Sunday, May 15, 2011

Atlas Shrugged–Book Review

I finished this a couple weeks ago, but I’ve been too busy to blog my review of it. I have mostly good and a few bad things to say about it.

First of all, it’s a great read. Today. I think that if I had read it when it was originally published, or even when I was younger, I would’ve discarded it as insane fantasy. However, if you read it now, you’ll see many parts of the book that would’ve been regarded as insane, just 10 or 15 years ago, and yet they’ve already happened.

I discussed my opinion of the movie and of the related sections of the book here previously, so I’ll start today with Part II. Part II deals with Dagny Taggert’s continued search for the engine discussed in Part I, and the inventor of same. It also deals with the ongoing affair between Dagny and Hank Rearden, and the somewhat surprising friendship building between Rearden and Francisco d’Anconia. Also, the other significant part of the plot is the deteriorating state of America seen through the deterioration of Taggert International. And, of course, more industrialists keep disappearing, but we learn that there is a definite mind and person behind these disappearances. Dagny calls him “the destroyer”.

This is a bridge section, but surprisingly reads pretty quickly. Given Rand’s verbosity which I discussed before, it’s very surprising to go through it so fast. I think we all have an appetite for destruction, and what you witness in Parts II and III is the destruction of society and America, and it’s difficult to put the book down, as you’re constantly starved to find out what’s going to happen next.

Dagny slowly begins to understand why the industrialists have left, but she’s unable to do so. Taggert International isn’t just a plant or set of plants that she can abandon and restart elsewhere. It’s a living, breathing thing to her. Her life and its life are intertwined, and she is willing to die in order to keep it alive a little longer, even when she begins to realize that its death is inevitable. She does get away on her own for a month, and may have joined the others at that point, but bad news reaches her first, and she returns to Taggert.

Rearden also slowly begins to understand, but is incapable of full understanding because he does not yet understand himself. He is consumed with guilt over the relationship with Dagny, and with the idea that he’s not living up to the standards of man that he has set for himself.

Meanwhile, Francisco keeps popping in and out of both of their lives. Rearden seeks him out as its only when he’s with Francisco that he doesn’t feel guilty, Dagny continues to struggle with his apparent change from the boy she once loved to the narcissistic child-man she sees him as now.

Part II ends with Dagny finally catching up with “the destroyer”.

In Part III, we find the missing industrialists, discover that “the destroyer” is none other than the enigmatic John Galt, and watch over the meltdown of America, both at a societal and in several cases, personal, level. Rearden joins the missing, and John Galt delivers a 56 page speech to all of America, telling them what has been happening and why and what they can do about it. And there’s still 90 pages to go after that, but I’ll leave that for you to discover on your own.

When Rearden joins the industrialists, whom we now know are on strike, it’s almost anticlimactic. In fact, when “the recruiter” has his final meeting with Rearden, we wonder why it was even necessary. By then it’s plain that Rearden already knows everything that the recruiter is going to say, and agrees with it.

Dagny finds herself falling for John Galt, and it’s here that I find myself bothered by the book. In her life, it seems that she’s fallen for three men. The first, Francisco, who we see as almost super human, indeed far larger than life. She loves him and admires him and everything he can do, and the ease at which he can do it. When she falls for Rearden, he seems in so many ways a pale imitation of Francisco, before his “change”. So pale, that while the love seems more mature, we know that it’s not going to last. Not unless Rearden can grow first into the person she sees inside of him. He does, at last, but too late for him, as she’s found Galt by this time, who is to Francisco as Odin is to Thor. Francisco is young and wild and flamboyant, and while Galt is the same age, he is more mature, dignified, godlike almost.

I don’t have a problem with Dagny’s loves, but with how she acts with the one she loves. In the entire book we see Dagny as determined, strong, on top of every situation and in control. But in her love with Galt, she’s subservient to his desires, and his needs. She’s very submissive in her nature, so much so that it seems out of character. And this is true to some degree even with her relationships with Rearden and Francisco. It’s apparent that while she may see herself as an equal to men in the business theatre, she is clearly not in the romantic one. I’d put this down to 50s “Ozzie and Harriet” style of attitudes, but as I said, Dagny clearly is not at all subservient to any man outside of the bedroom.

It’s worth noting that I haven’t read this criticism in any other critique of this work, so maybe I’m reading something into the book that’s not there. That’s how it struck me, though.

My final complaint with the book is in the last two pages. The one time when Rand’s verbose nature escapes her. I would’ve preferred another chapter here. Maybe even two. The change of mood is too abrupt, too jarring. It didn’t feel right to me. But that’s just my opinion.

Overall, I thought it a great book, and a scary reminder about what our country is going through. I think Rand’s beliefs and mine are similar, but there’s still quite a bit of room between us. I’m sure I’ll read the book again someday, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy reading it again. My only two complaints of any significance are Dagny’s love life, and that it’s a 450 page book crammed into almost 1100 pages.

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