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Ayn Rand’s 100th birthday

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Ayn Rand was born 100 years ago today, on February 2, 1905 in St Petersburg, Russia. As the daughter of a Jewish shopkeeper, young Ayn and family were pretty fortunate to have escaped straight up extermination during the communist revolution.

As it was, as a young adult she was determined to escape to America- and she did it. In the sense of really appreciating the things that made America great, articulating and defending them, she may have been the greatest American ever.

Specifically, she wrote perhaps the greatest book of the 20th century, Atlas Shrugged. This and the preceding novel The Fountainhead did more intellectually than any one other person to cut the legs out from under all forms of collectivism and cheap altruism.

This is not to say that she didn’t have some personal flaws or issues, nor to say that everything that ever came out of her mouth was automatically right. I’d give her about 90%, but she definitely had some serious blindspots. “For all have sinned and fell short of the glory of God.” Being a staunch atheist however, I suspect she would not have appreciated that Biblical invocation.

For being so opposed to religion though, she struck a distinctly Biblical figure. With her rough accent, and her hardline judgmental nature, she certainly had a Yahweh thing going on.

The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged definitely work as old and new testaments. Her world could be thought of as BG and AG- Before Galt and After Galt. The Fountainhead describes the fall of man through socialism, altruism and Nietzchean resentment. Then John Galt comes along in Atlas Shrugged as the savior resurrecting the very soul of mankind.

She had a lot of heart, and she fought harder and better than any other intellectual of the century. She is a truly historic figure. Here’s hoping she’s enjoying Valhalla.

PS Ayn Rand is #1 among the voices in my head. Specifically, she sent me a message for the anniversary of 9/11.

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  • http://www.kolehardfacts.blogspot.com Mike Kole

    I really like the re-issues for her 100th, using the original dust cover art. I was surprised to see these in the airport bookstores last week.

  • Nick Jones

    Atlas Shrugged “perhaps the greatest book of the 20th century”? Instead of Joyce’s Ulysses and Finnegans Wake? Please.

  • http://www.morethings.com/senate Al Barger

    Nick, “please” does not constitute an argument. Please elaborate on why Joyce is significant. I’ve never been able to read him, though I suppose I just haven’t tried hard enough. What makes him important? What difference have any of his books made in the world?

  • http://www.kolehardfacts.blogspot.com Mike Kole

    Al- the difference between Rand and Joyce is this: people buy and read Rand and are willing to criticize her. Nobody reads Joyce, but they claim to and are willing to so vaguely praise him.

  • http://www.morethings.com/senate Al Barger

    I know that all thinking people recognize that Joyce was a great genius, a titan of literature, and pity be unto the neanderthals that could never get more than 10 or 20 pages into one of his books without snoozing.

    It seems like we’re supposed to take the unreadability of his “stream of conscious” schtick as proof of his genius.

  • http://www.wallybangs.blogspot.com wally bangs

    I’ll leap into this greatest novel argument with this caveat – there’s no arguing taste and also at some point it becomes next to impossible to differentiate between great works of art. I could easily say that Mario Puzo’s Godfather is the greatest novel of the 20th century – a well written book that inspired an Academy Award winning movie and also has influenced American’s views on Italian-Americans to this day (Soprano’s anyone?. The Lord Of The Rings trilogy is another easily namedropped epic of literature that easily trancended its fantasy genre. Al’s method of claiming that Atlas Shrugged is “perhaps the greatest book of the 20th century” is entirely believable to my ears even if Ayn Rand isn’t about to make any of my top ten lists, although I give her mad respect – after all; South Park even made fun of Atlas Shrugged on one episode (or maybe it was The Fountainhead).

  • Shark

    Al: “Please elaborate on why Joyce is significant.”

    Back atcha, babe.

    Al, you marked the Centennial of your favorite author with a less than satisfactory bio and an even less satisfactory explanation of her significance!

    I found THREE sentences that tried.

    She “cut the legs out from under all forms of collectivism and cheap altruism”

    and “…The Fountainhead describes the fall of man through socialism, altruism and Nietzchean resentment. Then John Galt comes along in Atlas Shrugged as the savior resurrecting the very soul of mankind.”

    If this were a high school paper writing assignment that was to “include a short bio on Rand and a brief description of her significance to literature of the 20th century,” it would probably rate a “D”.

    Seriously, man, have your actually read your loving homage to your favorite writer?

    Surely you owe her more than this.

    PS: Al, I ain’t ‘stalkin’ you and your writing abilities, but I couldn’t let your response to Nick pass without comment.


  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    from the cheat-sheet type things i’ve read about alysses, joyce didn’t write in stream of consciousness so much as he made extreme use of indirect references…everything means something else, or refers to something else.

    that said, i’ve read the first three pages about twenty times…and then i get to the part where i can no longer make sense of what’s going on.

    i prefer Ulysses For Dummies.

  • Eric Olsen

    I believe Joyce’s strength is on a the meta level: turning language back upon itself, writing prose in the style of cubism, deconstructing narrative and replacing the objective with the subjective. I also find him virtually unreadable, however. Too much work is too much work: I’d rather sift through the layers of translated Chinese

  • Shark

    Mark, for a better version, see “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou”.

    It’s even got great music!

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    i thought “Oh Brother…” was the iliad or odyssey or something like that?

  • Eric Olsen

    yes, that was Homer, not Slim James

  • JR

    I thought Ulysses was the Odyssey too.

  • http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    It’s kind of a useless argument, defending Joyce or Ulysses.

    I think I might bore myself to sleep if I tried, because the arguments in its favor are almost as old and hoary as the cliches launched against it. I could give reasons why Joyce is the greatest English writer of the 20th Century and Ulysses the greatest book, but the fact of the matter is that there are truths in life you can’t know until you take the plunge. You can’t persuade people a book is great just by saying it is; you have to argue that case out in front of people who have at least read the damn thing. People who hate Joyce and bristle at the notion that he’s a great writer tend not to have read him (although I suppose some have.) They argue from ignorance, and from an understandable distaste for the received wisom of academia. So they dismiss it based on whatever cliches they’ve heard, such as that no one actually ever reads Ulysses — which is profoundly untrue — or they refer to it as having a “`stream of consciousness’ schtick,” which is only part of a very large picture (as anyone who reads the first chapter will realize). Does it matter if I say the book pushes the novel further than any novel before or since, or that it employs an extraordinary multiplicity of styles, or that it imagines a great sprawling sea of humanity, or that it’s constructed with an absolutely meticulous eye for physical and emotional detail? No, of course not. People say shit like that all the time. But if you read it, or re-read it, or find yourself irresistably drawn to certain immaculate chapters — like the penultimate one, my own favorite — you may find that these reasons and a million others will practically jostle each other as they race to the front of your brain.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    i’ve heard similar discussions about Gravity’s Rainbow…which was the last book i ever forced myself to complete.

  • Shark

    Good stuff, Rodney.

    Proust, anyone??

  • Eric Olsen

    I find Proust vastly more engaging than Joyce, although it has been many years for each

  • http://selfaudit.blogspot.com Aaman

    Proust thanks you

  • http://www.morethings.com/senate Al Barger

    Shark, your criticisms in comment #7 are duly noted and acknowledged. I liked it somewhat better than you did, but I grant that this does not amount to a particularly good introduction to Rand. I probably did a little better at this last year. I would have put more effort into it if it were for a grade.

    I didn’t have the inspiration for anything particularly original to say, nor the time to look for it. I mostly had in mind for this just to be a quick reminder for people who were already familiar with her. I couldn’t very well let her centennial go by without some basic acknowledgement.

  • Eric Olsen

    I think Marcel could go out of his way a little more to express his appreciation

  • Shark

    Fair enough, Al.

    re: Proust – an editor rejected his first manuscript, saying something like:

    “I’m not sure people want to read thirty pages describing how the narrator shifted his position in bed.”


  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    Al – Nice but brief tribute to your hero — one gets the feeling that you rushed this one if but slightly.

    Eric – Brilliant take on Joyce; it should be added to his Encyclopedia Britannica entry.

    Nick – Finnegan’s Wake? I think even Joyce scholars get brain-shock from that one.

    My choices for #1/#2 novels of the 20th Century:

    On the Road – Jack Kerouac
    The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger – Stephen King

    There, I’ve said it!

  • http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    “I’m not sure people want to read thirty pages describing how the narrator shifted his position in bed.”

    Boy was he ever wrong. The “Overture” has to be one of the most influential passages of literature ever written.


    Cathy Young at “Reason” online did a good article on Rand, the majority of the issue in fact is devoted to Rand. It is a good look at Rand. I think “The Fountainhead” is much better than “Atlas Shrugged”. I think Rand’s individualistic bent also trended a bit toward elitism, as well.

  • Shark

    Rodney, I agree. As I’ve said elsewhere around here, Proust takes a great deal of concentration and patience — but he’s very rewarding.

    Sadly, he’s probably not gonna be widely read in a world saddled with an increasing ADD epidemic.

  • Eric Olsen

    guilty here

  • http://www.kolehardfacts.blogspot.com Mike Kole

    I was surprised that Reason devoted as much of the current issue to Rand as they did- front cover, the Young article, etc. It had seemed that Reason had made a very concerted effort to not rely on Rand as a crutch, and seek out places in more every day living and cultural ares where libertarian sensibilities were being offended.

    Of course, editor Nick Gillespie’s remarks at the front of the issue began, “I’m no fan of Rand”. There’s a certain distance being kept.

  • http://www.kolehardfacts.blogspot.com Mike Kole

    Al- There is a current post on a new book in the Foundation series of science fiction novels. The original books were by Isaac Asimov, but several other writers have contibuted novels based on Asimov’s work, extending the fun.

    What do you think about other authors doing the same thing with Atlas Shrugged? Sure, to use the Rand parlance, it would be a second-hander kind of thing to do, but really, I don’t care. I liked several of the characters in Atlas, and would have enjoyed it very much if Rand herself had followed them in other novels. Alas.

  • http://www.morethings.com/senate Al Barger

    Depending on what exactly they came up with, this could be highly interesting- and not necessarily a second-hander move.

    For starters, by rights Atlas and The Fountainhead should both long since be in the public domain and free for the re-invention, just like Huck Finn or Edgar Allen Poe stories.

    There’s certainly a lot that could be done with some of these characters, putting them into different contexts. Or perhaps Howard Roark’s grandson rises up in this modern Age of Terror and nanny states.

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    “My choices for #1/#2 novels of the 20th Century:

    On the Road – Jack Kerouac
    The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger – Stephen King”


    How about:

    #1 – The Stand

    #2 – Tommyknockers

    (Did I mention that I love SK?)


    As much as I love all of those books, there is a big difference between a popular writer and a great writer.

    THis leads me to ask this question: If classic were to be defined solely as fiction that is used as an example to schoolkids 75 to 100 years after its publication, what are some books from the last 25 years that will still be taught as exemplary “classic” literature 50 years from now?”

  • http://www.morethings.com/senate Al Barger

    Ski, are you saying we should try to guess the taste of schoolmarms not yet born as the basis for picking out great literature?

  • http://paperfrigate.blogspot.com DrPat

    Ski and Al, there was a previous thread here on somewhat the same topic: What Book Today Is What Atlas Shrugged Was?. Interestingly, many of the same books were advanced (Joyce, King, Tolkein, etc.) as present-day matches to Rand’s masterwork.

    The major additions to the Foundation Trilogy were done with “beneficence aforethought”, in which the “killer B’s” (Bear, Benford, Brin) were invited by Asimov’s estate to write about the origins of pshychohistory. OTOH, Donald Kingsbury’s Psychohistorical Crisis was done without the approval of Asimov’s estate, and so he needed to mask many of the central characters and concepts “in the mists of time”.

    Rand may be gone as well, but I think you’ll find her estate is just as protective of her works as Asimov’s!

  • http://www.morethings.com/senate Al Barger

    Oh, I can guarantee the Rand estate will be very tight with her “intellectual property.” With the Rand crowd, attaching the word “property” to something gives it a holy status- even if the word “property” is misapplied to intellectual works.

    Also, while we’re dropping in best books of the century to compete against Rand, somebody better put in a plug for Robert Heinlein. Stranger in a Strange Land or The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress would be the obvious candidates. I’m personally particularly big on Job as well, but I don’t know if that really quite rates.

  • http://www.morethings.com/senate Al Barger

    If you’re humping an Objectivist, here are some things not to say.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    “…but nothing beats Tchaikovsky when it comes to anal”


  • JR

    Al Barger: Also, while we’re dropping in best books of the century to compete against Rand, somebody better put in a plug for Robert Heinlein. Stranger in a Strange Land or The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress would be the obvious candidates. I’m personally particularly big on Job as well, but I don’t know if that really quite rates.

    Oh come on, you gotta be a fan of Farnham’s Freehold. Of course, it’s been a quarter century since I read it, so maybe it doesn’t hold up so well.

  • http://paperfrigate.blogspot.com DrPat

    I read Farnham’s Freehold as a teen, when it did not appeal much to me. After living in South Africa, I reread the book, and it rang true.

    It’s not Heinlein’s best, however. I suspect he was exploring several themes, since the story is a little muddied and does not have the usual resolution one expects from RAH.

  • http://unknownknowns.blogspot.com CJ

    Admittedly, I haven’t read most of the books mentioned here, but I can safely say that I far preferred Orwell’s “1984” to Ayn Rand’s “Anthem.” Orwell’s vision seemed at least to me to be far more plausible, relevant and horrifying than Rand’s. Maybe “Atlas Shrugged” is far more indicative of her work, but in these two comparable texts, I have got to vote for Orwell.

  • http://www.morethings.com/senate Al Barger

    CJ, I’d have to agree with you, but that’s mostly because you’re comparing Ayn’s first and least novel to Orwell’s best. Anthem was pretty good, but it’s her first attempt at a novel, and working in a still new to her language.

    There’s certainly no denying 1984 though, nor Animal Farm, which I would rate nearly equal.

  • http://unknownknowns.blogspot.com CJ

    Thanks for clearing that up for me, Al. I guess I’ll have to add “Atlas Shrugged” to my “to read” list.