Of Ayn Rand and modern day politics

Probably my achievement of the month; I managed to slog all the way through Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Holy Hoppin' Hippos. I'm glad I did it, but don't think I'd choose to do it again - maybe dip in and out of the more interesting parts in future.

As a book of its time, I'm frankly astonished that it got published at all, and more astonished that the editors let it go out as-is. (Perhaps they didn't, and this is the cut-down and cleaned up version of some behemoth original. What a thought.) I think there's a far better and more conventional book in there somewhere, weighing in at maybe 400-500 pages of the current 1100-odd. The 70+ pages of Galt's radio speech are, frankly, masturbation. Perhaps the success of The Fountainhead gave Rand more leverage with her editors than a first novelist would have had. I also hate, hate, hate the ellipsised semi-monologues that pepper the book. The Project X digression feels like an unnecessary branch line from the main track of the story.

Having said all that, I'm going to go against what seems to be popular opinion - I actually liked the story. It's very imaginative without really veering off into the truly implausible, the villains (and there are many) are unusual and interesting, and the denouement is nicely done. I even enjoyed a few of the characters, notably Ragnar Dammerskjöld who's a very likeable and imaginative pirate, and Cherryl the unfortunate waitress. Dagny got annoying about 30% of the way into the book and never quite redeemed herself. I'm still not sure how I feel about Hank.

Where the book really scores in my opinion is the way in which it truly nails 2012 politics. Given that we're 55 years beyond the book's publication, one can either ascribe this to astonishing foresight on the part of Rand, or some good guesses associated with a sizeable dose of luck. I'm torn. Obama's recent "You didn't build that" speech came serendipitously when I was in the middle of reading the book, and we can only imagine what trenchant comments Rand would have made about it; sadly, she died 30 years ago so never really got to see her predictions come up trumps. Characters such as the weasels Mouch, Thompson and Ferris are all too common in modern day political life; one hopes that their real life counterparts would balk at the collectivisation implemented in the book, but given their thirst for control one would never be quite sure of this.

I'm now actively curious to see Atlas Shrugged - the film (part 1). It's just possible that they do a good job of keeping the wheat and throwing away the chaff.

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