Ayn Rand once referred to her novel Atlas Shrugged as a mystery, “about the murder — and rebirth — of man’s spirit.” If so, it’s far and away the most plodding and preachy mystery you’ll ever read. It’s 1,200 pages long and the approximate weight of a Volkswagen. I burned as many calories just lugging this book from the parking lot as I did on the YMCA Stairmaster where I made myself read it over the course of a week.
Nevertheless, the book continues to sell well 50 years later. The New York Times revisits the tome in a weekend piece headlined “Ayn Rand’s literature of capitalism.” It will come as no surprise that the book’s biggest fans today are corporate executives, who like the part about naked self interest but overlook the part about inventing things of public value. Let’s just say Kenneth Lay was no John Galt.
As someone who experienced the Bolshevik revolution firsthand, Rand may be forgiven for her hatred of collectivism. She was unstinting in her contempt for parasitic mobs who preyed on the productivity of others. But all these years later, I wonder if the situation hasn’t been reversed. Aren’t today’s hedge-fund managers, and others of their ilk, the biggest parasites of all?
Bottom line: Atlas Shrugged was an important book in 1957, and remained so for a couple decades. Now, along with the socialist absurdities it railed against, it just seems hopelessly naive.