Atlas Shrugged * Ayn Rand Book Review

This has been due for a long time. The mammoth book that Ayn Rand wrote over 60 years ago (1957) is a manifest for objectivism and a case study of how the world would turn out if socialism were to be the ruling force of society. If need and not ability would be the ones that were deemed as worthy of pay. If the mooching people and the leaches would reach the ruling class and would give out laws that suit them and their friends.

I read it over a span of two years with a break in the middle as the book can get a bit overwhelming and dark. I recognised so many things from other countries’ way of ruling and the corrupt ways of power and I fell in love with the strong characters that this book had to offer. Dagny Taggart- a female tycoon who wants to build a trans-continental train line, Hank Reardon – a metallurgist who invents his own alloy which is lighter than iron and multi-functional. Francisco d’Anconia who sets up to increase his family’s fortune in copper mines. Further along the book come John Galt and Ragnar the pirate. Bad boys who destroy / save society by quickening the process that had started and by removing the leacher’s blood victims from being sucked to death.

This book is a scary study of what would happen “if”. The scary part is that “if” is more likely to be a “when”… no longer speculative fiction but possible fiction..

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The Story

Dagny Taggart is working her way up the corporate ladder to become the first female CEO of Taggart Train Lines while struggling against her dumb brother and his ideas that they should think more of the social good when doing business and offer free rides. Dagny has a strong sense of business and in order to stop her brother from destroying the train lines, she becomes Vice President of Operations and moves her brother into a PR function where he can’t do much harm.

Hank Reardon is a business-man who has an idea for a new alloy. He calls it Reardon metal and he needs funding and support to be able to produce it with his tiny factory. He has an investor and the first buyer for his new metal becomes Dagny Taggart who decides she wants to replace the old and destroyed train lines with Reardon Metal – which are cheaper and more resilient to heat and heavy train traffic. Hank is married and his mother and brother are living with him. They are only looking at Hank as a meal ticket and belittle him and make his invention seem worthless every chance they get.

What to say to someone who won’t stop telling you what to do

He meets Dagny at a function and soon, they feel deeply drawn to each other and they become lovers. This is all happening in a society where a woman president was unheard off and extra-marital affairs were frowned upon. In order to keep Dagny’s honour untouched, they hide their relationship and are very cold to each other in public.

The longing of Dagny * Atlas Shrugged

Dagny had just gotten out of another secret relationship when she became Hank’s woman. She used to be Francisco D’Anconia’s lover for years – the only man she ever loved before Hank and she was heart broken when Francisco strayed further away from her and decided to live the life of a play-boy, seemingly not working at all towards increasing his already huge fortune but appearing to squander it on the social life.

Francisco’s Speech in Atlas Shrugged: Money is the root of all evil

The thing is, Francisco is the first one to catch on what was going on in the world and takes the first steps against it. He seems to agree with the mentality of the people around him at the same time he is plotting to destroy them. He joins John Galt’s revolutionary movement and allows Ragnar the pirate to sink his copper-filled ships. When the government catches on and sees through Francisco’s plan of wilfully not supplying any copper when required and creating a market shortage, they try to nationalize his mines. At the time of the speech, a bomb goes off in all the mines collapsing them and making them worthless. Francisco disappears.http_%2F%2Fwww.cynicalnation.com%2Fimg2%2Fread_atlas_shrugged.jpg

As the world plunges into a new Dark Age, John Galt makes a radio announcement telling the world in a long speech (and when I mean long, I mean LONG!) exactly what has gone wrong and that nobody will be there to rescue them.

The infamous times you call the Dark Ages were an era of intelligence on strike, when men of ability went underground and lived undiscovered, studying in secret, and died, destroying the works of their mind, when only a few of the bravest of martyrs remained to keep the human race alive. Every period ruled by mystics was an era of stagnation and want, when most men were on strike against existence, working for less than their barest survival, leaving nothing but scraps for their rulers to loot, refusing to think, to venture, to produce, when the ultimate collector of their profits and the final authority on truth or error was the whim of some gilded degenerate sanctioned as superior to reason by divine right and by grace of a club.
The road of human history was a string of blank-outs over sterile stretches eroded by faith and force, with only a few brief bursts of sunlight, when the released energy of the men of the mind performed the wonders you gaped at, admired and promptly extinguished again.

John Galt’s Speech * Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged

The world without innovators, without people who have the capacity to think and to do is a sad place. People will struggle over power and money and soon they will know that there is nothing of value left. No honour, no-one to trust, no-one to keep their word. I loved how shify Jim Taggard had become – he was stalking Dagny through the left-overs of their Taggart line after the Railroad Unification Act and was asking her why doesn’t she DO anything. His whining is repeated by several other people – he knows he is worthless but he can’t accept that. That’s why his wife leaves him and decides to jump off a bridge rather than acknowledge his desire to be admired and loved without cause.

“I couldn’t help it! . . . We had no warning, I swear to God, nobody suspected, nobody saw it coming, I’ve done my best, you can’t blame me

Dagny decides to join the new utopia built by John Gault when she feels that her train line can’t be salvaged anymore. She wants to be a captain to sink down with the ship rather than abandon it in its hour of need. I grew increasingly discouraged as I kept on reading. I really thought that Dagny could change things. That she would fight the destruction and the looting. I cried when the farmers in Minnesota lost their crops because somebody at the top level decided that all freighters should go to a Soy bean crop gathering (burying the move in so much bureaucracy that Dagny had no idea it  happened or who ordered it). And this is what the world was turning into. Poor decision makers, people refusing to accept any form of leadership or decision making positions and constant whining: It wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t in the manual, no-body told me to do this, I don’t know what to do.

“Give us men of ability!” There were waiting lines years’ long for the jobs of janitors, greasers, porters and bus boys; there was no one to apply for the jobs of executives, managers, superintendents, engineers.

I could possibly argue that Ayn Rand hammers on that nail a lot. She makes the characters that are good, flawless and the evil doers – so evil that you could possibly predict their moves and their flaws.

I loved how Hank Reardon decided to fight against the Steel Unification Act that was designed to make him work at a loss in favour of the looters and when his mills got destroyed all of the looters could not be found for support and were suffering from head-aches or waving baskets in an asylum.

I won’t spoil the ending but all I can say it had one epic sex scene in the tunnels and a brave new world emerging on top of the diseased one.

Lessons Learned

There are loads of things I’ve learned from this epic book

  • Money should be given based on ability and level of work and not based on need
  • I did not exploit anyone. I did not burden the San Sebastian Mines with my useless presence; I left them in the hands of the men who count. I did not pass judgment on the value of that property. I turned it over to a mining specialist. He was not a very good specialist, but he needed the job very badly. Isn’t it generally conceded that when you hire a man for a job, it is his need that counts, not his ability? Doesn’t everyone believe that in order to get the goods, all you have to do is need them? I have carried out every moral precept of our age. I expected gratitude and a citation of honor.
  • People need work to give their lives meaning and value
  • Dagny, there’s nothing of any importance in life-except how well you do your work.
    Nothing. Only that. Whatever else you are, will come from that. It’s the only measure of human value. All the codes of ethics they’ll try to ram down your throat are just so much paper money put out by swindlers to fleece people of their virtues. The code of competence is the only system of morality that’s on a gold standard. When you grow up, you’ll know what I mean.”
    Money received without work is never enough
  • People don’t want to think and resent those that do: “You see, Dr. Stadler, people don’t want to think. And the deeper they get into trouble, the less they want to think. But by some sort of instinct, they feel that they ought to and it makes them feel guilty. So they’ll bless and follow anyone who gives them a justification for not thinking. Anyone who makes a virtue-a highly intellectual virtue- out of what they know to be their sin, their weakness and their guilt.
  • People should always be true to their core values and not give them up for money or for fear or for blackmail.
  • People shouldn’t sacrifice themselves for others. They shouldn’t be their brother’s keepers and they should have a sense of pride in their accomplishments:
  • Nothing can make self-immolation proper. Nothing can give them the right to turn men into sacrificial animals. Nothing can make it moral to destroy the best. One can’t be punished for being good. One can’t be penalized for ability. If that is right, then we’d better start slaughtering one another, because there isn’t any right at all in the world!
  • Morality, free will, achievement, happy endings, defeat suffering

 

 

 

 

 

 

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