Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What the Critics Said about Ayn Rand's 'Atlas Shrugged' in 1957

Ayn Rand's novel, Atlas Shrugged was first published in 1957. Here's what critics had to say back then when it was first published (Via LaTi)
Robert R. Kirsch, Los Angeles Times:

It is probably the worst piece of large fiction written since Miss Rand's equally weighty "The Fountainhead." Miss Rand writes in the breathless hyperbole of soap opera. Her characters are of billboard size; her situations incredible and illogical; her story is feverishly imaginative. It would be hard to find such a display of grotesque eccentricity outside an asylum.

Granville Hicks, New York Times

Not in any literary sense a serious novel, it is an earnest one, belligerent and unremitting in its earnestness. It howls in the reader's ear and beats him about the head in order to secure his attention, and then, when it has him subdued, harangues him for page upon page. It has only two moods, the melodramatic and the didactic, and in both it knows no bounds.

Edward Wagenknecht, Chicago Daily Tribune

There is much good sense in this book and it deserves more careful consideration than it is likely to get. For all that, Miss Rand is not quite the Moses to lead us out of the wilderness…. The worst thing in her book is her denunciation of what she calls mysticism, her ideas of which seem derived from Hitler rather than Meister Eckhardt or Rufus Jones. For her a mystic is a parasite in spirit and in matter, "a man who surrendered his mind at its first encounter with the minds of others." No, Miss Rand, a mystic is a man who insists upon using those areas of his mind which you block off.

Helen Beal Woodward, Saturday Review

Miss Rand … throws away her considerable gifts for writing by fixing her reader with a glittering eye and remorselessly impressing upon him her convictions. These range from a hatred of Robin Hood as "the most immoral and the most contemptible" of all human symbols to a belief in a kind of chrome-plated laissez faire. Much of it is persuasive…. But Miss Rand is undone by her prolixity and her incontinence. She sets up one of the finest assortments of straw men ever demolished in print, and she cannot refrain from making her points over and over…. Altogether this is a strange, overwrought book.


Gigantic, relentless, often fantastic, this book is definitely not one to be swallowed whole. Throughout its 1,168 pages, Miss Rand never cracks a smile. Conversations deteriorate into monologues as one character after another laboriously declaims his set of values. One speech, the core of the book, spreads across 60 closely written pages. Yet once the reader enters this stark, strange world, he will likely stay with it, borne along by its story and its eloquent flow of ideas.

Paul Jordan-Smith, Los Angeles Times

A neighbor of mine who occasionally reviews books for an eastern magazine dropped in and, seeing the massive volume on my desk, asked what I thought of it. "Challenging and readable and quick with suspense," I replied…. "a book every businessman should hug to his breast, and the first novel I recall to glorify the dollar mark and the virtue in profit…." But how the shabby little left-wingers are going to hate it!

Donald Malcolm, the New Yorker

Apparently Miss Rand set out to write a novel of social prophecy, something like "Nineteen Eighty-Four." But while Orwell based his predictions upon the nature of the police state, the lady who gave us "The Fountainhead" has based hers upon — well, it is hard to say. Miss Rand's villains resemble no one I have ever encountered, and I finally decided to call them "liberals," chiefly because I can't imagine whom else she might have in mind. In her vision of the future, then, the liberals have brought the world to a sorry plight. America is plunged into a catastrophic depression, caused by the government's infernal meddling with the economy, and most of the other nations of the world have become People's States, whose inhabitants are actually grubbing up roots to keep themselves alive. The last sparks of industrial competence are concentrated in the minds of two dozen — at most — American businessmen, who manage to hold the globe aloft in spite of the best efforts of governments everywhere to bring it down.

Hedda Hopper, in her syndicated column

Ayn Rand, although born in Europe is one of the finest American citizens I know. She worked with John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Adolphe Menjou, Lela Rogers, Charles Coburn and a bunch of us when we formed the Motion Picture Alliance anti-commie group. She's author of "The Fountainhead," and has written a blockbuster of a book titled "Atlas Shrugged." It runs 1,168 pages, and you won't want to miss one word. I couldn't put it down, neither will you be able to once you've started reading. You'll say it can't happen here — but it's happening every day and we sit still while watching our rights as humans being whittled away.

Whittaker Chambers, National Review

"Atlas Shrugged" can be called a novel only by devaluing the term. It is a massive tract for the times. Its story merely serves Miss Rand to get the customers inside the tent, and as a soapbox for delivering her Message. The Message is the thing. It is, in sum, a forthright philosophic materialism. Upperclassmen might incline to sniff and say that the author has, with vast effort, contrived a simple materialist system, one, intellectually, at about the stage of the oxcart, though without mastering the principle of the wheel. Like any consistent materialism, this one begins by rejecting God, religion, original sin, etc. etc. (This book's aggressive atheism and rather unbuttoned "higher morality," which chiefly outrage some readers, are, in fact, secondary ripples, and result inevitably from its underpinning premises.) Thus, Randian Man, like Marxian Man, is made the center of a godless world…. Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal.

Over 7 million copies of Atlas Shrugged have been sold since first published.


  1. I couldn't make it past the first page of Atlas Shrugged. What a shit writer.

  2. Although I applaud the success of the book, the question is was Whittaker Chambers wrong in his assessment?

    As a libertarian, but Randian, I would say, "No, he was not."

  3. It took me a year to actually get through the whole book. Half of it is diatribe that could have been cut, not sacrificed any principles, and made it hugely more readable. My favorite Rand books are "Anthem" and "We The Living." The latter is a chilling insight into the path we are now following.

  4. Oh, puhleeze, Bob. 'American Idol' is popular, too. Popularity is no measure of quality.

    I agree with Mr. Chambers.

  5. "It is probably the worst piece of large fiction written since Miss Rand's equally weighty "The Fountainhead." Miss Rand writes in the breathless hyperbole of soap opera. Her characters are of billboard size; her situations incredible and illogical; her story is feverishly imaginative. It would be hard to find such a display of grotesque eccentricity outside an asylum."

    This is why the vast majority of Randroids are complete dorks.

  6. While parts of the book are long winded, I still found it to be a great read. I would speculate that many of its modern day critics have not taken on the likes of Greek mythology or twentieth century Russian literature.

  7. It is a prophetic work being fulfilled before our eyes. I disagree with her atheistic objectivism but she is right on when it comes to "crony capitalism", or as John Stossel calls it, "CRAPITALISM."

  8. President Obama has definitely been the best bookseller for "Atlas Shrugged." Although Rand's philosophy is a tough sell, it would seem prudent to take note of a book that is still selling energetically more than 50 years after it was published.

  9. Rand got a lot of things powerfully, clearly, declaratively right. She calls things what they are, and a lot of people hate that. Watching so much of AS come to fruition is an indication that there were some things she understood quite well. Just as Orwell and Huxley got different aspects of their dystopias correct, so did Rand, they just all emphasized different aspects of it.

    But, she wrote women strangely, didn't have a deep enough understanding of economics, and basically ran a cult. Randianism, for all it gets right, is something of a roach motel--you can get in but you can't get out. I excitedly plowed through AS over a month in 83 or so and found what she said to be pretty clear. It was inspiring and kept me searching, but that movement and the ancillary books I read over the years didn't really lead me to learn new things in a systematic way--and I was looking for that way. Then I found Lew Rockwell and the Mises Institute and I was off and running. The Rand movement just doesn't do that for you. It's way too limiting having to accept Rand as the ultimate font of all knowledge and having to explain your way around everything she either omitted or just plain got wrong. That way lies madness.

    People like Mises and Rothbard said, "Hey, here's the best we've figured out so far. Now go forward and fix it and extend it." With Rand the commandment is that she's given you everything and there are any number of ideas you are expressly forbidden to consider and sources you are forbidden to learn from. I got shouted down by Yaron Brook once rather than receiving a good, logical explanation for something. This was right after he explained why we should start and one end of Iran and murder everyone and destroy everything in our path until they cease and desist, from what I don't know... Great outreach style, dude.

    Not that all Randians are of the ARI variety, but they do illustrate the danger associated with what Rand missed.

    Anyway, the book is still an inspiration, even with its faults.

  10. The harshest critics pretty much got it right. As literature, Atlas Shrugged is a disaster area, full of cardboard figures and stereotypes. Not a real person to be found anywhere in the book. As philosophy it is shallow. As economics, it is uninformed.

    Bad writers often sell well. Daneille Steele and Michael Crichton come to mind. If you can keep the reader turning the page, it doesn't matter that your effort lacks serious literary quality.

  11. The spirit of Ellsworth Toohey is as alive and well today as it was in 1957.

  12. The problem with "Atlas Shrugged" is that Ayn Rand doesn't know real Capitalism from Crony; and thus she's ignorant to liberalism as mere blowback to controlled markets, rather than the root cause.
    When Lenin took over Russia, it wasn't to overthrow a free market, as Rand would have us believe; rather, it was due to political among the elite lobbyists in Russia and the west, which allowed Bolsheviks to mount a coup.
    So those who view politics as "capitalists vs. communists" are dupes on both sides, while the corporate lobbyists laugh... all the way to the banks they also control.