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Our First FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged
A Publius Essay | 15 January 2009 | Publius

Posted on 01/15/2009 10:32:08 AM PST by Publius

Over the past few weeks, Ayn Rand’s 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.

  1. Are we living in a time line that follows the book?
  2. What chapter are we in?

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 Rand’s atheism. Some wish she had left the few sex scenes out. Some just think she’s 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 McDonald’s States’ Rights and the Union, or Alexis de Toqueville’s 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. I’ve picked Atlas Shrugged for starters because it’s a hot topic and it’s 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. I’ll 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

Rand’s 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 Rand’s 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 Galt’s 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 artist’s license, but I tried to come up with my own logic for how Rand’s 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 People’s State government. The Soviet Union, now the People’s 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 People’s State of England replaced the United Kingdom. In France, De Gaulle never came to power, and the Fourth Republic morphed into the People’s State of France.

In the Western Hemisphere, figures similar to Fidel Castro established the People’s State of Mexico and other communist countries in Central and South America.

America did not go all the way to People’s 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 designer’s dream. I would point to John Vallone, who handled production design for Walter Hill’s 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.

Let’s Get Started

I will build a ping list for our FReeper Book Club, so sign in on this thread. I’ll use the keyword “freeperbookclub” to mark these threads as they are posted.

Welcome to our first effort. Prepare to read and discuss.


TOPICS: Announcements; Culture/Society; Free Republic; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: atlasshrugged; aynrand; bookreview; fiction; freeperbookclub; goodreads; literature; rand; readinglist
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1 posted on 01/15/2009 10:32:09 AM PST by Publius
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To: CSM; Savagemom

You have already pre-registered. Thanks for encouraging me.


2 posted on 01/15/2009 10:33:01 AM PST by Publius (The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.)
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To: Noumenon; Billthedrill; definitelynotaliberal

Ping. Interested in participating?


3 posted on 01/15/2009 10:33:49 AM PST by Publius (The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.)
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To: Jim Robinson

As promised, here it is.


4 posted on 01/15/2009 10:34:15 AM PST by Publius (The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.)
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To: Publius

Well I am reading it now so I guess I would like some discussion on the book so could you add me

RB<><


5 posted on 01/15/2009 10:37:21 AM PST by Rightly Biased (Gentlemen, please. Rest your sphincters.)
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To: Publius
Ping list bump.


Thanks

6 posted on 01/15/2009 10:37:38 AM PST by G.Mason (If you surrender your right to own a gun, you surrender your right to your life)
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To: Publius

This is great....I’ll follow the thread ..... but I won’t read it again....once (when I was in my early 30’s) was enough....too many books....too little time right now. But, everyone should read it ONCE!


7 posted on 01/15/2009 10:38:18 AM PST by goodnesswins (Tell the truth - GOEBBELIZATION (propaganda) is what many voters suffer from.....)
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To: Publius

Ping me please. I’ve been dying to read it.


8 posted on 01/15/2009 10:38:39 AM PST by HelloooClareece ("We make war that we may live in peace". Aristotle)
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To: Publius

I readed a book onest. Sign me up.


9 posted on 01/15/2009 10:39:12 AM PST by MARTIAL MONK
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To: Publius

Please add me to this ping list.


10 posted on 01/15/2009 10:41:19 AM PST by libertarian27 (Land of the Fee, Home of the Shamed)
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To: Publius
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.

Ouch. Too close to today's reality.

11 posted on 01/15/2009 10:41:19 AM PST by GOP_Party_Animal
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To: Publius

I’d like to join. I chew threw 2-4 conservative/political books a month.

In my Christian high school, we weren’t permitted to read Atlas Shrugged because of Rand’s atheism. I’ve read parts later in life, and would enjoy a discussion.


12 posted on 01/15/2009 10:41:19 AM PST by AmericanGirlRising (Buying carbon credits will not get me into Heaven. I am second - http://iamsecond.com/#/home/)
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To: Publius
Was talking only today to a coworker about Atlas Shrugged.

Unfortunately, Ayn Rand is unknown here in Germany - even among intellectuals.

I've got to get me a copy and reread it - it's been twenty-five years. Suppose that I'll have to order it online, since I want it in the original.

Regards,

13 posted on 01/15/2009 10:41:43 AM PST by alexander_busek
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To: Publius
It should be stated that most mere mortals are unable to finish the final speech.
14 posted on 01/15/2009 10:44:35 AM PST by Mark was here (The earth is bipolar.)
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To: alexander_busek

add me to ping list please.


15 posted on 01/15/2009 10:47:40 AM PST by Mmogamer (<This space for lease>)
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To: Publius

Please include me.


16 posted on 01/15/2009 10:47:54 AM PST by COUNTrecount (http://obamaclock.org/)
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To: Publius
I don't recall the chapter where John or Francisco curled up with a good book.

Education is necessary.. everyone should read Rand, but the decades of opportunity to teach are gone. We aren't in an age of the mind, right now. Force will decide the future, not words.


17 posted on 01/15/2009 10:50:02 AM PST by I see my hands (_8(|)
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To: AmericanGirlRising
I chew threw 2-4 conservative/political books a month.

Well then, I recommend Humberto Fontova's book on Che Guevara and Jonah Goldberg's "Liberal Fascism".
18 posted on 01/15/2009 10:50:40 AM PST by Army Air Corps (Four fried chickens and a coke)
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To: Publius
Please sign me up. I have read it several times and hope to read it several more. I love the "throw back" quality, the timelessness of it. Since it is a story about human nature, the absence gadgets and technology that have come along since the book were written don't have any impact on the heart of the story for me.

I believe we are still early in this book. Once Zero is sworn in, the Looters will have "their man in Washington" and things will really begin to crumble.
19 posted on 01/15/2009 10:52:22 AM PST by The Louiswu (Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!)
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To: Publius

Well, I know that I often feel like Eddie, wondering what in the world is going on, and what’s wrong with these people.

One thing that I will say... I think that Ayn Rand must be spinning in her grave, because it’s the leftists that have completely mastered the revelation that Frisco revealed to Hank Reardon: The leftists have rejected the entire concept of guilt, to the point that they no longer have even the slightest bit of conscience, as we can see with the nomination of the guy for Secretary of the Treasury who didn’t pay his taxes. And the leftists are saying “it’s no big deal.” Talk about not being laden with guilt - or conscience.

Mark


20 posted on 01/15/2009 10:52:34 AM PST by MarkL (Do I really look like a guy with a plan?)
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To: Mark was here
The first time I read John Galt's three hour radio address, it gave me a headache.

The second time I skipped it, then went back to it, taking it apart line by line.

The last time I read it, I just skimmed it.

Do you want to join, or do you want to skip this effort?

21 posted on 01/15/2009 10:52:38 AM PST by Publius (The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.)
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This morning on my way to work, I saw an SUV with a bumper sticker that said, “Who is John Galt?”

Mark


22 posted on 01/15/2009 10:54:31 AM PST by MarkL (Do I really look like a guy with a plan?)
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To: Publius; 506trooper; aberaussie; Alberta's Child; AQGeiger; arbee4bush; Ax; Brasil; Burn24; ...

ahhh .... Book Club Ping...


23 posted on 01/15/2009 10:54:37 AM PST by Tanniker Smith (Teachers open the door. It's up to you to enter. Before the late bell. When I close the door.)
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To: Publius

Wooo Hooo! Thanks.


24 posted on 01/15/2009 10:54:52 AM PST by CSM (I’m jubilant! Now that the Dems are completely in charge, we can FINALLY blame THEM for everything!)
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To: I see my hands

Mega ditto’s!


25 posted on 01/15/2009 10:54:55 AM PST by devistate one four (Impatiently waiting for the next tea party! Tet '68)
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To: Publius

The only book I have re-read multiple times. The only thing that breaks my heart is that Ms. Rand was an atheist. I would have found her company engaging forever. Fountainhead was good, but not Atlas Shrugged. We The Living was so horribly sad, I couldn’t take it.


26 posted on 01/15/2009 10:55:08 AM PST by Constitutions Grandchild
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To: Publius

Please sign me up. Thanks


27 posted on 01/15/2009 10:55:23 AM PST by Bluebird Singing
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To: Army Air Corps

I’ll check out Fontova on Che Guevara.

Proud owner of Liberal Fascism. Thought he could have been stronger with his closing case than basically “we’re all fascists.” That close made an apology for liberal behavior. On a funny note, I was reading that book next to Congressman John Lewis at the airport. I made sure he saw the cover. There was no doubt he knew what I was reading when I saw the look on his face. Goldberg could’ve devoted an entire chapter to the liberal fascist antics of John Lewis.


28 posted on 01/15/2009 10:55:28 AM PST by AmericanGirlRising (Buying carbon credits will not get me into Heaven. I am second - http://iamsecond.com/#/home/)
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To: I see my hands

Are you in?


29 posted on 01/15/2009 10:55:58 AM PST by Publius (The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.)
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To: Publius

Reading the novel for the first time ever right now. Please sign me up.


30 posted on 01/15/2009 10:56:03 AM PST by Carlucci
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To: Publius
Hey, sign me up for the ping list at least. Can't promise I'll re-re-re-read the thing chapter by chapter but I'd love to hear the comments.

The reason for the ideological hostility to the work is that Rand caricatured liberal platitudes and postures brilliantly - arguably the most potent thing about the book. Say what you will about it as a novel, and I've plenty to say and not all of it complimentary, her villains are drawn so perfectly it's almost painful to read them and a newspaper too close together.

And yes, a Streets Of Fire set would be perfect. An underrated flick, IMHO.

31 posted on 01/15/2009 10:56:13 AM PST by Billthedrill
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To: MarkL

Are you in?


32 posted on 01/15/2009 10:56:25 AM PST by Publius (The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.)
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To: Publius
I think one reason technology was stifled was the theme of the book. The government had made innovation impractical. Utilities were poorly maintained largely due to bureaucracy. There was a 'national crisis' that was never really explained.

FYI: Fountainhead was made into a movie years ago. Very similar story but in Atlas Rand's philosophy is more refined and the characters are a lot better. If ever there was a must-read, Atlas Shrugged is it.

33 posted on 01/15/2009 10:56:42 AM PST by bk1000 (A clear conscience is a sure sign of a poor memory)
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To: Publius

The film would become liberal crap


34 posted on 01/15/2009 10:56:44 AM PST by GeronL (A woodchuck would chuck as much wood as a woodchuck could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood)
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To: Constitutions Grandchild

Are you in?


35 posted on 01/15/2009 10:57:18 AM PST by Publius (The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.)
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To: AmericanGirlRising

After Liberal Fascism,

read Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom”.

It wasn’t written about the USA, but about Britain, pre-WWII, and their embracing of “central planning”. The concepts are, indeed, prescient.


36 posted on 01/15/2009 10:57:27 AM PST by MrB (The 0bamanation: Marxism, Infanticide, Appeasement, Depression, Thuggery, and Censorship)
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To: Publius

Don’t leave us hanging. What did you do to the bully?

I’m thinking about signing up.


37 posted on 01/15/2009 10:57:53 AM PST by shove_it (and have a nice day)
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To: Publius

we are in the preface when someone should be establishing a Galts Gulch .... so whats taking so long?


38 posted on 01/15/2009 10:57:55 AM PST by GeronL (A woodchuck would chuck as much wood as a woodchuck could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood)
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To: Publius

next selection:
http://www.rooseveltmyth.com/book/hbzfrm.htm


39 posted on 01/15/2009 10:58:05 AM PST by RaceBannon (We have sown the wind, but we will reap the whirlwind. NObama. Not my president.)
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To: Publius
Great reply. Ping me please :)

40 posted on 01/15/2009 10:58:19 AM PST by I see my hands (_8(|)
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To: Publius

Just started reading it for the first time. Please add me. Great idea.


41 posted on 01/15/2009 10:58:30 AM PST by w4women
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To: Carlucci

Hint, mark and skip the long winded soliloquies the first pass. Read the storyline, then go back and pick them up later when you have a bout of insomnia.


42 posted on 01/15/2009 10:58:38 AM PST by MrB (The 0bamanation: Marxism, Infanticide, Appeasement, Depression, Thuggery, and Censorship)
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To: bk1000

Are you in?


43 posted on 01/15/2009 10:59:34 AM PST by Publius (The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.)
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To: Publius

I’m reading it again for the third time. It is downright prophetic and covers all the issues that are occurring today; labor unions, government bailout of failing business, even banks loaning on “feelings” and “social progress” instead of financial gain. And, of course, the banks fail due to their bad loans. It’s long, and boring at times, but well worth the read. Each time I’ve read it I found a little bit more that correlates with what is happening in our country.


44 posted on 01/15/2009 10:59:36 AM PST by suthener
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To: AmericanGirlRising
There is a book out there somewhere called The Makers & The Takers... anyone ever read that?
45 posted on 01/15/2009 10:59:43 AM PST by GeronL (A woodchuck would chuck as much wood as a woodchuck could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood)
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To: Publius

I would like to be added to the ping list.

I read the book in my teens...and plan to buy it and read it again now.

I may not be able to contribute much discussion, but I am looking forward to reading the posts of you and the others.

Thank you for starting this thread.

I also like your picks for future “reads”.


46 posted on 01/15/2009 11:00:46 AM PST by Txsleuth
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To: Publius

Heck she has sex scenes in her novels? Well. Had I known this I would have picked her up much earlier—LOL.


47 posted on 01/15/2009 11:01:10 AM PST by GOP Poet
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To: AmericanGirlRising

I haven’t finished Liberal Fascism yet (I read it during my lunch hour and when I have time in the evening). I am also reading Robert Gellatley’s comapartive study of Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler.


48 posted on 01/15/2009 11:01:18 AM PST by Army Air Corps (Four fried chickens and a coke)
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To: suthener

Yes. Been meaning to reread myself for sometime now. Maybe now is the time.


49 posted on 01/15/2009 11:01:49 AM PST by GOP Poet
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To: Publius

In, please!


50 posted on 01/15/2009 11:01:49 AM PST by bk1000 (A clear conscience is a sure sign of a poor memory)
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