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Never Mind Important, Is It Any Good?

Tomorrow, Friday, is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Ayn Rand's most famous novel, Atlas Shrugged. This is only getting anything like the level of attention that it's going to because of the indisputable fact that Atlas Shrugged ended up being a book that had an extremely powerful effect on the way the next 50 years, and in particular the last 25 years, turned out in American and world history. The book was constructed as a polemic, as a parable, as the "New Testament" of Ayn Rand's own philosophy, and nobody can dispute that on that level, it clearly worked. Parade magazine periodically polls its readers, which used to number in the hundreds of thousands, to ask them which book, out of all of the books they've read in their lives, had the most effect on their lives. #1 was consistently the Christian Bible. A distant #3 was Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. Right up there with the Bible, only infinitesimally behind it, was Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. And it's clear that if you were to restrict your poll to people who themselves went on to have a substantial influence on the whole world, it would have out-polled the Bible itself. Almost every major political and intellectual figure of the last 25 years has said, in an interview some time, that the seminal moment of their life was when they read Atlas Shrugged, that whatever change they've made in the world and whatever power they've grabbed, it was in service of this book's ideals.

So yes, I get why it's an important book. And today and tomorrow, you'll see a lot of argument over whether those ideals turned out to be any good, evaluated in the light of the last 25 years of experience and 50 years of additional economic and political and historical research. But my experience is that hardly anybody writing about Atlas Shrugged any more ever actually addresses the potentially just as interesting question: is it any good? Not "did it do good," but "is it any fun to read," is it well written in any way? Or let me put it this way: supposing you believe that the protagonists' economic and historical theory was, let's say, as silly as the neo-Victorian social theory at the heart of Doc Smith's Lensman saga, or as disproven as the dystopias that John Brunner wrote in the 1970s, or as implausible as the utopian vision of Ernest Callenbach's Ecotopia ... would you still enjoy reading the books? And my argument, as someone who considers Ayn Rand's theories to be entirely disproven by subsequent history, is a clear and unequivocal yes. That's why I reread this book, and one other of hers that I consider even superior and in many of the same ways (Anthem), every couple of years. Unlike all too many people in modern politics, academia, and business I'm not rereading it to glean new insights from the Bible of our modern age; I reread it to enjoy a book that is good enough that it never grows stale from rereading.

See, here's the thing that stands out to me the most: Atlas Shrugged should be judged, not as an economic textbook or a sermon, but as what it also clearly is: a 1957 science fiction novel. Sure, history didn't turn out the way she predicted, but we don't hold that against H.G. Wells, or Doc Smith, or Robert Heinlein, or John Brunner; we just accept that this is a hypothetical future that didn't exactly happen the way was predicted, and enjoy their books as stories. We judge the quality of almost any work of science fiction by one over-arching standard: never mind whether or not the science and the predictions in it came true, if they had come true, is this really what the world would have felt like, how people would have acted and talked, how this story set in that hypothetical world could have turned out? And the science fictional premise of Atlas Shrugged is one that is subtle, and clever, and almost never used anywhere nearly as well before or even since.

The characters of Atlas Shrugged all live in a world where nothing just plain works as well as things used to work 40 or so years before. People are still people, the schools are still the same, there are still plenty of bright people trying to improve the world, and still plenty of people who go to work and work hard all day. But somehow, when the bright people's inventions get built and sold, deadlines just never get met. The products that do roll off the line are noticeably less reliable, less sturdy, and more shoddy than things that rolled off of the assembly lines 40 years before; more advanced, yes, but just not as good. It's something that happened gradually. In that hypothetical future, people only noticed it at all after it had been going on and gaining strength for decades. But still, the best minds in the world, and everybody else in the world too for that matter, have spent the previous 20 years (in the book) trying to figure out why it just seems so much harder to get anything done, and done right, than it was for their grandparents and parents ... and come up blank every time. So we come to see in the opening chapters of the novel that the question "why do things break down?" has come to be thought of as unanswerable.

When Ayn Rand was writing her book, the phrase "Murphy's Law" to explain why things go wrong had only barely been coined, and only barely begun to be popularized. But you know how, in our world, people came to think of there being some hypothetical demon or imp or gremlin named Murphy who sneaks around sabotaging things, making sure that the toast always lands on the carpet butter side down, making sure that anything that can go wrong does go wrong? In Ayn Rand's fictional future, hardly anybody has heard of Murphy's Law, but they have an equivalent phrase. Their name for Murphy is "John Galt." And everybody understands, really, that it can't be one guy who sneaks into every factory in the world and so forth and makes sure that every product gets subtly sabotaged so it'll break. But the 20 year quest to find out whatever impersonal, historical force has dragged the economy down for decades has been personified, in the public imagination, as a quixotic search for this fictional gremlin, an attempt to find out "Who (or really, what) is John Galt?" And the question of "who is John Galt" has gone unanswered for so long that it's become the stock answer for every unanswerable question, a rhetorical question that's meant to imply that the other person's question has no good answer. Why did the stock market go up or down yesterday? I don't know, who is John Galt? Why did my girlfriend break up with me? I don't know, who is John Galt? Why does the dryer keep eating socks? Why did my cat get sick? Where did I leave my car keys? Why is pi an irrational number? Ask any of these questions, and the person you ask will just shrug and say, "I don't know, who is John Galt?"

And it's the first third of that book, where nobody knows why things have gone so wrong despite 40 years of progress, that is the most persuasive, compelling, and immersive part of the book. What hooked the first generation of readers into this book, the generation that didn't pick it up because they were told it was important, was these initial couple of dozen chapters. We're shown this world through the eyes of a character who would have seemed terribly radical, almost implausible 50 years ago. Her name is Dagny Taggart. She's the grand-daughter, and one of the heirs, of the guy who surveyed, raised the money to build, and supervised the construction of the first American transcontinental railroad, a fictionalized version of the Union Pacific railroad. She is in love with a grandfather she never met, someone who idealizes the man for the strength of his achievement. Everybody else in her family grew up wealthy, cares entirely about what they can do either for themselves or for society with the money that her grandfather left them; she grew up completely and entirely obsessed with the thing he built. She has ridden that obsession, that compulsion to obsessively worship the transcontinental railroad and its almost mythical founder, into a career that was already, by 1957, considered flatly unacceptable to a girl: she is the highest ranking female corporate official in America, the Chief Operating Officer of Taggart Transcontinental. She has spent so long being insulted by people who assume that she's just some kind of cute corporate mascot, who assume that her social-butterfly older brother, the company CEO James Taggart is the one who really runs the railroad and gets things done and that she only inherited the position because of her relationship to the family (when the truth is just backwards from that) that it rolls off of her like water off of a duck's back. She's spent years taking advantage of the fact that people underestimate her, learned to take bitter subversive pleasure in that moment when everybody she works with figures out that oh hey, this Dagny Taggart chick isn't just decorative.

And she's someone who really feels the pinch of 40 years of American decay. Because as Chief Operating Officer, she's responsible for the company's supply chain, for the company's relationships with all of the vast number of companies that sell things to the railroad, the things it needs from the steel for replacement railroad track to locomotives to the meals served in the dining cars. And she keeps seeing the same pattern: she finds a company that delivers a good product at a good price, then the product reliability goes down the toilet, and shortly thereafter the company goes under. Eventually it starts even happening to companies that are too big to go under, but she ends up spending almost her whole working day trying to find replacement companies to sell her the stuff she needs in good quality and on a reliable delivery schedule. And never once can anybody at any of the companies she has to replace explain to her why the goods stopped being any good, why the delivery schedules became more and more laughably unlikely to be met. They look into it, conclude that they're still doing the same things they were doing when the products were good and the assembly lines ran on time, and finally shrug and say, "Who is John Galt?" And what I feel is Ayn Rand's single greatest strength as a writer is that she really, really makes you feel what it would be like to live in a world like that, where everybody thinks like that, and nobody has the slightest idea what to do about it.

In the middle third of the book, we find out that there is, in fact, an actual guy named John Galt; the phrase got started by his first victims, who were too embarrassed by how easily he'd taken them down to explain to people at the rest of the companies they ended up working for what they meant when they cursed his name. John Galt is a guy who, for his own bitter and personal reasons, swore to "stop the motor of the world," and his single-handed multi-decade covert operation to destroy the American economy is the book's main science fictional plot device. It's one that remains eerily plausible to this day.

The Christian Bible tells us that the earliest disciples of Jesus Christ, after his death, shared everything they earned, "from each according to his ability to each according to his need." Because it's in the Bible, this ideal has been tried over and over again, only to bump into the same unpleasant truth about the human nervous system every time: everybody thinks that he's working harder than everybody else around him, everybody thinks that his pains are worse than the pains that everybody around him feels. If you and the guy next to you both get hit equally hard without you knowing in advance that the amount of force is identical, you will always perceive that you got hit harder than him; this has been shown time and again in laboratory experiments. And that's why so many people identify with the protagonists in Rand's book, just as even the worst pointy-haired bosses identify with Dilbert, not the pointy-haired boss, in the comic strip "Dilbert." But the grain of truth remains that in every company in America, there just plain are some departments that turn out better work than others, and frequently if you very carefully study those departments' internal processes, there are one or two employees who really are doing a disproportionate amount of the quality work. And it's almost never the people that the rest of the people in the department would have picked as their most valuable employee. What I'm not sure Rand ever understood, and what took me decades to figure out, is that "can you do the job" (whatever the job is) is seen as a binary question; either you're minimally competent to do the minimum work, or you're not; any ability above the minimum is barely noticed, because this question is seen as a mostly unimportant "check off" question in the hiring and promotion process. Why is that? Because people spend more hours per week (awake, anyway) with their co-workers than they do with their families or their closest friends. The single most important quality that a co-worker can have is not their degree of competence, but more importantly, their likability. Managers hire and fire and promote and pass over subordinates, co-workers value or snub each other, as if they were auditioning each other not for the job of doing the job, but for the role of "best friend."

In the book, John Galt is a guy who has come up with a messianic message, one that meets all of the requirements of an authoritarian cult message from Eric Hoffer's 1951 masterpiece The True Believer and crafted specifically to appeal to anybody who is simultaneously doing a disproportionate amount of the work in a company and disliked by bosses and co-workers because he's not very good at the perceived to be more important job of being everybody at work's best friend. As with all authoritarian political movement and cult messages, it goes something like this: once upon a time, there was a (as always, mythical) Golden Age when people like us ran the world, and everybody was better off. The only reason they don't let people like us run the world any more is that it's been taken over by evil people. If only we could overthrow all of the evil people and put people like us back in charge, there would be a New Golden Age and everybody would benefit, and since everybody would benefit from this, it is inevitable that eventually the whole world will wake up to the value of people like us and put us in charge; until then we have to maintain the purity of what makes us people like us and work to bring down the evil people. John Galt's version of this replaces "people like us" with "not terribly sociable but competent hard workers" and "evil people" with two demonized cabals called the Looters and the Moochers. And what John Galt has been doing for the last 40 years, in the book, is working under cover in menial 2nd shift jobs in every single one of the most important companies to the US economy, jobs that let him talk socially with people on their way out of work at the end of the day. He's used those positions to identify the key departments, identify anybody in those departments who is doing a disproportionate amount of the work who would be susceptible to his recruiting pitch, and persuading those people to secretly "go on strike," to quit their jobs and come live in his commune in a carefully camouflaged ghost town in the Rocky Mountains until the economy completely collapses, then step into the chaos, kill any surviving Looters and Moochers, and establish the New Golden Age.

Much of the middle third of the book is set up as a chase sequence. Over the course of that third of the book, Dagny figures out "the Destroyer's" modus operandi, tries to duplicate his analysis to predict which employees at her few remaining good quality suppliers are at risk, and tries desperately to race the Destroyer to his next target, each time failing just barely. The only thing that lets her get through this middle of the book, and much of the last third, is that there are a few people that Galt just can't reach. She's one of them. Her on-again, off-again lover Hank Reardon, the inventor of a new alloy of steel, is another. In her case, it's because she doesn't care whether there's a golden age or an age of brass, she only cares about the railroad itself; she loves her grandfather's mythology too much to let it go under, no matter what use it's put to. In Reardon's case, it's similarly that he cares so much about the scientific research that he's able to fund by running his company that he doesn't care about the rest of the world, about what it does to him or his company or anybody else, as long as he gets to invent and make new metal alloys. Even when they hear John Galt's full pitch, at the end of that section of the book when they both have their big confrontation with him, they become what Galt's mountain cult calls Scabs: people who insist on working through "the Strike of the Mind." While the confrontation itself is unsatisfying as fiction, the actual chase, Dagny Taggart and Hank Reardon versus John Galt, has that compelling momentum that the best action movies have, that all too familiar feeling of the heroes slowly gaining ground on, but paying huge prices for each failure to catch, the villain.

The last third of the book happens after Galt finishes his campaign, when he has sapped so many of the best employees out of so many companies that even the best efforts of people who've figured out how he did it to find and motivate and educate replacements for the people he's taken aren't enough; one by one, every important piece of infrastructure in the United States collapses, doing things like stranding fuel on the wrong side of burst pipelines. Food from the last ever really good harvest rots in boxcars because the railroad and highway bridges they'd need to get the food to the cities are down; it's the last ever good harvest because the tractor parts are all in the cities and the fuel for the tractors is all on the other end of those burst pipelines. Starvation and collapse set in everywhere. Reardon and Taggart finally conclude that it's too late to save the country, that it's better for John Galt's cult to win than to let the whole world enter a several hundred year dark age, and join the 2nd-tier leaders of the Strike in a daring (but implausible) rescue of John Galt from his government captors. As things come apart (and, I suspect, as Rand gets tired of writing the thing, and as her imagination begins to fail) the villains get more and more cartoonish, the main characters' motivations less and less consistent and plausible, and pretty much the whole book turns to mediocre 1950s conspiracy-theory pot-boiler slush. But I, at least, end up finishing it anyway (skipping, as I gather everybody does, John Galt's interminable radio speech recapping the entire book to that point) because those first two thirds of the book are so intense, and so real feeling, and the main characters so compelling to read about, that it carries me through those weak last couple hundred pages.

Comments

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communicator
Oct. 11th, 2007 01:36 pm (UTC)
Almost every major political and intellectual figure of the last 25 years has said, in an interview some time, that the seminal moment of their life was when they read Atlas Shrugged

I'll take your word that this is the case within the USA. Everywhere else most people haven't even heard of it, let alone read it, and where it is known it is regarded with almost universal contempt. I don't think contempt is too strong a word. I think one of the biggest revelations to Europeans from using the Internet is finding out how this twaddle is taken seriously in America.
pope_guilty
Oct. 11th, 2007 02:03 pm (UTC)
It flatters our national self-image as the only nation that really gets things done. Americans have this bizarre belief that America is where all the work gets done, where all the inventions come from, and where all the money really comes from. It's an incredible, unshakable national narcissism, and Rand's ideas are incredibly flattering to narcissists.
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nancylebov
Oct. 11th, 2007 01:59 pm (UTC)
I'm not going to have time to do this justice till after the weekend, so one point of agreement and one nitpick or maybe a little more than that.

I think of Rand someone who was both talking nonsense and saying true things that no one else was. One of the large true things is that some people care a lot about doing their work well, and a great many people don't. I think there are more people than she realized who are comfortable with being fair-to-middling at their work. In any case, for people who really care, it's torture to not be able to do good work, and this almost never gets mentioned.

Dagny's situation is a little weirder than you say. It's not that people think she's a corporate mascot. For one thing, she's not conventionally beautiful--look at the insults Lillian Rearden aims at her. Only the superior men believe she's beautiful. Unlike many romance novels, you never get the transformation scene which makes everyone able to see her as beautiful. And Taggart Transcontinental isn't getting any points from anyone for having a woman as an Operating Vice-President.

There's still damned little other fiction about women being in charge of major infrastructure. Maybe none. When I've brought the subject up, the only thing mentioned was Cherryh's Signy Mallory, but I don't remember whether Mallory understood the hardware.

I'm in the middle of Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand--it's a slew of essays ranging from the sexual weirdness to how much she was addressing the self-abnegation asked of women (Rearden's family vs. work situation is more typically female) to fringe literary theory that might or might not make sense. Definitely fun for those (like me) who like that sort of thing.

You might have the time-line telescoped--Galt is still fairly young at the end--I don't think he's been pulling out competent people for more than 20 years, and it might be closer to 15.
koogrr
Oct. 11th, 2007 02:16 pm (UTC)
Food for thought. I appreciate this in depth review. I've not read a couple "classic" books for precisely the reason you raise. Is it any good? Is often a 'No'.

Regarding the work and promotion thing, I've read a couple articles that state the dynamic has changed. I won't argue that there are likely a couple people carrying a department, that seems obvious. I'm disagreeing with the evaluation of employees, while 'Can they do the job?' is the entrance requirement it's not checked once then forgotten, it's co-evaluated with the 'Are they likeable?' resulting in 4 options, not two:

The social, competent employee
The social, incompetent employee
The unsocial, competent employee
The unsocial, incompetent employee

That's roughly how they rank too. Unpleasant to be around and bad at the job means #4 won't be at it long, and this gives the appearance it's really all about popularity because only 3 of the 4 types exist in the workplace for any time. The biggest corporate switch appears to have been for the #2 and #3 position. Being an over-achiever used to overcome being a jerk, but not so much anymore, and I suspect that kind of person finds Rand's books very appealing. The unsocial-competent doesn't lose their job, rather they see the social passing them and are unable to distinguish between the incompetent and competent (for precisely the inability to judge another's pain/whatever reasons). The clear winner is the social-competent, who is fun to be around and good at what they do.

However, I'm not sure it'd be realistic to lay all the ills at their feet, or the looters, moochers and scabs. Just as saying "Everyone is corrupt" causes corruption, a general lowering of expectations (Good enough for government work, It was made on a friday, etc.) causes poor quality. Sloopy, rush to market practices have done damage to everyone's minimum standard of reliability. It doesn't need a psuedo-satan to explain the phenomenon.

In any case, now I am considering reading the book when I wasn't going to waste the time. So good review and summmary!
gleef
Oct. 11th, 2007 02:26 pm (UTC)
That's roughly how they rank too.

Especially when it comes around to deciding who to promote.
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gleef
Oct. 11th, 2007 02:22 pm (UTC)
Atlas Shrugged
I don't know, it's been years since I've read it, but in terms of 1950's science fiction I found it wanting. Sure the plot is interesting, but she resolves the suspenseful hook (who is John Galt) surprisingly early in the novel. Furthermore, I found the characters shallow and implausible.

Sure, 50's science fiction was full of shallow and implausible characters, but in most such novels they felt shallow because the author didn't care, would rather spend time on the nifty concept they wanted to expound upon. In Rand's case, the characters appeared to be twisted into the shallow forms that she needed to make the book turn out the way it did.

Again, it's been years, but the most notable character problem I remember was Dagny herself. Given that she was supposed to be a strong female protagonist in a book written by a strong female author, I found her disturbingly passive and submissive. Perhaps that's just the decade speaking through her, combined with the literary needs of the "point of view" character, but I found it disappointing and it interfered with my enjoyment of the story.

Also, for 50's science fiction, it was long. Those "weak last couple hundred pages" were the size of a typical novel from that decade. I think the novel would have benefited greatly from the strong hand of a 1950's editor.

In all, I'd say it's better than average for the science fiction of its decade, especially since it addressed some issues in ways other authors wouldn't, but it doesn't make it into the first tier of 50's science fiction I found important and fun to read, like Childhood's End, Foundation, pretty much everything Ray Bradbury wrote in that decade (including Fahrenheit 451), Time Out of Joint
reliantfc3
Oct. 11th, 2007 02:30 pm (UTC)
I tried to read Atlas Shrugged in high school. I struggled with it, just couldn't get into it, and then when I hit the speech and it was just so long, I put it down. Maybe I should give it another chance, now that its been 10 years. And I guess I shouldn't feel bad about skipping the 40-page speech.

Course, then again, I recently tried to re-read Stranger in a Strange Land and couldn't get past the character of Gillian in the first chapter.
pebblepup
Oct. 11th, 2007 03:23 pm (UTC)
Do you reckon those of us pressed for time could skip the book and just read the speech?
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foonix
Oct. 11th, 2007 02:54 pm (UTC)
Heh. I actually decided to stop reading your post half way through because now I really want to read the book. And I don't have the attention span for most books :D
gleef
Oct. 11th, 2007 02:57 pm (UTC)
Yeah, if you haven't read it yet, and want to, this article has some serious spoilers. Read the book first. :-)
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(Anonymous)
Oct. 11th, 2007 04:19 pm (UTC)
And having seen the game to completion, I believe it truly exemplifies the end game of the Randian Worldview. No, not all people are self-enabled enough to pull themselves along, some will always take advantage of a system designed to help those on the rocks. But at the same time we don't punish the upper class for the excesses of the few, or corporate holdings for the screw-ups of another company. So why shoot the poor and downtrodden because they.. well.. they're poor and downtrodden? we are all our neighbor's keeper, if not our brother's, and I believe the best measure of a society is not the heights it climbs, but how it stoops to tend to their least profitable members.

John, who still has no livejournal
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arthurthedented
Oct. 11th, 2007 04:16 pm (UTC)
I agree.. great fiction , lousy analysis...
Her best friend in the world should have been a Readers Digest editor... THAT would have helped a LOT.
bemused_leftist
Oct. 11th, 2007 05:44 pm (UTC)
That's the best literary review of Atlas I've heard since a friend said "Well, he got the girl."

I think her prose can be brilliant in places (and in other places I suspect she's deliberately flatting).

One odd thing, when read silently and privately it can sound wonderful, lyrical. But when read aloud in my Southern accent, it was plain wierd. Something to do with her Russian accent, where the commas go, commas for changing pitch instead of for pauses, what the linguists call syllable rhythm instead of stress rhythm....
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bradhicks
Oct. 11th, 2007 08:18 pm (UTC)
I'm not remembering a rape scene in Atlas Shrugged. Are you sure you're not thinking of The Fountainhead? That's the one I remember with more D/s porn than all of Ann Rice and Laurel Hamilton together.
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flewellyn
Oct. 11th, 2007 06:28 pm (UTC)
I dunno, I found her writing itself to be poor. Never mind that I hate her ideals, but the book itself, I found to be utterly dull.

But that's a matter of taste, I think.
bradhicks
Oct. 11th, 2007 08:19 pm (UTC)
By way of fair comparison, how did you feel about John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar and/or The Sheep Look Up?
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cinnamonical
Oct. 11th, 2007 09:18 pm (UTC)
I've read The Fountainhead, and for the most part I remember liking it, although what's-his-name's Speech O' Doom at the end made me want to smack him with something. I've also read Anthem and liked that as well, but I've always shied away from Atlas Shrugged because of the sheer enormity of it. But based on your review, I might at least give it a shot.
ponsdorf
Oct. 12th, 2007 02:18 am (UTC)
The Christian Bible tells us that the earliest disciples of Jesus Christ, after his death, shared everything they earned, "from each according to his ability to each according to his need."

I know that specific quote is attributed to Marx, a hasty reference search doesn't attribute it or any recognizable precursor to Christianity.

I won't go into elements of primitive communism (as in the word not the politics) here, but early Christians did depend on a combination of charity and limited communal behaviors in come cases. However, Matthew 22:21 is pretty clearly on point.

Haven't read any Rand in years and your review/synopsis has created the urge. Ditto for a couple of your other references, thanks.

Aside: Just re-reading some Marx here (specifically his Critique of The Gotha Programme), hence my nit-pick about the quote. [grin]
interactiveleaf
Oct. 18th, 2007 07:26 pm (UTC)
Just to clarify
The early Christians lived in a commune-style wherein each member brought in what he owned and turned it over to the general fund, and every person drew out just enough to meet his or her needs.

Acts 2:44-45:

And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need

--King James version
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Re: Just to clarify - interactiveleaf - Oct. 19th, 2007 11:40 am (UTC) - Expand
kimchalister
Oct. 12th, 2007 05:55 am (UTC)
I read several Ayn Rand books back in the 60s. I read part of one of the long speeches and skipped the others.
Two things I remember: in Atlas Shrugged, the black dress she wore.
In all of the books: most people were either good and supremely competent or bad and incompetent. The occasional normal person invariably committed suicide.
I felt the books were a recommendation of suicide.
inquisitiveravn
Oct. 13th, 2007 08:13 am (UTC)
First off, I didn't read Atlas Shrugged until a few years ago. Personally, I didn't like it and had to force myself to slog through most of it. I gave up on Galt's speech.

IMHO, that speech on the radio is just Rand's most egregious example of the cardinal literary sin of early SF, the expository lump. She beat readers over the head with them, a lot. There were several places in the book where I wished the characters would shut up and get on with the story.

I also couldn't escape this weird impression that she didn't get her own characters. I think you've got Hank Reardon and Dagny Taggart pretty well figured out, but the narrative voice of the story left me with the impression that Rand thought it was about money and pride, in that order. IOW, the way she described them and the way she wrote them didn't match up in my head. I felt the same way about how she characterized anybody who didn't share her values although in many cases you didn't learn enough about them to know what they were really like. They just didn't come across like anyone I understood with normal motivations.

Let's see, things that rang false for me. I can't remember his name, but the submarine commander who played "reverse Robin Hood" didn't really seem to understand the Robin Hood legend at all, and I'm betting that's because Rand didn't. She honestly didn't seem to get that the whole "rob from the rich and give to the poor" shtick was about taking unearned money from the unproductive and giving it to the productive who'd lost it to taxes and rents. Gee, isn't that what our pirate friend is doing?

Another thing that jarred: Rand kept using the word "State" to refer to government agencies at the National level, thereby making it clear that she was not American born. It pulled me straight out of any suspension of disbelief because any American would understand the word "state" to refer to the next level of government down, like Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, etc. She seemed to have a tin ear for how Americans talk about government.
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