by Ayn Rand
Illustrated by Anna & Elena Balbusso
All Illustration ©2018 Anna and Elena Balbusso from The Folio Society edition of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged
The first time I heard about Ayn Rand was in Adam Curtis’s documentary All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace at its Sheffield Documentary Film Festival premiere in 2011. The 3-hour screening was introduced by Curtis who implored the audience to not overly judge Ayn Rand and instead to try to understand her ideas.
Rand’s Objectivist ideas tend to the hit you rather hard the first time you discover them and this does plant a strong negative impression on you. This is why Michael Dirda introduction in the Folio Society’s new edition of Atlas Shrugged, which features incredible retro illustrations by the renowned Italian artists Anna & Elena Balbusso, is so essential. He says ‘…consider Rand’s book for what it is most emphatically: a novel.’ Once you take this on board the reader is truly able to get lost inside this gigantic book which is filled with Rand's ideology but also filled with suspense and romance.
Telling the story of John Galt and a world on the edge of dystopia Atlas Shrugged is filled with a deep message that encompasses her own philosophy about humanity, society, class and the overall human condition. You would be right in thinking that Rand's world is one that sees its morality as black and white with zero space for grey. But this does not specifically mean that neither of the characters is believable, it is quite the opposite in fact.
Books should always be devoured slowly and with the size of Atlas Shrugged means it is impossible to not take your time and read the book with care. Rand’s philosophy might still be controversial but there is a glorious wonder in Rand’s writing that is captivating and engaging. The world within Atlas Shrugged is not crippled through ‘time’ (originally published in the 1950s) and the reader is able to develop a good understanding of the concepts and ideas of Rand and her characters. The reader does have to be mindful however of Rand's tendency to all her characters the freedom to rant, some of which go on for many pages. This can be jarring and the reader can get lost in what might be perceived and an unending array of powerful monologues.
It is this world that is created by Rand that we get to understand the struggle, frustration and the willingness for new ideas, both from Rand and from her characters, to be shared, discussed and acted upon. Though the book itself is long and the reader has to navigate through the aforementioned character monologues but once you take this on board it becomes a very worthwhile read.
It is clear from the illustrations from Italian artists Anna & Elena Balbusso have found great inspiration from Atlas Shrugged and they have really connected to the theme and characters of the book. In our interview with Anna & Elena they said they “have always been fascinated by the beauty of the factories, engines, gears, the architecture of the city, bridges, electric pylons, trains and locomotives.”
This industrial landscape is evident throughout each of Anna & Elena illustrations as they capture the essence of Rand’s book and the world she has created. There is a romance to the Anna & Elena illustrations that balance the coldness of book and the gentle side that Rand doesn’t always allow to come through. This is most notable in Illustration 3 & 5 in Vol. 2.
Dagny Taggart has proved to be a very important character, or even an ally a for Anna & Elena as she “is a heroine, she constantly fights against many crises to keep her father's company alive.” Anna & Elena went further to explain Taggart influence to them:
“As women, we think she is a fascinating female character because she is unconventional, she believes in the individual as a complete owner of their abilities and is against all forms of totalitarianism.”
A great time is spent looking at Anna & Elena's illustrations and each time becomes more rewarding than the last.
"There are two sides to every issue: One side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil." John Galt
In this age of digital books, e-readers and library closures the physical book has taken a bit of a hit and it takes new editions of books like Atlas Shrugged, that brilliantly combines art and literature, to allow you to fall back in love with the book. Holding this book is like holding something very precious and delicate, turning each of this books 1576 pages was done with care not to scuff the edges. Most of all you are allowed to step into this book and Rand’s world and, thanks to Anna & Elena artwork, you are able to take your time and be spellbound by their magical original work and a thoughtful text.
The Folio Society edition of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, introduced by Michael Dirda and illustrated by Anna and Elena Balbusso, is available exclusively from www.FolioSociety.com