Ayn Rand’s name was everywhere a couple months ago, when Tea Partiers started brandishing “Who is John Galt?” signs to protest increasing government intervention in the economy. It’s a reference to her magnum opus, Atlas Shugged, the 1,200 page economic epic of railroads, utopia, and a collapsing welfare state. Add some of the passionate sex scenes Rand’s (in)famous for (see: The Fountainhead), and you’ve got a bestseller.
Interestingly, in the midst of our own economic downward spiral and government bailout fad, 2009 was Atlas Shrugged’s best year in sales—ever—which is pretty impressive considering it was published in 1957. Right now, it’s #1 in Literature/Classics on Amazon. Or in other words, Dagny Taggart just pwned Elizabeth Bennet.
De-individuation is the most horrible future novelists and television producers have given us. We recognize that. We hate Big Brother and we hate the Borg. We want them destroyed! Nobody, after all, likes a Hive Mind.
Anthem (1946) tackles this dystopian nightmare in an elegant 75 pages, three years before Orwell and decades before Star Trek.
Equality 7-2521 is a man struggling against a completely collectivized society—to the point that the word “I” has disappeared completely from the vocabulary (which makes the first-person narrative… plural, and unique). Anthem is the story of the discovery of his individuality—and an anthem (see what I did there?) to the value and power of the human mind, human creativity, and, well, the human.
It’s classic Ayn Rand philosophy in a short, highly readable format that’ll stick with you. For Ayn Rand newbies, it’s a great introduction to her ideas (take it from last year’s Ayn Rand Institute intern). For veteran readers of her more famous fiction and nonfiction, Anthem shows a different, more innovative side to her writing that might be refreshing after spending a month or two (or three… four…) on Atlas Shrugged.
Verdict? A one-afternoon read, and well worth the time. Makes me wonder what the genre would be like if she had kept writing science fiction… somewhere in the multiverse, Ayn Rand’s having drinks with Isaac Asimov. I’m sure of it.