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5 Books like Atlas Shrugged: Torturous Coincidences

Kedar Prasana itcherThe world of letters is divided more sharply by few authors other than Ayn Rand. Called everything from a visionary world-saver to a pretentious couch-philosopher, Ayn Rand never really cared for what the world had to say about her. To captivate your philosophical imagination further, these 5 books like ‘Atlas Shrugged’ will be worthy additions to your book-rack (or Kindle, if you will): ‘The Bridge of San Luis Rey’, ‘The Camp of the Saints’, ‘A Smuggler’s Bible’, ‘Capitalism and Freedom’, ‘Parallel Lives’. ~ Kedar Prasana

Is Nothing Disconnected? Is Everything Fated?

Who is John Galt?

For thousands – if not millions – of other readers like me who read ‘Atlas Shrugged’ at an impressionable age, the effect of it is difficult to shrug off.

Ayn Rand was a hugely influential author, like it or not. This influence far exceeds the number of books she sold or the number of awards they won for her. The mere fact that her words still resound in distant corners of the world is good enough to judge her charisma.

For all true Ayn Rand fans, a book like ‘Atlas Shrugged’ is nothing short of scriptures. For others, it can be a dreadfully boring diatribe that refuses to end.  This list of books similar to it, therefore, might be just what such readers need to further their penchant for dystopia, extremity of principles and revolution.

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Books Similar to ‘Atlas Shrugged’…

‘The Bridge of San Luis Rey’ (Thornton Wilder, 1927)

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On Friday noon, July twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travellers into the gulf below.

The best known work of Thornton Wilder, ‘The Bridge of San Luis Rey’ is also often considered among the works that most influenced Ayn Rand’s philosophy of connectedness.

The book opens with a hard-hitting line, much like Gregor Samsa’s admission in ‘Metamorphosis’. The plot revolves around a bunch of seemingly unconnected characters in an unnamed city in Peru, and how they are gently pushed into a series of events that eventually lead to their tragic death, following the failure of a rope bridge.

Similarity Match: 95%
The superficial similarities between these two books are more than obvious, as the fatal train crash in ‘Atlas Shrugged’ is much similar to the fracture of the rope bridge. On a note of difference, it can be said that Wilder tries to stick to the point with sternness, whereas Rand seems to believe in encompassing all truths that come along the way.

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‘The Camp of the Saints’ (Jean Raspail, 1994)

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Today, it stands on its legs. Tomorrow, it will have no legs. We are doomed, beyond redemption, justice and any semblance of sanity.

Jean Raspail literally shook the tranquil world of French literature, much like the épater les bourgeois period of 19th century poetry.

The only reason to include ‘The Camp of the Saints’ on this list is that it was heavily influenced by ‘Atlas Shrugged’ and it shares quite a lot of themes with it, in connection with how fate unfolds, regardless of human intervention.

That said, I personally couldn’t quite bring myself to like some ideas, especially the ones that border on acute sexism and ethnic stereotyping, presented in this book.  

Similarity Match: 90%
Many ideas in ‘The Camp of the Saints’, especially the ones concerning immigration, were thought to be extreme extensions of Rand’s moderate views in this regard. Raspail, however, uses theatrics to make a point, while Rand resorts to naked assertion in every encounter.

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‘A Smuggler’s Bible’ (Joseph McElroy, 1966)

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You will be here, all the time, Brookes. You are born to be here. You are paid to be here. There’s no fucking reason you should be anywhere else.

Joseph McElroy, among the last and the most underrated true American PoMo masters, wrote this now obscure masterpiece in 1966, as a way of passing time.

In a broad perspective, there’s no story to it. It’s just a series of disconnected events that seem to have nought in way of relation or relevance. David Brookes, a down and out jobless hero, is the protagonist of the story, and how his life diffuses into those of a vast array of side-characters is quite amusing, and at times, disorienting.

Similarity Match: 75%
There’s no way to tell if ‘Atlas Shrugged’ influenced McElroy. But the vision of Brookes, his pragmatism and vernacular objectivism would have made Dagny and Rearden from ‘Atlas Shrugged’ proud. McElroy, however, scores much higher in prose than Rand, as philosophy wasn’t his chief motivator.

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If You Like ‘Atlas Shrugged’, You Will Like…

‘Atlas Shrugged’ is often called pseudo-fiction. It’s not a secret that Ayn Rand used fiction as a vehicle to drive her philosophy of capitalism and objectivism.

Deviating from all the fiction titles that have been mentioned so far, let’s have a brief look at non-fiction and philosophical books similar to ‘Atlas Shrugged’.   

‘Capitalism and Freedom’ (Milton Friedman, 1962)

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A major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.

Often considered to be the staunchest of champions of free market and economy, Milton Friedman wrote ‘Capitalism and Freedom’ as a public response to the growing debate around socialism and communism during the cold war period.

The book, from cover to cover, covers all aspects of capitalism, and argues that free market has no competitors in terms of quality and morality.

The objectivism of Ayn Rand and capitalism of Milton Friedman are pretty much the same in wavelengths. However, Rand often rues the very existence of socialism throughout ‘Atlas Shrugged’, while Friedman prefers to debate the arguments through a disinterested lens.

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‘Parallel Lives’ (Plutarch, c. 110)

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For though all persons are equally subject to the caprice of fortune, yet all good men have one advantage she cannot deny, which is this, to act reasonably under misfortunes.

Written in the 1st century, ‘Parallel Lives’ is a collection of freak coincidences between great men of Rome and Athens, in an attempt to make a point that fate governs one and all.

Plutarch uses a very straightforward narrative technique that resembles storytelling, to convey the accomplishments and failures, caprices and whims, virtues and fallacies of kings and statesmen of the past.

An important part of ‘Atlas Shrugged’ and Rand’s philosophy is the idea of fatality, the very idea that Plutarch based ‘Parallel Lives’ upon. Being spaced by almost two millennia, however, makes these two books wholly different in other respects.

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When Answers Become Questions…

That’s when you turn to books. That’s what books are for. If reading a tome like ‘Atlas Shrugged’ has made you want for more philosophical works, here are a few more titles to hop-shop next: ‘Infinite Jest’, ‘Das Kapital’, ‘The Fatal Conceit’.

Those of our readers who are well-familiar with Ayn Rand, her philosophy and the books mentioned in this post should feel welcome to share their views in the comment box below.

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