HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Atlas Shrugged
Author: Ayn Rand
Publisher: Signet , republished in 1996
Language level: 4
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Adults
Rating: *** 3 stars (FAIR)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged Mass Market (published in 1957 by Random House; republished in 1996 by Signet, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group USA Inc., 375 Hudson St., New York City, NY 10014). In an undated but near-future dystopian world where the U.S.A. has a “National Legislature” instead of Congress and a “Head of State” instead of President, while all other countries are now “People’s Republics,” and the genereal economy is collapsing, Dagny Taggart is the Operating Vice President of Taggart Transcontinental, a railroad company established by her grandfather. Her brother Jim is the President of the company, but she is the real brains who attempts to keep the company alive against collectivism and statism. Henry (Hank) Rearden is a self-made steel magnate who has developed the most reliable metal alloy in the world called Rearden Metal which she needs for her railways. Francisco d’Anconia, her childhood friend and first love, owns the copper mines which provide the ore required for the alloy. Ellis Wyatt is the sole founder and supervisor of Wyatt Oil in Colorado for whom Dagny must build a new rail line. Then, as economic conditions worsen and government agencies enforce their control on successful businesses, they all begin to notice that the nation’s most capable business leaders, innovators, and industrialists are abruptly disappearing, leaving their industries to failure. What is happening to them? What will happen to Dagny, Hank, Francisco, and Ellis? And, by the way, “Who is John Galt?”
I read Ayn Rand’s Anthem and thought that it was pretty good, so I decided to tackle Atlas Shrugged. However, I cannot say that I really cared for it. It is LONG!—my edition has 1088 pages—and a bit hard to follow at times. I do understand that her philosophy of Objectivism, as explained with great detail in Chapter VII of Part 3 with its anti-collectivist, anti-Socialist, anti-Communist, pro-capitalist, pro-individualist bent, is important to conservative thought, although I think that she goes a little overboard in her praise of greed and selfishness. There are some interesting observations. Of the press she wrote, “It was their daily duty to serve as audience for some public figure who made utterances about the public good, in phrases carefully chosen to convey no meaning. It was their daily job to sling words together in any combination they pleased, so long as the words did not fall into a sequence saying something specific.” Sounds like today’s drive-by media. Concerning schools, a young woman says, “I came here to bring up my sons as human beings. I would not surrender them to the educational systems designed to stunt a child’s brain, to convince him that reason is impotent, that existence is an irrational chaos with which he’s unable to deal, and then reduce him to a state of chronic terror.” Bear any resemblance to our modern public schools and colleges? And her view of government is that “The only proper purpose of government is to protect man’s rights, which means: to protect him from physical violence…and…to settle disputes by rational rules, according to objective law.” Amen!
Thus, the book pictures the ultimate economic results of totalitarianism in a way that is similar to how 1984 and Brave New World depict its political and social consequences. However, while Rand’s philosophy is somewhat libertarian, it is also rather libertine. Dagny had a youthful affair with Francisco, has an ongoing one with Hank Rearden, who is married, and later has a sexual interlude with John Galt, all with somewhat vivid descriptions. Her brother Jim has had several live-in girlfriends, finally marries a young lady named Cherryl, and then is seduced by Lillian Rearden, Hank’s wife, thus driving his own wife to suicide. And there is a rather lengthy discussion about the nature of sex which is not exactly in harmony with the Bible. The dialogue is filled with cursing, profanity, and near-vulgarity. References to smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol along with several instances of violence occur. Rand’s view of God appears to border on agnosticism. She tends to criticize religion in general, refers to “the God you invented,” talks about the “myth of man’s fall,” implies that the Garden of Eden is comparable to Atlantis and other “mythologies,” and uses evolutionary language. I seem to recall a similar discussion of the pros and cons of the book a number of years ago on a homeschooling e-mail list. It is sometimes suggested for advanced high school students, but I would not think it appropriate for even teenage young minds. Would I recommend it? Probably not.