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Anviliciousness Isn't Always Bad
I am an Objectivist so yes, I agree with Rand. Let's get that out of the way first. I am not going to review this book on it's philosophical merits (which I believe this book has in spades, Your Mileage May Vary of course), but rather as a piece of literature.

Yes, it is didactic, Anvilicious, the opposite of subtle. Rand will use fifty allegories to demonstrate a principle, then she will lampshade the principle, THEN will have a character give a speech on the principle before finally abandoning the hectoring. So yes, this is NOT the kind of book to read if you like subtle allegory that is open to reader interpretation. Some of the characters are cardboard cut-outs, although not all of them are (I strongly disagree with the position that Dagny Taggart is a Mary Sue. Escapist Character, yes, but this is a work of epic fiction! Are Superman, Gilgamesh, Achilles etc. all Marty Stu's? Dagny is an idealized female character, but she is on par with the heroes in the fiction (hence not a God Mode Sue) and nor does the logic of the world around her bend and twist (Black Hole Sue)). Rand's writing is about the ideas she is discussing; characters are just vehicles to show the ideas off.

So yes, the lectures can get annoying (even I find it hard to get through The Speech in one reading), the characters aren't always the most intriguing, and there is a significant chance you will hate it if you disagree with its message.

Now for the good points:

The plot is phenomenal, fast paced and rife with tension. It is a long book but for some reason you simply cannot put the book down. It manages to make its philosophical ideas comprehensible (albiet at the cost of some oversimplification). Rand's tone is strident and bitter but I love this: the utter defiance with which Rand manages to state her views with total lack of guilt or apologeticness.. Atlas Shrugged is one giant "fuck you" to the entire Judeao-Christian-Altruist moral tradition and the way it makes its case so defiantly is thrilling. It is also more accessible and fast-paced than The Fountainhead, probably due to its relative lack of subtlety. It also manages to produce a character that is a model of a competent, heroic woman: Dagny Taggart (even Women's Studies courses have started including Atlas Shrugged on their reading lists).

Your Mileage May Vary, but give Atlas a chance before you dismiss it.
I've read through the entire thing, and really, I don't believe it to be fast paced. It would have really benefitted from losing 2/3 of needless repetitive padding which consists mostly of "We can't tell you our plan or else the story would be over." Also, the main issue I have with the Anvilicious delivery is that it presents an utterly myopic view of the industrial system, with the industralists being elevated to a ridiculous pedestal while seemingly ignoring the importance of the labour force in the overall system. No one in real life can multitask to feed themselves and still have their mind free to invent great things. The early humans were a testament to that, as art and culture came only after they had time left over from satisfying their basic needs. Also, the whole "looter" motif, this is portrayed as solely the government's fault. Yeah, because corporations are paragons of virtue, aren't they? The ending reads like an inverse version of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution with the proletariat removed from the equation rather than the intellectuals.

As for the cardboard cutout characters, this actually leads to a Broken Aesop. The industrialists in John Galt's utopia show no distinguishing personalities other than their career labels, effectively implying that being individual means thinking and acting the way John Galt wants you to, because John Galt is always right! In fact, it seems that Dagny and Hank only gain success in the story after they give up their own individual ideas of how to live in the world to get assmilated into John Galt's cult. Based on this, I have to challenge the whole notion of Dagny being a "strong female character(TM)", since she ends up playing subordinate to the men in the end, made especially blatant with the scene where she first arrives in the Gulch(TM).

Ultimately, I have to say the Anviliciousness actually works against it. If it were more subtle and less myopic, I would have at least found the contrarian viewpoint interesting to take into account.
comment #1110 Cliche 8th Oct 09 (edited by: Cliche)
Cliche,

You are entitled to your opinion, YMMV and all that. However, I found Atlas much more fast-paced than The Fountainhead.

As for the economics of it all, Atlas Shrugged is not meant to be a dry treatise on the economic role of the labor force. Speaking here as an economist, if one were to write a dry treatise on the role of the labor force, I'd say that Atlas may not be perfect but it does get some very important things right. Specifically, it is brain power, not muscle power, that actually creates the vast majority of the the wealth of western civilization (a position which is supported by many economists, including Ludwig von Mises, Frederich von Hayek and Joseph Schumpeter). Yes, Rand deliberately overdoes it for dramatic purposes, but again, Atlas is epic fiction, not dry non-fiction.

Also, most human beings these days have significant free time in which to think and, yes, 'invent great things.' The struggle for survival is no longer the back-breaking subsistence living it was back merely two or three centuries ago. It is true that for many people even in the western world, work takes up a lot of time, but compare this to how things are in less fortunate nations or even the western nations about 200 years ago. There has been incredible improvement, mostly due to productivity gains due to technological advancement.

Rand is not arguing that she realistically portrays corporations. First, most of the businesses she deals with are proprietorships and partnerships rather than corporations, and secondly, the vast majority of corporations are happy to depend on government priveliges and friends in high places (which is very un-Capitalist conduct). Yes, Rand idealizes businesses (and only some of them!), but as stated before, Atlas is not meant to approximate reality. The nasty facts of real life are glossed over when they get in the way of the ideas Rand wants to discuss and given her purpose was to portray ideas, I don't blame her.

In many cases you are correct about some of the unfortunate implications with regards to conformity, but they are unintentional. First, Rand deliberately focussed on the plotting with Atlas and purposefully did not focus on characters so much as the storyline. So she didn't intend to send the message you think is implied. However you are right, many people have taken that unfortunate implication and believed it to be part of Rand's philosophy. As I am an Objectivist I find that a very unpleasant truth. The Objectivist movement has in the past been very repressive and conformist. However, this is thankfully being repaired.

Finally, as for the scene when Dagny first arrives in Galt's Gulch, I know what you are concerned about. I recommend you read "Who Is Dagny Taggart" by Karen Michalson (Published in "Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand"). She addresses all of your concerns in far more detail and accuracy than I could.
comment #1112 StudiodeKadent 8th Oct 09
Serves a nice purpose as:

  • A paperweight
  • a literal door stopper
  • Fire kindling
  • A blunt weapon
...and much more!
comment #1135 wit 14th Oct 09 (edited by: wit)
Honestly I think it's readable if you don't look at it as a story so much as an extended political metaphor. Really her writings would have received a lot less hate if she had written them as political texts with no attempts at writing fiction or if she at least wrote them in her native Russian and had it translated to English.

That said even if she took either of those approaches her politics would still piss me off but at least they'd be contained in half decently written books.
comment #1277 Darkblade 11th Nov 09
Ever hear of an Objectivist expressing dislike for Atlas Shrugged as a work of fiction? "It makes an important argument but the characters are boring and it's way too long", etc.?

I find it amusing that there's a group of hardcore freethinking individualists who all have exactly the same tastes in literature.
comment #1397 Mark Z 29th Nov 09
Well, look. Even if you're not an Objectivist but are just tired of rich businessmen being kitten murdering psychopaths in everything you read, watch and listen to, you have precisely one author's output you can read in order to get a differing opinion. I even like the book, but I don't think it would be all that popular if there were any diversity of opinion amongst the crowd that produces fiction.
comment #1436 Shrikesnest 7th Dec 09
Any port in a storm mark. Although liking the same book (a single book) doesn't mean they have the exact same tastes in literature.
comment #1647 75.82.206.153 10th Jan 10
Mark Z,

Individualism (or social noncomformity) isn't about what you do or what you like, but WHY you do it and WHY you like it.

Simple example: Everyone wears white T-shirts. Someone decides to wear a black T-shirt. If said person wears the black T-shirt because other people are wearing the white T-shirts, he is not being a nonconformist but rather a reverse-conformist. If they just happen to prefer black, or think they look better in the mirror, then its an example of nonconformity rather than reverse-conformity.

Vice-versa, if someone chooses to wear a white T-shirt like everyone else, they aren't necessarily being a conformist unless they are wearing said T-shirt because everyone else is.

And for the record, many Objectivists including myself can point out flaws in Atlas Shrugged. John Galt, for instance, is such a Platonic ideal of a character that he lacks any distinctiveness at all. Additionally, for someone that is familiar with the issues Rand is dealing with, the infamous eighty-page Author Filibuster is exceedingly long. However, for a layman reader with little knowledge of philosophy or economics (which was Rand's Target Audience), who lived in a society where the belief system opposite to Rand's was never questioned by any of the cultural elite, it was arguably a necessity.

And no, not all Objectivists have the same taste in literature. I for one like Anne Rice's first three Vampire Chronicles, and most Objectivists would consider them bad books.

Feel free to criticize the novel. But attacking Objectivists as people is an example of Complaining About People Liking The Show.
comment #1664 StudiodeKadent 14th Jan 10
Yes, but as much as that seems reasonable in the universe there is actually no reason at all to subject the reader to something like that? Instead would it not have been better to simply say "These are my points" and then following that have Cut Away to afterwards with people discussing it.

As is, it just comes across as ham handed and silly to lecture people who have read the entire book ONCE AGAIN on points they already know. It also presupposes that the people reading it won't understand unless you keep on telling them, and that is one of the WORST sins a writer can try to do.

Also, the book isn't funny, I know you are not supposed to laugh at books such as this, but at least Also Sprach Zarathustra was explicetly philosophical, Candide has more jokes in it, so does Hobbes! Hobbes! This book doesn't engage the reader, it beats them and demands they listen, and although that might be a fortunate thing to have in a philosophical tome, it is not a good thing to have in a book that is ostensibly to be read by people trying to understand a somewhat complex political and philosophical point.
comment #1727 JosefBugman 23rd Jan 10
Stuiode Kadent,

I could have misunderstood, but I thought the one making such a comment wasn't so much as attacking Objectivists as a whole. Rather that he or she was pointing out the fact that, due to their political view and the political view portrayed in the book, the majority are praising it too greatly and being too easy on it. On such a matter, I agree. Note that, while I'm fairly liberal(in the U.S.), I'm pretty neutral on this matter. On the political viewpoints(I'm pretty central on this particular issue, not sure which one I could say I lean toward more however-if either), and even more so on the book itself-the latter being because I have not read it, and it's ridiculous to have an opinion you haven't read about at all or anything of the like.

Why I agree is because of the observations I've made on these reviews, and responses toward them, thus far. Those who disagree politically are typically either being less forgiving, or otherwise somewhat less fair than they would be otherwise. Those who agree politically are typically praising it with great affection, or otherwise being very forgiving for its flaws stated by others. You have criticized it in a pretty fair way, yourself, but even you have shown some obvious(note I say obvious, not large) bias based on your review. One thing is (from what it seems) you focus somewhat more on the philosophy and politics portrayed in the story rather than the story itself.

Nonetheless, your review was pretty good-especially since it didn't completely insult or completely praise it, or asininely attack people who might disagree with you.
comment #6301 184.88.142.109 7th Feb 11
I must be in a very small minority, but I actually like the book more as a work of fiction, than as a work of political philosophy. It's not just that I disagree with the politics (I do); it's the — as the reviewer admits — unsubtle, anvilicious, boring, repetitive way they are presented that makes it hard for me to take the book seriously as a political work. The cartoonish villains and other simplifications make it hard for me to really look at it as a source of important ideas on morality or economics — it seems to me that if you want to make serious philosophical arguments, building your entire work on a bunch of Straw Men isn't a great approach.

As a story, on the other hand, it's actually pretty enjoyable. It's a very refreshing change of pace to read a story where the protagonists are industrialists and the conflict is over their attempt to create great industrial works — if nothing else, it's certainly very different from most other novels out there. I find the plot is handled well. The protagonists are a bit Mary Sue-ish, but they're still interesting to watch. Dagny is an awesome strong female character — well, for the most part — especially considering the age when the book was written. I became genuinely engaged with her quest to thwart the phantom "Destroyer" and overcome the machinations of her brother and the corrupt government. The cartoonish villains, when viewed simply as parts of an entertaining story, rather than of a political discussion, become as fun to watch as any moustache-twirling bad guy out there. Their backstabbing machinations are fun to follow, as are their silly mistakes. I found myself truly eager to turn the next page to find out what awesome new bit of metaphorical butt-kicking Dagny and Hank are going to deliver to that dastardly Mouch and his minions... :P

I just wish this amusing, fun, cartoonish story would stop taking breaks every three paragraphs for a long, repetitive speech about how great the Gold Standard is.
comment #20827 girlyboy 24th Aug 13
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