s are assigned by a commiAyn Rand Comprehensive Book Review |
Below you will find a review of all of Ayn Rand's fiction writing, as well as some reviews of related movies, documentaries and biographies.
While I won't say that "Ayn Rand changed my life" (an often-heard cliché) I will say that her books do ring true for me, and greatly helped me clarify my thinking on certain issues. In 1999 I finally made the time to read read Atlas Shrugged (I had been procrastinating, assuming that it would be a try read) and was deeply affected by it, as well as captivated. You may disagree strongly with what she says (her books are simultaneously critique, polemic and propaganda) but you'll learn a great deal aboutyourself from the experience.
The Fountainhead is Rand's story of an uncompromising architect facing a world of corruption. Easier to read, shorter and a better introduction to Rand than Atlas Shrugged. However, Atlas Shrugged remains for me her ultimate book.
Atlas Shrugged is the story of what would happen if the world's minds, those who actually make things happen in the world, were to go on strike and refuse to cooperate. While reading this book, my wife exclaimed, "Is this the greatest book ever?", which fairly sums up its impact. An immensely satisfying and engrossing read. I've read few books that tie together story and philosophy like Atlas Shrugged, and certainly none that were a "page turner" like this was.
Anthem is a very short book (100 pages) in the style of the psychological surrealism of Anna Kavan or Anais Nin. The narrator refers to himself as "we", because the word "I" has been forgotten (and remembering that word is the only crime punished by death). Jobs are assigned by a committee, whose purpose appears to be preserving the status quo. This story takes place in the future, much like A Canticle for Liebowitz, where the inventions of the past are long lost, and the narrator battles the self-hatred he is supposed to feel as he rediscovers electricity, friendship and love. Despite the odd language constructs necessitated by a lack of "I" ("you" is allowed in the book, since in English it can refer to the plural or singular), this is an eminently readable book. I read it in an evening, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The 2nd half of the book contains photocopies of the British version of this story, marked up with Rand's pen as she edited it for the American edition. This addition helps make the book thicker than the text actually is.
Barbara Branden's The Passion of Ayn Rand is a biography of Rand's life, as well as an expose of the darker underbelly of the Ayn Rand subculture (specifically, the affair that Rand had with the author's husband, with the open knowledge of both Rand's and Branden's spouses). I especially liked the integration of interviews with Rand that clarified and commented on Rand's books. About 1/2 of this book is a traditional biography, and 1/2 a story of the affair that destroyed the lives of everyone involved. Despite how trashy this may sound, it was psychologically interesting.
The Passion of Ayn Rand was made into a trashy Showtime movie (of the same name), that can be rented at Blockbuster video (evidently, the rental is exclusive to Blockbuster) I have to admit that I enjoyed both the book and the movie. The video did a good job of explaining Rand's philosophy, and what kind of character she was.
I have also watched the documentary "Ayn Rand: a sense of Life".
This 1949 film version of the Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead is worth seeing by any fan of Ayn Rand. The actors who played Dominique Francon and Gail Wynand were especially good, while I did not care at all for Gary Cooper's performance (too whiny, little strength). The character of Gail Wynand had far more energy and life in his eyes. I liked how Dominique's character was clarified in the movie: in the book she is almost schizophrenic, and is hard to believe. I never quite bought the idea that Dominique would so actively try to destroy Roark -- more believable would be to stay away. Her destruction of the statue (not stolen from a museum in the movie: interesting change) makes the same point and is still believable. I did like how the actors playing Francon and Roark showed human reaction to each other. In the book, both of them seem almost inhumanely cold and indifferent.
One thing I note, which I find interesting, is how close Rand and Marx are in their fundamental beliefs. For Rayn, a person's goal is to use their labor to create something, and the greater the person, the greater their goal of achievement. She hates Marxism precisely because it removes the motivating factor of being rewarded for doing something worthwhile: in Marxism, she argues, the most needy get the most, the ability to provide goods others want is not factored into what you receive. Hence, under Marxism people are not motivated to create things others want, since they will not be rewarded for it. For Marx, self-actualization is realized through the creation of physical items, where a person is motivated create items to see his ego, himself, in the object, and Marx's goal is to create a system where this happens as efficiently and fairly as possible.
So, both Marx and Rand believe that achievements in work is how a person realizes themself. The fundamental difference between Rand and Marx is simply in their analysis of the problem: for Marx the problem is that the system of capitalism put the means of production into just a few rich person's hands, so that labor devolves into un-satisfying assembly-line work because people are barred from the tools to do meaningful work. For Rand, the key problem is the ethical system which tells the achievers that they should serve those who do not achieve, which puts barrier after barrier in the way of those who seek self-realization through creation.
For both Rand and Marx, the problem is structural, with the governmental form being the means of repression, and the main butt of their efforts for change. Rand repeatedly acknowledges that paid labor should be given freely, and willfully, and should never be forced, and in this she agrees with Marx's distaste for coerced labor. I find it interesting that these two extreme views agree on their fundamental belief of human self-realization, only to end up with so wildly divirgent theories on how to achieve that goal.