Atlas Shrugged is one of those books that often seems to be the topic of discussion these days (particularly in the US where it has gained something of a new lease of light on the right due to its financial / business leanings). In an effort to try and read at least one unreadable book a year it had the somewhat dubious honour of being this years choice.
For those that don’t know, the book supposes what would happen if “The men who rule the world” went on strike – from a somewhat one sided standpoint that supports the notion that without the rich to guide us then we’d all fall into anarchy. It’s so one-sided in its approach that it might as well be called “I love unfettered capitalism!”
And I’m torn. On the one hand the politics of it are objectionable on pretty much every level; it isn’t so much an argument as a sledgehammer trying to crack a nut that doesn’t exist. The alternative to the true way that is capitalism that is presented is so blatantly taken to an illogical extreme that it weakens whatever argument there could be (which is buffed up so much to weaken itself). Add to this some pretty appalling gender and racial stereotyping and the whole thing just becomes more and more illogical as the book progresses.
Every third page presented me with another reason to be angry with the argument and remind me of Dorothy Parker’s quote on it;
“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”
Remove the politics and there’s the gem of a potentially great science-fiction novel (all the stuff about the generator and Weapon X) or a dystopian nightmare. If it had been written with a great deal more subtlety (and presented both sides of the argument for ridicule, with a more measured approach seeing the benefits of learning from both systems of government (or non-government) provided) it may have even made a great satire. The book just presents things too clearly in the authors view of black & white.
I can’t help but feel that Rand squandered a chance to say something meaningful about what was happening behind the iron-curtain at the time, and about corruption in general in pursuit of her own aims. I didn’t even mind the writing style, although at times I thought an editor may have been of benefit (although in latter chapters this may have been a response to the fact that at that stage I just wanted to get it finished).
I didn’t hate it, I just felt disappointed at a missed opportunity.
I’ve still got The Fountainhead sitting on the shelf at home and at some stage I’ll probably read it (mainly to see how it presents my profession, something I’ve heard it manages to get the details of quite well). Right now I reckon I’m going to give something lighter a go.