Like many Conservatives, my gateway drug into the ideas of conservatism (writ large) was the writing of Ayn Rand--first "The Fountainhead" and then "Atlas Shrugged". I have read each multiple times and listened to each in unabridged versions. I am more than halfway through another listening of "Atlas Shrugged" in preparation for the release of Part I of the movie version (April 15), and I have some thoughts to share that may spur conversation.
1. First of all, this is far and away the most important book I have ever read. The ideas contained in it are astoundingly important, even more so when you consider when the book was written and the early years of the author. After nearly two years of the Obama Administration, I find the ideas even more important, more clear, more meaningful--and I'm not alone as continuing blockbuster sales of the book will attest.
3. Ideas and story aside though, I am increasingly coming to decide that Rand is simply not a good writer. To paraphrase Emperor Joseph II's criticism ("too many notes, Mozart"), there are too many words in Rand's writing--especially in Atlas Shrugged. There is some of her literary bloviation in "The Fountainhead", but it reaches new heights in this book. I'm not even talking about Galt's sixty page oration toward the end, though that is forty-five pages too long. I'm talking about 90% of the book that does NOT occur as dialogue between the main characters. Rand spends agonizing time describing lit cigarettes, evening gowns, and the shape of people's mouths--and don't even get me started on her writing about sex. Or maybe you should. No one just HAS SEX in this book--it is always some kind of mystical union of gods intertwining in glorious, parallel attempts to reach some Olympian height of self satisfaction. Rand's use of stream of consciousness is overwrought and adds little to the flow of the novel--and it adds nothing to the sex scenes. The really, really good stuff (and almost all the political philosophy) is contained in dialogue.
4. I realize that it is easier for Rand to draw clear distinctions by creating uber-heroes (Dagny, Francisco, Hank and of course, Galt) and laughable worms (Mouch, Jim Taggert, Boyle, etc). The problem is that the book lacks characters that resemble--oh, I don't know--REAL people. Eddie Willers is about the closest anyone comes to being something other than a Nietzschian overlord or a detestable snake.
Again--I said this is the most IMPORTANT book I've ever read. It's not the best WRITTEN book. That said, if you haven't read it, I should think it is assigned reading for the next six weeks as we get ready for the movie.