Book Review: Anthem by Ayn Rand

Anthem by Ayn Rand is a beautiful, thoughtful story. We join Equality 7-2521 in the strange, dystopian city of his birth, where no man knows the words “I” or “me” and all people speak only in plural, because it is forbidden to think of oneself. They are taught from birth that men are all one and must behave and think as one. There is only “we.” It is a bleak, hopeless place, where innovation is crushed and individuality is punished. No one is ever allowed to be alone, to be married, or even to know who their parents are.

He is defiant in his heart, though he tries his best to believe the grossly inaccurate things he’s taught by his fellow men. After a couple of years of him sneaking away every night to be alone and do experiments, he runs away. During these years of experiments, he’s fallen in love with a woman, which is also forbidden. They talk across the hedge that divides them when they can and he’s sure that she is as unbroken as he is. She runs away after him, into the Uncharted Forests, when she hears of his desertion. Together, they begin a journey of self-discovery and learn the meaning of what it is to be truly free, to no longer be slaves to their fellow men.

This novella is a quick read—maybe an hour or two—so it is one I read often. Usually, at least once or twice a year, I’ll re-read it to remind myself of the spirit of Humankind. The way he has been repressed his entire life, but still cannot be crushed, gives me hope and inspiration. I’ll not give it all away, but I will say that the last two chapters are the best. In the loosest terms, they tell us what he has learned and the plans he’s made for the future.

I’ve highlighted dozens of passages from the book. When I cross them, I tend to read them again and again. Most of them are near the end, since that is the truly wondrous part for him. I can understand why Ayn Rand is such a beloved author to many. I can also see why many modern readers would pass over her work, since her longer works can be dense and difficult. Given the extreme length of Atlas Shrugged, and the potential of greatness—as well as the encouragement to defy conformity—was why I was not made to read Rand in school. Instead, we read non-redacted copies of Mark Twain novels, full of the n-word. Thanks, Missouri educational system, which still taught racism well into the 90’s and possibly beyond.

Anthem by Ayn Rand is one of my favorite novellas. The first time I read it, I had no idea what it was about. I do this more than most people, I suppose. Sometimes I’ll download a classic from Kindle simply because I’ve heard of it, but never read it. Or because I’ve heard of the long-dead author, but never read any of their work, so I’ll pick a short one to start out with. Anthem was one of the short ones I’d chosen. And I’ll never regret it. I’ll love this book until the day I die.

Any thoughts? Have you read it? What did you think of it? Or, has this review made you want to read it? I bet your library has it! I know it can also be found in the public domain, as there are free “Kindle Classics” copies on Amazon.