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Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

IDEAS

Today’s ideological battle in U.S. politics? Ayn Rand built it Add to ...

The Fountainhead climaxes when superhero architect Howard Roark blows up his own buildings. Atlas Shrugged revels in social collapse, laid at the feet of do-gooders. The novel’s central symbol – apart from the illuminated dollar sign that John Galt’s cultists worship so reverently – is an enormous tower of perpetual fire ignited by an oilman indignant about interference with his wells.

Then there is the ending, in which the cultists emerge from their secret valley to rebuild a world conveniently cleansed of all “looters” – i.e., other people – and their messes: cities, government, schools, et cetera.

This distressing vision ultimately wrecked the book’s chances of becoming a major Hollywood film and entrancing the masses. Canadian-born producer Al Ruddy spent years trying to bring it to screen with genuine stars, only to give up after Sept. 11, 2001.

“At the end of Atlas Shrugged, mills, ships and mines are blown up,” Mr. Ruddy told The New York Times last year. “And I thought, wait a second, do people really want to see a movie about America being blown up and destroyed?”

Judging by the commercial and critical failure of a recent independent production (“a stilted, anachronistic curiosity,” according to The Globe’s Liam Lacey), the answer is no. Nonetheless, part 2 (of three) is due to be released soon – in time, its amateur producers hope, to swing the election in favour of Mitt Romney and Mr. Ryan.

The latter’s sudden apostasy is clearly not going to help that cause. But memories are short, and the printing presses keep rumbling.

Atlas Shrugged is the most important novel of the 20th century,” maintained Mr. Ruddy (who earlier in his career produced The Godfather). “It will rise again.”

Author, author

Ayn Rand is far from the only political darling of the literary world. The right may have a more defined reading list, as Professor Beverly Gage recently argued, but commenters replied that progressives are skeptical of fixed canons and dogma. (Many even claimed that the liberal canon is world literature.) Still, here are some of the enduring authors – ranting pundits such as Ann Coulter and Michael Moore excluded – on each side of the U.S. political spectrum.

A conservative canon

Edmund Burke

The Federalist Papers

Friedrich Hayek

Whittaker Chambers

Albert Jay Nock

Ludwig von Mises

Barry Goldwater

Milton Friedman

Robert Scruton

Thomas Sowell

Robert Nozick

Charles Murray

A liberal library

Thomas Paine

John Maynard Keynes

George Orwell

John Steinbeck

Martin Luther King Jr.

Rachel Carson

John Kenneth Galbraith

Saul Alinsky

C. Wright Mills

Jane Jacobs

Howard Zinn

Barbara Ehrenreich

John Rawls

Paul Krugman

Barack Obama

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