Atlas Shrugged In A Nutshell

Daniel Hannan puts it best: Great philosophy, terrible novel:

I may have just written the single most unpopular article of my life. In the new issue of American Conservative (subscription only), I argue that – viewed strictly as literature – Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is a calamitous failure.

Pace, all you Randians, I am one of you. As a political tract, the book was (for once the word is truly apposite) seminal. Its effect on the development of Western political thought has been vast and benign. But, as a novel, it is dreich. Its characters are wooden and interchangeable; its dialogue takes the form of improbable philosophical treatises; its plot is marred by small errors; every twist in the story, every deus ex machina, is so ploddingly flagged up as to be robbed of any dramatic impact.

And, of course, it is a thousand pages too long. Now you might argue that, in order to advance her doctrine, Rand has to leave herself plenty of space. But, having done so, she makes little use of it. Her argument is not so much developed as reiterated, over and over again, in words that barely alter. It is as though she is trying to push her thesis into us with repeated hammer blows, falling in the same place and with unvaried force.

RTWT. I pride myself on being in the select group that has read every word of Atlas Shrugged. Believe me, it was a trial and took some doing, but I did it. Rand’s intransigence didn’t allow her to develop stunning prose like that of a James Joyce or even George Orwell, but alas the philosophy is great, and literature is nothing if it doesn’t have a sound, developed philosophy behind it.

I’m currently reading a new bio on Rand and her influence on Conservatism. I’ll have more on that when I finish.


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