I read this novel because I heard it mentioned frequently in political discussions and literature (by Libertarians and Republicans). Basically, the gist of the story is that two industrialists are trying to figure out who created this remarkable motor that provides virtually limitless, clean energy. These two characters are also carrying on an affair with one another and are also trying to keep their own companies afloat whilst the government is becoming more and more socialist.
Another thread running throughout the book is how prominent industrialists and thinkers are quietly disappearing into thin air. This actually ties in to the title of the book, Atlas Shrugged. In Greek mythology, Atlas is a Titan who holds up the world (it is his punishment for rebelling against the Olympians). In Rand’s novel, Atlas is a metaphor for a class of people who produce the services that keep society functioning and who are, in a manner of speaking, holding up the world (e.g. the industrialists, inventors, CEOs, etc). They ‘shrug’ because they decide to stop doing what they do, as they believe that they’re being taken for granted in this position of power and are not being adequately compensated. The premise of Atlas Shrugged is that if these types of people left, the world would fall apart (as it does so in the book). The characters in the book who are the Atlases of the world are Dagny Taggart (a woman who effectively runs a transcontinental railroad), Henry Rearden (who invented a groundbreaking super metal), and Francisco D’Anconia (who runs a global copper mining company).
In short, I thought this book was horrid. It wasn’t the hero worship or unabashed romanticism to be found within, nor was it necessarily the ideas that the author is espousing (e.g. independence, reason, self-interest, capitalism). The main reason I disliked this book is due to the author’s writing style – her prose is terrible. Another reason this book is atrocious is that the characters – both the heroes and the leeches – are merely simplistic caricatures. I’m currently reading Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov which is similar to Atlas Shrugged in that the plot serves as the basic architecture for the author’s philosophy, yet Dostoyevsky accomplishes this task far, far better than Rand. Ivan Karamazov is one of the great characters of fictional literature. Can anyone say that about the characters in Atlas Shrugged? No way. John Galt is a simpleton of a character that only serves the purpose of being a mouthpiece through which Rand gets across her personal philosophy (which is readily apparent in the 50+ page speech that she gives Galt towards the end). Francisco is born perfect and remains that way. James Taggart is born a useless worm and remains that way. And on and on it goes.
Atlas Shrugged presents a crayon-drawn version of reality that lacks even the slightest bit of depth and complexity. The characters are cartoonish in their extremes and have little to no development. I will finish this quick review with a witty summary of Atlas Shrugged I read online:
There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.