Atlas Shrugged: 645,000 Words Later (A Book Review)

Atlas Shrugged, written by Ayn Rand, is by far the longest book I have ever read. At approximately 645,000 words, it is quite the undertaking. For comparison, it is 2.5X as long as the largest Harry Potter book (“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”), which sits at 257,045 words. According to Wikipedia, Atlas Shrugged is the 20th largest novel of all-time (9th longest novel written in English).

Now that you have an understanding of the tome that is Atlas Shrugged, let me take you through my journey/ordeal.

At its very core, Atlas Shrugged is a book about communism vs. capitalism, or collectivism vs. individualism. It follows a woman industrialist — exceedingly rare for that time — who operates a national railroad. Dagny Taggert is her name and capitalism is her game.

The general storyline involves society becoming ever-more socialist until modern civilization begins to collapse. It’s Dagny and the intellectuals vs. those seeking to “level the playing field” for the most needy, destroying the economic system in the process.

The concepts presented in the book were somewhat controversial when it was published in 1957. As a result, the book is written as a lengthy argument against communism, constantly striving to convince the reader of communism’s dangers. For those of us that agree with, and accept, modern capitalistic principles, it comes across as persistent and unnecessary persuasion. I cannot think of anything I have ever read that exemplifies the idiom “beating a dead horse” as well as Atlas Shrugged.

My frustration peaked when, towards the end of the book, a single character’s monologue spanned 55 pages! And these are not your average pages. In order to fit 645,000 words in 1,069 pages, each page is bible-page-thin with small margins and tiny font. That passage was nothing short of an ordeal. To be perfectly honest, unlike the rest of the book, I skimmed a lot of it

Without revealing anything about the story, the passage is intended as an epic speech, laying-out everything that Ayn Rand believed about society, the economy, the human spirit, etc. etc. etc. It is parts of the book like this that take away from what is otherwise a great read. There are several parts that made it hard to continue. Yet, they were always followed by very interesting parts that helped balance the novel.

Would I recommend Atlas Shrugged? Yes, and no. If you can handle long reads that will try your patience at times, yes. If not, definitely: no. The book’s story and message are timeless, but it could have been 300,000 words and gotten the same message across.

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