Sunday, February 7, 2010

Atlas Shrugged

While searching for books to read I came across a list showing Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand, to be the most read (or 2nd most read) book behind the Bible. I also checked some reviews on Amazon and many commented it was the most influential book they have read. So I checked out the mp3 version.

It was a huge investment in time. It is a very lengthy book, over 1000 pages or over 50 hours listening. While presented in the form of a novel, it is really a presentation of Ayn Rand's philosophy, called objectivism. I'm not a big fan of philosophy, so I was hoping the story would carry the book, but it really doesn't. A few times during the reading I considered bailing, but since I had already invested so much time I wanted to finish it.

Rand presents her arguments in such black and white terms, often oversimplifying the antagonist argument. For example, I didn't care for her arguments against religion and belief in God, as she presented a stereotype of a simple minded believer. I also didn't care for her depiction (or lack of) of marriage and family. There were no children present anywhere in her world of 1950-ish USA. Her philosophy doesn't seem to accommodate love, compassion, altruism, service, or selflessness. Who would care for the sick, elderly, or handicapped? Her idea of sexual intimacy is pretty crass. All the characters are smokers (an artifact of when the book was written, I'm sure).

One reason the book is so long is that characters drone on and on in monologues spouting philosophical beliefs. It seems to me they keep stating and restating and restating the same ideas. Okay, Ms. Rand I get it already. At one point in the story a protagonist usurps a national radio broadcast and drones on for a three hour speech (or 60 pages in the book). What average person would listen to a three hour espousing of philosophical beliefs on the radio?

There is much of the philosophy I do agree with, though. Free markets, capitalism, less government interference, limiting "moochers" and "looters" from government dependence and manipulation.

Anyway, Atlas Shrugged wouldn't make my top ten list. I'm glad I read it, since it is such an influential book. You don't have to agree totally with a philosophy to benefit from learning about it. Would I recommend it to others? Conditionally, especially if you have time and patience, and enjoy philosophy and political science.


  1. Thanks for reading it. Now I don't have to. ;-)

  2. Atlas is not the second most read book. It was judged to be the second most influential book.

    It's always a puzzle to me when intelligent people don't like Atlas, although I understand that when they are older, they have so much invested in contrary ideas that they just can't re-boot.

    Try The Fountainhead. It's much easier reading and was a bestseller too.

  3. I find that with age and maturity comes increased self confidence, and perhaps comfort and satisfaction in one's philosophy of life and value system. I don't feel threatened by alternative viewpoints to the degree I once did, and can appreciate and understand them without needing to embrace them.

    Here is the "oath" that the protagonists take when "going on strike":
    "I swear--by my life and my love of it--that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."

    I don't know. It just doesn't leave the right taste in my mouth at all.

  4. Ugh. I had been thinking about reading this but I think I might wait a few more years.