Atlas Shrugged may be the worst famous book I’ve ever read. It’s about a thousand pages; cut it in half and it would still be too long. I read it about 15 years ago, when I had more energy. I would go to the Y and get on a stair-climber and sweat through two or three chapters a day. At the time, I was on a project to read all of the books deemed Really Influential.
Ayn Rand’s thesis is that smart, energetic people shouldn’t have to support stupid, lazy ones. I suppose I agree in principle. Except that the spectrum of humanity – between, say, Steve Jobs and Snooki – is vast and nuanced. There is no clear line between those who deserve and those who don’t. Most of the evil in the world derives from people who try to draw the line anyway. When people criticize the book, it is not usually because they sympathize with the looters and parasites portrayed by Rand, but because they recognize the immorality of consigning most of humanity to that particular dumpster.
For me, though, it’s just a bad book: thin characters, leaden dialog and vast sections where Rand hustles her players off stage to she can come on and deliver endless soliloquys. When I noticed recently that Atlas Shrugged is now a movie, I thought that here might be an opportunity to distill the essence of her story into something more engaging. After all, the premise – management going on strike instead of labor – is interesting enough to have kept the book in print all these years later.
But it turns out that this film version of Atlas Shrugged will be a trilogy, with the final installment due in 2013. In other words, it doesn’t seem likely that the story will be much streamlined. If you thought the last of the Lord of the Rings movies took forever to wrap up, wait until you get to part III of Atlas Shrugged. You’ll probably want to pack a thermos and a sleeping bag.
It’s funny that Atlas Shrugged has become the manifesto of the Tea Party movement. First because I doubt many of them of have actually read it, and second because Rand’s captains of industry, sturdy geniuses accumulating wealth through steel mills and railroads, now seem so quaint. These days our best and brightest tinker not with steel alloys but with social media, and new ways to extract ad clicks from the hoi polloi. Either that or they trade securities. Talk about your parasites.