Skip to comments.Our First FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged
Posted on 01/15/2009 10:32:08 AM PST by Publius
Over the past few weeks, Ayn Rands classic, Atlas Shrugged, has been mentioned in articles in the Wall Street Journal and among conservative and libertarian bloggers. Two questions are being debated by those who have read the book.
Besides those who have read the book, there are FReepers with little awareness of Rand and her work. Some are turned off by the length of her works of fiction. Some of a more religious bent have problems with Rands atheism. Some wish she had left the few sex scenes out. Some just think shes a bad writer.
I would like to propose our first FReeper Book Club effort: A chance for a group of us to read Atlas Shrugged together, both old hands and newcomers to the book. Once this effort settles in, I or others might want to start FReeper Book Clubs dedicated to Forrest McDonalds States Rights and the Union, or Alexis de Toquevilles Democracy in America. I like the idea of an interleaved reading of both the Federalist Papers and Anti-Federalist Papers together in strict chronological order so as to see the point and counterpoint of the debate over the Constitution. Ive picked Atlas Shrugged for starters because its a hot topic and its fun. Once we get into the habit of reading and discussing together, we can tackle the heavier stuff.
The book is divided into 30 chapters. I propose to post a thread on one chapter every Saturday, which would make 30 threads over a period of 30 weeks to cover the entire book. Ill provide a short synopsis of the chapter, expound on certain themes and raise questions to stimulate debate. If FReeper Book Club members feel that a faster pace is better, we can settle on one.
Atlas and Me
I came to Atlas Shrugged via the usual method: I read it in high school. The bully who sat behind me and enjoyed pounding me at the Catholic prep school I attended in New Jersey exposed me to the book by hitting me on the head with it. Its weight made an immediate impression. Our sophomore English teacher was not teaching the book, and he suggested that the bully pound me with something of lesser weight, such as The Red Badge of Courage.
The English teacher panned the book, stating that it was the kind of book an immature person might enjoy, but a mature adult with experience of the world could not take Rand seriously. The solutions proposed by Atlas Shrugged were not realistic.
The vice principal, a priest from Brooklyn who believed in FDR, JFK, LBJ and God, in that order, excoriated Rand for writing an anti-Christian epic and broadly hinted that the bully was sinning by reading it. Better to hit someone over the head with it. The solutions proposed by Atlas Shrugged were evil.
I read the book anyway.
The Strange World of Atlas Shrugged
Rands book was written between 1945 and 1956 and published in 1957. During the postwar years, America saw massive changes in society and technology, and the shape of world politics shifted mightily. None of this is reflected in the book. Some of the differences between Rands world and our own are rather egregious and require comment.
The easiest way to explain these anomalies is to say that Rand lacked the scientific background to project technological change and simply dealt with the technology of her era while projecting political change. But then how did she project the use of ultrasound for Project Xylophone and the holographic projection that protected Galts Gulch? There is a strange mix of the old and the new. What marks a total departure from our reality is the change in politics and in the American character.
One can accept all this as artists license, but I tried to come up with my own logic for how Rands America came to this pass.
Alternative History: Trying the Harry Turtledove Approach
If one wanted to create an alternative history for the universe of Atlas Shrugged, one could start with the 4-way election of 1948. In this alternative history, Henry Wallace won the race, defeating Truman, Dewey and Thurmond, establishing a Labor government on the British model in America. The warning voices of Martin Dies, John Bricker, Joseph McCarthy and Richard Nixon were stilled.
Wallace wanted no cold war with the Soviets, and with the quick withdrawal of American forces from Europe, Germany was reunified under a communist Peoples State government. The Soviet Union, now the Peoples State of Russia, never geared up for war, settling instead for passive mediocrity. Britain never rejected Clement Atlee, and with the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of a written constitution on the German model, the Peoples State of England replaced the United Kingdom. In France, De Gaulle never came to power, and the Fourth Republic morphed into the Peoples State of France.
In the Western Hemisphere, figures similar to Fidel Castro established the Peoples State of Mexico and other communist countries in Central and South America.
America did not go all the way to Peoples State status, however, although intellectuals worked hard toward that end. Instead, America became a gray, downtrodden country accepting an atmosphere of sad decay, much like England today. Americans accepted that things were hopeless and that nothing could be done. Feelings replaced facts. The very nature of reality was questioned.
It took only a decade of economic stasis, misguided politics and cultural pollution to create the hell described by Rand.
Some Thoughts on the Movie
A scriptwriter would have a hard time shrinking the story to fill a two or three hour time slot even if all the long speeches were eliminated. A miniseries for television would have served the book better.
This effort would be a production designers dream. I would point to John Vallone, who handled production design for Walter Hills 1984 classic, Streets of Fire. Vallone created a fascinating mix of Fifties and Eighties that had no parallel in real time. Something in the same vein would make the movie memorable, rather than setting it in the present or a future that looks like the present.
Lets Get Started
I will build a ping list for our FReeper Book Club, so sign in on this thread. Ill use the keyword freeperbookclub to mark these threads as they are posted.
Welcome to our first effort. Prepare to read and discuss.
I believe she owns major control of it - she 'identifies' with Dagny...
the producers, I understand, are working off a draft written by Randall Wallace, who wrote the script forBraveheart, which gives me a glimmer of hope.
According to a report in, of all places, The New Individualist
"Jolie is a longtime fan of Rand -America's most controversial individualist - so her enthusiasm for playing the female lead of Dagny Taggart, the intelligent and powerful executive of a railroad empire, is not surprising. "
In the link below is an interesting question answer: "SP: What other actors, if any, have committed to the project?
Aglialoro: We have had discussions with Russell Crowe to play the part of Hank Rearden....
SP: Who is John Galt?
Aglialoro: Hell probably be played by an unknown..."
I think that's a good idea - then the audience's take on Galt won't be overridden by who the actor is, as it might be if Pitt played the role.
Originally, it was due out last spring - then it was to be 3 part mini-series this spring. Now, according to this article, it's back a 2 1/2 hour movie for the fall.
The condensing that will squish this into 2 1/2 hours is worrisome. What writer has that sharp an instrument?
We can only wait and see - and wait, and wait.
I have been 'waiting' for 50 years...
I read it back in college early seventies... I’ll try to find a copy in my storage area to participate. Add me to the list...
not exactly what i had in mind
I used to have two; one to loan out (last loan-out never came back, obviously) and the other one my college kid took with to school. A group of them did the same thing as you have planned here, but their discussion was on a face-to-face basis. Smart kids, state college, not a blue state.
Are you in?
I’m in. Can you give me some cliff notes what’s going on in this thread so far? I really don’t feel like going through all 200+ posts. Thanks broski
Add me, too. Thanks.
Most of the posts are just people checking, and a few are comparing notes. Wait for my posting of the thread for Chapter 1 on Saturday.
Thanks for the ping Tanniker! Publius, can you add me to your ping list? I just read the book over Christmas vacation and would love to discuss it.
By the way, I think many people are reading it. All of the copies in our library system were checked out when I went looking for it.
Could you add me to the ping list for Atlas Shrugged. I’m about 1/3 through it now. Thanks
I read it in High School, too. ping me about this.
Was a democrat later in high school, but “converted” to Libertarian shortly thereafter. I think Ayn Rand’s work helped in that transition.
Good intro and background analysis. I need to get a new copy, but ping me to the thread, please.
Never wanted to be in a book club - until now.
I’ve been picking away slowly at Atlas over the past few months.
Awesome! Thanks so much for doing this!
” as we can see with the nomination of the guy for Secretary of the Treasury who didnt pay his taxes. And the leftists are saying its no big deal. Talk about not being laden with guilt - or conscience.”
And what is funny is that the part that supposedly thinks gays are wonderful - what do they do to a guy who taps his toes in the bathroom? Or a guy who sends a text to another adult male? (Foley)
Well - they get crucified of course.
” her villains are drawn so perfectly it’s almost painful to read them and a newspaper too close together.”
That’s what I’m enjoying most about the book.
She sure nails down the liberal shtick solid doesn’t she?
Add me to the ping list please.
I’ve read it a dozen or so times starting in 76, I take it along on extended business trips.
I’ve got one coming up in Feb. time to start it again.
Awesome. Add me to the ping list, please.
Please add me to your list.
Good luck with this, Pub.
I am in. ping me. I just bought the book a few weeks ago and it would be motivational to keep plodding through it. I have made it through maybe two fiction books in my adult life.
Please keep me on your ping list. Great idea.
Great idea. Please add me to the list.
Hi I would love to join and will take my copy of Atlas Shrugged off the shelf and immediately start reading. We are overlapping soccer and softball with spring football to start soon so I will be sitting at alot of practices and will read on the sidelines. (I do watch the games.)
I also would recommend dailylit.com. It is a service which will email up to three installments of books each day. It’s a great way for a busy person to read in small bits. Alas Atlas Shrugged is not offered but Democracy in America is, along with other great classics. DailyLit.com is free.
I had never heard of this site. What a great resource!
It's ideas like that from people like you that make Free Republic such a great place to spend time.
Thank you again
Sure, add me too the ping list. This is my second attempt at reading Atlas Shrugged. I tried 20 years ago, but had an attention span of a fruit fly so I never finished it. I started reading it a week ago. I’m on page 100. I like it, alot, though I haven’t figured out why yet.
Thanks for the chuckle!
I just got done reading a sex scene and that spoof is spot on!
“Nah. I would be counted among the apostates.”
apostates can be fun too!
Indeed I am.
I wanna play!!!
I just bought the Ten Big Lies About America by Michael Medved. It's a great read so far.
Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell.
I refuse to lie down and submit. I’d rather fight and die.
And listen to this while I slay. :)
I love this idea, please add me to the list.
Also, any hope of creating a “real, live” King County book club? I’d love to join that, given that I’m concerned about the quality of discourse in an o-line bookclub. I’d love to get together with real humans once in a while to discuss political books.
Please add me to your ping list.
(In case anybody’s interested.)
Please add me, Publius.
I very much like the idea of the Federalist/Anti-Federalist chronological readings, too.
What was funny about that is that those speeches were actually engrossing to me. Such long-winded passages would normally be a prescription to put me right off the book, but somehow, they were quite interesting in this case.
Glad to help. It is a great service.
Add me to this ping list, please.
Please, Add me to the ping list
Please add me to the Ping list. I have read it 3 times and learn something new each time.
I will think about it, but I just bought Thomas Sowell’s, “Applied Economics,” and also I have some philosophical differences with Rand.
Thanks for this post. I’m currently reading the book for an upcoming discussion group.
Would you like to join this group?
We haven't met for about a year. It's difficult to get people to clear their calendars and agree on a date, and there are a large number of FReepers in the region who don't care to join up and meet other FReepers.
Creating a King County FReeper Book Club would be just as difficult. That is why I decided to take a shot at an on-line club at FR. If you want to take a shot at founding a book club here, go for it. I didn't take on the challenge of an on-line book club until enough people indicated they didn't have the time or energy to do it, and it was going to be myself or nobody.
Add me to the list!
I have read it twice, and look forward to reading it again!
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