thought-provoking ideas and themes, its flawed portrayal of these concepts, coupled with its one-dimensional characters and dogmatic writing style, make it a deeply misguided work. I would not recommend it. The novel’s oversimplification of complex issues and its unwavering belief in the supremacy of the mind and unfettered capitalism ultimately render it an unconvincing and tedious piece of literature.

Honestly, the best thing that came out of reading Atlas Shrugged for me was that it held up a mirror to some of the bad influences in my life at the time. As a book that was so ridiculously one-dimensional, it made it quite obvious that the world was a super complex place. Politics was complicated. Business was complicated. No person has it all figured out. No ideology has it all figured out.

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