September 11, 2004

Atlas Shrugged

Ayn Rand: "I trust that no one will tell me that men such as I write about don't exist. That this book has been written - and published - is my proof that they do."

Atlas Shrugged is a book about heroes. But it is different in the sense that the heroes present in this book are not the people you think of first, when thinking of heroes. It is a huge book, as big as LOTR. I think that the book was written for the sole purpose of explaining Objectivism, Ayn Rand's life philosophy. And you can't read this book without getting an understanding of what Objectivism is.

Disclaimer: This is going to be full of spoilers. [Keep reading]

Atlas Shrugged deals mainly with the mind; rational thought and it's importance in life. The "men of the mind" are the heroes on this book. They make the world go round. And we get to see what happens when they finally let go. In the beginning, it portrays them struggling, trying to live in a world that seems out to get them. Then you see them give up one by one, and disappear...

All right, the above paragraph sucked. Let's try a different approach. I love this book. And I knew I loved it after reading the following [about Dagny Taggart, one of the main characters in the book]:

"She could not descend to an existence where her brain would explode under the pressure of forcing itself not to outdistance incompetence. She could not function to the rule of: Pipe down - keep down - slow down - don't do your best, it's not wanted!"

I always get the feeling in engineering that my best in not wanted. Every assignment that I work on gets me less credit than the ones I copy. So, reading this was enough for me to like the book, even if it had nothing else.

I really like the characters of the book. The good guys, not the bad guys. They are self-confident, independent, smart and selfish. I agree with Rand, there's nothing wrong with being selfish. Every man should live for his own sake. I also believe that individual effort matters, that it can make a difference. Not enough to stick my neck out though.

The book is divided into three sections, Non-Contradiction, Either-Or and A Is A [I guess as tribute to Aristotle]. Throughout the first section, we keep hearing the question, "Who is John Galt?". Now this John Galt whom you get to know later on is an incredible character. He is the one who decides to stop the motor of the world, and does so. Read the book, and you'll understand.

There are only two things I don't like about this book. It's a showcase for Objectivism, so the characters are in Black & White. There is no middle ground according to Rand, you are either one of the producers, or one of the looters. There can be no compromises. Which is all good for a book, or for a philosophy for that matter. But real people like us can't live that way. We can try though.

And the other problem I have is the speeches. There is one particular instance where John Galt gives a 3 hour long speech, where Rand basically repeats all the points we have realised already through the book. It's overkill.

Apart from that, this is a great book. I can't explain much of it well, so instead read another quote:

"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 the effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders - what would you tell him to do?"
"I...don't know. What... could he do? What would you tell him?"
"To shrug."

No comments: