Criticisms of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” are oftentimes tied up with scepticism of her philosophical system of objectivism – perhaps, even from those who may not have read or completed the book – though due consideration should be given to the story itself, and in particular to the plot development and the characterisation. Because for the first two-thirds of the three-part book, centred on protagonist Dagny Taggart and steel magnate Henry “Hank” Rearden and their relationship, I thought the plot was well-developed (it must be conceded, that a little too much time was spent on scene-setting and character history in the beginning). Even within a society and a system rigged against both of these successful industrialists, they emerge unscathed and move along from one obstacle to another, and through these exploits the reader then gets a better understanding of the economic conditions and the motivations of the government agencies, in a dystopian United States.
Through their respective interactions with their families, their subordinates, and even their adversaries – especially the lobbyists and special-interest politicians in Washington – as well as the way they handle affairs within their companies, the reader gets an even better understanding of Taggart and Rearden and their contemporaries (and what they are up against), as the ones to root for. To be fair, nonetheless, the other characters are depicted as being so wretched and conniving and undeserving of any sympathy, that taking the side of the industrialists almost seems inevitable. And moreover by contrasting the industry of the industrialists with the others, Rand also depicted the former as victims, and the latter as “looters”.
In the transition from the second to third part of “Atlas Shrugged”, as the country’s most successful business and industrial leaders abandon their enterprises, leaving them to fail, an exposition of objectivism – epitomised by these leaders (including Taggart and Rearden), but expounded primarily and at great length by John Galt, the primary male hero of the book – is the focus. Some themes of the philosophy, such as the role of government and business and the media or the implications of a welfare state or state intervention, are likely to resonate. Yet this is at the expense of logical plot development, for the story becomes a little too incredible and rushed. Bear in mind that the book is already 1,069-pages long, and the third part is still haphazard with a less-than-satisfactory conclusion. In other words, notwithstanding what one may think of Rand and the philosophy of objectivism, the novel starts about a 100 pages in with a great deal of promise, puts the reader through a great deal of plot development and exposition, but ends with a rushed, unfortunate whimper.