Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Atlas Debunked

As "Atlas Shrugged"'s 50th rolls on, no doubt we will hear once again the venerable tale of how it was found by the Library of Congress to be "second only to the Bible" in terms of influence on the American reading public.

Sadly, it turns out this heartwarming story is little more than an urban myth. Jessica Amanda Salmonson retires it here:
'This notion originated initially with the Book of the Month Club advertising department. In 1991, the 2,000 forms labeled "Survey of Lifetime Reading Habits" were sent to Book of the Month Club readers in a bizarre scam that hornswoggled the Library of Congress in promoting the Book Club. The Library of Congress fit it into their reading promotion project but this was a survey of nothing but the effectiveness of Book of the Month Club's advertising. Thus the top ten books included similar offerings from the Book Club come-on-attractions leaflet, Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, Scott Peck's The Road Less Travelled, & Gail Sheedy's Passages. Truly a list of immortal classics.

A study or a credible survey with any degree of applicability would have required statistical controls & other factors to ensure some degree of scientific validity & would not have been restricted to book club customers selected by the book club. But inasmuch as this was just a promo & not legitimate research on reading in America, the only "statistical finding" required was the finding of good advertisement copy.

This Book of the Month Club promotion mailed out in cooperation with the Library of Congress reading promotion program not surprisingly established that Book of the Month Club titles were very significant to Book Club customers, most especially the few titles listed on the introductory offer form. Among which Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged placed #2, after the Bible.

So this "finding" applied to 1991 Book of the Month Club readers, but somehow in the wake of this phony study it was transmuted into Rand having written the most important book to all Americans for all time. That now decade-plus old ad campaign still gets paraphrased by Randians as "recent" & as "a study" when it is (or was) neither, claiming always that it was conducted by the Library of Congress, since even Randians know that citing ad copy composed by the Book Club sounds just as cheezy as it is.

A bit more recently (in 1999), advertising hacks hired by television producers began promoting a made-for-TV Ayn Rand docudrama, plus a cable documentary, & associated book tie-ins & videos. Being it would seem a cut-rate outfit, they just found the old Book of the Month Club blurbs, paraphrased this so closely that the Book Club ad writers should have sued them as plagiarists, then did a massive press release campaign which repopularized the 1991 Book of the Month Club ad scam in context of how important it is for everyone to watch TV.

That 1999 publicity packet was afterward copied onto the back covers of new editions of Rand, trying to take advantage of the television exposure, so that by now it is "common knowledge" that the Library of Congress proved something it never proved with a study it never conducted..." - Jessica Ann Salmon, (via Mike Huben's "Critiques of Libertarianism" site)


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I think a more "objective" study might rank Atlas Shrugged quite high, perhaps #2.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the clarification. I guess Atlas Shrugged as a national number two also lost the possibility of becoming fact of the day on my site,

KingBushwicktheToityToid said...

Yawn!!Ayn Rand was nothing but a hack writer!!
Of course,it's funny how NeoCons
love to claim both Jesus Christ AND Ayn Rand as their inspirations,
yet their philosophies were as different as night and day!!

Jesus said"That Which Ye Did For The Least Of My Brethren Ye Also Did For Me.".
Ayn Rand had no use for the poor or weak.

"Don't you try to one up me me cause I will one up yours!!"
-Peggy Hill.

stuart said...

GV said " should attach some picture..."Noooo Please No! The layout of this site is perfect, we don't have to look at photos or read inspiring mottoes (some of those damn things are speech length), every time we're interested in a discussion. One of the blue sites is the worst, you just know that sooner or later ol' Betsy is going to pop up with her 2 big stupid Rules. She made a deserved enemy of me, the 2nd time I visited. It's like trying to concentrate in class when you know the principal will always be popping in. If you guys decide to embellish your format like that, I'm (going to threaten to be) outta here.

I do like the frustrated icon that chews the brick wall though.

Maybe GV just meant pics of Greg and Dan on the masthead, that would be OK. Small ones.

Daniel Barnes said...

Hi Caroljane

The site does need a bit of a revamp, mainly to make the wealth of resource that's built up a bit more easily accessible to the casual reader. What has developed so far has been far more than I think either of us originally intended. LIke Topsy, it just grew. And given the plethora of Objectivist sites available, this would also provide a useful counter-resource with all the main counter-arguments in one place. Until Greg's book criticism of Objectivism was mainly quite scattershot, or focussed on one particular issue. One of the great benefits of his book is that it brings it all together for the general reader. It would be great if the blog could extend that virtue further. But it can wait till next year!

Behemoth said...

Daniel, I agree that somewhat of a revamp is in order. For example, I found the "Cognitive Revolution and Objectivism" series particularly important in demonstrating how at odds with reality Objectivism is, but there's no straightforward way to get to that series right now. Greg's posts have been consistently laid out in series like this, and to at least have indexes for those would be very helpful.

stuart said...

Daniel, that sounds good--more stuff to read more easily, still no "advertisements for myself" stationery from posters. Thank Gord for that!

stuart said...

Good time to reprint this indeed. I have read the No#2 Urban Myth innumeralble times in the movie promotion pr and I understand it was mentioned on TV also. Enough.


KingBushwicktheToityToid said...

"Apparently Jesus Don't Like The Apache"-Ben Wade(Russell Crowe):"3:10 to Yuma".