There has been much ado about Ayn Rand these days. Between the Objectivist dystopia of Rapture, and the recently released movie adaptation of her most influential work with more parts to follow, everyone has something to say about her work, her philosophy, or what kind of person she was. And at least on this site, the discussion has mostly been negative, with people expressing their distaste for the book, Objectivism as a philosophy, and even Ayn Rand as an author and a person.
Admittedly, I've been joining in the crap talk as well, so why am I now proposing I read through this mammoth of a book when I supposedly disagree with it?
First off, I'm not an Objectivist, or at least don't consider myself one. Yet we often deride the most that which we find important. And despite my vitriole, I can't leave this book or the ideas in it alone. Secondly, I've attempted to read it exactly once, and got discouraged three pages in (no kidding!) but with renewed enthusiasm and a live blog to track my progress I'm hoping to do better this time.
I will also be doing my measured best to make the story, characters, and events interesting, and not as boring as people say.
Let's do this. Let's read Atlas Shrugged.
Cover: The copy obtained from the library is paperback, and a rather striking pose of Atlas◊ accompanies the author and title. It really does give the impression that old Atlas there will send the whole text stack tumbling if he shrugs his shoulders. Ayn Rand was not known for her subtlety. In my opinion it beats the alternative cover◊ the library offered. Hope you like trains!
Introduction: They included a short intro with notes and journal entries from Ayn Rand herself. The introduction author states that Miss Rand wanted her writing to speak for itself, and would disaprove of a didactic and hero-worshipping intro. Fair enough. He then turns the remainder of the intro over to her collected notes on writing the book, but not before warning here be spoilers. I think we're all familiar with the big turning points anyway, and the more insight the better.
Throughout this live blog, I will put Ayn Rand's words in bold italics for clarification.
Theme: What happens to the world when the Prime Movers go on strike.
Here I'm reminded that the working title was to be The Strike, and I can only think it would have been more appropriate. The Atlas of Greek Myth, after all, was forced to carry the weight of the heavens as punishment, not because he was the only one who could do it and it certainly wasn't what he wanted. I don't know if this is covered in the book, hence this in depth reading; we're all too familiar with the memetic internet snark associated with the book, not so much with the details.
Ayn Rand continues with some world building, referencing The Fountainhead which I have never had interest in, so I hope that's not required reading. As the theme implies, The Strike is about how the world needs innovators, creators, and the poor way they're treated. There's a distinct "us vs. them" mentality, which is odd considering this is supposed to be her more "social" book compared to the celebration of individualism that was The Fountainhead.
She goes on to describe the characters, starting with Dagny Taggart, the overconfident railroad tycoon who is basically a female equivalent of Gurren Lagann's Kamina◊. That is, the idealist who thinks she can inspire others to greatness by being great as a shining example. This is stated to be her downfall, because according to Ayn Rand, the creator needs no one else, you can't actually inspire others to greatness unless they make that decision themselves, therefore any attempt to do so is playing into a collectivist, second-hander mindset which is, by the ethics of Objectivism, evil.
It is here that Miss Rand first starts to lose me, as anyone who has tried to manage something more ambitious than a book club knows that you need other people to do it. Delegation of duty and decision making is of prime importance because you can't be everywhere at once, no matter how talented you are. Maybe I'm not giving her enough credit and she just means "let them do the job they think they can do, replace them if they don't, but don't try to turn them into miniature versions of yourself". But then I question Ayn Rand's desire to write on the subject since she's basically educating the populace on her world view, so wouldn't that be a collectivist action as well? Either way, Dagny apparently opposes the strike (initially!) so I'll root for her in the meantime on that, as the idea of the strike is unappealing both as something which seems inherently wrong and also doesn't make sense as something that would actually be done. But we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.
The remainder describes the other characters and their roles, standard novel prep here. She closes on an interesting note regarding Tropes and their usage. She proposes three grades of writing; using old abstractions through old means, meaning existing characters and events that have already been defined (described as pop culture trash); translating old abstractions through original means (described as most good literature); and creating new abstractions through original means (described as just her work, and no others). May God forgive me (Metaphor!) if this is mistaken conceit! As near as I can now see it, it isn't.
The introductory author (wisely) tells the reader to decide that for themselves, as I don't even know how one would begin to address that claim.
Next: Part 1!