FROM THE BOOK SHELF
A review by Julie Finch-Scally
By Ayn Rand
It is many years since I have read this book. So long ago that I had forgotten what the story was about. When a few weeks ago, while reading an article in the Business Section of the newspaper where the writer said we were living in similar times to Atlas Shrugged, I remembered I had the book, in a box set of Ayn Rand’s novels, so decided to read it.
As it turned out it was the perfect book to read during isolation because of the COVID pandemic. The lady who wrote the article was right. There were a lot of similarities in the book to the times we were currently going through.
First published in 1957, Ayn Rand was noted for her intolerance for communism. Well that is what I remember hearing when it was first released. But on reading the book I am not so sure that Ayn Rand was against communism. My take on what happened in the book was more about the discouragement of people with ideas and incentive, and an encouragement of mediocrity and laziness. Actually, it was when I was nearly at the end of the novel that she mentioned what the book was really about. It was Original sin, which according to the Christian Church, we are all born with. Taken to its extreme it can have devastating effects, as Atlas Shrugged showed.
Set in America in a non-descript time – they had telephones and TV, but limited air travel and still some steam trains – the characters in the book we follow, are ‘get-up and go’ type people. They are rich, yes, but only because they have put a lot of effort into their creations, and have made money because of that. Whereas the ruling powers in large companies and Washington, believe that the Needy deserve the money and therefore make rules to take over the money making enterprises, away from those who have worked hard, and use it to help themselves, under the guise of assisting the poor and needy.
We follow the main character, Dagny Taggart, Vice President in Charge of Operations with Taggart Transcontinental Railways, built by her grandfather. The President of the organisation and head of the Board is Dagny’s brother James. Well it was the mid-1950s, women didn’t run corporations in those days. But James was a believer of helping the poor and needy, and allowed Dagny to do all the hard work to keep the railways running.
The book is set around Dagny and the four men besotted by her as they watch the rich leaders of many large manufacturing companies disappearing. Literarily disappear. Of course we eventually find out where they go and why, but until that exposé the disappearances present quite a mystery. Who is causing it, and where are they all going?
I must say I was disappointed in this book. But because I was reviewing it I read it from cover to cover. I feel sure I gave up reading it the first time around, and remember a girlfriend telling me years ago, that she had skipped over large sections so she could get on with the story.
And that was the problem. All through the book Ayn Rand proselytizes her ideas, not just once or twice, but in every chapter. After a while it can be a bit annoying. And near the end of the book, one of the main characters makes a speech over the radio which he states lasted three hours. From a broadcaster perspective I can say it would have lasted about one hour forty minutes. But even so, one hour and forty minutes is much too long to castigate people, which is what the speech was all about. If I had been listening to that speech I would have walked away, or at least switched it off. The speech went on for 57 pages. At least 47 too long, and I found I had to stop and leave the book many times during the reading of that section.
I even found the end of the book, which could have been exciting, somehow didn’t ring true. In fact, I was very glad to get to that final page.
I know this book, Atlas Shrugged, has changed many people’s lives, and maybe that was because it was unusual in the 1950s, but to me there were many questions not answered. Such as: why didn’t Dagny get pregnant, though she was quite sexual and was regularly partaking of the pleasure? And, I am aware that the pill wasn’t introduced into America until 1960. Why also was a character, introduced into the story in one chapter, never seen again until ages later, when she appeared for only that chapter? And the thing I found most annoying was the way the writer kept swapping the point of view of the characters in every paragraph? Not a clever way of writing
If I have been an editor this book would have had masses of red lines crossing out pages and pages of script.
Although I really didn’t enjoy reading Atlas Shrugged, I am aware that others could find it of interest. The story line covers a completely different concept of life and like the lady who wrote that article in the Business section of the paper, I would have to agree, that many of the people now in power are displaying similar actions to what is in this book.
Atlas Shrugged is considered a classic. It can be purchased second hand and I would recommend borrowing it from your local library and giving it a go. It is long and will take time to read, but if you have read it you can see for yourself the similarities to what our world could become in the future, and discuss all its nuisances with others.
Title of Book Atlas Shrugged
Author: Ayn Rand
Publisher: Random House