Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1957) – a review
By Nava Atlas | On July 18, 2017 | Updated November 18, 2022 | Comments (0)
Atlas Shrugged, a 1957 novel by Ayn Rand (1905 – 1982), was this controversial authors last and longest work of fiction, though she went on to publish many other works of nonfiction rooted in her Objectivist philosophy.
Rand used this novel to share her ideas on free enterprise, capitalism, individualism, and love (or more accurately, lust).
Though it garnered many negative and rather sarcastic reviews upon its initial publication, it also earned lasting popularity with the reading public. Like all of Rand’s works, it’s a revered work of writing among those who identify as Libertarians.
The action takes place in a hypothetical United States where private businesses are suffering from harsh regulations and laws. Dagny Taggart and Hank Reardon, business tycoons and lovers, fight against those aiming to profit from their productivity.
In their struggle to protect their business, they discover that a strange man named John Galt is attempting to persuade other business owners to leave their companies as a strike against looters. Towards the end of the novel, the strikers use Galt’s philosophy of reason and individualism to create a new capitalist society.
Reviews have always been mixed on the book’s literary merits, yet it has always had a devoted following Atlas Shrugged was rated No. 1 by Modern Library’s 1998 online poll and number twenty out of one hundred novels in 2018 by PBS Great American Read television series.
Weird depictions of sex
Often, in Rand’s novels, a relationship begins with coercive, mechanical, or humiliating sex. Or a combination of the three. It’s hard to know what motivated her to allow her strong female characters to be treated this way.
In Atlas Shrugged, for example, the long awaited consummation between Dagney Taggart and Hank Reardon was about as erotic as a description of hydraulic technology. Hank’s opening move: “He took her wrist and threw her inside the room, making the gesture telling her that he needed no sign of consent or resistance.”
Then, while actually having sex, Dagney and Hank thought of metal, rails, and motors, and other Objectivist notions of rationalist self-interest. We know nothing more about what actually transpired between them other than the anticlimactic climax: “He heard the moan of her breathing, she felt the shudder of his body, in the same instant.”
Yawn. Then, Hank goes on to give Dagney a lecture about what a slut she is, and she laughs in his face. Sounds like such fun.
Here’s an example of a typical mixed review — acknowledging the novel’s faults, yet proclaiming it to be addictively readable:
A 1957 review of Atlas Shrugged
Original review of Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand from The Salt Lake Tribune, December 1957: Several years ago when Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead appeared we read it with a great deal of pleasure and so, upon seeing Atlas Shrugged looked forward to a good novel — if an extremely long one (1,168 pages).
Well, we read and read and read some more and concluded that it’s fascinating enough to make you feel, “I know this whole thing is ridiculous but I want to find out what happens.”
Miss Rand lets off plenty of steam about her ideas on free enterprise, competition, brains, money, love, etc., etc. in this tome. On the book’s dust jacket she says that The Fountainhead was just an overture to this novel and she means it.
Who is John Galt?
Miss Rand starts out by asking a question: “Who is John Galt?” and she keeps asking it throughout tow-thirds of the book. Then there is, of course, Miss Rand’s astoundingly brilliant, beautiful heroine, Dagny Taggart, who runs a transcontinental railroad, a woman who makes all other women, and almost all other men, totally insignificant.
Dagny isn’t the only powerful character. There’s Hank Rearden, Dagny’s lover and the man brave enough to market a metal than surpasses steel; there’s Ellis Wyatt, whose oil field development in Colorado is practically the only bright spot in the country; there’s the South American copper king and playboy, Francisco d’Anconia and many others.
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Many critics took a dim view of this book.
Here are Two Snarky Reviews of Atlas Shrugged
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A Barren World
There is a tattered, pitiful, almost barren and certainly depressed world which is in its bad state because of excessive welfare statism — individuals who want to put their energies and intelligence to work to earn money and position for themselves are vile.
And there is plenty of mystery. Just as an example, you soon start wondering what’s happening to all the industrial giants, the top scientists and technicians who just walk out of their offices and are never seen again.
You wonder for pages and pages what’s happening to all these people and then you finally find them — in a utopia of their won in a secluded valley where their ideas on individual enterprise are flourishing, where they’re biding their time waiting for the moment when they will be able to return to active life and and save the country — civilization, actually.
And the brain behind it all — John Galt, of course. The mystery man who had the answers to this dilemma, who wins Dagny and who once more makes the dollar sign something to worship.
Perhaps Miss Rand’s expression of her philosophy will be of help in trying to keep in mind that you’re reading a serious novel. She says: “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity and reason as his only absolute.”
You have to read this book for yourself to believe it — to believe that it was written, that is. You probably won’t believe Miss Rand’s theories or predictions, but you are likely to keep reading through them to the end.
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You may also enjoy:
Quotes from Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
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More about Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
- Reader discussion on Goodreads
- Synopsis of Atlas Shrugged on The Atlas Society
- Ayn Rand and Objectivism