Reviews: Atlas Shrugged

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.

Variations on a theme

This novel is long, we know, and wordy with a couple of rambling speeches. But all of this serves a purpose, which is to allow its detractors no avenue by which they can dispute the theme of the book without actually arguing the philosophy. Now, I don't agree with Rand's metaphysics—I think concepts do have existence and cannot simply be derived as functions of a consciousnessless universe—nor do I agree with her ethics—I think her lodestone of "Man's life" is arbitrary and not sufficiently defined. But I do agree with her economics, which is one of the hammered-home points of the book. Stated briefly, the principle is:

The more you dick around with the economy, the more you fuck it up.

I'm using profanity here to do the same thing Rand did by repeating her points: trying to cut down counterarguments that use semantics to avoid the issue. I could have said, "The more you interfere with the economy, the less efficient it runs," but that only invites people to say, "We're not interfering; we're just trying to find a more ethical means of resource distribution," or, "Well, who's to say what efficiency is anyway?"

I'm constantly amazed that people argue for economic systems other than Capitalism with this book in existence. Because the plot holds, because it is not contradictory, the basis of capitalism and the flaws of anti-capitalism are manifest. If a railroad is run for "the public good," expect train crashes. If steel is sent to poor countries instead of being used for coal mine bracings and oil pipelines, expect less production of steel. If any business is forced to run for any reason other than profit, expect the businessmen to curtail production and move into where they can get the most money, instead of making it. This could have been called, "Laffer Curve: The Novel."

This book is better than good; it is *correct*, and that its correctness is ignored is a sad commentary on mankind.

Atlas Shrugged: Part 3: The Revenge of the Shrugging

I had to wait a long long time to get the opportunity to review this one, but finally I have seen this movie, and thus finally been able to answer the question constantly reiterated by the last two...Who. Is. John. Galt?

It turns out John Galt is a slightly chubby cross between the hunk on a Mills and Boon novel cover and one of those actors you keep mistaking for Bill Paxton. I guess I should commend them for not going with someone more conventionally suited for the role of the Objectivist godfather, but it might have been a better idea if they picked someone with actual presence. I could envision someone like Gregory Peck to make at least an admirable attempt of selling the character, but this damp sponge was apparently the best the film could afford.

Speaking of casting, everyone else from the previous movie has gone too. Most notably, Dagny has undergone another regeneration. The Third Dagny has a much softer edge this time, spending most the movie standing around and patiently listening to people lecture her on the importance of avoiding taxes. The last movie ended with her crashing a plane into the Objectivist's secret city/Amish themed holiday retreat, so I suppose this is her penance.

The thing that everyone has been waiting for is John Galt's big damn (three hour long) speech - it has been mercifully cut to a three minute V for Vendetta style pirate tv broadcast. Sadly they didn't cut it entirely. Along with recasting Galt, the frustrated screenwriter in me wanted the speech to actually be a framing device for the whole movie, thus letting you intersperse the movie with just the important bits whilst still implying its length and gravitas. But I suppose that would require at least a sophomoric standard of writing. Instead the movie goes for lots of expository narration and still images of stock photos, like you're watching a Discovery Channel documentary; albeit one that is deliberately made for morons.

The movie just glances from one basic plot beat to the next, often without bothering to connect them with any emotional thread. By the end of the movie, Dagny has casually shot several security guards in their faces without blinking, but we never really see her make that journey. That probably should have been the journey we needed to see. We probably never will.

This would make for a fun Saturday Morning Cartoon.

I must be in a minority, but I actually like the book as a work of fiction — despite disliking it as a work of philosophy. It's not just that I disagree with the politics (I do); it's the anvilicious, boring, repetitive way they are presented that makes it hard to take the book seriously as a political work. The cartoonish villains don't help matters — 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, Atlas Shrugged is actually pretty enjoyable. It's a refreshing change of pace to read a tale where the protagonists are industrialists and the conflict is over their attempt to create great industrial works — if nothing else, it's certainly different from most other novels out there, and the plot is handled well. The heroes 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 when the book was written. I became genuinely engaged with her quest to thwart the phantom "Destroyer" and overcome the machinations of the corrupt government.

The cartoonish villains, when viewed as parts of an entertaining story, rather than of a political treatise, become as fun as any moustache-twirling bad guy out there (think Dick Dastardly, or Stargate's Goa'uld). I found myself truly eager to turn the next page to find out what awesome bit of metaphorical butt-kicking Dagny and Hank are going to deliver to that dastardly Mouch and his minions!

I just wish this fun, cartoonish story would stop taking frequent breaks for long, repetitive speeches about the benefits of the Gold Standard, or whatever. Admittedly, the speeches are well-written bits of demagoguery, but they all say mostly the same things, and get old fast.

There is one way in which this book succeeds on a deeper level: It presents a genuinely engaging and inspiring vision of work as something that should be a joyful achievement, rather than pointless drudgery. Interestingly, this view can also be found in many books arguing for very different philosophies - including old pieces of communist propaganda! But, admittedly, Rand does it well. There are parts of this book can genuinely inspire the patient and open-minded reader.

Atlas Shrugged Part II - Electric Boogaloo

I have to applaud the tenacity of these Objectivist types. When Atlas Shrugged - Part I completely flopped, I had assumed that this would be the last we'd see of the franchise. But in a bitter irony, the producers forewent their basic Randian tenets regarding profitability and made Part II anyway. I just had to see this literal train wreck.

The most striking thing about Part II is that everyone has gone. The entire cast of the previous movie has been replaced by new actors who look nothing like the originals. I can hardly blame them for moving on, but the result is quite disconcerting. Dagny has gotten curvier, Rearden's gotten more gravelly, and the acting all around has gotten a whole lot worse. The only recognisable actors are the bald guy from CSI and Oswald from The Drew Carey Show. Splendid.

As with the previous movie, exposition is heaped on to the viewer with wild abandon. In their mission to eradicate all subtext from the film, characters explain exactly what they are doing and how they feel at any given moment. Sadly, in spite of the constant info dumping, Atlas Shrugged fails to answer those basic questions that froth up in the audience's collective minds. Questions like, "Why is the government doing all of this?" and "isn't the plot just a convenient excuse to let smug industrialists blather on about how important they are?" I guess we'll never know the answers.

A special mention should be made about the special effects, in that there aren't any. From time to time, the movie gets away from the endless succession of hotel interiors and studio sets, and we get to see such things as jet plane chases, exploding mines, steel mill catastrophes, and crashing railway trains, all lovingly recreated by Windows Movie Maker plug-in effects. I've seen more convincing special effects in Thunderbirds....wait a minute....hidden paradise...advanced technology...genius scientists, pilots and billionaires...middle-class white folk who refuse to share their brilliant inventions with the rest of mankind? Jeff Tracy is John Galt!

Trees died for this nonsense

(Disclaimer: I'm a lefty. A big one. I'm sitting around drinking tea with Marx and Engels, romanticizing the working class and nationalizing the doilies. I absolutely cannot deny that my opinion of this book is hugely influenced by this).

So I saw that the other reviews here are all pretty positive and I figured I'd contribute my own stupid opinion.

I hate this book. A lot. I hate its philosophy, I hate the, slow, meandering way in which it is written, I hate the smug Übermensch Mary Sue characters (the entire chapter dedicated to showing just how perfect and faultless Francisco d'Anconia is actually made me desire a return to the story - which I also hated). I positively loathe that the characters' sociopathy is actually portrayed as a good thing to be admired and emulated by us common folk. I dislike that all the captains of industry are portrayed as promethean geniuses who built their respective companies out of nothing, apart from James Taggart and his gosh-darn looters (there is obviously no middle ground between these two character archetypes). I despise the 80-page speech by Galt (totes fine to leave society to rot and wither so long as you feel sufficiently aggrieved by it, my friends). I hate how often things are described as "formless" or some variant thereof. I hate how big the damn thing is (merely because it seems to me Rand could have said what she wanted to say in far fewer words and we could have used the spare paper for something more important - like writing better books). I hate that none of the mean collectivist baddies ever seemed to display much intelligence (probably a stupid thing to hope for given the book - but if I were going to write a doorstopper extolling the virtues of collectivist thinking and economics, I'd at least try to give the other side a fair shake). And I also hate that "Who is John Galt?" is not said often enough in the book to make a viable drinking game.

Actually, I liked the "... and if you wish to know why you are perishing" line. But apart from that one piece of text out of 1084 pages, screw this book.

(Secondary disclaimer: I know this was pretty fiery - but please don't think it was directed at the fans of the book. It was directed at the book and the book alone).

(I also apologize unreservedly for all the parenthetical statements).

Atlas Shrugged - The first, and hopefully last, of a movie trilogy

Twenty minutes into Atlas Shrugged - Part One, a bitchy wife is presented with ugly bracelet by her husband. Her immediate response: "The chain is appropriate; I think it is the chain by which he holds us all in bondage" . If you want to know whether or not you'll enjoy this movie, just think of how that line sounds to you and extrapolate it to the rest of the film.

The story takes place in the year 2016, where there is a huge oil crisis and recession. This means that everyone is using trains now, despite them crashing all the time. Simultaneously, America's best and brightest are disappearing in connection with a shadowy figure called John Galt. Rail tycoon Dagny wants to fix this by building a new railway out of super steel, in spite of the constant meddling of bureaucrats, union leaders and corrupt businessmen. Will she finish the railway on time? Who is John Galt? And why should we care? By the end of this movie, only one of those questions gets answered.

I'll give credit where it is due: I quite liked Dagny. Think Erin Brockovich, crossed with ''Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS''. She's this icy, frustrated, no-nonsense gal, trapped in a world where everyone else gets in her way. That last part, incidently, is somewhat problematic. There is no sensible explanation as to why officials keep trying to stop her, yet we are expected to dislike them for doing so (even though at times, these officials make sense: constructing an entire railway out of an untested, impossible steel does warrant some scrutiny).

A bigger problem is caused by the setting. Ayn Rand set Atlas Shrugged in a 1930s alternate America, where trains are still a big deal. This movie wants to draw parallels with the Obama administration, so it takes place in our near future. The film attempts to combine these two very different periods into one, resulting in constant (yet unilluminating) exposition to make sense of it all. After a while, the film resorts to explaining everything to the audience. "I really want to find out about this motor" says Dagny, as though we hadn't just watched her travel 500 miles and break into a disused factory, just to look for said motor. That is what Atlas Shrugged thinks of its audience.

Good to learn the Philosophy. terrible as a novel

Just to give some background info, I was fascinated by the concept of objectivism by playing through Bioshock so I ended up getting the book to learn more about the Philosophy. I also did not finish the book but got pretty close.

First the length, if you want to read this in a reasonable period you would want a REALLY comfy chair, I can read fairly fast but being well just over 1000 pages (at least in my version) its a daunting read so prepare for a literary marathon. Now as a source to learn the Philosophy of Objectivism its really good, the speeches while are incredibly informative and really helps you understand the concepts involved. I never got to the massive speech by John Galt, but I did enjoy the one which was more or less 'greed is good'. As a novel this book is damnable annoying, the characters are inherently unlikable for one their 'sue-ness' makes them almost totally unable to sympathize with. To give a example of the terrible characterization would be Rearden, now you can kind of sympathize with him because he fights to protect his life's work but its impossible to like him for the most part because put simply he's a jerk. He does show some respect to other entrepreneurs but often is unnecessarily cruel, mostly to his family who seems to some reason spend all their time insulting him but still, he seems to go overboard in breaking his family to get them to stop, and he still maintains their lifestyle for some bizzare reason.

Now there are besides my irritation at the characters (who I may be a bit fuzzy on the details on their actions since it's been a while since I was reading the book, there are some more flaws, such as the two dimensional nature of most of the villians, the fact that apparently The U.S is the world (it only does some throw away lines suggesting that Europe is now a communist hell hole) and yet its economic collapse affects no-one else. There are also wallbangers such as the train incident which enraged me and also confused me mostly because I didn't have the required knowledge to work out how a railway networks.

In summary, not a great book if you enjoy well written fiction, however if you can abide the characters and the paper thin setting you will find a very approachable and fascinating book.

This is John Galt

Who is John Galt? Spoilers ahead, (a lot of them) but I'll tell you:

John Galt is a tremendous tosser. By which, of course, I mean to say that he intends to toss the world off his shoulders. (Why, what did you think I meant?).

In case you couldn't tell, I'm not a convert to Rand's so-called "philosophy." That being said, the book isn't without merit. Yes. All the characters are completely one dimensional. Yes. All the male characters spend so much time admiring each other that you begin to wonder about them. Yes. It's anvilicious. Still, the book has some good parts. I actually found the first 400 pages or so to be very interesting. Pulp, but well-written pulp, if you can get over how offensive some of the things the characters say is. Having Dagny struggle to build a railroad is exciting. Hank and Fransisco are interestingish. There's also a certain allure, if, like me, you think steam and steel are amazingly cool. Then Dagny gets her RR built, and it all sort of goes downhill.

The next 300 or 400 pages are slow. There's nothing really exciting going on, except the road trip and the discovery of the motor. (A crucial part of the book, there's a motor someone invented that can pull static electricity out of the air and therefore can essentially provide you with free energy). Basically, the main reason I kept reading this part was because of the mystery: Who is John Galt? Who created the motor? Why are all the great industrialist disappearing? Obviously, these questions answer each other, but still, I was curious to meet John Galt.

I wish I could say that the turning point where the book became unbearable was when Rand killed a train full of people and then went on to explain why everyone on that train deserved to die. Admittedly, that was really revolting, but the truth is that I stopped reading because I finally met John Galt.

John Galt is a genius, or so we're told. As proof, we have his philosophy of selfishness and his invention of the motor. Maybe in a world where physics lets you efficiently harvest static electricity, John Galt would be a genius. We don't live in that world. Galt is flat and unconvincing. He spouts hateful nonsense which only makes sense in the context of Rand's imaginary world.

That's why I tossed the book.