A couple of years ago, a republished series of Ayn Rand’s books were high on the list of Bookworm’s most requested books.

 

These were mainly popular with Vietnamese university students who were intrigued by Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism, which has as a major precept that man exists for his own sake; that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose; that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice others to himself.

 

Rand’s Objectivism, a celebration of laissez-faire capitalism, was recently defined by commentator, Jonathan Freedland, as an ideology that denounces altruism, elevates individualism into a faith and gives a spurious moral licence to raw selfishness.

 

This year there’s been another influx of requests for Rand’s works, which may have something to do with President Trump nominating The Fountainhead (1943) as the one fictional book that he thinks is worth reading. In an interview with America Today he said that the book relates to business, beauty, life and inner emotions… everything. During his election campaign he stated that he identifies with its main character Howard Roark, a prominent architect of singular vision who ensures that public buildings he created are dynamited because his blueprints were not followed exactly to the letter by bureaucrats he describes as corrupt parasites.

 

In 2008, Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, nominated Rand’s Atlas Shrugged as his favourite book, in which the main protagonist, John Galt — a capitalist philosopher genius who believes in the right of the individual to use their power, minds and abilities solely to profit themselves — strives to bring about the collapse of economic and social structures of collective society to further his goals. He harnesses the most influential creative agencies to spin his message. CIA head, Mike Pompeo agrees with Tillerson’s choice.

 

Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan was reported in 2005 to have made Rand’s works required reading for his staff, though recently, due to Rand’s professed atheism, he’s downplayed the importance of her influence on him. Other officials have allowed Objectivism to run parallel with, or have validated it with quotes from, their particular testaments.

 

A Different View

 

A novel from 1935 that has soared up most bookselling lists since the last US presidential election is Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t happen Here which is about the rise of an authoritarian fascist leader in the US. It’s about political radicalization and social upheaval in depression-ravaged US. It was a runaway best seller.

 

An ignorant rabble rouser, Buzz Windrip wins the 1936 presidential election with the support of millions of poor and angry citizens whose rallying cry is: “We are on relief. We want to become human beings again. We want Buzz!”

 

A 2016 review by Jules Stewart includes descriptions of a Windrip rally in Madison Square Garden after which the novel’s journalist hero describes Windrip’s rhetoric as being irresistible to his thousands of downtrodden admirers. He later can’t remember a word Windrip said. But it doesn’t matter; if Windrip contradicts himself, backtracks on policy or simply spews out a torrent of lies, he tells them what they want to hear. Every American will be guaranteed a minimum income of US$5,000 (US$88,000 in today’s money), US-hating Mexico will be severely dealt with and Jewish bankers will be punished for landing the country in this mess.

 

Windrip unveils his 15-point manifesto, which includes prison or the death penalty for anyone advocating communism and the recognition of Jews as fully Americanized, so long as they continue to support Our Ideals.

 

After winning the election, supported by media moguls of the day, he orders an invasion of Mexico and incarcerates political opponents in concentration camps. US refugees flood into Canada.

 

Sinclair Lewis, a social leftist and satirist, was Americas’ first winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

 

Alternative Realities

 

Other hot commodities by left-leaners on best bookselling lists are Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaids Tale (1985) — a searing warning about institutionalized sexism and misogyny in a theocracy called Gilead, and Orwell’s 1984, published in 1949.

 

With the recent Mother of all Bomb drops, Father of all Bombs taunts, almost daily bombing of civilian targets, and the posturing with nuclear rockets by big and small nations, we hope that another oldie, Neville Shute’s post-apocalyptic On the Beach (1957) doesn’t have to come up for revival any time soon.

 

After a nuclear holocaust, with spreading radiation killing all in its path, Melbourne, Australia, is the remaining outpost of a dwindling population, holding on by a tenuous, but ultimately futile, thread of hope.

 

Truong Hoang is behind the bookshop, Bookworm. For more info click on bookwormhanoi.com or visit their shop at 44 Chau Long, Ba Dinh, Hanoi

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1 comment

  • Comment Link Gerry Flynn Gerry Flynn Jun 11, 2017

    On the Beach was an absolute classic and it's been a while since I've read through it, but some of the most memorable parts of it still stay with me. The differing responses to the inevitable demise brought up some wonderfully human reactions to imminent death - the high-speed drag racing scene that picks up when the residents of Melbourne all start to come to terms with the fact that soon enough they'll all be irradiated corpses littering the roadside. Given the British public's rabid enthusiasm for retaining nuclear weapons, I'd say this is still sadly relevant.

    If you enjoyed On the Beach, feast your eyes on Fail-Safe by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler - it's maybe somewhere between On the Beach and It Can't Happen Here.

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