Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Atlas Shrugged (novel)
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
My first book review of the year is for a book I did not finish. Not only that, but I chose this book for my book club to read, and I will be hosting the discussion later this month. Yet, I did not finish it.
This was my second attempt at this epic novel. Though it was originally published in the 1950s, I had never heard of Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand, or any of her other works until about a year ago when a friend of mine mentioned it to me and told me it's the best book she's ever read. She also told me that the protagonist in the story reminded her of me (I still don't get that, but maybe I didn't get far enough into the story to draw any similarities).
The author, Ayn Rand, was born in 1905 in Russia. She lived through the Communist takeover, and her life was personally and profoundly affected by it. She eventually came to America, which she viewed as the one true free society. Her novel, Atlas Shrugged, basically illustrates, by way of fictional, larger-than-life characters, and a ficitional, larger-than-life society, the struggle between Socialism and Capitalism. In Ms. Rand's view, Socialism is evil and leads to corruption and apathy in a society, and Capitalism - people in a society motivated by self-interest and self-preservation, nurturing an environment of competition in the marketplace - is the only true path to a free society. She illustrates by extremes in her novel what would happen if true and absolute Socialism took over America, and the brightest minds in a society withdrew in protest. In a nutshell, the society collapses.
The premise of the story is fascinating, and story itself is an interesting one. The big problem is that it is just far too long and laborious to read. Every person, place, and thing is described in minute detail. Every dialogue involves pages-long speeches. It's exhausting. My copy of the book is 1169 pages long, and I finally gave up at page 435 (so I do feel that I gave it a decent attempt). I think the entire thing could have been condensed by at least half and not lost anything the author was trying to get across. My feeling is that this is one of those books that you may want to read if you want people to think you're Super Intelligent. It's like a feather in one's cap if one can say, "Oh, yes, I read Atlas Shrugged." As for me? I'll do without the feather, thank you very much. I felt quite liberated when I gave myself permission to quit Atlas Shrugged.
As for my upcoming book club discussion? I made myself read the Spark Notes as penance. It appears to outline everything anyone really needs to know about the book, and it's a much more enjoyable read.
My copy of Atlas Shrugged is up for grabs. Good riddance.