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I had a wonderful high school English teacher without whom my success in college would have been unthinkable. She often talked about the books she most enjoyed. The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged were on the list. As were the works of James Michener. So I read The Source, in which I learned what "B.C.E." meant; contrary to the yahoos of today the abbreviation is old and is not part of a conspiracy. Next came The Drifters, Kent State (moving, but Neil Young was more memorable), and Centennial, and that was enough of that. I did get through The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged as a college freshman. And then some of Ms. Rand's "philosophy." None of this hurt, but it is disconcerting that people ever took Ayn Rand seriously past the mental age of 19. Maybe that is the problem? Mrs. Parker from the 11th grade? I take her seriously to this day.


I think people *should* read Atlas Shrugged when they are young. It can have the desirable effect of jolting something awake. The age of nineteen is just about perfect. The title is one of the most brilliant, pithy images in the history of book titles (is it her invention?). But I am flabbergasted when people of intelligence and character and experience fail to figure out--quickly and easily--its logical fallacies, or decide that it expresses a philosophy to live by. At that point, it morphs into a force for evil.

I've been thinking of re-reading A Tale of Two Cities. Your post has made me certain that I will, as an antidote to all the people reading Ayn Rand.

In the meantime, here is a passage I shared with a friend yesterday. This is from the first five or so pages of fiction George Eliot wrote. She was nearly forty when she picked up a pen and tried her hand at fiction, and here's what came out:

Reader! Did you ever taste such a cup of tea as Miss Gibbs is this moment handing to Mr. Pilgrim? Do you know the dulcet strength, the animating blandness of tea sufficiently blended with real farmhouse cream? No – most likely you are a miserable town-bred reader, who thinks of cream as a thinnish white fluid, delivered in infinitesimal pennyworths down area steps; or perhaps, from a presentiment of calves’ brains, you refrain from any lacteal addition, and rasp your tongue with unmitigated bohea. You have a vague idea of a milch cow as probably a white-plaster animal standing in a butterman’s window, and you know nothing of the sweet history of genuine cream, such as Miss Gibbs’s: how it was this morning in the udders of the large sleek beasts, as they stood lowing a patient entreaty under the milking-shed; how it fell with a pleasant rhythm into Betty’s pail, sending a delicious incense into the cool air; how it was carried into that temple of moist cleanliness, the dairy, where it quietly separated itself from the meaner elements of milk, and lay in mellowed whiteness, ready for the skimming-dish which transferred it to Miss Gibbs’s glass cream-jug. If I am right in my conjecture, you are unacquainted with the highest possibilities of tea; and Mr. Pilgrim, who is holding that cup in his hand, has an idea beyond you.

Dave MB

DeborahT, that is an amazing passage, thank you!

I agree that Atlas Shrugged is both evil and badly written, but I have a little more fondness in my heart for The Fountainhead as a specimen of 20th-century pulp fiction on a par with Lydia Bailey by Kenneth Roberts, which I'm in the middle of now. The Fountainhead has an actual character in it, Howard Roark -- IIRC Rand said at one point that she wrote the novel to present Roark "as an end in himself" -- and he is located within something like the real world. (The characters and situations of Atlas Shrugged, on the other hand, live nowhere outside of Rand's own brain.)

My favorite novels, like Middlemarch or Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy, do two jobs at once -- they tell me a story I care about, about characters I care about, and present a holistic view of either my real world, some historical real world, or some imagined world that (unlike Rand's bizarre "future USA") is worth presenting as an end in itself.


Perhaps what inoculated me against Rand was having read Crime and Punishment first. I've never understood how anyone could still believe it was important or good once they had realized that even if they thought they were smarter and more competent than everybody else, that didn't mean they got to do whatever they wanted.

Scott Edwards

I am of the mind that, any mention of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged", should be followed by "Atlas Shrugged 2" by Bob the Angry Flower.


I would add to Sherri's comment: even if they thought they were smarter and more competent than everybody else, there remains the possibility that they are wrong about that. I've never thought utter confidence was a virtue.

Lance Logic

PROGRESSIVE 1: "We're running low on Golden Geese to wring to death!"

PROGRESSIVE 2:"That's okay, I'll just grab a few more from the-- What? When? Where'd they go?"

You guys are funny. You're like atheists who are so sure of your intellectual superiority, but when cornered by a Dinesh D'Souza (or Ayn Rand) all you can do is roll your eyes Nancy Derringer-style and cluck your tongue.

Rand's philosophy is wrong because... It... wasn't Dostoevsky's philosophy? Ah. Brilliant. Got it.

Keep the product of your work efforts and stop hobbling the real producers and contributors to our society? Yeah. Lunatic thinking.

So why does the Progressive movement continue to take the ass whuppin it is taking now in the face of debating prowess like that?

Eye roll. Tongue cluck.

(Part of me IS surprised you guys don't like Ayn Rand more. She grew up on Stalinist Russia. I figure you'd be envious of that aspect of her life, being as you're trying so hard to recreate it now.)

minstrel hussain boy

my college critique of "atlas shrugged" consisted of one sentence.

"i shrugged myself, this book gives banality a bad name."

Lance Mannion

Lance Logic,

1. You're doing a variation on the "You commies should move to Russia if you don't like it here" routine, which marks you as old, which is ok, I'm old too. But just saying.

2. I didn't say Rand is wrong because she doesn't agree with Dostoevsky. I said there's a big flaw in her thinking because she failed to imagine how appealing her philosophy would be to little pricks like Raskolnikov who imagine themselves to be John Galts and Howard Roarks.

3. There's a reason I included both the extended quotes from John Scalzi's post and the links.

4. Do you ever really read any of my posts or do you just drop by because it's a convenient forum for you to draw your liberals as commies cartoons?


Keep the product of your work efforts and stop hobbling the real producers and contributors to our society?

Take then thy bond, take thou thy pound of flesh;
But, in the cutting it, if thou dost shed
One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods
Are, by the laws of Venice, confiscate
Unto the state of Venice.


Lance, you've been excerpted in the Washington Times of all places. Congratu...lations?


There's an interview I read where someone listed Rand and Dostoevsky as two of his favorite authors. He liked Rand for the individualism theme, and rejected or glossed over almost everything else. I know Rand fans who like her for the same reason. The thing is, so many other (and I'd say better) works have individualistic, be-true-to-yourself themes as well, and most high schools will cover a few of them. Still, if someone gets such and such value from this or that work, that's fine. Both you and Scalzi capture that spirit.

The kicker is with all these glibertarian wankers who take Rand seriously as a brilliant philosopher, and never recognize or admit that her ideology doesn't work outside of her rigged-demo novels. They never note that "obvious flaw."

The Dostoevsky comparison is apt, because Rand trashed him, probably because Crime and Punishment rebutted her entire ideology before she even wrote it. And Dostoevsky remains a far better writer, in terms of prose, of plot, and certainly when it come to psychological depth. Rand's style is reminiscent of bad Soviet agitprop, just with the ideology flipped, more ponderous prose and less choral singing.

I haven't read Crime and Punishment in several years, but it's one of my favorite novels. Raskolnikov is obviously self-absorbed, callous and rationalizing at the start, but he does have a conscience, and he does change significantly. Without Porfiry and more importantly, Sonya, he might not have done so.

A Shakespeare prof of mine observed that the Bard's tragedies are typically centered on individuals, whereas the comedies are more about communities and relationships. (Slightly OT – Check out the excellent Macbeth with Patrick Stewart that PBS aired this week. If you missed it, it'll be online later on.) Rand rejected such human connections in her writings and interviews, and really any notion of generalized reciprocity or human kindness or whatever you want to call it. She's like the propagandist press secretary for the pre-conversion Scrooge. And the personal life depicted in The Passion of Ayn Rand is pretty twisted. Raskolnikov tried to reject those ties as well, but found he couldn't – in part because he's shown a grace and forgiveness he might not really deserve. As is Valjean. As is the Count in The Marriage of Figaro.

That's one path. There are others. Kent's description of Oswald in King Lear sorta applies:

Such smiling rogues as these
Like rats oft bite the holy cords atwain
Which are too intrinse t’unloose; smooth every passion
That in the natures of their lords rebel,
Being oil to fire, snow to the colder moods;
Renege, affirm, and turn their halcyon beaks
With every gale and vary of their masters,
Knowing naught, like dogs, but following.


Hey Batocchio, evidently we're neighbors. Click on my ad at the top left corner of this blog.

Mike Schilling

One happy fall, when I was nineteen and a sophomore in college, a girl I was madly in lust with let it be known that her favorite book in the world was The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. So I read it.

Me too, except I was 20 and a senior. Good times, good times.

Chris G.

I am absolutely certain that no one in the history of ever has ever been cornered by Dinesh D'Souza.

Mike Schilling

I said there's a big flaw in her thinking because she failed to imagine how appealing her philosophy would be to little pricks like Raskolnikov who imagine themselves to be John Galts and Howard Roarks.

It is astounding how many people dream of living in Galt's Gulch when they really belong on the B Ark.


Cool, DeborahT! (And nice comment and quotation up above, btw.)

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