Shrugging off Atlas Shrugged

atlas shruggedI’m fairly confident I’m going to disappoint everyone with this post. Going off of the reviews on Goodreads, all people seem to do when they talk about this book is discuss the politics… and I’m not gonna do that. I’m gonna be talking about its literary merit- or lack thereof. Cos *spoiler alert* I did not like this book. And the thing is, there’s a tendency to answer Rand’s attempt at literature with nothing but disdain for her thoughts, when really the question should be is this a book at all? Okay, well it is a book in the technical sense, but I firmly believe this is merely non-fiction masquerading as fiction.

My initial problems started with the fact that *holy hell* I hated the writing style. This waffles between verbose prose and corny moralising. Naturally, it failed to capture my attention and I could think of a million things I’d rather be doing other than reading this (watching paint dry, going to the dentist, clipping my toenails). To give you an idea of the style, it would be only fair to make you suffer through a quote:

“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists… it is real… it is possible… it’s yours.”

It is… so dramatic… because I am… typing… like… this. With lots of compound-words so-that you-feel I’ve-made-a-new-word. Okay, seriously people have a go at Maas for using ellipsis too much in her writing- they have clearly not read this book. Anyone that’s read my writing style or seen my taste knows I don’t generally have an issue with fragmentation- but even I think this is too much. Also “not-quite”, “not-yet” and “not-at-all” are lousy inventions.

Hey- if you found that painful, just know I ploughed through 1200 pages of this bilge. And frankly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Because this IS NOT AN INTERESTING STORY. It breaks the number one rule of storytelling: don’t bore the reader. Anyone telling you that the concept of a failing rail company is thrilling stuff is pulling your leg. I’m supposed to care… because? Where’s the humanity in this? Sure, the likes of Dickens and Gaskell addressed issues of industry- yet they didn’t exclude the human element. Here, the issues feel too impersonal and the characters are too flat to care about. Take Dagny for instance- here’s one of her thoughtful “gems”:

“Dagny sat at the end of the counter, eating a hamburger sandwich. It was the best cooked food she had ever tasted, the product of simple ingredients and of unusual skill”

#AD Seriously though who thinks like this?!?! I see more subtlety from McDonalds. I just don’t know people that speak like this (and if I do, we’re not friends). It comes to something SERIOUSLY insane when I think Christian Grey has more personality than anyone in this book. Heck- I think this book has less artistry than Fifty Shades of Grey. That’s right- I went there.

As a dystopia, this book fails even more spectacularly. There’s no world building. None. Not only does this not reach the heights of 1984 (or *insert any other dystopia including ones I’m not a fan of*), but it doesn’t even come close. It feels like this is floating around in space that’s vaguely American but not. Forget white room syndrome- Rand went full white universe syndrome (never go full white universe syndrome).

If only that was the only way it failed as a dystopia! Now, I’ve discussed before how books can be propagandistic… to a point. This goes far and beyond a reasonable limit- it is nothing more than a dull diatribe. Propaganda doesn’t have to be entirely lacking in artistic merit; philosophy in literature cannot rely on a mere dab of paint. And that’s what Rand seems to do when she relies on overwrought analogies such as this one:

“If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders – What would you tell him?”

“I…don’t know. What…could he do? What would you tell him?”

“To shrug.”

The problem is I’m not lulled by this “enigmatic” statement- one can look right through it and see it makes no sense. Responsibility- as suggested by the Greek image- is not to be shrugged off. Rand cannot even see the contradiction from the image she herself has copied. That would be a good place to talk about stoicism perhaps- not laissez-faire objectivism.

In varying levels of success, this entire book is a lecture. If you are going to read this/have already read it, don’t be surprised to find a fair number of obvious truths scattered in among the endless preaching. But also be prepared for a load of bollocks:

“People think that a liar gains a victory over his victim.”

Literally no one thinks that. That’s why everyone claims to be the arbiter of truth. At the same time, famous liars in history have won victories over their victims (Hitler, Stalin, Mao). Kinda ironic that this is the most obviously false statement.

“I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

Wowwwww so brave. Okay, I don’t even get how people take the morality of this book seriously at times- being selfless is one of the most important parts of any moral system. I’m not saying that this should to be enshrined into law, but c’mon, don’t push it and pretend like there’s moral value to being utterly selfish.

“There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil.”

Ludicrous. There are frequently more than one side to a debate- in some cases, yes, it’s heads or tails, but in others it’s more like rolling a dice. It’s a little extreme (in my view) to assume there’s no such thing as compromise (but then what do I know 😉 )

“I think, therefore I’ll think.”

Lol at how “profound” this is.

“Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.”

*Applause* for stating the bleeding obvious.

And I do understand why people like this book- they don’t care about it as a book, merely as a means to spout philosophy. Except… why don’t you just try Solzhenitsyn? Gulag Archipelago is far more extensive and factual; Ivan Densovitch is shorter and has the emotional punch this is sorely lacking. The problem with this book is ultimately that it tries to fight ideological extremism with another ideology.

As you might be able to tell, I’m incredibly frustrated with this book. Just WTF with this being called a great novel? No, just no. I may already have a contender for worst book of the year (please book gods: don’t let me anything worse than this). People will want me to make moral statements of my own about this book- so here you are: a story without a soul isn’t worthy of being called a novel. This is a lifeless cask of opinions. I’m not often offended by books- but I am on this occasion offended as a reader and a lover of literature.

Rating: banana peel

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So dare I ask- what do you think of this book? Fan or hater? Let me know in the comments!

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103 thoughts on “Shrugging off Atlas Shrugged

  1. Kim @ Traveling in Books says:

    Great review! I have heard so much about this book, but it’s always “grand political ideology!”, and never anything about story. I never planned to read it, and I’m sorry it was 1200 pages of banana peels! The rest of your reading year surely can’t bring you anything worse.

    Liked by 2 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Thank you! Yeah that’s the problem with this book- it garners so much support (and hate) on those grounds- but it’s awful for many, many reasons besides the politics! Thank you- I’m actually quite hopeful that it won’t!

      Like

  2. Nicole says:

    A friend recommended this book … though I think it’s more for expanding reading tastes than anything? Regardless, I never saw myself actually picking it up and the quotes you put in there confirm that. A book that is trying too hard …

    Great review though!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Vera says:

    I was mildly intrigued by this book whilst reading your review until I got to this quote: “There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil.” That was the deal breaker for me. Fair enough, it’s an opinion but I personally think the messy middle is the most interesting part of every issue and I seriously struggle to grasp why it should be evil and how do we even know what is right and wrong in the first place… off to go to read some Seneca to calm myself down… 😂😂😂
    Great thought provoking review! 👌👏

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Beware Of The Reader says:

    Well first kudos to plow through 1200 pages thinking and feeling like that! I would have stopped a looong time ago. I ahven’t read this book and it’s the first time that I hear about it but honestly this won’t make me want to read it anytime soon! Excellent detailed review here 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  5. cagedunn says:

    I’m not sure I’d even let it have a peel rating – unless the peel was black and rotten …
    it may be strange, but I read for story, and if I find weird philosophy *throws book out* I have to dnf and go find a real story.

    Excellent review. thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. sullivanspin says:

    “I firmly believe this is merely non-fiction masquerading as fiction.” Bravo! Way to have the courage to not like a “classic work”. I did not enjoy this either. I hate reading a classic and thinking – “so this is what the fuss is all about? Am I stupid? What am I missing?” The answer is: Hype. No. NOTHING.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Stephanie says:

    Awesome! I hated this book too, lol. I don’t mind ellipsis in writing and have a habit of using them (although I would never in academic writing and maybe not in a book?), but Rand’s writing is just drivel and the made-up words made me cringe. I’ve taught creative writing students who can write better than this, and I’m glad I’m not the only hater!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Nicole says:

    I read Rand’s Anthem, and that one Rand was enough for me. I don’t have plans to read this one. Sorry it was so horrible, but thank you for the quotes which helped me prove to myself that I don’t need to read this.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. cryptomathecian says:

    I remember of giving you a fair warning when I saw this author on your TBR list around New Year. Admire you for plowing through its 1,200 pages of pseudo-intellectual crap. I have no clue what the people were thinking off, or hoping for, who made this one to a bestseller. Good marketing maybe?

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Sascha Darlington says:

    I read this well before goodreads existed, didn’t know anything about the politics (I don’t read books for that), and disliked it enough that I never read anything else by her and would never recommend. Heh. I guess that means I agree with you. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Sharon Bonin-Pratt says:

    OMG, I’m falling out of my chair laughing – thank you so much for some truth!

    So, a bit of a long story with this one. I was 13 and only a few months in California after living for 2 years on Oahu, where I learned that everyone hated everyone else because of their ethnic heritage and the color of their skin – boy, do I have stories to tell about Hawaii in late 50s, early 60s.

    We’d just moved to Orange County, California where the best entertainment was provided by the John Birch Society, and though I hadn’t a clue what these cretins were really all about, I’d made friends with the daughter of the local chapter prez. Until her daddy decreed I was not the right material for her friendship.

    I wrote a story for English class. It was 1961, I was 13, in eighth grade, so you have to give me a break for my ardor.

    Teacher fell in love with my story, a kind of dystopian patriotic claptrap about life after Communism takes over. Remember this was only a few years after Khrushchev desecrated my noble United Nations by pounding his dirty shoe on the assembly table– even if maybe he really didn’t, the evidence being somewhat anemic. Teach tells me my story resembles the work of Ayn Rand. I don’t know who she is but she was a published Author – my dream job. Unknown to me, teach enters my story in the local – wait for it – Daughters of the American Revolution Essay Contest, a yearly endeavor to recognize Patriotism. Capital P intended. And naturally, I won. Because, patriotic claptrap.

    School assembly. I should have known something was up because teach asks me to comb my hair. I was 13, my hair had turned pubescently (I think I made up a word) wildly curly. I had no idea how to manage it so I managed it like a troop of monkeys manage a vat of taffy. Meaning my hair resembled Doc Brown’s with a bit more color, and now my feelings were hurt, and I was pubescently pissed off. It would be ten years before I realized that you cannot brush curly hair. No, you just can’t.

    Lady from Daughters of the American Revolution comes to school’s monthly awards assembly to present her award in front of entire school population to – me! Oh, and did I forget to tell you that I’m Jewish? Poor lady is fumbling so badly trying to present her sacred award to teenage girl vaguely resembling someone from a particular Eastern European tribe, not the tall, skinny, straight-haired blond goddess she expected, that I had to take her paper from her trembling hands and read it for her. (Cold reading – I did pretty well.)

    Fast forward – please fast forward from this social catastrophe – to the very dying breath of the last century. I’m now working at Big Book Store – you know the one. One of my three jobs because money always disappears before the screaming bills do. Being Orange County, Ayn Rand is a very popular author. I remember how my long lost essay had been compared to her writing. With some customers buying multiple copies of this book (gifts, I guess) and others buying her entire oeuvre, I figured it was time to read the thing myself. Oh my lord.

    I hope I haven’t bored, angered, flabbergasted you as much as that book did me. I am after all, still the same person who was at age 11 utterly horrified by the rampant prejudice I witnessed in Hawaii against African American soldiers. I supported the Civil Rights Movement, protested the Vietnam War, registered voters, and dropped out of college for one semester to campaign for the 26th Amendment because no way is it moral to send teenagers to die for their country when they aren’t old enough to vote against the old men sending them to war. Then I married a Vietnam vet because he’s the guy I fell in love with. I am a patriot, just not one with a capital P.

    I don’t believe in censorship but if there’s ever a book burning, Ayn, I might send yours to the fire.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      hehe thanks so much for reading! And an even bigger thank you for sharing! Such a good story- even if it’s kind of horrible that the book was bigged up for you in such a dramatic way- only to completely (inevitably) let you down! I’m actually glad I’d been warned about this book sufficiently- so even though I still had some hope I wouldn’t find it despairingly bad- I wasn’t surprised when it was exactly that.

      haha I can understand being willing to throw this on a bonfire too 😉 I did a post a while back about books I’d burn if I had to (in a post apocalyptic hellscape, cos no other form of book burning is ok 😉 ) and I might just have to do a part 2 so I can add this to the list! 😉

      PS also I guessed you were Jewish a while back 😉 don’t know if I mentioned it, but I’m also Jewish.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. blazeofobscurity says:

    In defence of the existence of Ayn Rand – it helps me judge people I’ve just met when perusing their bookshelves. I choose friends based on a few very horrible criteria

    1. Do they have books?
    2. Are they all ‘airport’ novels (Cussler, King, Childs etc)
    3. Are there any Ayn Rand books (or copies of Mein Kampf?)
    4. Are there underlinings in any of the books in point 3? Run away!
    5. Is there evidence the book was thrown down in disgust a few pages in? Friend for life!

    Ayn Rand is an author in the same way that a box of tissues is a sketchpad. Superficial similarities without any of the efficacy.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Anjana says:

    Each one of my reading friends through school and college were obsessed with this book, I found it disturbing 😦 and did not feel that my time was well spent. And I think I added some more reasons as to why I did not like it after looking at your post 😂

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Eustacia | Eustea Reads says:

    1200 pages? You deserve a medal! Haven’t read Atlas Shrugged but after reading this, it’s a “no, thank you” for me :p

    Also, the ellipses thing reminds me of how some people here type – I think they consider the ellipses a substitute for a comma or a full-stop.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Joelendil says:

    The only Rand I ever read was a collection of essays by her and some of her acolytes entitled “The Virtue of Selifishness.” I can’t think of anything more antithetical to the two commandments that are supposed to sum up Christian ethics (“Love God with all that you are and love your neighbor as yourself”). After that I was pretty sure I never wanted to sit through 1,000+ pages of her drivel even if it was wrapped in a story, and your excellent review makes that tentative decision permanent. Thanks for taking the hit so I wouldn’t have to :D.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. daleydowning says:

    You survived the ENTIRE thing?! *sends literal tons of cake and kittens*

    I suffered through the movie (all 3 parts – my husband fell asleep halfway through the last one – NOT FAIR), and have never attempted the text. I had such MASSIVE issues with the way it was portrayed as a “story” as well – the “story” is barely there, and terrible when it is. I did think a lot of the philosophy was interesting – as it raises many questions and views that I think we should be talking about in a much less simplistic way than, “Capitalism bad! Socialism good!” or vice versa. But the way Rand didn’t coherently express her perspectives, in a manner worth discussing in depth, ruins the whole premise. There’s more to be had in this area in The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, even Divergent, for heaven’s sake.

    So I don’t count this as a hero among conservative propaganda (you’re right, let’s be honest here), since it really takes all the worst traits of a free market economic/government plan and makes them the soapbox the intense liberals love to stand on with their bullhorns these days. Just the fact that all the “smartest” people were leaving the city to go form their own utopia quite frankly pissed me off – why weren’t they joining together in the secret place to form the revolution?! Selfish pricks, plain and simple. (I know you don’t mind the language – and thanks for that – as this is an issue I have lots of strong feels about!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      hahaha thank you!!

      Gosh can’t believe you managed to watch the movie to be fair!! And I really agree with you about the story. That’s true- only I think there are better conclusions to be drawn than “let’s all be selfish all the time” 😉 So true!

      And yeah I really agree with you there. and yeah I agree!!! hahahaha!! I can understand that!! (I actually can’t believe I managed to keep my language in check for this review 😉 )

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Laurel @ The Inky Saga says:

    I was so surprised to find how passionately a lot of people seem to hate this book, based on politics most often. I didn’t read it as a political/conservative book when I was a teenager. I loved it. If it was propaganda, it fit right into how I already felt about life and things I guess. I’m terrified to read it as an adult, but one day I might have to 😬

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Ola G says:

    LOL, I know it’s hard when your pain is my entertainment, but I really enjoyed this post 😀 Haven’t read Rand, because I checked what Atlas Shrugged was about and it was enough for me, but I understand why you went through the full length of it – I feel I ought to go through crap if I want to criticize it too 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Alex Page says:

    Rand is just awful. It staggers me that anyone can like her. Aside from her awful, heartless edgelord ideology that couldn’t hold together in practice for five minutes (she herself took social security and medicare after railing against that sort of thing her whole life!)… she can’t even write. I wouldn’t read nice leftist propaganda 😉 if it was so badly written and looooong.

    Oof. At least you got a good review out of it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  20. piotrek says:

    I’ve had a shameful period in my late teens when I was a bit into Rand… and read a few of her non-fictions. Even then, I just couldn’t finish the Atlas, whether you agree with the author or not, it’s just a tedious read.
    Thanks, we need brave people to read&review such stuff, so we don’t have to 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Jia Xuan says:

    Wow, I literally had to reread every one of the excerpts to understand what they were supposed to be saying. And to think the whole book would be like this! Interesting review, and from what I see, I think, as you’ve put it, “bollocks” and “banana peel” are accurate word choices to use to describe this book!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Lydia Tewkesbury says:

    HOW did you make it through the whole thing? I struggle to make it through regular sized books I’m not enjoying!

    I wanted to read Ayn Rand for a while after Jess and Rory talked about The Fountainhead on Gilmore Girls but as soon as I heard anything about her I decided it was probably a bad idea.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. hobbleit says:

    I don’t think there’s been another book where I have wanted to punch every single character just for being so irritating.

    Putting aside any feelings about Rand’s political viewpoint, Atlas Shrugged is just a horribly written book with horribly written characters.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. 4963andypop says:

    I read the fountainhead and atlas shrugged in lawschool pn recommendation of a friend. All I ca say is, they reminded me of reading Neitzsche in undergrad: sweeping and grand and self promoting and a bit dense. Easier to read than most legal opinions…😊i am glad I read them because it helped explain later developments in politics, and really lay out the arguments of unfettered capitalism vs all out communism. I love your quote about liars.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. lucindablogs says:

    This book sounds great 😂 I very nearly thought “it can’t be that awful, maybe I should read it myself” but the last time I did that it was after reading your review of The Foxhole Court – and that was four hours of my life that I’ll never get back

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Lashaan Balasingam @ Bookidote says:

    I’ve heard of this one and wow… This sure does make a solid case for the worse book of the year. The writing sounds awful and dull. And the fact that it doesn’t read like a story worries me too much to want to ever pick this one up. Wonderful honest review (love the underlying humour, as always)!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Nicola @ Thoughts on Fantasy says:

    Wow – I’d actually never heard of this book before, but now I know to steer clear. Such a thorough and entertaining review. Btw I love your advice: “never go full white universe syndrome” – I’ve read books with white room and white universe syndrome and they were very frustrating. I hate that feeling of floating around in a vaguely defined space in an even more vaguely defined world with no concrete visuals or details to grasp on to.

    Like

  28. Sophia Ismaa says:

    When I saw the 3.68 rating, it kind of baffled me because it’s hailed as one of the greatest books. But then I decided to sample the preview and from page to page, I sussed that it was just a lot of nonsense and promptly removed it from my TBR. It read like a kid come back from a gap year spouting pseudo-deepness. I feel terrible that you had to sit there and read and let this book happen to you. I hope you have recovered.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      hehehe it most certainly did read like a kid coming back from a gap year spouting pseudo-deepness (or in some cases, an adult having a mid life crisis, spouting pseudo-deepness 😉 ) It was a terrible experience- but thankfully I’ve read some great books and recovered fully now 😉 Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

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