Monday, August 7, 2017

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

My son is here for the summer from college where he is studying cinematography.  My little green monster has fallen in love with him.  When I try to pick her up and she's not in the mood, her head puffs up like a tiny green pumpkin.  But if Derek wants to pick her up?  She jumps right onto his shoulder.

Here she is giving him advice on how to write his next screenplay.

I happen to know that at least one of my readers likes recorder music, therefore I hope you will all enjoy Fantasia by Jerome Bassano (1559-1635).

Atlas ShruggedAtlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Who is John Galt?

That is the first sentence in this book and for most of the book, we don't know who he is. The question is used as a sarcastic expression to mean, "Who knows?"

Eventually we discover Galt is a real person and that he does exist and he gives a 60 page speech at the end of the book to prove it.

How does one summarize or make a coherent comment on a book of this magnitude?

By that I mean it was incredibly long. Over one thousand pages long.

Did it have its good points? Certainly.

What are they?

For one, I agree with Ayn Rand that if one keeps taking the produce and fruit of hard workers and give them to people who have not earned it, after a while, the workers are going to stop working.

We can see this being played out currently in Europe where Germany is trying to hold an entire continent afloat as fringe countries like Ireland, Portugal and Greece, cling on like a bunch of Mr. Skimpoles demanding their "fair share" while keeping an unemployment rate of: Greece 23%; Portugal youth 29%; Ireland youth: 18%; and let's throw Spanish youth in at 40.4%.

Spain is an interesting study because they have had court cases where young adults pushing 30 years of age are suing their parents for not financially supporting them and they are winning in court.

Ayn Rand is from Russia. Her family escaped the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 by moving to Crimea. This was only a temporary reprieve because soon the Communists came and took everything her family had, including her father's pharmacy, leaving them to starve.

It helps to know that about Rand in order to understand her books.

Atlas Shrugged is about Dagny Taggart.  Her family owns rail road company. She is a smart business woman and is able to keep the trains running smoothly and efficiently due to her acumen.

Hank Rearden has a steel company. He has developed a practically indestructible steel that Taggart is eager to replace her old, defective rail roads with.

Another man who was a brilliant business man, Francisco D'Aconia has apparently sabotaged his own copper company. His reason becomes clear to each of them as a totalitarian state takes control of all the businesses and forces the successful businesses to "share" with the unsuccessful businesses for the sake of "fairness". The government forces all people to share their possessions with others for the same reason.

If this sounds unrealistic to you, France passed a law that larger retail outlets like chain bookstores had to sell their products at the same price as smaller businesses to be fair. Also retail work should be considered a Career like any other profession and be paid equal salaries. One wonders equal to what. Doctors? Politicians who make fairness laws?

I do not know how this will pan out but I predict people will buy fewer books because an individual's budget is fixed and if one only has x amount for buying, that is all the money available. I.e. If one budgets fifty dollars a month for books, one will spend fifty dollars whether it is for one book or five on the clearance rack. In other words, these kind of "fairness" laws are not going to help small bookstores only cause bigger bookstores to lose money. The U.S. has a different story but more about that later.

In the book, rhetoric like "the welfare of the people is at stake" therefore, no one has the right to own their own property, success or even their intellect. Everything must be given to those who need it the most.

The predictable result is that the country begins a slow implosion that gains momentum as the successful people are hindered from working because of the ever heavier regulations imposed on their businesses.

What do the successful people do as the world becomes a bigger burden they are expected to shoulder? They shrug. And in this book they start to disappear. The end result-MAJOR SPOILER- is that the country is forced back into a type of pioneer age because all the major companies have gone bankrupt.

What are the bad points?

For one, while I believe in a minimal amount of government, one that does not become so intrusive that it hinders a society's productivity, it is still necessary to enforce laws that prevent big bosses from exploiting their employees. Share cropping, anyone?

Also, I found Rand's "heroes" repulsive.

Based on the characters in this book I would have to say the Rand is a big fan of Nietzsche. Her heroes are all "Ubermen" (and one women who sleeps with all the Ubermen but, uh, that's OK because morals were invented by the lessors to control everyone. One thinks maybe miss Ayn had a personal fantasy thing going in this novel).

The Uber-people have all the smarts and are really the only ones who should be allowed to live. Everyone else is a parasite and cannot justify their existence. This comes straight out of Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Uber-people have the right to keep their intellect and the fruits of it to their individual selves. No one has the right to take it from them. OK, I agree, but Rand moves on to say that no one should help anyone else either. If you starve, too bad. You just weren't smart enough. Rand believed in survival of the fittest.

I cannot brook this. I firmly believe in helping people who genuinely need help (not people who believe they are entitled to the fruits of others' labor such as able-bodied persons who make personal choices, bad choices, like abusing drugs or having a lot of babies or growing up in a culture where everyone lives off the welfare state). People who are old, infirm, temporarily unemployed or children who are helpless to the immoral choices of their families need help. Not because they deserve it, but because it is right and good to help them. But the government does not have the right to coerce me. That's called stealing.

Oh, and U.S. bookstores? At first it seemed the big chains like Barnes and Noble, Books-a Million and Hastings were going to run the independent bookstores out of town. Some did run. Or, I should say, they changed.

Instead of suing the big stores to force them to be fair, one charming local bookstore simply changed their product line and added a restaurant. They are thriving better now than when they sold books.

And the other small bookstores? They are doing better than the chains by selling mostly used books at a much cheaper rate than the chains. I buy most of my books used now. So leave people alone, keep the government out and it's amazing what individual entrepreneurship can accomplish.

And France? I was there last December and I found loads of books cheap on outdoor racks. With my fellow book buyers I browsed and acquired quite a few books for a Euro a piece. So I assume the law is for new books not used books.

My stash that I brought back with me from Paris this past December.  They were about one Euro each.

Despite the book's length, I found Atlas Shrugged a worthwhile read.  It is good to learn other people's philosophies even if they don't completely coincide with one's own.

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  1. Great review Sharon.

    I have similar feelings about Rand. I have read all of her novels. Her heroes are very hard to take.I am not a fan of Nietzsche and his views on morals. I also agree that too much "collectivism" leads to undesirable things. An excessive amount leads to catastrophe. On the other hand, I think too little government intervention leads to similar results. I believe in balance and moderation.

    If you have not read it, I think that Anthem is Rand's best book. Its message and characters seemed a little less overbearing.

    Have a great week!

    1. HI Brian. I pretty much agree with you. It's a balance. The extreme of either side of the political sprectrum amounts to the same thing.

      I have Anthem and also Fountain Head. My husband thinks I should read FH but I will eventually read b.

      Have a wonderful week!

  2. never heard of Bassano, but his work is very Renaissance, which i'd expect... good players, also... Telemann wrote some solo fantasies for alto recorder which are difficult, but interesting; it's a musical form not much heard of nowadays; i'm tempted to say it's like 16th c. jazz, but that would be misleading...
    i've never read any Rand and just a little Nietsche; enough of the latter to not waste my time... he was crazy, imo...
    nice looking boy, your son; he looks intent on his work; it's good Hercool is there to help...

    1. Hi Mudpuddle. I've never combined Baroque and Jazz but I bet there's composers who have and I'd love to hear it. I'll look up Telemann's recorder pieces.

      Nietzsche in fact died insane. I read Thus Spoke Zarathustra which I hated but made myself read so I would be familiar with his philosophy.

      Thanks for the compliment. I think Derek is pretty handsome, but of course I could be prejudice and Hercaloo just adores him.

  3. Very fair and balanced review.

    This one is on my TBR, but I know it is huge, and I'm intimidated by commitment to these things. Nonetheless, I must read this.

    What is missing from Rand's philosophy is TRUTH about the Creator/Savior and man. That's why she sadly bought into Nietzsche and Zarathustra.

    1. Hi Ruth. Atlas Shrugged is huge and the chapters are very long. I just read twenty pages a day; kind of like eating the elephant with the spoon one bite at a time.

      You'll want to read it because it will allow you to break down in your mind why as Christians, we disagree with her philosophies.

      Perhaps I shouldn't mention the 60 page speech towards the end of the book...but if I got through it, you can. :)

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  5. Fantasia is playing in the background as I read the rest of your post, thank you for the link it’s the perfect start to my morning. I love the photographs of your son, he and the ‘green monster’ look lost in thought.
    I added Atlas Shrugged to my must-read pile of books a couple of years ago, and I’m afraid it is still there. It’s one of those books I feel I ‘should’ read, and yet I really don’t want to. Your review has made me a little more eager so maybe I will move it a little closer to the top of that pile.

    1. Hi Barbara! Glad you enjoy the music. Little Hercaloo is going to sorely miss Derek when he returns to school in a couple of weeks.

      I will admit that Atlas Shrugged can be a slog but it is a very interesting read, whether you agree with her philosophy or not.

      The chapters are about forty pages long, so I read about half a chapter a night until I was finished. It goes by fairly quickly that way.

  6. Sharon, I remember being a Rand fan years ago, but I am not willing to revisit her bleak, Godless philosophy. However, I enjoyed your thoughtful and compelling review no posting.

    1. Hi R.T. Her world is bleak. The entire time I was reading the book I could only picture everyone in black and grey. It's a colorless world. I wonder how she could feel satisfied with it. She must have fed off her own pomposity.

    2. haha, Sharon, very good... "fed off her own Pomposity"; as someone said(Shakspeare?), "a hit, a palpable hit!....

    3. "A palpable hit!" I love Shakespeare. We just don't express ourselves like that anymore. Too bad.

      And Rand, my sister who is an architect, wants me to read her Fountainhead. She thinks it's better than AS. The hero is supposedly based on Frank Lloyd Wright who Rand supposedly had a huge crush on. Wright did not return the interest.

    4. I read Fountainhead a few weeks back; it is faintly shorter than Atlas, but I found the characters hard to relate to. Roark grows more sympathetic as the novel expands, in part because he is consistent and everyone is...not. Some are easy to manipulate, some are manipulative -- some say whatever they need to say to advance or escape, some use their words strategically to trick others. Roark is rude, but invariably honest.

      Like you, I struggle with Rand's philosophy. Her bad guys are very much the bad guys, but the 'good' guys have morals that don't always mesh with ours.

    5. Stephen, I am interested in Fountainhead base on what you have said and also my sister's recommendation. But I will need to wait. It takes a while I think to pick up another Rand.

      I think Rand could see some things as clearly wrong but she refused to arrive at a Christian conclusion so she tried to contrive her own solution, which, as we can see, is about as bleak as the problem.

  7. And will Derek include Hercaloo in the credits?
    I don't know if I'll ever get around to reading Ayn Rand. I don't think I have the brain for sorting out all the philosophy behind her writing. I haven't really read a review of her books before & yours was enlightening - I sort of knew her bent but it was interesting to read your thoughts on her writing.

    1. HI Carol. That would be cute if Derek included: Screenplay by Derek and Hercaloo Henning.

      I think Rand is worth reading but it is a marathon. I'm glad I read Nietzsche first because I was able to recognize his teachings in her writing.


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.