Sunday, April 15, 2012

ATLAS SHRUGGED by Ayn Rand ✰✰✰ and 1/2

This is a tough book to review from a “star” standpoint.  If someone were to ask me would they like this book as a reader, from a pure plot, character development, etc. standpoint, the answer would be an “um...errr... I would really need to know a lot more about you”.  On the other hand, if someone wants to read a book purely for its merits as a study of economic and social systems, there might be too much character development in this one for their liking.  In short, I have been pondering what to say in this review since about half way through this thousand plus page tome.
Through her novels, screenplays, plays, and works of nonfiction, Ayn Rand put forth a philosophy which she termed “Objectivism”.  In its simplest form, Objectivism holds that a man lives first and foremost for his own welfare and happiness, and he expects others to do the same.  It rejects the idea of man being a victim to any force beyond his control, be it a government, or a deity-man is in control of his own destiny.  Objectivism states that each individual man is responsible for doing his own thinking and should never surrender his choices and thoughts to any other person or organization-reason should rule each individual’s decision making process, and it should be done individually.  Man has a conscience in order to perceive reality, not to invent one of his own desiring.  What is is; reality can not be changed.
Obviously, any person of faith would have serious issues with Ayn Rand’s philosophy.  I happen to believe very strongly that a world where everyone looks out for themselves first and foremost is a self-centered world, which, at the very least, goes again the formation of even family units, let alone larger societal groupings.  So, there were many parts of the book which I found very unrealistic because I simply didn’t buy into Rand’s rhetoric.  Those who are familiar with my reviews know that I am not fond of economics and existential philosophy.  The economics was actually fairly gently woven into the plot of the novel, and I went along willingly for the ride.  Rand’s philosophy gets shoved down the reader’s throat.  In one case in a one hundred fifty page speech, two hundred pages from the end of the book-talk about bringing the plot to a screeching halt!  Social philosophy is also near and dear to Ms. Rand’s heart, but at least social topics are easier for me to wrap my brain around than existential ones.  I can much more readily grasp Marxism than rationalism, and so the many pages that were devoted to those aspects of the plot (or simply expounded upon by the characters in conversation), I actually enjoyed and felt that she did a good job working into her story.
Ayn Rand used all of these various theories and philosophies to create an America in which the government is taking over the country, nationalizing, for the good of all, all of the major industries-controlling hiring, movement of goods, and eventually even intellectual rights.  For instance, if you invent something worthwhile, everyone needs to be able to manufacture it, not just your company.  There are two opposing groups of main characters, the governmental types and the industrialists who are fighting back, but who seem to be disappearing.  Through her book she creates an incredibly complex and believable picture of what could happen.  The plot structure was compelling, had good forward momentum, and despite the book’s length, kept me engaged.  I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of Ayn Rand the writer; the one area where I felt let down as a reader of a novel was with regards to the great love triangle she had built up all through the book-I hated the way she resolved it!  She resolved it based on her philosophical self, not as a novelist, and as a reader of a novel I was very dissatisfied.
Obviously, this is not a book for those looking to read a simple novel.  You have to be willing to stomach a fair amount of both social and existential philosophy, politics,   economics, and a fairly complex plot structure that is business related.  For me it was a three and a half star novel, rounded up to four when forced to, given my respect for Ayn Rand as an intellectual; for someone with more interest in philosophy it would absolutely be a four, perhaps even a five, star novel. 

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