Thursday, 16 February 2012

Atlas Shrugged

Title: Atlas Shrugged
Author: Ayn Rand
Pages: 1069 (hardback)
Published: September 1st 1996 (first published 1957)
Published by: Signet

Published in 1957, Atlas Shrugged was Ayn Rand's greatest achievement and the last work of fiction genre. In this novel she dramatizes her unique philosophy through an intellectual mystery story that integrates ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, politics, economics, and sex. 

Set in a near-future U.S.A. whose economy is collapsing as a result of the mysterious disappearance of leading innovators and industrialists, this novel presents an astounding panorama of human life-from the productive genius who becomes a worthless the great steel industrialist who does not know that he is working for his own the philosopher who becomes a the woman who runs a transcontinental the lowest track worker in her train tunnels. 

Peopled by larger-than-life heroes and villains, charged with towering questions of good and evil, Atlas Shrugged is a philosophical revolution told in the form of an action thriller!!

There is no doubt in my mind that this is an epic book – in the true sense of the word, rather than the more popular form which has worked its way into popular use of late. It is its wide-spanning reach and incisive analysis of humanity that make it so for me. Though focused in America (namely New York), there are implications in the story for the whole world and numerous references to other countries.

Or rather, to other ‘People’s States’ as the majority of other nations had named themselves in the world Rand has built. We follow Dagny Taggart, the Chief Executive of Operations of the national rail network of Taggart Transcontinental, as she tries to fight the failure of her railway in the face of the collapse of American economy. The story spans years (indeed, what I was initially expecting to be the entire story took up only about 200 pages) in this endeavour, and though you can kind of see what is coming sometimes, there are times when the story heads off in a completely opposite direction.

All of the central characters are quite clear-cut: industrialists (good guys) or politicians and pretty much everyone else (bad guys), though there are a couple where it is a little less clear. Of course this makes it quite easy to understand them, and while I didn’t particularly connect on an emotional level with any of them I still appreciated the things they did to try and achieve their aims and the battles they face.

On the more negative side, for me this is a book of oppositions. The beginning was a little slow, then I fell in love with the story, then Rand began to insert huge expositions (and I mean huge…like, pages and pages long) about…heck, I can’t even remember. I read a lot of them without really paying any actual attention to the words. Economy and expansion and stuff. This meant that there were whole sections of the book which if found tedious as hell. I read some pretty dense stuff during my time at university thanks to neuropsychology, but that had nothing on this. And ‘the’ speech. Anyone else who has read this book will know what I mean…I swear it took me two days of slog and putting the book down every few pages to get through it.

On top of this, aspects of the story (namely the government) required huge amounts of suspension of disbelief on my part. I just cannot comprehend how on earth they could think that the road they were taking the country down was a good one at any point in the run up to the book, or indeed the early days. It just seems completely nonsensical to me.

And I get that it’s based on the premise that people are greedy and want to get as much as possible for as little as possible, but in my opinion this is a dreary view of humanity. Yes, there will always be people like this, but I don’t think society would truly support any government which attempted to implement the things the one in this book does. There would be people going ‘Yeah, that’s just plain not going to work.’ There are too many who would see the greater implications, would see that it wouldn’t be sustainable and that there’s no way it would actually work.

While there are times when this book is truly amazing and I immensely enjoyed reading it, there are too many times when it was just too heavy and the expositions were just too long. A great book and one which I think anyone who thinks they can get through it should give a go, but not one I’ll ever be reading again I don’t think.

As a final note, given just how long it took for me to read this

Ha, book! I win!

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