Book Review: Sisyphus Shrugged

Sisyphus Shrugged by Robert Peate

Sisyphus Shrugged by Robert Peate is a rebuttal and sequel to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Peate earned a degree in psychology and teaches in high school in Oregon. The idea to write this book came to him while reading Atlas Shrugged and Sisyphus Shrugged began to take form as he read. 

Years ago I read Atlas Shrugged and I must say I like the book and the story. A friend teased that maybe it was Dagny I liked – maybe so. I could agree with some of the premise of the book. I like to think that it is up to us, as individuals, to make who we are: I worked my way up to being director of operations. I liked the idea of user fees instead of taxes, but I didn’t think I was being over taxed though. I used the roads, student loans, had clean water, and relatively clean air: A fair trade off. One day riding my bike to work, I was accused of being a “moocher” by a car driver. I was accused of using the road but paying a fee for license plates or paying gas tax. Well my property tax does go into the fund for roads. The sales tax I pay goes to the state and in part pays for the roads. My federal income tax, in part, goes into the general fund and comes back in the form of road upkeep. I think most of the problem is people are ill-informed and believe what they want to believe. Long story short, I did a John Galt. I went on strike myself, and I am living a much happier life as a bicycle mechanic. Different reasons but the same end result. 

Sisyphus was a king who was deceitful and killed travelers and guests. He enjoyed the killings because they allowed him to continue to rule with an iron fist. As punishment in the afterlife, he was sentenced to roll a large stone up up a steep hill. No matter how many times Sisyphus tired to get to the top, the stone would roll to the bottom. Sisyphus became a hero of the absurd for Albert Camus. Peate uses Sisyphus to represent the people toiling in labor but unable to reap any reward for their labor. The anti-Galt group embraces Sisyphus as Rand embraced Atlas. While neither may be perfect role models they both serve their purpose. 

After a series of assassinations, pro business leaders take (elected) control of the government. Regulations are repealed, employees lose all their benefit packages (by law), breathing masks are needed to when outdoors, health care is unaffordable, wages drop, most people work multiple jobs trying to keep themselves alive. The “Rand Paradise” is here. To counter the group, Sisyphus organizes and nationwide labor begins to go on strike as a new liberal president prepares to take the oath of office. 

There is little disguising what side the author is on. The conservative news channel is Pox News. To be fair, there are good and bad on both sides in the book, but primarily the bad is on the right. It may be easy to poke holes in the story, but the same is true of Rand. The innovators, Rand’s hero’s are not people like Rearden anymore. Corporations are run by boards and CEOs have little to do with innovation. The innovator owned company is something that is getting rarer. Most innovators are bought out by corporations who only concern is making money. It’s been a long time since Steve Jobs designed and soldiered circuit boards. There are very few Henry Fords or Edisons left.. 

There is, what can be expected in the book. A war of words sometimes leading to violence between the labor and business. Business owners emphasize they take the risk. Labor emphasizes that their labor is the reason corporations make money. It is the same argument that is going on today in America. The rich get richer vs turning America into a communist country. 

In Sisyphus Shrugged, the reader follows a reporter Evelyn Riley as she investigates an odd happening in Detroit. There she meets Ryan Gregory, a manager at a car factory, and both get dragged into a world of intrigue. Galt escapes from a Supermax prison and announces that he intends to run for president with Dagny as his vice president. Labor begins to exercise it power. The two systems will clash and Evelyn will report it. 

There is some humor in the book. Comparing Nietzsche to Rand and their views of selfishness. Nietzsche would advocate dancing on a mountain top. Rand would advocate claiming the mountain as her own and charging people to dance on the mountain top. A violent right winger is named Godwin– a reference to Godwin’s law.

As a rebuttal and a sequel to Atlas ShruggedSisyphus Shruggeddoes its job very well. Is it a philosophy as Rand claims her’s? No. Does it poke huge holes in Rands theories? Yes. Is it the diametric opposite of Rand? No. Hegel’s dialectic pendulum seems to settle left of center with Sisyphus Shrugged, not the far left. This is a work of fiction and is on the same believability level as Atlas. Your willing suspension of disbelief will get a workout, but no more than reading Ian Fleming, Dan Brown, or Ayn Rand. The story is well written, the plot is well thought out, the characters are believable, and the reading was very enjoyable. And well, it was a great book to read this Labor Day weekend. 

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Book Review: Sisyphus Shrugged

  1. Zammael

    Regarding Sisyphus, I think you may have the mythology wrong.

    Just like any other culture, the mythology of the ancient Greeks reflected their existential preoccupations, in order to explain the origin and the nature of things. The Greek pantheon is full of anthropomorphic beings with superhuman abilities and appetites. Much like us, the Greek gods are capricious, intolerant, and bored. Therefore they account for a reality that is completely unpredictable, and an endurance test for suffering mortals.

    Now, Sisyphus is a Greek invention that expresses their experience of meaninglessness. For a minor indiscretion (helping mortals) Sisyphus was condemend to eternal and useless toil, which was petrifying in its gross senselessness. The absurdity of Sisyphus’ fate isn’t that it was some isolated incident, but a symptom of a culture saturated with intransingent pessimism.

    • Perhaps you should convey your feelings to the author, rather than the reviewed, remembering that is a work of fiction.

      • Zammael

        Do you mean you did not write the following:

        “Sisyphus was a king who was deceitful and killed travelers and guests. He enjoyed the killings because they allowed him to continue to rule with an iron fist.”

        …or that this is a summary of the position of the author of the book you are reviewing?

        Whether you or the author did, my point still stands: Sisyphus is a representation of the Hellenic Greek mythology, rather than one filtered through Anglo-American goggles. A misrepresentation is still a misrepresentation, no matter who drops the baton.

  2. I believe that I took that from the book, which is a work of fiction. It is not a study of Sisyphus, nor a study of Greek mythology, It is a story. Fiction deal is a work that is invented by the writer.

    Also, the above version of Sisyphus is used in many sources (Britannica, NYU.edu, Princeton.edu). Since (mythical) Sisyphus was a mortal by all accounts, why was he punished for helping mortals? His crime was tricking and Thanathos effectively ending death. That brought Ares intervention. Then Sisyphus tricked Persephone into letting him return to the world to scold his wife, then he refused to return, causing Hermes to intervene. That was when he was sentenced to his task f forever pushing a bolder up a mountain. Before he died, he established the kingdom of Corinth. Under his rule he had travelers killed for their possessions and rules with an iron fist. That is the basic story.

    I found no reference of him helping mortals. I would like to read that version. Perhaps you like to share the version you have and possibly provide a source. I would like to have it as I am by no means a mythology scholar. My first interest in Sisyphus came from reading Albert Camus.

    • Zammael

      Coincidentally, I came across your website while doing a google search for my essay on Albert Camus’ work, the Myth of Sisyphus.

      In the Myth of Sisyphus, Camus interpreted the mythic figure as the archetypical hero of the Absurd, due to both his behavior on earth and for his punishment in the underworld. Camus applauds his scorn for the gods and hatred of death and a passion for life. This punishment was to endure an eternity of hopeless struggle – a metaphor of our human lives in the midst of the Absurd existence.

      Now, instead of the secondary sources you cite, I pay close attention to the original sources of the mythology, and they do not present a consistent or coherent explanation for the reason of Sisyphus’ punishment.

      The one that Sisyphus helped mortals was cited by the Greek scholar Eustathius, likely a commentary on Homer’s books: when Zeus sent Death to punish Sisyphus’ treachery, he tricked him into chains. That prevented mortals from dying. After Ares was dispatched to free Death, Sisyphus informed his wife not to bury him. Once underworld, Sisyphus complained to Hades and Persephone to allow him back to punish his wife. They granted him his request, and he went back to the land of living. But Sisyphus refused to return, and Zeus ordered Hermes to forcibly carry him back to the underworld. That is the source of his eternal torment in Tartarus.

  3. Sisyphus was punished for his treachery. Scholary information tends to support his treachery as I stated above. Since no one knew the fictional character, this debate makes little sense. I presented the commonly accepted version of the story. Your information of Sisyphus’ earlier life does not contradict anything that was posted. Do you have information that contradicts the King of Corinth version of the myth or the highwayman (Camus writes of him to be a highwayman).

    Sisyphus is fiction. Sisyphus Shrugged is fiction. The author makes use of Sisyphus’s task as an analogy to a Rand utopia (also fiction). Fiction is the work of an author’s imagination. It can be based off of facts or entirely made up. That is what makes it fiction. The author used the story of Sisyphus in the commonly accepted format. If this were a scholarly study in Greek mythology I might be more inclined to agree with you, however, it is fiction.

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