Book Review: Ayn Rand – Atlas Shrugged


I finished reading Atlas Shrugged for the second time while commuting via train between Washington D.C. and New York City this week.

Upon finishing the last page, layers of symbolism floated through my mind.  The current political-economic climate, Occupy Wall Street ridiculousness, just the rare occurrence of me riding on a train in between my first ever corporate seminars for a tobacco company, the list of corollaries to my own life are endless.

I’ll keep this post pertinent to the book and talk about the corporate seminar in another post.

Before I even get into the book, I want to say that Ayn Rand’s teachings have had a HUGE impact on how I view the world and act in it on a daily basis.

Start Reading Fiction

Like so many guys I meet, I rarely read fiction.  This and Rand’s The Fountainhead are probably the only fiction books I’ve read in the last 3-4 years.

Fiction turns many of the self development junkies off because they are used to directly applicable advice, but I personally find Rand’s ability to use fiction as a tool to elucidate her philosophy as effective as any self help book.

There are many reasons why I love this book.

  • Conveying Ideals Through Fiction

First, through the use of fiction, she has the ability to overly amplify character traits to the point of near absurdity.

Characters such as Dagny Taggart, Hank Rearden, and Fransisco D’Anconia are highly unrealistic, but realism is not the desired goal.  They are paragon human beings,and  great examples of how to act and view the world.

Rand writes to the minute detail describing their characteristics, embodying the highly conscious, self actualized ideal persona.

Unreactivity, emotional intelligence, highly productive, well dressed, perfect posture, with the perfect response to any question, as I was reading, I tried to put myself into the headspace of each character, viewing my own foibles and perceptions compared to theirs, and the process changed the way I view and act in many situations.

During some of the discourses, I WISH I could talk the way she writes out each characters rebuttals and monologues.  Always the perfect response with utter precision and diction.

Also, the fictionalization allows her to give an extreme example of how she predicts the world would be through either her desired philosophy or the opposite.

  • Written by a Woman

It’s rare for me to read fiction, but even rarer to read a book written by a woman, and this creates another interesting viewpoint for reading the book.

You can peer into a highly conscious woman’s inner brain and see how she perceives human interactions.  There are all sorts of subtleties in the way she views the intimate relationships that Dagny Taggart runs through, her viewpoint on sex, and what she perceives as an attractive man.

It’s almost hilarious how much attention is paid to explain minute facial expressions and how she explains each characters inner thoughts on reacting to the other.

  • Now is the Time

With the current happenings of Occupy Wall Street spreading around the world, this book really gives you the opposing perspective of EXTREME free market capitalism.

At over 1000 pages, I started this book well before any of the 99%er events began, but about half way through people were starting to tent out on Wall Street, which gave me another opportunity to compare Atlas Shrugged with my own view of the world and the direction our society is heading.

I’ll try to stay away from any sort of political arguments here, other than saying Rand gives a pretty interesting picture of what the world could turn to which relates scarily close to the direction we are heading.  With this book being written when communism was making serious waves, you can tell there are some anti-communist rants through out the book.

  • Read Like a Writer

Lastly, being a writer, the diction and word choice in this book are just fantastic.  With it being such a tome, the phrasing, metaphors, character development, and vocabulary are just incredible imagining how many YEARS it took to write and edit.

Knowing that Rand was born in Eastern Europe, with English not even her first language, it was humbling as I went back and forth to the dictionary every few paragraphs looking up the meaning behind the more challenging words.

This book pushed me to strive for more as a writer, a worker, and most importantly a MAN.

Don’t expect to read it like you typical self development book, realize how through the use of fiction there are examples of IDEALS here to strive towards.

Perfect humans, perfect mindsets, perfect discussions, only able to be conveyed through a fictionalization.

Learn to read into the subtleties of symbolism, and you can get as much if not more out of Atlas Shrugged as any Robbins/Covey/Napoloeon Hill book.

Highly Recommended!!!

17 replies
  1. Steven
    Steven says:

    Good review, although I would have liked some quotes from the text to support your points. (Sorry for the long quotes, but in this case quotes belong into a review)

    On suffering:
    “Dagny Taggart’s whole existence seems to be a struggle, yet she refuses to give suffering authori-ty over her life; she is not willing to say “that’s life” like everyone else.”

    On work and purpose:
    “The work gave her the calm she needed; she had not noticed how she began it or why; she had started without conscious intention, but she saw it growing under her hands, pulling her forward, giving her a healing sense of peace. Then she understood that what she needed was the motion to a purpose, no matter how small or in what form, the sense of an activity going step by step to some chosen end across a span of time.”
    On money:

    “Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to men’s stupidity, but your talent to their reason; it demands that you buy, not the shoddiest they offer, but the best that your money can find. And when men live by trade – with reason, not force, as their final arbiter – it is the best product that wins, the best performance, the man of best judgment and highest ability – and the degree of a man’s productiveness is the degree of his reward.”

    Also the critic on Robin Hood is interesting:

    “[Robin Hood] is not remembered as a champion of property, but as a champion of need, not as a defender of the robbed, but as a provider of the poor. [...] He is the man who became a symbol of the idea that need, not achievement, is the source of rights, that we don’t have to produce, only to want, that the earned does not belong to us, but the unearned does. [...]. It is this foulest of creatures – the double-parasite who lives on the sores of the poor and the blood of the rich – whom men have come to regard as the moral idea.”

    Thanks Brad.

    Cheers,

    Stefan

    Reply
  2. Diego
    Diego says:

    I´ve been having problems with the metaphisical and epistimological foundations of objectivism.

    The premise that A=A might be true but what A means to me is fucking arbitrary. Just like value is arbitrary, so is the use of reaon and logic.

    Acording to these metaphysical foundations Reality > Perception, which i think is exactly the opposite Perception > Reality.

    What it is, is what it is but what it is “to me” is entirely up to me, if that makes any sense.

    I agree with rational self interest and the social politics based on value exchange (note: that capitalism is based on value in exchange, and not value in use, hence the diamond/water paradox), and accepting reality for what it is, but reality doesn´t give itself an universe meaning for what it is.

    plain simple, reality has no inherent meaning. How does that merge with foundations of objectivism?

    Reply
    • Brad Branson
      Brad Branson says:

      Yes, I agree closer with the reality has no meaning philosophy. As with any self development tool, there is always a grain of salt needed, and to look at the writers philosophy with an open mind, and see how their views can integrate into your own philosophy.

      For me, I come from the more existentialist/nihilist hybrid camp, and some of the ideas based on Rand’s pinnacle of extreme productivity being the best you can be, jives somewhat with the reality has no meaning, life has no meaning philosophy.

      The way I integrate it is that people like Rearden and Taggart are great examples because they chose productivity as a life value, and they do it better than anyone and live and breathe it. So by their own standards, they are living in alignment with what they are passionate about, and that is what leads to a joyful and happy life (as long as no one gets in your way ;) )

      I wouldn’t say reality > perception or perception > reality… reality = perception, perception = reality

      This could be the start of an interesting discussion. Hit me up with more comments, it will help me understand my own interpretation of the book as well…

      Reply
      • Diego
        Diego says:

        I think that Existentialism supported by Empiric epistemology (historically they don´t get along http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090513134100AAtbHQ7) may be more accurate tan Objectivism because it would consider human emotional nature. Objectivism is based in that Men are Rational beings, whereas I think is more likely to say that Men are Emotional beings that can evaluate and argument their actions with reason. (Note: that “can” evaluate implies the choice to do so, you can choose to be unreasonable and all cognitive process would be exactly the same thing)

        As far as I know Objectivism is based on the following premises:

        Metaphysics: Objective reality
        Epistemology: Reason
        Ethics: Rational Self-Interest / Individualism
        Politics: Capitalism
        (Religion: Atheists)

        All of these concepts “makes sense” on the surface (and I actually agree with a lot of them) but they are built on the inaccurate premise that “Reality is self-evident” or that “A=A” or “Existence Exist”. I would say that these statements are not completely wrong except for the one that Reality is self-evident. The mere fact that we´re having this conversation is “evidence” that reality is not self-evident, and it needs to be processed by the human mind (using reason or delusion)to give it interpretation. (This also correlates to Semiotics and the process of creating meaning through Form, Essence and Meaning. Google Charles Sanders Peirce for that one)

        My problem with Objectivism is that things cease to be Objective when they are conceptualized by human thought, this flaw is based on the metaphysical part of objectivism. When you accept reality for what it is, (in fact as we all know you can even RESIST reality to be like it is, hence causing you stress) you then have to interpret it, this is when you create your own perspective of things, and the “object” transforms into a “subject” because it is being examined by your judgement and criteria.

        All other parts I think that are very useful and correlate with existentialism, the use of Reason (even the capacity to USE REASON TO BE UNREASONABLE: Ex: the fact of “knowing” the fact that Value=Attraction and supporting your Value with Unreasonable arguments IS REASONABLE, because you accept the nature and mechanics of attraction and by using reason you choose to be unreasonable because you know that being objective or subjective triggers the same mechanics in your emotional state, even when you objectively you´re not supposed to be valuable. Example: I am high value because i have white socks, which is valid if i believe it), Self-Interest and Capitalism on goods and services created by merit (Note: that I don´t agree with full capitalism not everything in this world can be treated as capital,such as “Humans, Animals, Nature”)

        I would state as more accurate foundations something like this:

        Metaphysics: Empiric Reality
        Epistemology: Reason (freedom of choice)
        Ethics: Rational Self-Interest / Individualism
        Politics: Capitalism (considering both value in exchange and value in use)
        (Religion: Agnosticist)

        As a final note, I think that FULL FREE Capitalism is also a mistake because we can´t treat things that are not products of men´s work as capital without regulation, this is what has caused great real problems such as:

        Treating Humans as Capital > Slavery
        Treating Animals as Capital > Extintion
        Treating Nature as Capital > Polution and environmental destruction

        I believe in that all men are equal and can produce value using their mind and relate to each other by it´s exchange, but exchanging anything that´s not the product of them it will drive to problems with coexistence.

        oops i think that i went overboard here. I´d love to read your thoughts on the “subject” XD

        Reply
      • Magnus
        Magnus says:

        Yes, to me her philosophy seems to be one of virtue (having a purpose, being productive and so on) despite the emphasis on living your own life for you (not that it’s necessarily a contradiction). She even has a non-fiction work called “The Virtue of Selfishness.”
        I have always found that my geeky hard core objectivists friends disagree with this interpretion, however.

        Reply
        • Diego
          Diego says:

          Now that i come and reflect a bit more on the subject. It would make sense if we treat Existence and Reality as different concepts:

          Existence: What is (objective reality)
          Reality: Your perception of what is (subjective reality)

          So:

          Objective Reality/Existence (Unconceptualized) > Perception > Conceptualization (Use of Reason) > Subjective Reality/Your Reality. (Conceptualized)

          And you can alter your interpretation of Existence using Reason in function of your self-interest.
          Actually “Reframing” is evidence of having faculty of using reason, you re-interpret perceived data by the use of reasoning (inductive reasoning, if i recall correctly)

          Reply
          • Bryan
            Bryan says:

            If you want a more detailed explication of Rand’s metaphysics then see the book “Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand” by Leonard Peikoff (her intellectual heir). It covers her philosophy in a logical progression from metaphysics and epistemology, through ethics and into politics and art.

      • Bryan
        Bryan says:

        Rand’s philosophy is one that states man’s purpose is living *as* a man — in other words, according to his nature. When you recognize man as a being that survives by reason (this does not imply neglecting emotion) and follow the implications of that thoroughly through the rest of ethics, you have your prescription on how to live as a man and flourish. Rather than compatibility with existentialism, this follows in a couple traditions in ethics: the eudaimonistic and naturalistic. To Aristotle, eudaimonia was the purpose of life, which meant “excellence” or flourishing in a full life as a man. Naturalism in ethics means that how a being should act is determined by its nature, thus making ethics a science. Most existentialists posit that we have no nature except absolute free will. A naturalist would say: a plant must live like a plant to flourish, a dog must live like a dog to flourish, and a man must live like a man to flourish. We can’t sink our feet into the ground and absorb sunlight and expect to live a happy life, so there are certain facts about our natures which we must follow in order to flourish.

        This article gives a better coverage of the topic of Objectivism and its unity between the different branches of philosophy than I can in a comment: http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/ayn-rand/objectivism.asp

        Reply
  3. Thomas
    Thomas says:

    Hey Brad!

    Read them both and they are incredible.
    Do you know of any other writers who have written similar books?
    Such as Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist.

    I’ve always been very imaginative and felt I got a lot more out of interpreting the layers in stories rather than dryly listening to someone’s perspective on this or that.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Brad Branson
      Brad Branson says:

      Yeah, Rand’s husband or mistress was Nathaniel Brand, so I’m about to start the 6 pillars of self esteem. Supposedly it is a more cut and dry non fictional explanation of rand’s concepts…

      Reply
  4. Mike
    Mike says:

    Brad,

    Great review. This has been on my reading list for awhile now. Every book you recommended here or on my bootcamp has been impactful in my life from mastery to power of now to way of the superior man.

    You mentioned you weren’t a big fan of fiction. You should check out the go giver. It’s written as a business parable that talks about “the 5 laws of stratospheric success.” They range from the laws of value, compensation, influence, receptivity and authenticity. The last law directly applies to what you guys teach at RSD. The concept is centered around the best gift you can give anyone is your true self. The parables really drive home the power and impact of the message.

    As I mentioned this weekend at English, I love the direction of your blog and the valuable ideas you share in it. We talked about the direction you are taking your brand and a book that has been highly influential in my business has been tribes. It’s a book about leadership and starting a movement. Definitely worth checking out.

    Great catching up with you this weekend. Seeing you doing street game in complete self amusement and the hilarity of the taco incident outside eggsperience capped off an amazing/powerful weekend!

    Reply
  5. Rob
    Rob says:

    Hey Brad, nice review. Would you recommend Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead for a guy who hasn’t read much fiction in a while?

    Reply
  6. jake454
    jake454 says:

    your review definitely made me start reading this book and I’m so fucking glad I did. it makes you want to live for so much more than mediocrity and relates so much to your living in excellence post. I’m on like page 700 out a thousand and its been more than epic so far :P

    Reply
  7. Taylor
    Taylor says:

    Great review Brad! I would love to read about other books you have read that have helped you along your path to success. I just started reading Fountain Head and it sounds as though the ideals and intricate social details are similar to this book. I cant wait to crack into it.

    BTW have you heard about the “Paleo” diet/lifestyle? I see you are constantly posting new stuff on facebook about healthy living and wondered your thoughts. If you have not heard of it, look up huntergatherer.com

    THANKS AGAIN

    Reply
    • Brad Branson
      Brad Branson says:

      Yep! I used to be big on the paleo diet. That was about 4 years ago, and now I do basically my own tweaked out version of that. Incorporating some Mark Sisson stuff, and other random things I’ve picked up along the way. It’s really important to never follow any one thing too rigidly. I did that for years with Paleo, to great effect, and have further refined my own diet to fit my physiologic needs, and things are great!

      Reply

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