The SigO is reading Atlas Shrugged.
Ogre is reading Atlas Shrugged. Technically, I guess he just finished it.
Lexis, a friend I met through gaming, is reading Atlas Shrugged as well.
Some guy I barely know at my local Linux User Group is reading it, too.
I’ve read Atlas Shrugged twice so far — once while I was in high school, and again circa 2001. I liked it quite a bit both times I read it, and three of the above (the SigO, Ogre, and Lexis — I have no idea about the other guy) have all told me how much they like it, too. It’s a huge book, though, and it has been a few years since the last time I read it. Because everyone around me is reading it, I’m beginning to think I should read it again, in part so that I’ll be able to respond more effectively when they talk to me about what they’ve read.
About The Book
There are some things about the story that are a trifle over-simplified. That is, of course, by necessity — a dramatic plot had to be constructed to demonstrate some principles and make for a great read. The real world, in all its grit and shades of gray, would have made for a much, much longer book. It’s already big enough — exactly the right length, in fact, as far as I’m concerned. It’s too long for some people.
It’s about as good as it can possibly be, overall. If there are any real, practical criticisms to be aimed at it, I think they mostly apply to some of the minor details surrounding Dagny’s relationships with the other major protagonist-type characters, and the fact that Galt is perhaps just a trifle too perfect. D’Anconia is basically the same as Galt in that respect, except that he’s a bit off-balance, which I think makes him a more tangible character in some respects.
Hank Rearden, Dagny Taggart, and Ragnar Danneskjold are just awesome in all ways, though — at least, once Rearden gets his head out of his fourth point of contact on the subject of his family.
There are people out there who have read the book, or tried to read the book, who didn’t like it at all, of course. In my experience, they tend to fall into one of the following categories:
There are those who found the beginning of the book too depressing for their moods at the time they started reading it. I guess I can understand that, even if I don’t really sympathize. To such people, I have to say: Don’t read The Gulag Archipelago. The preface and first chapter in GA alone are much more depressing than any other book I’ve ever read (and so far, the preface, first chapter, and part of the second are all I’ve read of GA — I just started the book). On the other hand, there is something depressing about the beginning of AS, and as such I find that reason for not having finished the book understandable, especially considering the incredible length of AS. That imbecile Paul Verhoeven and his comment that he couldn’t be bothered to finish reading Starship Troopers before he directed that travesty of a film adaptation because the book “bored and depressed” him, however, has no excuse at all.
There are also those who simply state that AS is very badly written. They tend to say things like “I laugh at people who say Atlas Shrugged is the best book they ever read, because it’s just so monumentally bad.” In my experience, every single one of these Philistines just absolutely adored The Jungle, which is easily the worst novel I’ve ever had the misfortune to finish reading. I’ve commented on this before, in my problem with long books, Judge a book by its readers., and a review I wrote. It seems obvious to me that these people are calling AS bad not because they actually dislike the writing (probably didn’t even notice the writing itself, or perhaps are just unable to recognize the difference between good and bad writing), but because they dislike the message. Anyone who loves The Jungle and hates Atlas Shrugged probably either suffers from the worst case of bad-taste-itis I’ve ever seen or is a screaming pinko left-wingnut commie who is so thoroughly devoted to that ideology that he or she can’t see past it to consider the notion that sometimes good writing and good ideas are not the same thing. Of course, I happen to think both the writing and the ideas are good in AS, but if you disagree with me about the ideas, that shouldn’t necessarily mean you disagree with me about the writing — unless you’re an idiot, of course.
Finally, there are those who are severely turned off by the ideas expressed in the book, and are honest enough with themselves and others to state as much without turning it into some kind of unthinking referendum on the writing itself.
Part of the reason I’ve come to such conclusions about the second class of people who disliked AS is the manner in which people who dislike it criticize the book. Notice, for instance, that in my critique of The Jungle I actually address the specific problems with the book (though not all of them, of course). By contrast, anyone I’ve met who simply disliked Atlas Shrugged (rather than being discouraged by its length, its “depressing” beginning, et cetera) has basically had two justifications:
It’s just bad! The writing is so bad! Baaaaaaad! (cue bleating like a sheep)
Ayn Rand was a fascist!
Obviously, option one is absurdly empty of meaning. Option two is just ridiculously inaccurate. Whatever you may think about whether Rand’s ideas were right or wrong, whatever the faults in her ideas may have been, fascism was not one of her problems. Even worse is when someone replaces the word “fascist” with “nazi”. WTF? Her ideas as expressed in AS were, if anything, far more anti-fascist and anti-nazi than anything any left-wingnut has ever said. I mean, sure, a lot of leftists have said fascism and nazis are bad, but then they’d go on to express admiration for policies and philosophies that have a lot more in common with fascism than they might realize (the major difference between state socialism and fascism being the presence of a corporate sector middleman in fascism). Meanwhile, when Ayn Rand got done denouncing fascism and nazis, she went on to write Atlas Shrugged, which clearly expresses a bunch of ideas that are in direct contrast to fascism.
If you think Atlas Shrugged is too long for you right now, try reading Anthem as an introduction to Rand’s fiction first. It’s much shorter. It’s also much different — it’s not much like AS at all, frankly, but it’s well written and by the same author, so it’s probably a decent starting point.
After Anthem, you might try The Fountainhead. It’s a long book, but nowhere near as long as AS. It’s also not quite the same as AS, but it’s a lot closer to it in style than Anthem. It’s also not as encompassing in its coverage of Rand’s ideas. There’s a reason AS is considered Rand’s “Magnum Opus”, after all, and it’s not the length of the novel. AS really is her masterpiece.
So . . . yeah. I might read AS again — a third time in my life. I recall reading somewhere that anyone who claims to have actually read all of Atlas Shrugged is a liar, which was amusing considering I had already read it a second time by that point. It’s even more amusing now that I’m contemplating a third read.
I guess, if I decide to tackle it again, the major question will be whether to set aside The Gulag Archipelago for the occasion, and finish GA after I’m done with AS, or to finish GA before taking on AS again.