I couldn’t put down Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged when I read it as a high school student 40 years ago. The book is sophomoric and indeed it is perfect for high school sophomores of a certain stripe. I have a hard time seeing how adults can take it seriously either as literature or political thought, but the book has nevertheless had a positive influence on prominent Americans, Alan Greenspan foremost among them.
Today’s New York Times marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of the book with a good article observing the book’s continuing influence and success. The Times also posts its original review of the book by Granville Hicks as well as Alan Greenspan’s letter to the editor responding to the review.
Perhaps the most famous review of Atlas Shrugged is the one published by Whittaker Chambers in National Review. National Review celebrated its own fifitieth anniversary a few years ago by retrieving treasures from its archives, one of which was the review by Chambers. (I notice that Chambers refers to Rand’s “sophomoric intent to raise the pious hair on susceptible heads.”) Chambers’s assessment of Atlas Shrugged must be numbered among the important acts of intellectual hygiene performed by National Review in its early years.
JOHN adds: Oh oh! Here we go again. When we did our poll on the greatest American novel in the spring of 2006, we were besieged with emails from readers complaining that we had left Atlas Shrugged off the list of contenders. Our comments on the book at that time were gentle, out of deference to some of our readers. If you missed the poll last year, here are the final results:
Like Scott, I was enthralled by Atlas Shrugged when I read it in high school. Although I can’t commend its literary merit, it had a considerable impact on my thinking, which persists to some degree to the present.
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