Book Review: “Anthem” by Ayn Rand

Image by Irene Marie Dorey at When you read the book, you’ll understand how perfect this image is.

Year of First Publication: 1938

Year of Publication for This Edition: 2013

Number of Pages: N/A. I read the Project Gutenberg e-book.

Publisher: Project Gutenberg

Genre: Fiction

Sub-Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopian Fiction

Subjects: Education, Individualism, Invention, Planned Societies

Everyone loves a good dystopian fiction novel, and from what I’ve been told, Ayn Rand is not only one of the best dystopian writers of the twentieth century, but also one of the best writers of the century period. For a while, she was on my list of authors that I was ashamed to have not read a word from. I’ve heard people rave about Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, but honestly, I nearly fell asleep watching the Atlas Shrugged movie and according to Wikipedia, the original novel was a 1,168-page cinder block of a book. I certainly didn’t want to invest that much time (not to mention the money) in a book that I might not even like, so instead, I dipped my toes into the Ayn Rand canon with her one and only book in the public domain, Anthem. It’s actually a novella, not a novel, so even better, I thought! I could find out in about 100 pages whether I liked Ayn Rand . . . and for free!

The hero of the story is named Equality 7-2521 (has a nice ring to it, huh?). He, like every other person in his world, is regulated, regimented, and coerced within an inch of his life. From the day he was born, his entire life was planned for him by the government, and ever since he was born, he’s been deviating from the plan. He was taller than all the other boys his age, he asked a lot of questions in school, and he finished his work quicker than all of the other children. Clearly, he’s an EVIL MONSTER, right? Equality’s “curse,” so it is called, pushes him to reject the niche society has carved for him, leading him and the woman he loves, Liberty 5-3000, to break away from the crowd.

According to Kurt Vonnegut, writers should always give the reader a character to root for. I agree, but I also think having a character to whom the reader can relate makes a big difference too. That’s part of why I like Anthem; not only was I rooting hard for Equality (or Prometheus, as he is known later in the book), but I felt like I could sympathize with him too. This line, for example, illustrates a problem that I and scores of other young people have had for as long as anyone can remember:

We, Equality 7-2521, were not happy in those years in the Home of the Students. It was not that the learning was too hard for us. It was that the learning was too easy. This is a great sin, to be born with a head which is too quick.

I (and a certain famous author that I know of) can also wholeheartedly agree when Equality says this:

So we sit under the earth and we read the stolen [manu]scripts. Two years have passed since we found this place. And in these two years we have learned more than we had learned in the ten years of the Home of the Students.

Thankfully, are plenty of things about Equality 7-2521 that I can’t relate to and I hope I never will. Like a lot of science fiction writers in the ’30’s, ’40’s, and ’50’s, Ayn Rand gave us a world to fear while showing us thee mistakes that might get us there. Individualism is the main idea in this book and I love that. Towards the end of the story, Rand makes a few statements that I frankly cannot agree with, statements that tie in perfectly with her objectivist philosophy and that almost seem to border on humanism, but on the whole, what she had to say was not only intriguing but important, then and now.

We can’t forget that Ayn Rand, by her own admission, was just as much a philosopher as a novelist. Sometimes a book can make a point and still being an entertaining story (case in point, To Kill a Mockingbird!), but Anthem isn’t always one of those books. The story keeps a moderate pace, but some would call it slow. In Part 11, the Rand’s main point breaks through the fabric of the story itself and makes me think that perhaps this topic would be better suited to an essay instead of a novella.

One last problem: the wording. In Anthem‘s world, conformity is emphasized by making it illegal to say the words “I” and “me.” So instead of saying “May I be forgiven,” Equality, the narrator, says, “May we be forgiven.” It was a daring move and it makes the point perfectly, but honestly, I found it rather annoying (and confusing) in places.

Well, that’s it for me. Has anybody else read this little-known classic? What did you think? Of Ayn Rand? Of her story? Of the bizarre narration? Let me know in the comments!

**Random Fact!** “Ayn Rand” was a pen name. Her real name was Alisa Rosenbaum (which I, frankly, think sounds a thousand times better than Ayn Rand). Rand used a pen name to avoid the prejudice that a Jewish name like Rosenbaum might attract.

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