?This newly released book is by Donald Luskin and Andrew Greta. Mr. Luskin is Chief Investment Officer of an investment strategy company, TrendMacro. He’s also well known as an author and a commentator on CNBC. He has recently had several op-eds published in the Wall St. Journal. His co-author has only slightly less impressive credentials.
The book’s gimmick is that each chapter takes a different public figure and shows how he resembles a character in Atlas (or, in one case, The Fountainhead). The odd-numbered chapters deal with heroes, even-numbered ones with villains. There are some excellent selections: Paul Krugman as Ellsworth Toohey for the chapter, “The Mad Collectivist,” and Alan Greenspan as Robert Stadler for “The Sellout.” (Greenspan’s parallel to Stadler is something I have noted here on HBL; and novelist Ed Cline posted here back in 2002: “If he [Greenspan] can be characterized as anything, it’s as the “Dr. Robert Stadler of economics”.)
The main drawback of the book is that the real-life heroes, with one exception, are not on the exalted level of Miss Rand’s fictional heroes, neither in sense of life nor in philosophical understanding (the exception is John Allison, “The Leader.”) The worst offense is taking Milton Friedman as similar to Hugh Akston. (And I’m not as anti-Friedman as Ayn Rand was.)
Given the book’s title, and given that the authors are not known Objectivists, I expected pretentiousness and ignorance. I was wrong; I’m pleased to say it is neither. Despite its shortcomings, the book has two great virtues: 1. it exhibits a far better understanding of Atlas Shrugged and Objectivism than I can recall seeing from anyone outside “the movement,” and 2. the writing is supple and first-handed, gliding you comfortably along a 300-page journey.
The authors understand that politics is not the focus of Atlas and that Objectivism is not a political ideology but a philosophy. The authors clearly have done extensive reading of Ayn Rand’s writings: they quote not only from the novels, VOS, and CUI but also from The Objectivist, The Ayn Rand Letter, Ayn Rand Answers, and even “The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy.”
As potential readers of the book, what you no doubt want to know is what you will get out of it. To its credit, you will not only derive satisfaction from seeing Ayn Rand’s ideas getting public exposure and being treated with admiration, you will actually learn something about the public figures discussed. That is, the book is not only gratifying but informative. (I did wonder, however, if the authors weren’t twisting things to support the book’s premise, especially in their idea that Bill Gates’ retirement represented a kind of implicit “going on strike” in response to antitrust persecution.)
The book is also informative on the causes of what is now being called The Great Recession, explaining how government—through the Fed, Freddie and Fannie, (egged on by Barney Frank)—caused the crisis, then laid the blame on capitalism.
Judging this book is rather like judging the movie version of Atlas: both could have been better but both also could have been so much worse. By the standard of what an Objectivist intellectual would write, the book is thin and, at times, offensive in its comparison of people to Ayn Rand’s unique, grand-scale, life-loving heroes. (E.g., as creative as Steve Jobs surely is, there’s no way on God’s green earth that he is remotely comparable to Howard Roark). On the other hand, by the standard of what you would expect to see in such a book, I Am John Galt is surprisingly good, in the ways I’ve outlined.
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