Mathieu Duchesneau and the Horrors of Missing Capitalists! Book Review of Atlas Shrugged

by Josh Hanagarne on October 31, 2011

atlas-shrugged

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

 By Mathieu Duchesneau

Are you a looter or a producer?

I am not an extremist by any measure. As it happens, I am what you could call an anti-ism..ist. Or something. You might say that this is a form of extremism, but please bear with me for the moment and continue reading.

The point is, I don’t tend to like labels. Left-wing, Right-wing, Feminist, Conservative, Pro-Choice, whatever… I don’t give much worth to these shenanigans. I like what I like, I believe what I believe, and I use my own brains and common sense to figure my opinions out. Solely as an example, I have voted at least once for all of the major political parties in my country, in not even 10 years of voting.

Now that the first possible retort is already answered, let me state this: AtlasShrugged, written by Ayn Rand, is one of the best books I have read in my life. Exactly where it ranks is irrelevant, but it’s among the top.

I do not like it because of its particular writing style. I do not like it specifically because of its story, although I did find it very enjoyable. I will critic the form of this book in many ways, and I shall also discuss its content.

Let’s get the form critic out of the way. Here is what I liked:

  • It presents and debates a whole philosophical idea in the form of a very enjoyable fictional story;
  • It is quite easy to become attached to the characters, and to relate most of them to real life;
  • The story is documented and well-developed; it feels plausible and sometimes real;
  • It is clearly written; the ideas and storyline are easy to understand and imagine;
  • I don’t know how they did it, but there is a pocketbook version

Here is what I didn’t like:

  • It’s a brick. A very large brick. One of those that took me the longest to get through, and it’s not my first.
  • Most of the idea’s essentials are quite well understood after the first third (1/3). Following that, much repetition is encountered. It can become annoying at times.
  • Its size makes it difficult to recommend or to be accessible to a larger population. I think only seasoned readers will be able / have the discipline to get through this one.
  • Many statements, phrases, sentences and descriptions could have been pulled off in a much more concise fashion and still retain all the intended spirit. This of course didn’t help the previous items.
  • The pocketbook version is merely a small brick instead of a big brick.

Now let’s get serious. What I observe most people like OR don’t like about this book is its philosophical views. I also observed that they attach this very much to their political views.

This puzzles me. Do they get the point? Do I? Maybe not, but let me share my view.

Of all the books I have read, this is the first one I can remember that (has the balls to) challenges the idea of altruism. And when I say challenge, I mean that it actually depicts the whole idea of altruism as a crime against humanity.

Now that I can see you all violently react to this statement, let me ask you the following: In all, true honesty that implies no accountability to anyone, did you ever really do just one thing for which you expected (or which brought you) absolutely no value in return and (for the sake of simplicity) wasn’t part of your responsibilities (i.e. children, etc)?

Really?

I didn’t think so. If you answered otherwise, I believe you are either lying to yourself or didn’t think of value with a wide enough perspective. I also believe reading that book has a good chance to give you that perspective.

Now that doesn’t mean you never posed any action, or gave anything, without receiving proper value in return. Or the other way around. There is in fact a great chance either or both happened at some point. How did these exchanges make you feel? Did you ultimately come off better or worse? How about the other party? How about the world as a whole?

Hint: There is no neutral answer. Every action you pose comes with an appropriate reaction, be it visible or subtle. In the end of your days, it is a very likely possibility that you’ll either be an ultimate profiteer (received more than you produced; in the book this type is call a looter) or an ultimate producer (produced more than you received).

Now let’s think of a scenario: what if there became an imbalance between what the ultimate producers provided, and what the ultimate profiteers received? What if there were to be a significantly larger amount of profiteers in society, than there would be producers?

That is exactly the world Ayn Rand has imagined in Atlas Shrugged. I think it important to consider the question, as it is very much part of the GreatTreeofPossibilities. In a smaller, closer scale, it is also no small matter to consider where we lead our lives, and the world, with our actions.

As much as I wholeheartedly agreed with many statements in the book, I also found instant refute for many others. Some of them were clarified and better understood later through, but others I still disagree. That is, I think, a normal and necessary process for any critically-thinking human being.

The fact that I don’t agree with all of it doesn’t make it any less of an awesome reading. I will also add that throughout this positively massive brick, if you find value to any of the statements, you will feel an urge to significantly increase your own productivity. I confess it definitely had that effect on mine.

 About the author

 Learn more about Mat at Mat’s Challenge.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Spencer November 1, 2011 at 9:43 am

I have attempted both this and The Fountainhead, a brick in its own right, numerous times. I feel like I “get” it, but could not love the story as you did. Maybe I am undisciplined, but at times it got too pedantic/redundant for me. When reading starts to feel like a chore, I turn to other stuff. But she definitely raises some interesting ideas.

I agree with your general premise that very few things are done with pure altruism at heart. Whether you are approaching it as a favor for a favor, just trying to make yourself look good, or racking up points in heaven, our motivations are very rarely, and maybe never, purely altruistic.

Reply

Mathieu D November 1, 2011 at 9:12 pm

I wholeheartedly understand your reluctance. For me to finish it, I think it was more sort of an ego thing :P The first third of the book was a whole plot in and of itself.

Thanks for the good words ;)

Reply

Spencer November 2, 2011 at 8:10 am

I have finished worse books, and have an ego myself. Perhaps it’s time to try again…

Reply

Casey B November 1, 2011 at 10:02 am

If you love this book, it’s likely you love the message. I have dipped into it and I did not find it beautifully written or the characters fully realized. I will admit that I didn’t have the stomach to take on the whole thing. But I have trouble believing that the passages I read weren’t representative of the whole.

Reply

Josh Hanagarne November 1, 2011 at 10:08 am

Casey, for most people I talk to who don’t want to read the whole thing, but want to know what it’s about, I say “read Anthem.” It’s basically Atlas Shrugged in 900 fewer pages.

Yes, that’s simplistic, but Anthem’s a pretty good Cliff’s Notes version of Ayn Rand.

Reply

Mathieu D November 1, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Casey, yes I agree that the value of this book lies in the message, not the form. I don’t think that the characters not being fully realized can be either a weak or strong point, though; I think this is more of a “design decision” dependent on the context of the book.

@Josh- Good to know. I’ll know what advice to give if it happens :P

Reply

cinderkeys November 3, 2011 at 12:52 am

I enjoyed Atlas Shrugged. I also disagreed with a lot of it. Her looters, while doing considerable harm to society, are not altruists. They only pretend to do altruistic deeds, and sometimes they don’t even pretend. They are in it for themselves.

The producers are superior to the looters not because they are selfish, but because what makes them fulfilled and happy also benefits society. Their selfishness is more virtuous than the looters’ selfishness.

Reply

Mathieu D November 3, 2011 at 4:15 am

That is an interesting way to put it.

We would have to define “virtue” to really establish your point, I think, but you raise a good question in that, initially, who were the actual altruists in the story?

However, I think necessarily a “producer” will make something which someone else will need/enjoy. Otherwise, how could they be a producer?

Merely disposing of amounts of money is not being a producer, just as not having money doesn’t instantly make one a looter. But those who actually produce and make money, likely do because they do provide a benefit to others, otherwise why would people be spending for it? Their payback would be money, like it could be some other form.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: