Bertonneau begins by detailing Colin Wilson's reaction to Rand. Wilson had thought little of Rand at first, but then decided to give Rand a chance by reading Atlas Shrugged. Although he was hardly an uncritical admirer, he rather liked the book, and thought he had found an ally of sorts. As Bertonneau explains:
As Wilson had "always detested the 'fallacy of insignificance' in modern literature, the cult of smallness and meanness, the atmosphere of defeat that broods over the twentieth-century novel," he "was delighted by the sheer health of Ayn Rand's view." (13) He can even understand, he writes, what Rand means when she extols that virtue of selfishness for which so many applaud or revile her, depending on their perspective: "Selfishness has always been man's vital principle--not in the sense of ... indifference to other people but in the sense of intelligent self-interest." (14) Yet while Rand might lay claim to "a considerable intellect ... it is ... narrow and incurious" so that, "having established to her own satisfaction that all that is wrong with the world is lack of faith in reason and its muddled ideas on self-interest and altruism, she seems to take no further interest in the history of ideas."
Wilson's critical remarks are spot-on. Indeed, I would go further: it is precisely Rand's "narrow and incurious" intellect that constitutes, for me, her worst flaw. It helped turn her philosophy into a weird cult and isolated Rand from scholars and intellectuals who, while sympathizing with some of her philosophy, were far better informed than she was and could have helped her avoid some the embarrassing errors that disfigure her Objectivist ideology. The hostility with which Wilson's letter (and later his essay on Rand) were greeted by Branden and Rand demonstrate an over-sensitivity to criticism that is as unappetizing as it is creepy.
Bertonneau's assessment of Atlas is mixed in its appreciations: he finds plenty to both praise and criticize. He sees the novel as a sacrificial narrative/revenge fantasy:
Atlas Shrugged is, up to a limit, a true revelation of redistributive rapacity, even of the old call to sacrifice in its twentieth-century ideological manifestation; the novel is, up to a limit, a true revelation of ideology as a reversion to the most primitive type of cultic religiosity, collective murder as a means of appeasing a supernatural principle. It is also--it is primarily--a sacrificial narrative, as most of popular, as opposed to high, narrative ever has been and probably always will be. It follows that the novel's borrowed premise is sacrifice: Rand invites us to view with a satisfying awe the destruction before our eyes of those who have mistreated the protagonists, with whom she has invited us to identify. The standard Arnold Schwarzenegger or Clint Eastwood thriller achieves its effect by no different means. Michael Moore's movie Fahrenheit 9/11 works in the same way.Bertonneau finishes his criticism by examining the infamous tunnel scene in Rand's novel. He notes curious new evidence (from Rand's journals) suggesting "that Rand must have had actual people in mind as models of those who die, with time enough to feel the pain of their deaths."
I assert that Rand plausibly thought of [Hollywood screenwriter Robert] Sherwood ... when she sent the adenoidal, second-rate playwright to his death in the Tunnel. The parallelism leads us to suspect that in the Tunnel episode Rand composes a cataclysme a clef. And what then does Atlas become but a grand fantasy of godlike revenge, a theater of resentment assuaged, a daydream of limitless ego?