Book Review, “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand

Nothing like reviewing a book 52 years after publication. Well, 1957 was a very good year, as I was born then 😉

This is a book that’s been on my reading list for a while. Somehow, I managed to avoid it in high school and college. I’ve been reading a fair number of economics books in the last couple years, trying to understand some of the things that are going on around us, and I felt I need to pick this one up. And “pick it up” is the right thing to say, as the paperback copy from Carrboro Branch Library was 1069 pages!

I won’t try to do an exhaustive review, as this has been done by folks with much more energy that I have! There are thousands of reviews on Amazon alone. I’ll just give a few of my overarching impressions. First, I’ll have to say that it’s a good read. There are parts that do get slow, but the characters are compelling and the story engaging. What did I get out of it? Let’s see…capitalism works to incent folks to work hard. Check, knew that. Government bad? It can be (and was for much of 2000-2008), but I believe in moderation. Let the innovators and industrialists who take risks reap the rewards. Check, even though I’m not one. Discourage rewards from innovation and industry and the economy goes to hell. Doh. Check! However, taxes are not inherently bad in my worldview (even though I’m filing mine at the last minute 😉 ), as sometimes people just won’t pay to maintain the “commons” or do things for common good (check this for a great explanation of the Tragedy of the Commons, explained with Smurfs). Provide a safety net, but encourage people to help themselves. The best use of taxes is education in my mind, but I digress…

I think that the most fascinating thing, though, is to have read this book over the past month (March-April 2009), given the context of things happening in the world economy, and reflecting on the different approaches world-wide to moving us out of this morass. It’s not quite the world of Dagney, Hank, Francisco & John Galt out there today, but it does make one think about the steps we are taking as we navigate through the “late unpleasantness.” I’m just glad our current president is a thinker who is willing to listen and learn.

If you haven’t read this, you should, if for no other reason than the fact that it has been so influential on many free-market thinkers. Gee, there’s that education thing again…

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